Neighbours used to ask Ajaib Kaur’s mother why the latter bothered to send her daughters to school, as they would “end up in the kitchen eventually”.
Ajaib was the eldest of 10 siblings ‑ five girls and five boys ‑ who all grew up in Melaka.
However, thankfully her mother ignored the naysayers and made sure all of them went to school and did not fail any subjects. A red mark on any report card did not mark a good day in the household.
“My mum never had any education herself so she felt strongly about us being educated, believing that it was the way for us to go far in life, ” shared Ajaib, 76, when we met at her home in Taman Woon, Tampin, Negri Sembilan, recently.
Household chores were also shared equally among the brothers and sisters as they were growing up.
Even though they had a strict upbringing, Ajaib commended her mother for being a hardworking, humble and caring person.
“Her time management was fantastic. If she wanted to go anywhere, she would be there half an hour early. I learnt all that from her, ” she said.
“Her priorities were always right. Even though we didn’t have much growing up, she gave us the best education with whatever little finances we had. And despite not having much, she would always share the food she cooked with the people around her.”
Ajaib was a boarding school mistress in Melaka before she got married at the age of 20. However, at the young age of 34, she was widowed after her husband died in a car accident in Kota Baru, Kelantan, where they were living then.
At that time, her children - two boys and two girls ‑ were aged between three-and-a-half and 11.
“It was very hard to deal with at first. But I had a very supportive family who helped me through the tough times, ” said Ajaib.
Despite her circumstances, Ajaib involved herself in various charity and community work.
She was a Jabatan Hal Ehwal Wanita (Hawa) chairperson for 11 years, a former committee member with Pusat Serenti Drug Rehabilitation Centre and currently, a marriage counsellor with the National Registration Department.
Fondly known as Lady Jo, or Kak Jo, among the community in Tampin, Ajaib was also appointed Justice of the Peace in 2009. In 1995, she was named Mother of the Year, along with four other women, by an English daily.
Ajaib is also one of the founders and directors of a daycare centre for differently abled persons in Tampin.
“I feel I should give back to society because I feel blessed in life, especially since my children are all doing well, ” said Ajaib, who is of Chinese and Punjabi descent.
“I always tell all four of them that they must do well in their studies, but to always be humble in order to go far in life, ” said Ajaib, who applied the same principles of equality among her children as her mother did.
Being a single mother, Ajaib has this to say to other single women: “Never give up, always be positive, disciplined and help other single mothers. Then you will also come up in life.”
She urged both the Government and private sectors to give more support to women.
“For example, domestic violence is still a big problem, especially in rural areas where many women suffer in silence. These women are not financially independent and are abused by their husbands in various forms, ” she said.
As a whole, women need to empower other women, she added.
“It’s challenging to juggle motherhood and a career. When women have self-doubt and lack confidence, they need empowered women to help them. If women don’t help them, nobody will.
“The power of women’s votes should also not be taken lightly. Women must exercise their power to vote. And it is important that women should inform other women, especially in rural areas, about their rights in life, ” she emphasised.
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