Single mothers, their children and some orphans were guests of Malam 'Sahabat Ibu Tunggal' or Friends of Single Mothers Night held in M Suites Hotel Johor Bahru on Friday, 12 September 2008. Sixty single mothers who completed the Income Generating Skills Programme under the Johor Government’s Yayasan Pembangunan Keluarga (YPK) started six years ago were honoured with festive gifts after a breaking of fast dinner.

Professor Jamilah and Fadhlon with single mothers from the Sai Baba group

'Sahabat Ibu Tunggal' is the collective identity of single mothers in a 'smart partnership' with YPK and JUITA (Association of Wives of "Wakil Rakyat" of Johor). This 'smart partnership' programme is the brainchild of YAD Datin Paduka Professor Jamilah Ariffin, wife of the Johor's Chief Minister.

At this event, Professor Jamilah Ariffin commended YPK for successfully implementing the Income Generating Skills Programme for single mothers since 2003 where more than 500 single mothers have been taught skills in cooking, pastry-making, food and beverage packaging, tailoring, hairdressing, handicrafts, child-minding, nursery care and gardening as well as entrepreneur courses to enable them to start a business. With concerted effort and interest in their welfare, these resilient single mothers are helped back on their feet to have a more meaningful life.

"I just want to see them successful in their lives," said Pn Fadhlon Mokhtar, Assistant Director of YPK, who explained that her teams would visit single mothers' homes to ascertain their backgrounds before deciding how they can be helped.

YB Dr Robia Kosai, Datin Maimunah of M-Suites, with her group of orphans Prof. Jamilah with Datin Safiah Ahmad (who mentors the Single Mothers Group at Danga Bay) and orphans

One of the pioneer trainees in tailoring skills with YPK is Vanaja Rajagopal, 49, a widow who lives in Paloh near Kluang with 4 children. After successfully completing the course, she started a home-based tailoring business and is currently also training 7 people in her neighbourhood in tailoring skills.

"'Syukur' or thanks to YPK for pointing me in the right direction!" declared Faridahhanim Mohammad, 45, a single mother of 2, who successfully completed a course in childcare with the Department of Social Welfare in 2004. She runs a nursery in a strategic site in Bandar Putra Kulai, open from 6.30am to 6.30pm with 23 children in her care and because of busy parents, she sometimes even extends her nursery hours!

Alice Lam Tau Lai, 43, from Ulu Tiram has 4 children, the youngest aged 3 when she was widowed. After an initial difficult period, Lam was counselled and helped. Recently she successfully completed a professional course in Holistic Massage Therapy and is ready to start a career as a professional therapist!

Other philanthropists have also joined the JUITA's project, for example, in 2003, YBhg Datin Dr Maimunah Abdul Rahman, Executive Director of M Suites Hotel, spearheaded a Ibu Wawasan project in collaboration with JUITA. To date 33 single mothers with young children below age 5 were "fostered" by M Suites Hotel to provide them with personal motivation, counselling and other forms of education support.

"Many of these children have gone through the dilemma of losing a parent which has an adverse emotional effect on them," said Datin Dr Maimunah. She firmly believes that charity begins first in the hotel and is part of the hotel's strive to provide excellent service to the community. She also commended her staff for their support and full commitment to the Project.

Representatives with Alice Lam (third from left), Fadhlon (centre) and Vanaja (next to her on the right)

In addition to the initial project in 2003, Prof Jamilah also spearheaded the next project in 2006 in response to the plight of poor women affected by the flood. Some 443 single parents, mostly victims of the flood disaster, registered with the frozen food manufacturing programme and to date, 343 of them have successfully completed the training programme. With the success of such programmes, Prof Jamilah encouraged single mothers who needed help to register themselves conveniently with Friends of Single Mothers.

'Sahabat Ibu Tunggal Night' was an initiative of Professor Jamilah and in honouring the participants of the project, she presented gifts to them, comprising RM150 cash, four-meter Baju Raya cloth and food hamper while Muslims received extra traditional items like batik cloth, kain pelekat and telekung. The happy recipients were from the YPK Programme, M Suites Single Mothers Project, Single Mothers Association Johor Bahru, Soka Gakai Association and Sathya Sai Baba Association. Those who are now starting to join the project also received gift vouchers from YPK for equipment used in their business.

Also present at the event were YB Dr Hajjah Robia Bt Dato' Hj Kosai, Executive Committee member for Women, Family and Community Development, special guests and representatives from Single Mothers Association Johor Bahru and CARE Single Mother's Association.

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