Dr. Hartini Zainudin sees herself as someone who is “a bit strange, nutty, with a wild imagination and a penchant for always getting into trouble”. However, fueled by her kindness and compassion, she is in fact the one who goes out of her way to save and protect the lives of others and doing her part to get them to stay away from trouble.
She also possesses such a down-to-earth personality. In fact, when we asked to learn more about herself, her reply begun with, “There’s not much to tell actually”.
For somebody who has done so much for others, her humility speaks volume about how beautiful of a soul she has.
Born in Johor but raised in Selangor – Klang and Petaling Jaya, to be exact – Dr. Hartini is known for her community involvement and volunteerism.
“I started as a volunteer with organisations while living in (the United States of) America, then slowly started working for a non-profit as a volunteer, and the rest is history”, she told us.
Taking care of Chow Kit Road
Dr. Hartini, by the way, is also the founder of Yayasan Chow Kit
Chow Kit, as Sudirman depicts in his famous song “Chow Kit Road”, is a mix of everything. There’s the good, the bad and the ugly. Well, it is fair to say that Chow Kit as a whole has long had a reputation for being a place that is not family-friendly – and that is to say the least.
It is not wise for the average Joe to roam around carelessly here.
Despite such conditions, there are minors – some who are still little children – who inhabit the place anyway, calling the streets their home. These innocent souls are exposed to a world of wonders. Unfortunately, on many occasions, the possibilities lean more to the negative side of life.
Growing up, Dr. Hartini had several different ambitions.
“I wanted to be a teacher, a CIA agent, a teacher again and someone who wanted to do good in this world and make a difference to children in need”, she said.
We’re not entirely sure if she ever got to be a CIA agent but other than that, she is doing what she said she wanted to.
Dr. Hartini took it upon herself to provide better care and guidance for the youngsters of Chow Kit. Along with her on the journey are some amazing individuals who make it possible to continue improving the lives of many despite the challenges that arise.
There existed a daycare center in the area back then which eventually grew into a 24-hour crisis and drop-in center in the year 2006. This is the place where they provide meals, run activities and carry out therapy sessions for those in need. They also didn't leave out case management and educational programmes for the children.
Fast forward to the year 2010, they were able to branch out with two new centers that cater to minors as little as babies to young adults.
A year later, with better knowledge and experience regarding the issues that occur in the community, Rumah NurSalam, which was a project under Yayasan Salam, evolved to become Yayasan Chow Kit
On a lifelong mission
What’s their mission you ask?
“We protect the rights of all at-risk children and youth, provide them with safe havens, and expose them to as many positive and holistic opportunities as possible to enable them to reach their full potential.”
Today, Yayasan Chow Kit provides a wider range of programmes and services. They still do have the daycare for babies and kids, as well as a youth center. They also conduct many programmes that aim to reach out to a broader youth audience in Kuala Lumpur.
Their focus these days also includes providing help for those who are homeless, facing financial issues, battling with drug addiction and the list just goes on.
Fighting for the stateless
One of the major struggles that have been highlighted time and again by Dr. Hartini is that children who were born in Malaysia but are not recognised as Malaysians due to various reasons. They then become stateless children.
She has been consistently fighting for them to get their rights and helping them every step of the way with their application process to obtain legal documentation such as birth certificates and identification cards.
After all, the reasons that could make one stateless are often not the fault of the children.
Based on what we were told, the life of the individuals who are deemed as stateless in Malaysia sounds really tough. Without legal documentation, these people are not able to go to school or enroll in a university.
They are not even allowed to work. They are also not entitled to affordable health care. Don’t even bother asking if they could open a bank account because no, they cannot. Getting legally married is not possible either.
These are the simple yet important things in life which some of us may have been taking for granted this whole time. Being stateless means one is barred from accessing them. That’s not the end of the difficulties though.
“They are constantly struggling to be recognised as Malaysians,” said Dr. Hartini.
They also live in fear of detention. As a result of the challenges they have to endure, their self-esteem suffers. They also have trouble fitting in with others.
In the words of Dr. Hartini herself, “It’s tragic and unnecessary”.
The outcome is no thanks to the policies we have that are “not about the best interest of children – our children”.
There are a lot of misconceptions the general public have concerning the underprivileged communities.
“That they’re lazy, irresponsible and have no moral values” are some of the common ones. Dr. Hartini stated that such judgments “couldn’t be further from the truth”.
“The reality is that they're vulnerable. They are ill-informed. At times, their dignity is robbed. If you give them access to basic rights, the sky is the limit. Support and help them. Empower them. No handouts,” she explained.
Speaking of which, there is so much that needs to be done to improve the situation – especially in terms of the rules and regulations set by the authorities. It could take all day to discuss this or possibly, even more!
In all seriousness, Dr. Hartini mentioned: “We need to all work together and share information, then advocate with this new government in one loud, consistent voice”.
In need of help
Apart from that, as members of the society, we can do our part by reading up on the issues that are faced by these communities to get a better understanding of the who, what, where, when, why and how.
While raising more awareness is crucial, it is equally important that we step up in what we do to make changes for the better too.
“We are, as a nation, reactive to child rights issues but we don’t seem to care enough to take action and make things better for children,” Dr. Hartini stated.
She also gave the encouragement for more people to get involved in volunteerism work. It is wise to volunteer with established organisations that are known for their good work.
“Observe, learn and ask questions. Never be afraid to ask- there’s never a stupid question,” she said. “Change doesn’t have to be big. Change starts with one person. A little change goes a long way. Every living person deserves a chance in life,” she added.
Well, this field of work is certainly not for the fainthearted. One must be passionate and sincere to actually be able to sustain in carrying out such tasks and enduring the set of challenges that lie ahead, day in and day out.
Dr. Hartini admitted that there had been times when she felt overwhelmed by the tough situations she had to witness and go through in doing what she does.
However, the fact that she tries to motivate herself every single day helps keep her going. With quotes like, “Know thyself. Nothing in excess”, “Seize the day”, “Dream big”, “Every child matters” and “One day at a time”, does wonders to boost her spirits up.
“I have a thing for clichés and sayings,” she said. But don’t we all?
There are certainly many memorable experiences throughout her involvement in this line. The children and the cases mean a lot to Dr. Hartini. At the time of the interview, she told us, “Like today, we reunited a baby with her mother. Today was memorable. Police were great. Every week, there’s something memorable. I can’t pick just one moment bad or good”.
On how we can nurture and instill good values in the little ones, Dr. Hartini said: “Practice, practice, practice good values. I like to start with smiling at myself in the mirror every morning! I think we need to be kind to ourselves first”.
She also acknowledged the act of volunteering as a good way to start. If you’re interested to follow in the footsteps of Dr. Hartini, volunteering is where you should begin.
She was 18 when she first got involved in the volunteerism scene. She has not looked back since, she told us.
Kindness is indeed beautiful. Let us all do our part in whatever way possible to make the world a better place for each other. For more information about Yayasan Chow Kit and how you can contribute, please visit their website