Unbearable hunger pangs gripped Jeganathan a/l Mumisamy (better known as James Jega) and all he could think to do was to snatch a piece of cake from the nearby sundry shop in Brickfields. Unfortunately, Jega, then 12 years old, was caught in the act. The storekeeper beat him relentlessly as punishment.
This experience left an indelible mark on him. It was then that he decided to look for a job and earn some money. He did so by washing dishes at a nearby “mamak” shop. Whatever he earned went to help his sickly mother, unemployed father and five siblings.
Shortly after, the landlord of the wooden house they were renting, threw Jega and his family out as they could no longer pay the rent. They found themselves on the streets. Somehow they managed to put up a piece of canvas under a tree and that became home to them for a while.
It was at that time that he met one of the founding members of Shelter, Solomon, who took him in to stay at Shelter. He became the first resident in Shelter. That was in 1981.
Through the help of a Shelter staff, he started work in an accountancy firm in Sungai Besi. He was thankful for this job and didn’t mind cycling each day from Section 12, PJ to his work place, a distance of at least 10 km.
He gave his monthly earnings to Shelter because he was grateful to Shelter. At the end of his stay in Shelter, the staff returned all the money he had given them – they had kept it safe for him! With the “surprise savings” and additional help from Shelter, he was able to buy a small house for his family.
James Jega attributes his success to the staff and volunteers of Shelter – in addition to the necessities given him, the constant nurturing, guidance and counsel given by the staff members, volunteers and donors instilled in him a sense of responsibility and a hope for the future. The staff and volunteers of Shelter were helpful to him and his family members throughout those trying years of sheer hard work when he first started his business.
“I enjoyed my time in Shelter and will never forget what Shelter staff and Volunteers (namely James Nayagam, Rajes, Lawerence, Phylis, Daisy, Susy, Kingsley, Solomon, Kumar and Karasi) have done for me. If not for them, I won’t be where I am today!” says this man who presently owns a transport company with a few employees working for him.
One of the pioneer staff of Shelter, remembers him as an active but very hard working boy. “He is also very enterprising and has helped each of his three brothers start their own businesses,” the staff proudly said.
“If I had remained on the streets I could have ended up like some of my childhood friends who have died from drug overdose or gang fights,” said Jega. “My life certainly changed for the better. I hope that more street children will have the chance to be cared for like me,” said James Jega.
Her body went into alarm reaction - her heart pounded, she gasped for breath?
Sunita's mother passed away soon after giving birth to her. Sunita’s father, on whom fell the responsibility to raise her, was always too busy womanising to have any time for his daughter and eventually sent her to live at a stepsister's house. Nobody bothered to pay any attention to her there.
However, things changed when Sunita turned five. Her step-brother-in-law started to go into her room several nights a week and putting a pillow over her face, raped her. Each time, out of sheer terror, her body went into alarm reaction - her heart pounded, she gasped for breath. After each episode, her eyes stayed wide open, her heart raced, her muscles remained tightened until dawn. This went on for eight years. Sunita began to developed epilepsy.
When her stepsister found out about the rape, she sent her to another stepsister's house where history repeated itself. This time, things got even worse because her stepsister would kick and beat her as punishment for being raped. She was finally abandoned at a police station when she was 14 and sent to Shelter.
Three years later, Sunita is still undergoing treatment for epilepsy which is now under control. The trauma of her childhood lingers on and haunts her as she struggles to adjust to a normal life.
Chong* was arrested for stabbing another boy in a gang fight?
Chong is the sixth child in a family of eight children. They lived in poverty and his parents had to spend every waking hour trying to earn a living to support the whole family. There just wasn't any time to spend with their children.
Left on his own, Chong felt bored. He started mixing with bad company at the age of nine. He skipped school, smoked, gambled, shoplifted, got into gang fights and stole money from home. He lost interest in school and dropped out after Standard 6. As the years progressed, Chong and his friends even resorted to extortion to get extra money.
