Ex-editor Sheila Rahman wins NPC-Macrokiosk Muhibbah Award for her devotion to five stateless kids

Love knows no bounds.

That is especially true for Sheila Rahman Natarajan whose devotion to five stateless children over the past six years won the hearts of the judges in the sixth and final National Press Club of Malaysia (NPC)-Macrokiosk Muhibbah Award.

Sheila, a former journalist and editor of the now-defunct Sunday Mail, has been described as a ‘fairy Godmother’ to the kids, whose ages were between four and 11, when she first met them.

With the support of friendly neighbours, Sheila’s home has been the children’s refuge, school, and sanctuary for their emotional and physical needs.

Sheila recounted that she first noticed the children roaming aimlessly in her neighbourhood in early 2017.

“Left without their mother’s care and with their father struggling to make ends meet, they were confined to a single room that served as their makeshift kitchen, dining area, and bedroom. And they were very quiet, which was not a good sign,” Sheila said.

Moved by their plight, Sheila and her husband, Abdul Rahman Ishak, decided to help them. The couple got the father’s cooperation and consent to have the children come under their care, while he worked. They provided them with a nurturing environment and a sense of belonging.

The Rahman family, and their family home, which they call “Pondok”, warmly took in these five children, providing food, shelter, and most importantly, access to education. Shiela’s intervention transformed the lives of these children, ensuring they received the education they rightfully deserved.

“It takes a muhibbah environment to raise stateless children,” said Sheila, emphasising the importance of unity and compassion in the mission to uplift the lives of the stateless children.

All five children are now enrolled in Dignity Foundation School, an organisation previously honoured with the NPC-Macrokiosk Muhibbah Awards in June. The five children are coping well with their new educational journey.

Recipients of the NPC-Macrokiosk Muhibbah Award take home a cash prize of RM2,000, a certificate, and vouchers from Tealive, Jaya Grocer, and llaollao.

NPC deputy president Haresh Deol described Sheila’s win as one for the very many stateless children in Malaysia, and for journalism.

“Stateless children, through no fault of their own, are left to fend for their own basic rights, especially education. This is wrong on so many levels. Hopefully, this win will continue to open up the hearts of decision-makers to the plight of stateless children, regardless if they are born to a Malaysian parent or not,” said Haresh, who is also the editor of Kuala Lumpur-based news website, Twentytwo13.

At the moment, stateless and undocumented children can attend government or government-aided schools, provided that one parent is Malaysian, supported by documentation to the fact.

“This is also a win for journalism because journalists often champion the cause of others, with little, or zero recognition. Here, we have a former editor, who has gone the extra mile to give these five children hope. Hopefully, they will grow up and help others. This is what the spirit of muhibbah is all about and I’m glad that an individual, who once served in the newsroom, has been recognised for her noble deeds.”

Macrokiosk chief executive officer, Datuk Kenny Goh, commended Sheila for her effort, saying that it was “an extraordinary act of compassion”.

“Her selfless act of kindness typifies the Muhibbah spirit that we, as Malaysians, hold dear. Her unwavering commitment to uplifting the lives of these stateless children is truly commendable,” Goh said.

The journey to document the children’s status and secure their rightful place in society was another formidable challenge that Sheila undertook. Starting in 2018, they made countless visits to the Welfare Department and the National Registration Department.

Their efforts led to mandatory court-sanctioned guardianship in 2019. This was followed by securing ‘Bukan Warganegara’ (non-citizen) birth certificates for these children in 2021. Finally, after a thorough assessment by the Social Welfare Department, their father managed to legally adopt them in 2022, a prerequisite for an application for citizenship.

The citizenship applications for the children were submitted in July 2022, marking a significant step towards granting them their rightful place as citizens of Malaysia.

Sheila’s efforts have not gone unrecognised. The Rotary Club of Ara Damansara and private neighbourhood groups have rallied together to help defray some of her ongoing recurring costs.

Today, the eldest two teenagers, an 18-year-old boy and a 16-year-old girl, live with the Rahmans, each with their own private space, while the rest are with their father.

The NPC, Malaysia’s oldest press organisation having been established in 1948, together with enterprise solutions platform provider Macrokiosk, launched the monthly award series in April to recognise individuals, groups or organisations that best exemplify the true spirit of muhibbah in Malaysia.

Previous winners of the Muhibbah Awards were the Saidina Abu Bakar As-Siddiq Mosque in Bangsar (May), Dignity for Children Foundation (June), Taiping Soup Kitchen and Gurdwara Sahib Taiping (July), couple Amirul Husni Afendey and Nur Syarina Muhammad Noor (August) and lawyer Datuk Ahmad Zaharil Muhaiyar (September).