Life Inspired talks to two women who survived abusive relationships to make something of their lives, and are now trying to help other Malaysians make better decisions for themselves too.
Tengku Munazirah Tengku Abdul Samad Shah Alhaj
Hope Factory Malaysia
Tengku Munazirah, 31, is the founder of Hope Factory Malaysia, a social enterprise that creates awareness and supports non-profit groups by giving to six areas of need – medical care, child protection, homeless shelters, education, hunger prevention and animal rights.
She is the royal patron and adviser to several non-profit organisations, including Humanitarian Aid Selangor Society, IMC Training Centre For Special Needs Children, Persatuan Wanita Bumiputera Kuala Lumpur & Selangor, and Persatuan Kebajikan Mulia Masyarakat.
With a Swiss degree in international hospitality management, Tengku Munazirah – a member of the Selangor royal family – joined a five-star hotel in Singapore. But in November 2009, just months into her job, she was devastated by news that her mother, Al-Marhumah Tunku Abdiyah Al-Marhum Tunku Dato Seri Adnan of Negri Sembilan, had been diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer.
She resigned from work and returned home to be a caregiver.
“At that time, a lot of people shared their stories and I learnt that some didn’t make it as cancer treatments are very expensive. This made me realise that there are a lot of unfortunate people who need help,” says Tengku Munazirah, who comes across as warm and down-to-earth.
“So, together with my late mother, I created a community (savings) bank for Malaysians in need, hence the birth of Hope Factory Malaysia.”
Starting Hope Factory Malaysia wasn’t easy. Being inexperienced, she was taken advantage of by one supplier, but says she grew from that experience. “Today, I’m not afraid to fail or I will never know what lies on the other side. Experience is an amazing teacher,” she says.
What she’s most proud of is how she dealt with the mother’s death in December 2012, and how she channelled her sadness into something that gives optimism to other people.
“Through my work, I learnt about people’s hardships and how they live with just enough food to fill their tummy, or just a few drops of water to quench their thirst. This made me realise, there are many people who have their own fight, and I’m not alone when it comes to my emotions.”
What inspires her everyday are the children and the underprivileged folks she stands up for. “They remind me of why I should get up in the morning, to make a difference in hoping to change their world,” she explains.
Apart from her social enterprise, Tengku Munazirah works a corporate position with her father, Tengku Panglima Besar Selangor Brig Jen (Kehormat) Tengku Abdul Samad Shah Al-haj ibni Almarhum Sultan Salahuddin Abdul Aziz Shah Al-haj.
For women to have a balanced life, she says, “Women need love. They need to acknowledge that they love themselves first by doing things that they love. Work is never ending and it should never be sacrificed for family. Weekends are meant for families, not work as you have five days to do that.
“I try to find balance by planning ahead and ensuring that I have my own ‘me-time’ by going to the gym three times a week, which gives me more energy.”
Tengku Munazirah is a boxing fan, which she practices at the gym every week. It’s something she discovered during a particularly abusive relationship.
“The abuse led me to find something to help me become stronger and protect myself. I encourage women to learn how to protect themselves physically through any form of self-defence. No woman should allow or accept physical abuse. If they fall victim, they must report it and not be silent,” she stresses.
Tengku Munazirah believes that women can have it all, but maybe not all at once. “All means different things to different people. In life, we have to choose which one we want to work better in that moment.”
For women to be successful, she says women need to find a support system that complements her – family, friends, a spouse. “We always need a strong pillar to lean on, someone who’s not afraid to challenge your ideas and help develop it, instead of someone who just agrees with you all the time.
“Personally, I always feel better after talking to someone about tough situations. Sometimes when things get cloudy, other people’s opinions will help me see things in a different perspective.
“Finally, it’s important to surround yourself with people you trust and people who want the best for you.”
Sales & Marketing Director
Jeyalatha Ganeson, 44, joined award-winning outdoor furniture company ISOfu seven years ago, and rose up the corporate latter three times to reach the sales and marketing director’s role.
She now leads a team of eight, and bears the role of buying for the company. The job requires her to travel to Italy and China at least twice a year, and frequently to other countries to attend industry conferences.
For Chinese New Year this year, she packed part of her bonus money into 50 ang pows and gave them to her staff, the cleaners and security guards. That is the kind and thoughtful person she is.
The first thing you notice about Jeya is her friendliness and humility. Being in sales and marketing, she could not have found a more appropriate career. But getting to where she is today wasn’t easy.
Born in Kuala Lumpur, the second of three daughters, Jeya was in an abusive marriage that lasted three years. “One day I was hit and my head was spinning and swollen, and I collapsed on the floor. At that moment, I had to decide whether to stay on the floor or walk out the door,” she says.
She had to think fast before her husband, who had left the house, returned home. “I called a friend and said I was hurt and needed to get out of the house before he returned. I left that day with just my handbag,” she recalls.
Jeya filed for divorce in 2006, but it’s been a drawn-out process because he hasn’t signed the papers. In the meantime, she went home to her parents. But the trauma she suffered led to depression, and this affected her career at a health and wellness company.
But she picked up the pieces of her life and mailed her resume to about 100 employers before landing a position with a furnishing company. Then she went on to join a construction company for four years. All this has ultimately brought her to where she is.
“Career-wise, what I’m most proud of is making a change in the industry I used to work in to a completely new one – and nailing it. Most of my clients have become my friends.”
Work-wise, Jeya says, “The biggest challenge is staying strong as there is a lot of rejection in this business. You need to meet 100 clients to successfully arrive at about five.
“On a personal level, I have school friends who are now looking up to me, and these are the people who never knew I existed. Friends and their children have told me I inspire them. They have learnt about what I went through and what I had to do to be where I am.”
What does she think women need to achieve a balanced life?
“I see friends juggling so many things from marriage, children, in-laws to career and finances, and I think that when we are overwhelmed, we need to push the brakes. We need to step back and pause when our mind and heart want to stop. For me, I chill out and stay sane with good friends over a glass of wine, and I make it a point to do this regularly.”
For women to be successful, Jeya says, “If they are single, they need to be self-motivated. If married, they need to ensure that their spouse is supportive. I want to tell young women that they have to be strong in making important decisions, and to make better decisions whether it is marriage or career or having children. Think things through before jumping in.
“Most of us live hectic lives, and when women are overwhelmed in their lives, it is likely because they have chosen the wrong partner who is not supportive. For single women who are whining about being single, I want them to know that being married or in a relationship is not the be all and end all in life.”
Jeya believes that women should not just say they want certain things in life, they need to be proactive in achieving them. “Don’t just say you want a happy life or a good husband. Make good decisions that will lead you to this path,” she says.