Deep inside, he was just a child crying out for help. He had hoped that his parents would notice his misdeeds and make him stop. When that did not happen, he started staying out more often and getting into more trouble.
His parents finally realised what their son had been up to when Chong was arrested for stabbing another boy in a gang fight. Unable to control him, they approached their priest who recommended that Chong be admitted to Shelter.
When Chong came to us at 14, he tried to run away. He detested attending English, Maths and Auto-Mechanics classes. However he soon made friends with the other boys and realised that he could earn an honest living when he grew up. Now, Chong is determined to become a good mechanic.
*This is not his actual name
“To the supporters and donors, do not feel like your money is wasted. Please do not look at your donation in a short term return but think of it as a long term investment. Think of it as “If I sponsor this kid, in 10 years, where he could be?” Do not think “If I am paying this much, I will get the tax exemption, name and recognition”. -David
We are very proud to share that David is the person who coded this newly revamped web page.
David came into SHELTER at the age of 7. He has no recollection of any memory before that and he never knew who his parents were. He only remembers that one of the staff of SHELTER took him from Batu Arang into our Home and the staff left not long after. David did not get the chance to ask about his background from him but David has never lingered on his past and have long accepted his life’s circumstances and moved on.
When David entered into SHELTER, he found that he is soaked in an environment that pushes him to learn how to speak in English. Besides that, his life now follows a schedule and a discipline that is shaped by school, tuition and chores as well as having a time of fun with play time and TV. He was close to some of the staff there and one of the staff even taught him how to cook! One person that was like a father figure to him then was the Home Manager, Jin. Jin often took time to teach and constantly listen to the needs of the children.
By the time David was 13 years old, he was moved to the teenage boys Home. He shared that he felt that he could already speak English fluently then. However at that point of time, the teenage boy Home was filled with squabbles and fights among the boys and he felt really agitated as it is natural that teenagers need a lot of private space to explore their own identity. A staff then known as Eric* saw that this was not an environment that would be conducive for the teenagers to grow and excel in so he proposed an idea to the management to start a different Home under his supervision. The idea behind this Home was to select boys who sincerely wanted to learn and excel in life and Eric would dedicate all of his time and energy in building these boys up. This Home was known as Shelter X.
The idea was then approved by the management and so Eric selected the boys from the teenage boys Home; David was one of them.
Eric had a different style of raising the boys. He does not expect the boys to be spoon fed by deciding what they need to do and what they should do throughout the day. He only expected them to follow by the guidelines like not going out and coming back at a certain hours, not mixing with the wrong gang, play truant or to take drugs. What they chose to do within the Home or outside, he left it to them to decide. Eric also gave their pocket money in a lump sum at the beginning of the month. He wanted them to learn how to budget and to have the self-control in their spending. This is because he wanted to prepare them to be independent when they leave SHELTER as most of them will have no one else to depend on. He told them “you guys are old enough to think for yourself, so make the right choices because the choice you make will affect your future”.
Eric was not just someone who just gave them the guidance and care; he was also there to help them with their homework and exams at school.
When David finally graduated from SPM, he had nowhere to go. He has no contact to his parents and no relatives have ever tried to contact him during his years at SHELTER. So someone who is close to a staff of SHELTER offered her place for David to stay. Her friend who owns a restaurant then was looking for someone to work there so David decided to take up the job. He then moved out to stay along with the other workers. David was prepared and he did not really have much issue coping. He credited this readiness to Eric who has trained him during his stay with him.
When SPM results were released, David wanted to study. He knew the only way to move forward in life in the city was to get a degree. He did not know where to start as he found that the costs at private colleges are exorbitant. Another staff from SHELTER then, Sophia, followed up with him and came to know about his desire. She then made the necessary arrangements for David. He chose to study at Binary College. When the college saw the letter provided by SHELTER on David’s background, they gave him a RM8000 discount on his fees. With the PTPTN loan, David can finally start his college studies in Diploma.
