“…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