From Passion To Action: Women Who Make A Difference


Prema Jayabalan


5 min read

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They are women from different generations who, in their own ways, are playing a part in making a change. They
have found avenues to channel their passions into, and to put them to good use.

They have touched hearts, helped ease burdens and put a smile on many faces.

Leena Ghosh

Leena Ghosh

Assistant director, promotion and protection of human rights, civil society engagements and Interaction, Asean Associated Entities

1. Can you tell us what interested you about working on human rights, civil society engagements and interaction with Asean associated entities?
I had a penchant for human rights since young. I have been working on human rights issues since my school days right up to when I started my law practice in Malaysia. I was active in the KL Bar Legal Aid Council and also the Bar Council Sub Committee on Human Rights.

When the job in Asean came about, I was immediately attracted to it because it dealt with human rights at a regional level. I also knew that this issue was very new at the time.

I am privileged to be able to work in an area that I am passionate about. It is very challenging to work on human rights and even more so at a regional level.

2. What are some of the challenges you faced in your job?
Working on a “sensitive” issue like human rights at a regional level where you are dealing with 10 member states has its fair share of challenges.

One of the challenges I faced was proving myself to Asean Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) that I was worthy to head the unit supporting them. I had to overcome resistance from people who felt hesitant about my experience and also the fact that I came from a non-governmental background.

Another big challenge was to learn how to engage and deal with member states. This was more acute because I didn’t come from the government sector. I had to learn how to speak, address and engage with Asean member states.

One of the highlights of working with AICHR is to be able to assist in the drafting of the Asean human rights declaration. Although my role is small, I am very proud to say that we contributed to the process of coming up with the first regional declaration in Asean on human rights. This was a personal achievement which I am proud of.

3. Do you think the women of today are actively getting involved in humanitarian causes?
Yes, more and more women are getting involved. Women take an interest in humanitarian issues as many have been affected by them and this drives them to make the world a better place.

Women make good peacekeepers and moderators. More women should get involved!

Zeeneeshri Ramadass

Zeeneeshri Ramadass

Former newspaper journalist turned home business owner

1. What made you resign from your full-time job?
It was a tough but natural decision to make. I was at my wits end during my confinement period trying to find a good babysitter but to no avail.

My inner voice or conscience got stronger over the days, irking me to leave my day job and be home with my child. But my rational mind told me we couldn’t afford it, I would get bored and that I won’t be able to take care of my child on my own.

But after many beautiful moments with my baby, I decided to make the leap, so I resigned. As scary as it was, I felt relieved.

2. How did you get into starting your own business?
My husband enjoys designing during his free time. He would create websites and marketing materials for friends and family, charging very little if anything.

We realised that many needed writing work done for their designs so we combined both our expertise and started the company.

I have to stress that support from your spouse is integral in running a business from home. We had to organise our space, time and resources accordingly, but I believe with success comes sacrifice.

3. What advice would you give stay-at-home mothers who want to have their own startup?
Turn your interest, passion or hobby into a business, it will make things easier. High chances you won’t get tangled with the emotions that come with doing something you don’t like but need the money from.

Your child needs you at your best everyday so there’s no room for excess baggage from something you don’t like doing.

Don’t be afraid to start somewhere. It is easy to do business these days. There are plenty of platforms for you to market your business; from social media to weekend flea markets, there’s always a venue. You just have to think out of the box.

Khoo Lan Phek

Khoo Lan Phek

Volunteer, soup kitchen, archdiocesan office for human development, Kuala Lumpur

1. How long have you been volunteering with this organisation?
I started volunteering as a counsellor more than 18 years ago, when it was still called the “Welcome Drop-in Centre”.

We welcomed any and everyone without question – people from all walks of life, people who may have made mistakes along the way and needed support to get back on track.

We provided basic necessities and counseling services. Often, people just needed a place to rest and connect with other human beings. Sometimes, there was a great outpouring of emotion – sadness, regret, even anger.

I was a trained nurse and it was through a friend, also a nurse, that I was introduced to the centre.

Today, the soup kitchen serves up to 160 men and women a hot lunch every day during the week.

2. How often do you volunteer? What motivates you to offer your services to this organisation?
I am at the soup kitchen at least twice a week. I believe that outreach is very important so I try to spend as much time as possible talking to and getting to know our clients.

It is inspiring sometimes to meet people who have endured much in life, but who still come with a smile and spread good cheer.

When they thank me for helping, I always tell them that they have probably seen and experienced more than I have. As much as I give, I also receive.

3. Who is your role model and why?
Many people have inspired me in my life. My mother was a strong woman – stoic, steadfast in caring for our family. She was a firm disciplinarian (I will spare you the details of my escapades with my brother).

She was also very generous. I remember the times we welcomed so many relatives into our home – each time partitioning bedrooms so that more and more families could stay. I think that that is why it is natural for me to help anyone I can.

My dearly departed husband Yong and three children Ken, Kathy and Karen support my efforts (my youngest is becoming more protective and worries when I drive perfect strangers to shelters or hospitals).

If genes do not bind us together, our shared love of helping people surely does.

Speaking of genes, my daughter Kathy and granddaughter Jasmine seem to have the same love of helping.

So, from nine-year-old Jasmine to her great grandmother, you could say we have four generations of women who enjoy serving others.

Prema firmly believes that each individual is doing something significant in his/her own way even though it may seem small to others. If you have an interesting story for us, write to us at or drop us a line or two in the comment box below. For more Thought of the Week articles, click here.

Published in English daily The Star, Malaysia, 14 March 2015

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