PETALING JAYA: Social worker Rahayu Rahmat has no qualms telling people that she used to work in a brothel.
That was how Rahayu, a mother of four, managed to stay together with her children and feed them after they were thrown out penniless on the streets by her ex-husband.
Born in Johor Baru, she was raised across the causeway and it was there that she received her education, worked, and eventually married. But one day, life took a dark turn.
In 2005, Rahayu was “sold” to a brothel in Johor Baru to pay off her then husband’s drug debts.
“My children were all Singaporeans so when I was sold to the brothel and with the house being auctioned off due to non-payment, my children’s passport and birth certificates were sold as well.
“They were unable to leave Malaysia and they ended up being homeless, stateless and penniless with me,” the 47-year-old told The Star.
Rahayu, her two sons and two daughters spent nearly six years sleeping rough and living from hand to mouth.
When she was finally allowed to leave the brothel sometime between 2008 and 2009, Rahayu found herself with five mouths to feed and nowhere to go.
By then, she was already HIV positive.
“My condition was so bad, I had boils and lesion on my face and body. But I continued doing sex work in order to survive,” she said.
When she could no longer earn any money, Rahayu resorted to stealing things such as bread and biscuits to feed her children.
“I never thought I could ever get out from the dark hole but Allah sent me an angel,” she said.
One day, NGO staff Rosli Ismail found Rahayu and her children on the street while conducting a street feeding programme.
Rosli, a former drug addict who now helps drug addicts kick the habit and get them off the streets, would change Rahayu and her children’s life forever.
“He found me on the street while doing street feeding and outreach programme. He took me and my children off the street and even managed to get the children’s birth certificates. Now, they are all Malaysians,” she said.
They fell in love, got married, and now actively work together to get drug addicts and sex workers off the streets.
The duo started an NGO – Persatuan Kebajikan Sinar Sofia – in 2011, a halfway house to rehabilitate sex workers in Johor Baru.
“Sinar Sofia is dedicated to helping those involved with drugs and people affected or infected with the HIV virus. We also do a lot of activities with prisons, drug rehab centres, higher learning institutions and schools,” she said.
All of her four children are actively involved in Sinar Sofia too, she added.
Her two sons, aged 21 and 24, now work in the hotel line while her 19-year-old daughter is a sales assistant. Her youngest, a 15-year-old girl, is still in school.
All in all, Rahayu said, the hardship that her children had to go through with her strengthened their relationship.
“They know about my status. I don’t hide it from them. All the hardship does make us closer and stronger,” she said.
To know more about Persatuan Kebajikan Sinar Sofia, visit their Facebook page.