Pillars of strength that help PJ communities

Tending to their community garden in SS25A are (from left) Lee, Goh, Gomez, Nirmala, and Yin. — Photos: GLENN GUAN and YAP CHEE HONG/The Star

TO BE a good leader, one must be able to work well with others.

While it may sound simple, not many are able to hone such skills.

But some women have done that and persevered in becoming leaders in their own right.

StarMetro speaks to three such women in Petaling Jaya, who have helped lead and inspire others in their community to conduct various social activities for the benefit of everyone.

Ivy Josephine Gomez Hoh

The 77-year-old retired teacher became active in her community after her husband passed away in 2007.

Since 2016, she has been SS25A Rukun Tetangga secretary.

“A leader is never a leader if they are alone. They must be able to bring others together.

“It is important to listen to others, to be able to tap into people’s skills and talents and share those skills for the benefit of many others, ” said Gomez.

The mother of two used to think her time was better spent with her family and friends and did not consider serving the community.

“I later saw the value of looking after the neighbourhood.

“After the passing of my husband, I decided to spend my time with the community and was soon roped into the RT as they wanted new faces, ” she recalled.

Gomez has a good relationship with her neighbours, especially the women, which enables her to gather support for numerous neighbourhood projects.

Fellow residents Valerie Goh, 68, Yin Lai Kin, 57, Carol Lee, 55, Kogilavani Subermaniam, 48, and Nirmala Mittra, 66, were always the first to help, she said.

“We have a vegetable garden at our park and we even plant grapes, ” said Gomez.

“These women usually come in the morning to help with the gardening.

“We have good camaraderie, and it has been mostly positive for us.

“One of our residents is good at art and had been conducting lessons prior to the Covid-19 outbreak.

“We also have tai chi lessons for the residents.

“We organised a book exchange event for the residents and also conducted a ‘Read A Book’ project at a foster home for children, ” she added.

With her good writing and organisational skills, Gomez has helped the community participate in numerous competitions organised by Petaling Jaya City Council (MBPJ).

Last year, the neighbourhood got fifth place at the Sustainable Development Goal Awards, which came with a RM15,000 cash prize.

The money is being used to fund their activities.

Gomez is also a doting mother, who cared for her cancer-stricken daughter who passed away at the age of 51 in January.

Gomez now spends her time devoted to her community while looking after her teenaged grandson.

Eileen Thong

The 75-year-old former SS20 RT chairman is well-known among resident leaders in Petaling Jaya.

Having held the position of chairman for almost 20 years, Thong was one of the first female RT leaders in the country.

She inherited from her father the passion to serve the community.

“My dad said if we could help others, we would be blessed. I believe in this and live by his words of wisdom.

“However, doing community work is no bed of roses.

“If I were to be honest, it does feel like a thankless job, especially when some residents scold me even if it is no fault of mine.

“My husband and children are always by my side, and often tell me that I am spending too much time with the community.

“However, this is my passion and my years of working with people at the Inland Revenue Board have helped with my people skills, ” said the mother of three.

Her younger brother, former Petaling Jaya Utara MP Vincent Lim, was also responsible for her interest in community work.

“I am apolitical. I can work with any elected politician in my neighbourhood.

“When my brother was the MP, I had the chance to learn about the local council and the police better.

“It was then that I realised the functions and importance of these authorities, who work for the people, ” she said.

Among Thong’s most memorable projects is the “Bridge of Friendship” that connects SS20 Damansara residents in Petaling Jaya to TTDI in Kuala Lumpur.

“Before this bridge was built, people would just make a dash across the road.

“As a mother, I was naturally worried for their safety, ” she said.

After consulting former MP Datin Paduka Chew Mei Fun, Thong was told to meet a minister to give her suggestion to build a bridge.

“To my surprise, a private company was later roped in to build the bridge and people had since benefitted from this, ” she said.

She also played a role in requesting that the MRT station be shifted away from the SS20/10 neighbourhood. Today, the station is located away from the area but is still at walking distance for SS20 residents.

For her outstanding community work, Thong was awarded Ahli Mangku Negara in 2017 and MBPJ’s Community Leader award in 2008/2009.

She also pioneered the Community Policing pilot project and later received a letter of appreciation from former inspector-general of police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar for working well with the police.

To be a good leader, Thong said, one must not come with any political agenda, but instead should be honest, passionate and inclusive.

She described her family as being muhibbah, as her children’s spouses were of other races.

“One of my sons-in-law is of Indian-Malay parentage and another is of Eurasian-Chinese parentage.

“I am a Nyonya and my husband is Chinese, ” added Thong.

Siti Mahfudz

The 67-year-old retired nurse, who is Friends of Taman Aman secretary, is active at the neighbourhood park.

Her biggest support was her late husband Omar Khan, who lost his battle with cancer last year.

“He would drive me everywhere, especially to meetings, and would make sure my car petrol tank was always full.

“He was very encouraging and would even stay up late to keep me company while I typed the minutes of meetings, ” she recalled.

Siti said she was roped into community work by her mentor, Friends of Taman Aman chairman G. Rajendram, 82.

“He is a father figure to me.

“Whenever I have a problem I seek his advice. We have been working together since I was in my 50s.

“People are not aware that this park is managed by three authorities, namely the Selangor government, MBPJ and the Drainage and Irrigation Department (DID).

“When residents have a problem, they just want me to get it resolved quickly.

“Sometimes, people must understand there has to be a proper approach to resolving issues.

“My years of experience as a nurse also comes in handy when interacting with people, ” she added.

Among activities at the neighbourhood park that are coordinated with the help of Siti are tai chi lessons, physiotherapy sessions, singing and a book corner called “Pondok Buku”.

In the course of her nursing career, Siti had been Malaysian Trades Union Congress women’s section chairman, Malaysian Nurses Association secretary and Universiti Malaya Medical Centre Union president.

In 2017, she was awarded Tokoh Jururawat Malaysia by the Malaysian Nurses Association.

As a woman leader, Siti said she was always respected and her views were heard.

“In one incident while I was talking, a male counterpart tried to stop me.

“I told the person to hold his thoughts as I was not done talking.

“Since then, no one has dared to cut me off when I speak.

“My advice to others is to show interest in serving the community and always have a good support system, ” said the mother of four.

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