Malaysian Insider — “Underprivileged kids get a helping hand from Harinder’s trust fund”

Puteri Irene Aliza Md Kamaruzaman was only 11 when her father left home, leaving her mother Aida Abdul Ghaffar only RM50 and outstanding utility bills amounting to thousands of ringgit, as well as four children to fend for.

To make matters worse, Puteri Irene’s older brother had just been accepted by a college in the city to further his studies.

“It was hard. I had to ask for a donation because I needed to get RM300 to pay for my son’s registration fee. Then I have three more children including Puteri Irene and the youngest, who is a special needs child, to fend for. I was not working. I could not work because I am suffering from pulmonary embolism,” said Aida, 47, who was diagnosed with the illness 13 years ago.

On top of worrying about her own illness, Puteri Irene as well as her special needs younger daughter, Aida had to find ways to support her family. Then she heard about Harinder Veriah Trust Fund (HVT) from Puteri Irene.

HVT was established in memory of a talented Malaysian woman Harinder Kaur Veriah who died at the age of 33.

The trust provides financial and educational assistance for poor children to progress through Assunta Primary School and Assunta Secondary School in order to give them a decent chance in life.

“She came home from school one day and said ‘Mum, there’s this one organisation that helps poor students’. So I told her I will look into it and see if we can get some help from them,” said Aida.

Aida asked her daughter’s teacher about HVT and then applied to the trust fund for aid.

“I am poor but I still can walk and talk. Though I am not fit to work, as long as I am alive, I will do my best to seek assistance so my children can get the best education.

“Help is there, I just need to find it. So with that, I pursued HVT. They called me for an interview. Some seven maybe eight people were facing me asking me questions. I told them all. I told them about the hardship I was facing and before the school started, they told me that Puteri Irene was accepted as one of the recipients,” said Aida.

It was a huge relief for her. The aid from HVT covered almost all of Puteri Irene’s school expenses. They even took care of the school fees and provided tuition for her which helped Puteri Irene to score 4As and 1B in the UPSR examination last year.

“Some might say that the aid was not much but it was a lot to people like me and my family. I only had to worry about her schoolbus fare which I could only pay in stages due to my financial difficulties.

“You know, I could only give Puteri Irene RM1 as her pocket money. It was not enough to buy her lunch or breakfast even. With the aid I got, I don’t have to worry about her being hungry or the school fees or her school uniforms and other miscellaneous school-related things,” said Aida who is currently staying at a low-cost flat in Pantai Permai, Pantai Dalam, Kuala Lumpur.

HVT covered Puteri Irene’s school expenses for two years and is still keeping in touch with the family even now.

“The people at HVT have not forgotten me and my family. Their kindness helps me a lot. They eased my burden in giving better education to my kid with their assistance. What more could one ask for?” said Aida who is currently supporting herself and her four children with RM650 monthly financial aid from Baitul Mal and Welfare Department.

Aida’s two older children are currently pursuing their studies at local colleges in the city. One is under a full student sponsorship while the other depends on Aida for pocket money since the financial assistance received only covered his college fees.

“I’m grateful to be given wonderful children who always want to better themselves. I do not have to worry about my second child but for the eldest, I give him RM10 every three days. We don’t eat lavishly but I am making sure that we are not hungry. We live, we persevere. I am not saying it is not hard but when the going gets tough, the tough gets going,” she said.

Aida is determined that no matter how poor she is, she would find ways to give her children the best education as she does not want them to end up like her – living in poverty with nothing to hold on to.

As for Puteri Irene, being poor is not an excuse to not study hard. Even when she was admitted into hospital several times due to Lupus and other complications, Puteri Irene always tried to catch up with her studies.

Puteri Irene was diagnosed with the illness when she was 12. Lupus is an autoimmune disease where the person’s autoimmune system mistakenly attack healthy tissue.

“Before I got the aid, things were tough. We were late in paying school fees, my school things were always incomplete. Either there were no shoes or no bag or not enough books or some other stuff. I did not waste the aid given. I made full use of it. I attended the tuition every week and I was aiming for 5As but I only got 4As and 1B. But it was okay. I will continue to strive harder,” said the Form One student of Assunta Secondary School.

