JOHOR BARU: For nearly 20 years, she had been enjoying a comfortable life, but Zaharah Raishan Mohd Yassin (pic, left) decided to leave the corporate world and find fulfilment in helping others.
Back in 2011, the mother of three quit her high-paying job as a company general manager for good.
“I was under a lot of stress and more importantly, I wanted to explore something new.
“So, I started dabbling in a small home-based cake business as baking is a way for me to relax.
“About two years later, I went to complete my master’s degree at a public university,” she said.
While she was still working in the private sector, Zaharah said she was involved in charitable work on a small and personal scale due to time constraints.
“It makes me happy to see others happy.
“In early 2016, a friend introduced me to Free Market Johor, an initiative where people who go to markets under this programme can take anything they need for free.
“Since then, I have been dedicating most of my time to helping the community through various programmes under the NGO,” she said.
Zaharah, 52, who is also a part-time lecturer, said Free Market Johor was founded by a friend, Hairi Abdul Ghani, in December 2015.
“He returned to his hometown in Kedah in 2016. Since then, I have been coordinating the NGO with the support and assistance of over 200 volunteers in Johor Baru, Pasir Gudang, Kulai and Kluang,” she said.
To date, the NGO has organised close to 50 free markets and helped thousands of needy families.
“We organise the free market once every two to three months. For each session, we normally have between 300 and 800 families receiving free items ranging from basic foodstuff such as flour and sugar to toys, books and clothes,” she said.
Apart from the free market, the NGO has also organised other initiatives such as setting up food banks during the Covid-19 pandemic, distributing food to Covid-19 centres and families living in Hardcore Poor Housing Programme (PPRT), donating medical equipment to hospitals and providing free petrol to students using motorcycles as well as food delivery riders.
“In 2016, we started the Free Canteen initiative where we provide hot meals to underprivileged students in selected schools.
“However, due to the pandemic, we had to defer the initiative and have only restarted it recently,” she said, adding that 14 schools have benefited from the initiative.
Last year, the NGO purchased two lorries to assist poor families in funeral arrangements.
“For those living in PPRT, it could be challenging for them to make funeral arrangements especially when it comes to bathing the body of the deceased.
“They have limited space in their homes and at times, the escalators are also not working. As such, we decided to buy two lorries that act as a mobile mortuary and hearse.
“We collaborated with other NGOs for this initiative. Currently, the mobile units are available at Simpang Renggam and Ulu Tiram,” she said.
On top of that, Free Market Johor has also kickstarted an initiative to provide free tuition classes to children.
“We started this initiative about eight months ago where we provide some 22 school children in Kluang with free tuition classes.
“This includes children from the hardcore poor and those who have lost their parents.
“We want to give them a chance to change their lives through education,” she said.
Moving forward, Zaharah, who is fondly known as Rye, aspires to have a one-stop centre that includes a soup kitchen, a transit centre for the homeless and space for underprivileged families to sell their crafts.
“This is the ultimate goal that my friends and I are working on,” she said.
Her charity work has earned her the Iskandar Malaysia Social Heroes Award organised by the Iskandar Regional Development Authority for Hunger and Poverty in 2019.