A past kind act inspired this Malaysian to start an NGO to pay it forward

The kindness of an acquaintance who helped her when she was a student left an indelible mark on KS Pakyalakshmi and led her to start a non-governmental organization to empower women and the underprivileged in her community.

After losing her father at 16, life has been a struggle for Pakyalakshmi, her mother and her three sisters. And even though her mother was working hard to make ends meet, it wasn’t easy.

“A family without a father…it was difficult and we had to face many challenges,” shares Pakyalakshmi, from Seberang Jaya, Penang.

When she was in fifth grade, her hopes of passing her SPM exam seemed to elude her as she could not find the RM125 needed to pay her exam fees, even though she was among the top students in her school.

However, she was not one to give up on a dream.

“I knew this ‘uncle’ that I met at the bank when I went to pay my bills. He was a nice man and we became friends. I was thinking of asking him to lend me the money. I went to get him and asked him for a loan. I promised that I would find a job after my exams and pay it back with my first paycheck.

“He agreed and followed me to school the next day and paid my tuition,” she shares.

True to her word, after her exams, 17-year-old Pakyalakshmi got a job in a hotel and with her first salary she went to find her benefactor to pay off her loan.

“He refused to accept the money. Instead he told me to help other young people who had no money to study, I felt like crying when he said that” , she recalled, “That was the last time I saw him.”

Income Generating Skills

Since then, Pakyalakshmi has been giving back by helping those less fortunate in her community learn skills to earn a living.

She founded Tamarai or Pertubuhan Pembangunan Wanita Tamarai Pulau Pinang, through which she provides vocational training to disadvantaged people, at-risk youth and ex-prisoners in Penang, Kedah and Perak.

“I come from a B40 family so I know very well what it’s like… not having the opportunity to study etc. Even as a young student I wanted to do something to help others in my community, but what could I do at 18. Even though I couldn’t continue my education after my PMS, I was determined to help others,” she says.

Pakyalakshmi joined several political parties, believing it would help her to help her community.

“I was asking them why we couldn’t do this or that and I was frustrated. Then I decided that instead of waiting for others to start something, why not do it myself,” she said. She started small – teaching a few single mothers how to make jewelry. She also researched vocational training courses offered by government agencies or NGOs. But she realized that she needed a platform through which she could organize the various training programs.

Within a year, she registered Tamarai as an NGO and introduced more courses for women on flower arranging, sewing, hairdressing, henna design, digital accessory entrepreneurship, computer literacy and youth entrepreneurship.

Tamarai started with just Pakyalakshmi and her husband Balamurugan Nyanasikamani, but the organization has 25 volunteers. It has run 202 programs for the community over the past decade.

Help the less fortunate

As a telephone operator at the Penang Police Station, Pakyalakshmi says she has made many like-minded friends who share the same desire to uplift the community.

In her work, she has also seen many teenagers and single mothers land in jail for petty crimes. Knowing full well that opportunities for them after their release from prison would be scarce, she decided to help them.

“I chose to help the darker side of society – ex-prisoners and their families, ex-young people, single mothers, school dropouts etc. I focused on women because I believe really that women are the backbone of the family and society. If you help a woman, you help a family and society,” she says, adding, however, that some of her job training programs are also open to women. men and boys.

Classes are offered to people aged 18 to 50, although exceptions are made for dropouts aged 16 and over. The young entrepreneurship course is open to children, its youngest student being nine years old.

“I choose courses on skills that are in demand – there will always be a need for tailors, hairdressers and florists. During the MCO when things were really tough for many, I had a few students who managed to earning around RM5,000 making flower arrangements for Mother’s Day, so those are very useful skills,” the 39-year-old mother of two shares.

Although it was difficult, Pakyalakshmi says Tamarai has led many people to become successful entrepreneurs and many of her “students” have contributed to the organization by becoming paid tutors for their services.

“I will select some of them and send them for further training so that they can earn a bit more by becoming trainers,” she says.

This year alone, Tamarai moved from rented space to a three-storey building in Butterworth, Penang, which she called the Tamarai one-stop Skills Centre.

“I want people to come here to learn something. I want it to be family. The ground floor is a youth center so that young people from the community can come and play games or learn something. The top two floors are open to single mothers or fathers to come and learn a trade…and if they don’t have anyone to look after their young children, they are welcome to take them and we’ll take care of it. them. Often they don’t come to school because they can’t leave their little ones alone at home,” she says.

All about empowerment

By offering vocational training courses to underprivileged people, Pakyalakshmi hopes to teach the community to be self-sufficient and not dependent on government or charitable donations.

“My sincere hope is that families stop being dependent on baskets and alms. Instead, we want to encourage families to have at least one contractor per household so they can have an alternative source of income. We saw how important that was during the pandemic,” she says.

Pakyalakshmi says she focuses on vocational training because “it’s practical and anyone can do it.”

“It doesn’t matter if you are educated or uneducated, anyone can learn a skill. Nothing is impossible if you are confident and willing to learn. I believe we can break the cycle of poverty in this way, a (person) at a time,” she shares.

She shares the story of a man who is illiterate but determined to enroll in the digital entrepreneurship course.

“Because of his determination, I approached the professor who agreed to give him special attention. He tried to learn and now he has a business. He also learned how to make bouquets – on TikTok. He also has a cleaning service business, a small one but better than nothing. These stories inspire me,” she says.

Pakyalakshmi admits there are times when she feels defeated – like when she meets naysayers who doubt what she is trying to do. However, seeing her students succeed in their endeavors keeps her going.

“But when I’m feeling down, I quickly get a call from a student about how the classes have helped her and I feel uplifted again.

“It’s my destiny. It was my dream to have my own place where I could help a lot of people and I’m glad I did. If you ask me to sell something, I can’t do it But, I can teach you how to sell your wares. I can seek funding and come up with a strong proposal and rock the pitch. So I really think that’s what I’m supposed to do,” she says.

For more information: facebook.com/Pertubuhan PembangunanWanitaTamaraiPulauPinang

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