After scoring good results in the UPSR, Aida enrolled Puteri Irene into a smart school in the city. Aida was glad she made the decision because the school provided hostel accommodation for its students.

“I was thinking more about the logistics. How it could save me some more money as I do not have to pay for the schoolbus fare anymore. She would get the best education, she would also have her meal taken care of,” said Aida.

But Puteri Irene’s stay at the school did not last long as she was politely “dismissed” from the high prestige school as it felt she was a burden to other students as she frequently fell sick.

“It was sad. But HVT again came to my aid. All schools were full but with the help of one of the people in HVT, Puteri Irene managed to get a place in an equally good school, which is the Assunta Secondary School. I am indebted to them for their hard work and determination in helping poor families like us,” said Aida.

Aida said the Assunta school had been kind to her.

“It is a good school. Rich and poor come together and there is no segregation. The teachers are very helpful. I am poor but I want a school which can provide the best education for my kid,” said Aida.

Puteri Irene hopes to be a psychologist one day.

“I want to make my mum and HVT proud. When I make it and achieve my ambition I will not forget what they have done for me,” she said.

Puteri Irene was one of many underprivileged children who received aid from HVT. Last year, the trust provided assistance to 20 Assunta primary school students and this year, the number increased to 40.

Haripriya Sri Ram receives aid from HVT since she was in Standard Two. – The Malaysian Insider pic by Nazir Sufari, October 5, 2014.Haripriya Sri Ram receives aid from HVT since she was in Standard Two. – The Malaysian Insider pic by Nazir Sufari, October 5, 2014.Out of the 20 primary students it had helped last year, two of them had achieved excellent results in their UPSR examinations. They were Puteri Irene and Haripriya Sri Ram who scored 5As in the examination.

Haripriya, the eldest of two children in her family, is the daughter of a kacang putih seller. She was a HVT recipient since she was in Standard Two. She is currently pursuing her study at Sekolah Menengah (P) Sri Aman, a prestigious all-girls school in Petaling Jaya.

The trust also expanded its aid to help Assunta Secondary School students. This year it has channelled aid to 29 of them.

The trust pays for the girls’ uniforms, shoes, socks, school bag, stationery, school fees, lunch and two hours of tuition a week.

The person behind HVT is none other than Harinder’s husband, Martin Jacques.

Harinder, a former Assuntarian, had a difficult childhood. Money was scarce and her father, renowned lawyer and social activist Karam Singh Veriah, was detained under the Internal Security Act for leading estate workers in a protest march in 1966, the year she was born. He was released four years later. In 1973, when she was just 6, her mother died.

Despite the odds, Harinder put herself through law school and practised as a lawyer in Kuala Lumpur. She married Jacques in 1996 and in 1998, they, and their 9-week-old son, Ravi, moved from London to Hong Kong to continue her work with international law firm Lovells. On December 31, 1999, on her 33rd birthday, she suffered an epileptic seizure and was admitted to Rutonjee Hospital.

While there, she told Jacques she was at the “bottom of the pile” as she was Indian and everyone else Chinese. She died two days later, after suffering another seizure.

At an inquest in Britain, the coroner said that serious questions had to be raised about the quality of care Harinder received.

The court was told that she was not administered the drugs she required and had died after hospital staff failed to respond effectively to her breathing problems. Publicity and public pressure on the issue of racism in Hong Kong mounted in the ensuing months.

In 2003, the Hong Kong government announced that it would introduce anti-racist legislation for the first time.

While acknowledging that this new law means his wife’s death was not in vain, Jacques stressed that the trust was a more fitting memorial to Harinder’s generosity and enthusiasm for life.

— MUZLIZA MUSTAFA, 05/10/14 — Malaysian Insider

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Thank You...


“I like to attend HVT tuition because it makes my family happy. I am lucky to be given a school bag, food, shoes, books and pencils. I say “Thank you” to Mr Martin. I want to pray to my God, so that God can make him happy.”

Pavitra A/P Mahendran Std 3