David then met his girlfriend at college and when her family came to know about his background, they offered to support him. After a couple of months, David felt that it wasn’t right for him to receive their money so he took on a weekend job with his girlfriend. This job is to clean up the church after service on Sundays. He got some money there but it was not enough so he eventually managed to land an internship job with a company that his lecturer referred him to. David has completed his Diploma and is now studying his Degree. Today he is still studying full time and juggling with two part time jobs to be fully independent.
However, since David has started helping with coding to revamp our web page, SHELTER has been supporting him with an amount of pocket money to him monthly until he finishes his studies. He is scheduled to finish his degree in June next year and we are really looking forward to that day!
*This is not his actual name
“A proud business owner at the age of 21 and one who has experience grooming various renowned artists in Malaysia, Angel shares her life story with us and how SHELTER played an important part in her life.”
At a young age, Angel’s dream was to be a lawyer when she grows up but life was tough for her then. Angel, the only child in her family, whose father passed away when she was a baby, grew up with her grandmother. Her mother remarried and explained that she gave her to her grandmother because her house was near the school.
At that time, Angel’s Aunt worked at a Home. Angel then got a chance to visit the Home and saw the environment in the Home. She really liked it and she would ask to stay with the children in the Home during the school holidays. Angel was only 11 then. A year later, her mother passed away. When she was 13, her Aunt’s friend who liked her wanted to adopt her but she declined.
By the age of 14, she was not happy with her environment and had no contact with her family anymore, so she asked her Aunt’s friend to send her to a Home. She was then sent to SHELTER.
This is one of Angel’s turning points of life. At that time, SHELTER 2 was a vocational home. The Home Manager there made sure that all the girls would learn a variety of skills. At these classes, the girls were taught knitting, cooking, sewing, hairdressing, flower arrangement, cross- stitch and even basic English and Computer literacy. These classes were held daily. She was the top student in the Home and teachers were fond of her as she had a strong desire to learn. Among all the skills, she liked hairdressing the most. At this point in her life, Mr John Loga, the Community Officer, helped to get her Birth Certificate. Her grandmother for some reason had lost it. After nine months at SHELTER, her stepfather wanted to take her back. Ms Delilah*, the Home Manager then, stopped it as she felt that the stepfather wanted to use her for some other purpose and had no interest, whatsoever, in taking care of her.
However, another volunteer Ching*, who had been teaching her hairdressing, took her as a trainee as she ran her own business. She was 15 then. Angel stayed with her, followed her to work, started to learn what it is like to work and also learnt many other things from Ching and her staff by careful observation. Ching was not calculative and did not hesitate to spend on Angel. There was also another ex-resident of SHELTER who was staying and working with Ching. It was a difficult start for Angel as there was a lot to adjust to but she eventually got used to it. Two years later, she got a scholarship to do a course with Kimarie. Others usually complete the course in 2 years but Angel did it in 8 months! This is because she has a strong interest to learn and her work experience covered many aspects of the course. Wella saw her positive attitude to learn and decided to sponsor her Advance Course and she finished it in a few months as well.
Angel’s life started to take a better turn. She was hired in a famous hairstylist place known as Jesmine’s and she got the chance to groom artists like the Alleycats, Reshmonu, Jacklyn Victor, Anantha and Ram from Astro, Sasi the Don and even professionals like lawyers and doctors. At this point of time, Angel wanted to expand her repertoire of skills so she paid to take courses to learn other grooming skills like Make-Up, Waxing and so on while working.
After two years, she felt that she was not learning much, so she moved on and worked for another person in Puchong. However she was only paid RM1200 a month. The owner was uninvolved in the business and expected her to do everything from A-Z, ie from contacting the suppliers to hairstyling and grooming. With her qualifications and years of experience, she really felt underpaid but at least the pay was stable.
