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Friday January 3, 2014 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Friday January 3, 2014 MYT 8:29:06 AM
Their daily bread: Parvathy Raman, 54 (left) and Devaani Dorasami, 37, are among the women who have benefited from the bakery classes.
REGINA Bertha Antoni, 72, first visited the Selayang Bahagia squatter area in 1971, and was moved to reach out to the needy even beyond her calling as a nun.
For three years, from 1971 to 1973, Bertha visited the residents in the area to discover the true needs of the community.
In the squatter area, she witnessed children as young as six years old being forced to care for their younger siblings while their parents went to work as the families were too poor to afford child-minders.
Domestic violence and child abuse were also a big problem within the community.
“Children, especially girls, were kept at home to do housework and they did not go to school.
“What irked me most was the fact that Selayang Bahagia was just 15km from the Kuala Lumpur city centre where so many opportunities could be found.
“You can feel sorry for them, pity them and not do anything but for me, I wanted to reach out and help them, ” said Bertha.
Her first step was to set up a kindergarten in the squatter area.
“The kindergarten first held its classes in the front portion of one of the squatter huts,” she said.
During this period, Bertha would travel from Sungai Way in Petaling Jaya to Selayang Bahagia via public transport.
After 10 years of commuting, she decided to move into the squatter area to serve the community better.
“The residents built me a hut and I lived there with them,” she added.
She raised funds for her community work through jumble sales and contributions made by the public.
After the squatter area was cleared, most of the residents were relocated to the flats in Taman Prima Selayang.
With the assistance of the public, Bertha continued to offer free tuition, sewing and baking classes to children and women, respectively.
She added that the low-cost flats cost about RM25,000 each but most of the residents were not able to buy the units due to their unstable income.
The families needed some extra income and the women needed to be empowered though some of their husbands were not supportive of the programme.
“We started a few home-based businesses and these women would bake cookies and savouries to earn some extra income.
“Others picked up tailoring and hair-
styling. The skills benefited the women and also helped them to spend their time well,” Bertha said.
She added that the women had now channelled their extra time into the home-based businesses.
Bertha encourages them to save the money they earn and once a year, organises an excursion or a workshop for them.
She added that these women worked hard and led challenging lives
Their combined household incomes, with their husbands, would be less than RM1,500 and some have five school-going children to support.
“Besides the extra income, the home-based businesses help them feel empowered, which will allow them to raise a more positive family,
“Most of these ladies do not have the means to travel or even take a break from their daily family routine.
“When we go on our excursions, they have so much fun and they will stay up all night talking,” she said.
Bertha and several volunteers also provide tuition classes to some 30 children in both primary and secondary school.
Those who would like to help Bertha with her community work can contact Ravindran at 012-328 1567.
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Community, Central Region, Lifestyle, People, Food, Family & Community, bertha
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