A tough childhood without parents drove a woman to pour her old age nest egg into an orphanage. For that, she was named a Lifetime Humanitarian last year. Kicking off the search for nominations this year, BRENDA LIM and SUGANTHI SUPARMANIAM catch up with Embun Mohd Ali and the home she set up.
A BULLDOZER sits in the middle of a clearing pockmarked with holes, waiting for jackfruit saplings. Down a slope to one side, four ponds are full of catfish and tilapia.
Livestock is on the way: 50 goats in the next three weeks and turkey hatchlings in the future.
A small farm is taking shape here among oil palm and rubber smallholdings outside Gopeng, Perak, bringing hope and a future to the 53 orphans of Asrama Anak-anak Yatim dan Miskin Yayasan Hikmah.
This well-deserved windfall follows years of struggle by its founders, Embun Mohd Ali and her late husband, Din Kimi.
The retired headmistress, now 88, knows what it is to grow up without parents.
Hers divorced when she was 5: Her British estate owner father left Malaya and her mother went to work. Embun was left in her grandmother`s care in a village in Gopeng.
To earn some extra money, she gathered vegetables from the jungle to sell in school. With the help of her grandmother, she made pecal — the Malay salad with peanut sauce — to earn extra money.
She became a teacher, then eventually headmistress, at Sekolah Rendah Seri Kepayang in Ipoh. But she never forgot her tough childhood.
So she and Din bought 13ha of land with money meant for their old age, and began taking in children at the home in Kampung Pintu Padang, near Gopeng.
The home was officially registered in 1991, two years after Din died. The next 15 years would be spent looking for ways and means to feed and care for the orphans.
Last year, the wheelchair-bound Embun was named NSTP-PwC Lifetime Humanitarian 2005.
With the award came publicity and some much-needed attention, which in turn brought offers of help and a steady stream of donations.
It has made a huge difference, says Embun`s son-in-law Ismail Bidin, who runs the home. Expenses are RM13,000 a month, and donations usually amount to only RM4,000.
It was a constant struggle to survive on money from friends and walk-in visitors.
The RM25,000 which came with the award was also handy. The first thing Embun did was to buy a hearing aid. She forgot to bring it on the day she was interviewed by New Sunday Times, so her daughter Saadah spoke on her behalf.
The second was a thorough check-up, which Embun passed with flying colours.
The rest of the money has gone to the children in her care, aged between 5 and 16.
The award also brought a torrent of visitors — from the Farmers Organisation Authority, which donated jackfruit saplings and fertiliser; to Rural and Regional Development Minister Datuk Seri Abdul Aziz Shamsuddin, who pledged 50 goats.
The cash and promised help has allowed Ismail and the committee running the home to dream big:
To set up a farm to generate income to make the home self-sufficient, and instil discipline in the children.
"It will teach them to be self-sufficient, that the world does not owe them a living. And they can pick up a trade."
Not one child has complained about the extra chores, says Ismail.
They cheerfully take turns to feed the fish twice a day, and made their first catch last month. Stored in the freezer, fish is on the menu every other day, with no fear it will bust the budget.
Ismail is planning to milk the goats and turn their dung into fertiliser. He also wants to buy turkey hatchlings to raise them for sale.
A 45-week-old bird could fetch RM45 from hypermarket chain Tesco, and at Christmas time, up to RM90.
"The award has triggered all these self-help programmes. With the integrated farm, 70 per cent of our financial needs will be covered."
Embun still makes regular inspections every month, returning from Kuala Lumpur where she now lives with her own children.
As doughty as ever, Embun insisted during her April visit on seeing the fish, recruiting several boys to help push her wheelchair down the slope to the ponds, Ismail said.
Her sharp eyes missed nothing, which meant a long to-do list for Ismail.
"You know how it is, with former headmistresses," he said with a smile.
Source: http://www.nst.com.my (5 Juli 2007)