A volunteer named Heather*, who helped at SHELTER 2 had always kept in touch with her and heard about her predicament. Heather was the person Angel depended on in hard times. When Heather saw the potential in Angel, she advised her to start her own business. At that point in time, Angel was not courageous enough to make the move. However, the owner saw the potential in her and made her an offer to be a partner in order to keep her. Heather protested vehemently and strongly advised Angel not to agree as Angel would be sharing the profit with a sleeping partner - Angel listened.
Not long after, things got tensed between Angel and the owner due to the decline of offer and a slip of words were said to her that caused a misunderstanding and Angel decided to leave. With a lot of encouragement from Heather and some financial help, Angel started her own business with her measly savings of Rm3000. It was very hard for her at the beginning as she had just turned 21. However, one by one, customers who knew that Angel left her former place came to her new place. In just two weeks, she already made more than she had saved in 2 years! She then realized her true capability and how much she had been missing out and that Heather was the person who really pushed her.
Today, Angel is no longer in contact with Heather due to some issues but the ex-Home Manager of SHELTER 2, Melissa* , got in touch with her and is now her pillar of strength. Angel has a well established business with staff and calls it Angel’s Hair Beauty Studio. She is currently happily married and gave birth to a lovely daughter not too long ago. Angel who is very grateful to SHELTER does not charge or would give a good price to ex-staff or staff from SHELTER, both present and previous ones who go to her Beauty studio.
*These are not their actual names.
“…SHELTER teaches you to be disciplined. They teach you how to be a better person in future, how to be independent and I really respect and thank God for that.” – Raj*
Raj had a difficult childhood. His father was away from home, working as a rubber tapper and his mother was a cleaner. There were five in the family. His parents could not afford to take care of him so they sent him to his grandmother where his uncle and aunt helped to care for him.
His aunt was very firm and strict. He had to behave exactly as he was told or he would be severely punished. In fact the word “punish” is an understatement; he was literally abused. Raj was a playful and aggressive child then but his aunt would often pinch him so hard that his skin would tear. At other times, his aunt would tie him up under the hot sun, take a metal, sear it in an open wood fire until it was burning hot and then would burn Raj’s arms or body. Due to the constant physical abuse, Raj started to leave home often and loiter around the neighbourhood. His uncle would then look for him, get hold of him and bring him back. During Raj’s loitering, many kind souls gave him money thinking he was a beggar but his uncle would later take all the money to buy lottery tickets.
On one of these trips, Raj burned his leg from a motorbike exhaust pipe. When passers-by saw that, they started to ask if he was okay. One person called the Welfare Department and an ambulance came and took Raj to the hospital. SHELTER was later informed and Mr Peter Daniel was in- charge of Raj’s case. Mr Peter made all the necessary arrangements with Mr James (SHETLER's founder) as well as Raj’s parents, to enroll Raj into SHELTER. Raj’s parents agreed and since then, Raj’s life has been on a bright path. Raj was 8 years old when all these happened.
Alan* and Teresa* were among the many people who took care of Raj. To Raj, Alan and Teresa were the loving parents that he never had. Raj’s life was drastically changed as he learned to speak English and was appropriately disciplined. On weekends, children then were supposed to go back to their families to spend time with their parents. Even though Raj did go back home, his mother hardly spent time with him so Raj ended up working for his neighbour’s Mamak stall where he was given meals in exchange for the work he put in.
When he was 12 years old, it was SHELTER's procedure in those days to discharge the child and send them back to their families. Raj still remembers that all his other friends’ parents came and took them but even though it was already 12 midnight that day, his parents never came.
One of SHELTER’s officers then drove Raj back to his home. By then, his biological father had passed away and his mother had remarried. To Raj’s horror, his stepfather was a drug addict. On the same day that Raj went home, his stepfather took Raj’s hard saved money to buy more drugs for himself. These savings were the pocket money that Raj had saved daily for 5 years. Raj couldn’t deal with this so he went to church the next day (it was a Sunday) to look for Alan and Teresa.
