People

Published: Tuesday June 3, 2014 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Wednesday June 4, 2014 MYT 1:36:27 PM

A lift for women: Bras for the underprivileged

Up, up and away: Nicole Lee, 18, is behind Uplift Malaysia, a volunteer programme that collects bras and donates them to women from shelters in Laos, Nepal and Cambodia.

Up, up and away: Nicole Lee, 18, is behind Uplift Malaysia, a volunteer programme that collects bras and donates them to women from shelters in Laos, Nepal and Cambodia.

Eighteen-year-old student Nicole Lee is changing the lives of women in need with pre-loved bras.

FOR most of us girls in Malaysia, bras are a necessity. But in places like Laos, Nepal and Cambodia, they’re a luxury.

Those were the words of Nicole Lee, 18, the official coordinator of Uplift Malaysia.

The Uplift Project was originally founded by Australian Liz Baker in 2005 and since then, they have distributed over 750,000 bras to countries such as Fiji, Philippines, Sri Lanka, New Zealand and Australia.

Two months ago, Lee, a Singaporean student at Alice Smith School in Kuala Lumpur, joined the cause by starting Uplift Malaysia, which is now collecting bras through volunteers and donating them to women in impoverished communities in Laos, Nepal and Cambodia.

There, they can decide to wear them or sell them to make a living.

The Uplift Project sends the recycled bras to organisations, which will later distribute them to girls and women. This picture was taken in Laos.
The Uplift Project sends the recycled bras to organisations, which will later distribute them to girls and women. This picture was taken in Laos.

“In those countries, women often don’t have bras and it’s really sad because some of them grow up getting bullied by boys,” said Lee.

“We live in a society that preaches equal rights, but doesn’t always act on it.

“Providing these women with bras will help them feel more dignified and empowered.”

Lee also explained that by selling bras, the women can earn around US$3-5 (RM10-16), which is a substantial amount for them. And some of these women are survivors of sex trafficking, so selling bras could help re-integrate them into society. To us, passing our undergarments to someone else may seem odd, but in this case, you’d actually be making a huge difference.

According to Lee, finding bras hasn’t been difficult at all. In fact, she has been surprised at how often women change their bras.

Those interested in helping can choose to send their bras by post, or they can drop Lee an email and she can collect them personally. She even has a friend in Port Dickson, Negri Sembilan, who collects bras there and sends them to her.

However, Lee doesn’t accept just any bras. Uplift usually informs her of the number of bras required and the band sizes.

And to ship the bras to the three selected countries, Lee holds a monthly bra drive to help raise funds to cover the shipping cost.

“I aim to raise at least RM100 to RM200 by selling cupcakes at my booth in Stella’s Market, Centrepoint (in Petaling Jaya). Then I’ll take the rest of the month to sort out the bras, after which I communicate with the NGO to see if they’re OK with them,” said Lee, adding that sometimes, she even has to send them pictures.

But Uplift Malaysia isn’t the only cause that Lee is currently working on. The budding activist is also involved in an anti-human trafficking campaign called Running To Stop The Traffik, a student-led Hong Kong-based charity that organises 24-hour marathons annually.

“The problem (of human trafficking), however complicated it may seem, is actually really simple. If men request paid sex with girls or women, traffickers will aggressively seek to supply it. It’s all basic economics,” said Lee.

In November, Lee and her team of directors will organise Kuala Lumpur’s first-ever Running To Stop The Traffik marathon.

It might seem like a lot for an 18-year-old to handle outside of her studies, but Lee hopes her hard work will inspire others to be more involved in social justice causes.

Quoting the late Nelson Mandela, she said poverty is a man-made issue which can be solved with our own actions, and the same can be said of human trafficking as well. They can be stopped.

Running To Stop The Traffik is looking for Kuala Lumpur-based students to be a part of the race sub-committee. For more details, go to 24hourrace.org.

Tags / Keywords: Youth, Uplift Malaysia

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