Even as a little girl, Ananti Rajasingam has always wanted to serve and help others.
“My childhood ambition was to be a nurse but my parents had very traditional ideas of what I should pursue – Medicine, Engineering ... Nursing wasn’t a choice they supported, so I decided to do my Bachelors degree in psychology and Masters in rehabilitation counselling in Australia.
“Nur Salam (Pusat Aktiviti Kanak Kanak Chow Kit) was my first job. They were looking for a social worker and though I wasn’t one, I applied for the job,” she shares.
Ananti recalls that she had “big ambitions” of bringing the system (of social care) that was used in Australia here.
“But I was still young and I wanted to learn about the NGOs here. Dr Hartini (Zainudin, Yayasan Chow Kit founder) was my mentor and she’d throw cases at me and make me go to hospitals and the court to be with children and their families.
“At first I didn’t know what I was doing but with her guidance and with experience, I learned. It was all very hands on, very tiring but very rewarding,” she shares.
It’s been 12 years since and Ananti is now the chief executive officer of Yayasan Chow Kit (YCK), a child protection and rights NGO that runs the Pusat Aktiviti Kanak Kanak and KL Krash Pad, two refuge centres for children and youth in Chow Kit.
“Until today, I still enjoy what I do,” says Ananti, who grew up in Johor Baru and is the second of three siblings.
Ananti was responsible for setting up the childcare and social care system in YCK.
“I used to take some children to therapy and counselling, to the police station to make reports, represent them at court and so on. I remember there was one girl, a refugee, who was abused by her dad.
“Her mum was always working and didn’t have much time to spend with her.
“She was just 10 years old and she went to the police station on her own to make a police report about her abusive father. “The police contacted us and she came to reside at our shelter. Though she was very courageous, she had a lot of emotional baggage and I used to take her to counselling and act as her mentor.
“She eventually got resettled to the United States about five years ago and we helped her link to our contacts there.
“She’s working now and is sending money to her mother here. She is also giving money every month to one of our children who had recently lost his parents.
“That’s such a beautiful thing and it’s exactly what we want – we want children to learn skills here, be independent and then come back to help others who are in the same situation they were in.
“That’s just one story – there are so many others like her who give back to the younger children. And that is what keeps me going.
“When I have a bad day, I just think about these children and I feel that the work we do really has value,” says Ananti.
Working in child protection services, she says, sometimes means working around the clock, every day of the week. It’s tiring but it’s also rewarding – and she can’t imagine doing anything else.
“When you look at the long-term impact and result, what we do is really priceless.
“I think sometimes NGOs are undervalued. It’s so hard to get funding and we constantly have to justify why our staff needs salaries because this is a full-time job.
“We get calls in the middle of the night or in the early hours of morning, and we have to always be ready to act.
“But seeing these children break away from the cycle of poverty ... that’s really what it’s all about,” concludes Ananti.