She was part of the group of nine families who lived in a compound on a hill in the city centre. One after the other they told us the heart wrenching, horrifying and traumatic journey they had from Rakhine State to the boats, to the jungles in the hands of human traffickers, to the detention camps until they reached Ampang. As they told their stories, I couldn’t help but marvel at how resilient they had become. The sadness of their hearts though is visibly etched on their faces.

Their arrival in Malaysia was the beginning of a new life for them. A life filled with hope for a good and better future. Together with their husbands they dreamt of getting good jobs in the host country while waiting to be repatriated to a third country. Not long after, their hopes were dashed as their husbands struggled to find jobs that would enable them to provide at least three meals a day for the family, send their children to school and pay the high house rental for a very small place.

…their hopes were dashed as their husbands struggled to find jobs that would enable them to provide at least three meals a day for the family, send their children to school and pay the high house rental for a very small place.

Good jobs were illusive hence most of the husbands ended up scavenging for scraps from all over the garbage dumpsites near their area. Money wasn’t enough most of the time. Many times, they were asked by the owners of the house to leave after not being able to pay the rent for a month of two. They begged and begged the owner to give them an extension time to pay for the rent knowing the difficulty of finding a house. Their woes in life as a refugee seemed insurmountable and endless. Their faces showed the burdens that they carry. The wives started to plea for help. With their husbands interpreting for them, they asked if they can be taught with something that will enable them to help their husbands earn enough money for their monthly expenditures. The husbands informed us that culturally women aren’t allowed to work for a living in their home country. Women stay at home, take care of the children and look after the affairs at home.

…culturally women aren’t allowed to work for a living in their home country. Women stay at home, take care of the children and look after the affairs at home.

Sha learned how to make soap together with her husband and a few other women who were keen in learning a skill. Sha worked with the women but she is always quiet. She would only converse with us in her broken Malay when necessary but she learned the craft fast. She became skilled in making good soaps in a short time. Like the other two women who persisted in producing good soaps, she started making the soaps at her own time and pace. She learned how to look at the soaps she made whether it passed our standard of quality or not. She had earned a lot from making soaps. Ferdie, her husband, told us that she kept the money she earned for the rainy days. He added that he had seen the transformation of her wife from that of being just plain and naïve to someone who had confidence in what she was doing, to being a good hostess to a lot of men who came to seek temporary shelter and refuge in their home. He said, “Sha, used to be quiet but she has now learned how to voice out her concern about matters at home. She had learned slowly how to get out of the house and buy stuff for herself from the stores near our place. I don’t know if this is a good thing because back in our country it isn’t allowed but I like the way she has slowly learn to discover the world outside our home. This is her preparation here so she can manage to survive wherever we will be sent.”

he had seen the transformation of her wife from that of being just plain and naïve to someone who had confidence in what she was doing

I would like to teach other Rohingya women how make soaps. I want to help them so they can also help their families…

As she became so good at her craft, we asked if she was willing to teach other women the skill of making soap. Her face beamed with a smile and nodded her head several times. She said shyly, “I would like to teach other Rohingya women how make soaps. I want to help them so they can also help their families that is if my husband will allow me.” At the approval of her husband, she taught six women how to make soap. She felt dignified and proud to be given the privilege to empower others with a skill. The first batch of women she taught had started to make soaps. Seeing them produce good soap made her proud of what she had accomplished. Such an opportunity is unthinkable to happen had she been in her home country that restricts women to do something beyond the boundary of their homes.

She felt dignified and proud to be given the privilege to empower others with a skill.

© 2017 ElShaddai Centre Berhad