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When PERTIWI was established in November 1967, a newly-independent Malaysia was waiting for reforms to bring her up to the level of independence of the western world. There were many areas begging to be improved. PERTIWI members, although relatively young then, were passionate in their mission to serve a young nation by looking at matters pertaining to women and children.

PERTIWI members, being fortunate to have had tertiary education and having travelled and lived abroad, and also being widely-read, took it upon themselves, along with a few other upcoming voluntary groups, to address the immediate issues.

Addressing major issues such as gender inequalities in the system and the rights of Muslim women in Syariah law, PERTIWI members lobbied hard to create awareness for the need to have equality especially in the education system and in the workforce. The plight of Muslim women in the application of Syariah law then was also a major cause of concern. Through seminars and conferences, resolutions were tabled for submission to the appropriate Ministry for Women’s Affairs and others. The unrelenting drive and efforts of PERTIWI members from 1967 to the1990s have succeeded in the implementation of reforms for gender equality in the country and for better application of the Syariah law.

Realising that mothers play an important role in the education and upbringing of their children, PERTIWI embarked on programmes which emphasized the importance of this role. In its early years, PERTIWI paid extra attention to mothers who had little or no education and they were taught basic reading and writing skills. Courses were conducted to open their minds to the wonders of higher education and the opportunities awaiting them and their children.

Those with young children were encouraged to send their children to PERTIWI-run kindergartens. In early 1970, PERTIWI had sent a teacher for Montessori-training in the UK. Upon her return to Malaysia, she then trained other teachers in the Montessori approach. Children attending PERTIWI’s kindergartens were able to read at a fairly young age through this approach. PERTIWI offered a fresh approach to early education where the objective was to open the minds of young children through story-telling sessions, music, art and other creative expressions. PERTIWI’s kindergarten playgrounds were equipped with solid climbing frames and play sets to build confidence in the overall development of the children’s motor skills.

To fund PERTIWI’s projects, regular fund-raising events were held. Bazaars, fun-fairs and carnivals were always popular. So were concerts with the participation of popular singers of the time. A slightly more elitist fund-raising event was the charity golf which PERTIWI is proud to have been the first voluntary organisation to have held such an event more than 40 years ago. Since then, many other organisations have taken the idea to greater heights with very big corporate sponsors and prizes. However, PERTIWI has not organised a charity golf event in years now. Most of PERTIWI’s ardent golf supporters are now old and no longer eager to participate in golf tournaments. To revive this fund-raising event, PERTIWI hopes to be able to attract younger members who can make this a regular seasonal event in conjunction with an identified cause.

From time to time, PERTIWI held day clinic sessions in villages in the more remote areas in Malaysia. With the help of volunteer doctors and nurses, and with a small funding, PERTIWI managed to organise day clinics which provided basic medical consultation to the villagers. Despite the availability of government clinics, many were happy to seek medical consultation from the services which were brought to their doorstep. Common ailments which caused discomfort and unnecessary embarrassment were easily treated by the volunteer doctors. There were also the more serious instances where potentially life-threatening conditions were diagnosed early and referred to specialists for further tests and treatment.

PERTIWI’s Foster Child Project was implemented to provide financial assistance to students. For a mere RM80 a month, a foster parent can make it easier for a child to pay for additional needs during their school-going years. Some foster parents take the trouble to monitor the child’s progress while others merely contribute the required amount to ease the financial burden of the foster child. PERTIWI is happy to note that many of our foster children have gone on to achieve success in their studies and careers. Many corporate organisations now have their own Foster Child Programmes, so PERTIWI has scaled down this project.

Projects with single mothers have always been a priority for PERTIWI. Besides providing counseling, PERTIWI helps in providing training in different skills to enable single mothers to earn a decent living or simply to supplement their incomes.

With changing times, the issues confronting PERTIWI decades ago have been replaced with bigger social problems. Women now have a decent education and many seek better opportunities in Kuala Lumpur and other cities. The migration to urban areas has led to problems stemming from the lack of safe accommodation for these young women who, at times, rely on male friends to provide temporary accommodation when they are new in the cities but which then result in a host of other problems confronting these young women. We often read in the newspapers of such cases when they are being highlighted.

It cannot be denied that some young ladies definitely do not want to be guided and only want total freedom to do as they wish. What PERTIWI hopes to assist are the young women who genuinely want to relocate to Kuala Lumpur in search of better opportunities without being taken advantage of by unscrupulous men. We hope to be able to provide temporary accommodation until they can find suitable accommodation elsewhere. We would also like to be their “home away from home”, where they can return for further networking and guidance.

It is also the hope of PERTIWI to continue to provide an avenue and platform for women to voice their concerns and to develop and nurture their talents in an organisation which does not discriminate or curtail those hopes, aspirations and dreams.

For the elderly, it is PERTIWI’s hope to be able to provide a place for rehabilitation, recreation and other stimulating activities. Those who were involved with PERTIWI in its early years are now well into their 70s and 80s. They understand a need for such a community centre catering for the elderly.

Inculcating positive values in the young is something which is invaluable. Formal education is being provided for adequately by the government. However, nurturing inner strength and encouraging the young to have positive values and high ethics require a different kind of education programme which PERTIWI hopes to be able to provide through short courses conducted either over weekends or during term holidays. It is hoped that with a proper hostel and facilities, these courses can be conducted effectively in collaboration with other agencies having similar goals and objectives.

Women living in the Klang Valley have a high demand for seminar rooms for their needs especially for classes and lectures. There are not many suitable yet affordable places to conduct these very-much sought after classes, which are now being conducted often in golf clubs, private homes and such places. With the availability of PERTIWI’s community centre, all activities for the benefit of women and children can be held in this one location. PERTIWI hopes to provide ample rooms to cater for this popular ongoing quest for knowledge.

Computer education for the older generation is another area which PERTIWI also addresses. Courses in computer literacy will continue to be conducted to keep everyone abreast will the latest advances in technology.

The spirit of volunteerism is somewhat lacking in our younger generation. On hindsight, the founder members of PERTIWI were young when they saw a need for their selfless contribution towards the development of a young nation and its people. Admittedly that kind of urgency is no longer there with Malaysians now being able to enjoy privileges on par with citizens in more developed countries. However, there will always be many who will continue to turn to voluntary groups for support and guidance and will continue to benefit from the work that is being challenged and implemented by non-governmental organisations.

In a recent survey it was discovered that more than 30% of families do not know where their children are most of the time. They do not sit together for meals and they do not have regular communication or interaction with each other. Resulting from this lack of contact and supervision from parents, it is highly probable that the children will turn to their friends for companionship and guidance in their important formative years. From time to time, PERTIWI coordinates programmes specifically to address family-related issues with the hope of strengthening the bond between parents and their children.

Understanding and acknowledging the needs and expectations of each other is the basis of trust and respect. A family which is being torn apart in the face of surmounting conflicts will often reject any attempt at reconciliation. However, those who come forward seeking advice and guidance are well on the way to solving their biggest issues. PERTIWI has and will continue to play a role in this area.

Unwed Muslim mothers are on the increase in Malaysia, especially in urban areas. Many choose not to inform their parents or relatives back home. Often times, the father of the child would have long disappeared too. What PERTIWI tries to do is to provide advice to the unwed mothers and where necessary, provide them accommodation until the child is born. We have heard of cases where babies are born in toilets or left to die in drains. Shelter is also given by voluntary groups run by Muslims, Christians and Buddhists. We cannot ignore the fact that these cases are real and will continue to happen. We cannot simply condemn. Until a solution is found, we must try to assist often-distraught unwed mothers.