In Tun Dr Siti Hasmah Mohd Ali's youth, it was very rare for women to hold high positions in any field. Even more so in the field of medicine.
This did not dissuade her from trying. Siti Hasmah became one of the first Malay women to enroll for a medical course at the King Edward VII College of Medicine in Singapore after WWII.
Siti Hasmah would later graduate from the Faculty of Medicine in University of Malaya in Singapore in 1955, and alongside Latifah Ghows and Salma Ismail, become a pioneer among women Malay doctors.
She would also later marry former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
Her remarkable story in medicine is now retold in a new children's picture book, titled The Accidental Doctor: Tun Dr Siti Hasmah Mohd Ali, published by World Scientific.
The book is written by Eva Wong Nava and June Ho, with illustrations by Debasmita Dasgupta. It is part of the publisher's "Women Who Shaped Asia" series.
“This series aims not just to educate but also to motivate. These stories celebrate the amazing accomplishments of women from this region," read a statement by the publisher.
The book introduces readers to a young Siti Hasmah, who wants to be a journalist in a time when most girls did not go to school. It then follows her growing up, as she witnesses WWII, goes to university, and ends up in the public spotlight.
Authors Wong Nava and Ho, who received input from interviews with Siti Hasmah, said this book is about inspiring young readers to chase their dreams despite the odds.
"Readers will follow Tun Siti Hasmah from a little girl to an adult by walking in her footsteps as she transforms from a tomboy into a medical doctor. At the same time, they will also follow Malaysia's colonial history as the country gained independence when she became a young mother. Readers see all this through the eyes of Tun Siti Hasmah," said Wong Nava.
“We did agree that we want our young readers to not just read and enjoy Tun Siti's story, we want them to learn and be inspired, to imagine and to think," said Ho.
"The book also has a variety of activities (for readers) that range from simple to challenging. Readers can choose to read on their own, or parents and educators can also read it with the young ones to engage them in more meaningful conversations, ” she added.
Artist Debasmita said she hopes this book will inspire readers to go on to do great things.
“Changemakers like Tun Siti give voice to the voiceless. Her presence gives us hope and like every positive story has the power to create another, children will draw inspiration from her story and understand that we are not defined by our name, age, gender, race, or qualifications," said Debasmita.
"Instead we will always be remembered for our courage, resilience and selfless contributions to the world, ” she added.
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