Nikesh Mehta

Counsellor for Foreign Policy and Security

Part of FCDO Human Rights UK in Malaysia

7th March 2012 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

The Home of Peace: Educating and Empowering Vulnerable Girls

To mark International Women’s Day, I’m delighted that Gail Featherstone, the wife of the High Commissioner, has agreed to write a guest blog on the efforts of one woman to give underprivileged girls in Malaysia a genuine chance in life.

Earlier today, I visited the Home of Peace (HoP), a residential care home for girls of all ages from disadvantaged backgrounds run by Justine Morais, who has just been nominated as one of the 12 Most Inspiring Women in Malaysia. Justine is one of the most remarkable women I’ve ever met and I’m proud to call her a friend. ‘Auntie Dolly’, as the girls call her, is a woman of exceptional determination and intelligence, qualities which have helped to sustain her through years of dedicated, loving service to a group of needy and often difficult girls.

Inspired both by a sense of mission and the example of her own parents, her aim is to give the girls in her charge the same opportunities in life that she enjoyed. “Without a good education”, she told me, “there is, realistically, no future in this country for girls with their backgrounds”.  Out of respect for individuals and their families, she draws a veil over precisely what those backgrounds are, but it is clear that abuse and extreme neglect are common themes.

Justine first started working with girls from slum areas almost 20 years ago but in 2005 felt the time was right to buy a residential home. The HoP is a large, brightly painted house in a good area. It incorporates a nursery school on the top floor where the younger girls study until they are ready to go to local Sekolah Kebangsaan (government run schools). Despite some help – both paid and voluntary – Justine still does the bulk of the childcare herself. Although she enjoys an understandably high reputation with the Malaysian Government’s Welfare Department, which refers children to her, she currently receives no government support.  As a result, the home is funded entirely from charitable donations – a precarious existence at best. 

The British High Commission in Kuala Lumpur has been actively involved with the HoP ever since a visiting Royal Navy ship asked the Defence Section to nominate a local charity in need of the services of a group of bored plumbers, electricians and engineers! That was in 2007 and we have been supporting the HoP, one way or another, ever since. As well as financial help and donations of toys, clothes and baby equipment, we try to involve the girls in community events such as our children’s Christmas party. (I must confess, though, that I was a little taken aback when I realised that even individual invitations to Justine have to include the girls. She is, after all, their main caregiver…A Carols Evening at the Residence? “Lovely! The girls love singing carols!” And so they do – all 16 of them – and have always been perfectly behaved!)

As the first person in my family ever to go to university, I feel very strongly about the value of educating women and I’m astounded and humbled by what Justine has already achieved in the lives of these precious youngsters. When I first met ‘Shanti’ last year, for example, she was an aggressive and almost uncontrollable three-year-old, demanding constant attention and unable to concentrate even for a few minutes. When I saw her today, by contrast, she was calmly colouring in shapes in her exercise book. She is coping well with nursery school and has started to attend ballet classes. She still likes to be the centre of attention, but these days she will usually do a pirouette instead of biting you!

Less dramatically, but equally impressively, just last week one of the older girls was interviewed on television on the subject of children’s rights. Justine told me what happened: “She was nervous but…answered her questions well – I thought she was so poised and confident!! Yeah! I am so, so proud of her – this is what HoP is all about – educating girls and empowering them…”

They have a wonderful role model.

10 comments on “The Home of Peace: Educating and Empowering Vulnerable Girls

  1. I am a 20 years old girl all the way from South Africa…I come from a very disadvantaged back round myself and i would love to start my own home for girls of my kind or who are worse. I am very inspired by works of Justine even though i do not know her. THE BEAUTY OF A WOMEN IS NOT HER APPEARANCE BUT HER HEART and as a young women i get blessed to know that women are beautiful.

  2. We met Justine and the girls a couple of years ago and were so impressed with them all. Justine has worked so hard to give the girls a good start in life, she really is an amazing person.

  3. I would give my vote to Justine, she is a true woman of God, doing what He has called her to do, to serve Him, taking care of and empowering these girls to brake the mould of poverty.

    She is doing her best, to see these girls raised, and educated to a very high standed His standed Amen

  4. I met Justine way back in 2000 and she IS one special lady who I’m glad and proud of to call her my friend. She walks her talk… Justine demonstrates Jesus in her actions, talk and life

    Her hands reminds me of the Praying Hands, a pair of hands that sacrifice for the sake of another, in her case her girls. Justine, fruits are bearing – you derserve them Mama!!!

    You have a special place ready in Heaven,and don’t forget to keep a teeny spot at the balcony for me… hee..hee….hee

    God bless

  5. I had the previlege to meet Justine (Dolly and the girls) at her home last year. Her dedication and hardwork to keep and care for the girls is unimaginable. In a country like Malaysia where there is obvious wealth, she gets no support from the state. I admire her strength and courage to carry on and provide a wonderful caring home for the children. She is a true testament to humanity. God bless you and the girls

  6. Justine is an inspiration for lot of people. A woman looking for a dream of justice, work and love. Congratulations!

  7. I met Justine 12 years ago, when I became boyfriend of her small sister. I remember visiting HoP that time and enjoying the atmosphere, full of joy. During these years I have seen Justine working and fighting everyday for these girls, and she has done everything without the security of a finantial support, showing lot of faith in Humankind and in God.
    Congratulations Justine. Best wishes from Spain.

  8. Justine fought so hard for HOP, when few people thought she could make it. She is tenacious but quite human and that’s what makes her special.
    I personally would give her my vote hands down!

  9. I might be biased but the ‘work’ that has been undertaken by Justine is a testimony to her determination and courage to carry on regardless of the many obstacles that have been thrown in her path by red tape and bureaucracy of some administration in Malaysia. She has dedicated her whole life to’ her children’. I am so very proud to know her.

    Mary Lewcock

Comments are closed.

About Nikesh Mehta

Nikesh (Nik) Mehta commenced his posting as Counsellor (Foreign Policy and Security) at the British High Commission in Kuala Lumpur in January 2012. This new role was created to strengthen…

Nikesh (Nik) Mehta commenced his posting as Counsellor (Foreign
Policy and Security) at the British High Commission in Kuala Lumpur in
January 2012. This new role was created to strengthen the British
Government’s relationship with Malaysia on issues such as Counter
Terrorism, Counter Proliferation and Transnational Crime.
Nik joined the Foreign Office in 2002 after nearly three years
working as a teacher in rural Japan. His first experience of culture
shock was trying to explain why he was vegetarian to a group of
sceptical Japanese students. Nik spent a year on the NATO desk in London
before serving in the Coalition Provisional Authority as the Political
Officer for southern Iraq based in Basrah.
In 2004, Nik was appointed as Second Secretary (Political) in Kampala
primarily responsible for reporting on conflict with the Lord’s
Resistance Army, the ensuing humanitarian crisis and the subsequent
peace talks in Juba. The posting was particularly poignant for Nik’s
family as his mother, a Ugandan-Asian, was expelled from the country by
Idi Amin’s forces in 1972.
For the last four years, Nik has served in the Foreign Office’s
Counter Terrorism Department, most recently as Head of the Guantanamo
and Rendition Issues Team.
Nik is in Kuala Lumpur with his Australian wife, Anna, and their
three year old son, Arran. You can follow him on Twitter @nikmehta33.

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