He told them that he felt insecure and uncomfortable in his home. After church service, Alan went to his house to talk to his stepfather and mother to seek permission for Raj to be adopted. They agreed on the spot.
Alan and Teresa were one of the few in his life that helped build his character. Many words of love, encouragement and advice, as well as tough discipline were part of his upbringing in SHELTER. Alan was a disabled person, used a wheelchair and yet went out of his way to take Raj as his own. There was once when Raj was extremely mad at Teresa after she scolded him for something he had done. He remembered that night when he was in bed, she sat next to him and said “You have no idea how much I love you”.
During his high school years, Raj was bullied. After some time, he couldn’t take it anymore and started defending himself by getting into fights and was later expelled.
When Raj turned 15, a food stall nearby was torched and some witnesses pinned it on Raj. The police and even some gangsters were involved in this and both parties dropped by Alan & Teresa’s home. Alan felt it was best that Raj moved out and they would support him from a distance for his safety. SHELTER helped to pay the rent for Raj’s new place and even gave him some money for his meals. Alan appealed to the secondary school he was in to accept Raj again and they agreed.
After finishing secondary school, Raj worked at a hypermarket. He approached SHELTER for help in seeking a scholarship to study in a college. Mr James Nayagam then arranged with Rotary Club and later he got a full scholarship to study hotel management at Olympia College.
From then on, Raj started working very hard. He ventured into different hotels and eventually into the Food and Beverage (F&B) line. His friend Simon, was a key person in his life because he taught Raj all the basics of the F&B business. Raj rose to be supervisor at a café and eventually placed in the team to supervise the opening of new branches.
Today, Raj has over 15 years of F&B experience and has a family with two young children. He is also a consultant for anyone who wants to open a restaurant. He owns an apartment and now wants to help other underprivileged children.
*This is not his/her actual name
Picture a 15-year old boy with an ailing mother and five younger siblings needing financial support. Many years later, this man, Subramaniam a/l Munisamy or Mani for short, has a thriving plumbing and renovation business with two full-time workers and several part time employees working for him. “With my earnings, I was able to buy a bigger lorry, car and some property including a house which I gave to my mother,” says Mani.
Mani came to SHELTER in 1981 and he stayed till 1982. In 1983, with the help of SHELTER, he was accepted into Negeri Agro Industrial Training Centre (a vocational school), to pursue a certificate course in plumbing. After completing the course, he worked in a company for seven years as a quality controller. Mani also took on plumbing jobs after office hours to earn extra income. Having no transport of his own, he travelled by mini bus, lugging his heavy tools along. He saved enough to buy a motorbike in three years and subsequently, he was able to buy a small lorry.
He decided to go full time into plumbing but found that running the business wasn’t always smooth sailing – during low periods he had to supplement his income by collecting cardboard boxes, paper cartons and newspaper in order to sell them. Mani also picked up renovation skills in carpet laying, welding, wiring and house painting. “I learnt those skills mainly by observation – as in the case of carpet laying, I went ahead with this business without any practical experience,” Mani said.
Just seven months ago, Mani took in a 17 year old boy from SHELTER 3, “Samy*” is a very slow learner and finds it hard to remember the different types of the plumbing tools. “I have to teach him over and over again,” says Mani. “He has no concept of time or money but he is good in doing manual tasks.” However Mani perseveres in the task of coaching and mentoring Samy. He hopes that in time Samy will be able to work independently and perhaps, set up his own business.
Mani is one of SHELTER’s first success stories. His success has a lot to do with his drive. But SHELTER has a part too – in providing him the direction and opportunity to develop his skills. Now Mani has gone one step further. . .in giving an opening for other SHELTER boys to learn a skill and to be self-sufficient as they prepare to leave SHELTER.
*Name has been changed