The Prof and I

Prof Jamilah presenting gifts to encourage
students who excelled in their exams
My first encounter with Professor Datin Paduka Dr Jamilah Ariffin, the wife of Johor Menteri Besar Dato’ Abdul Ghani Othman, was on the stage of Dewan Sultan Iskandar in Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) as she presented me with my certificate in a convocation ceremony in 1995.  At that time, Dato’ Abdul Ghani was just appointed as the 14th Menteri Besar of Johor and they had relocated to Johor Baru.  Since 1975 Prof Jamilah was a lecturer with Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia before joining University Malaya as a professor and when they moved to Johor Baru, she was transferred to UTM. 

I know she is an academician and from various reports, I learnt that she was the first Malaysian to be elected to the prestigious Swiss Academy of Development, a council of prominent professors in Europe.  She was also the leading consultant representing the Malaysian Government in the UN Beijing Women’s World Conference in China in 1995 that resulted in the report entitled, “The Status of Women in Malaysia.”  It is significant that Prof Jamilah was among a small group of women involved in creating the first draft of “Women and Development” for the Sixth Malaysian Plan and actively lobbied for the Women chapter to be included in the Sixth Malaysia Plan, that established the Department of Women’s Affairs and led to the formation of the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development.

Prof Jamilah meeting children with disabilities at
a Juita rehabilitation centre
Our paths crossed again in 2002 when a mutual friend asked me to meet her in Saujana, the Menteri Besar’s official residence, for an interview to join her team.  At that time, Prof Jamilah was recently appointed as President of Asia Pacific Forum on Families (APFAM) International, an international Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) and a United Nations recognized regional voluntary organization, a post that she held for the next 10 years.  In this capacity, Prof Jamilah represents 12 member countries in the Asia Pacific region to develop policies and activities that promote the well-being of families and individuals in the Asia Pacific Region. 

Prof Jamilah meeting an abandoned baby
cared for in the Sinar Juita shelter for children
The Malaysian chapter of APFAM was formed in 1999 and the Johor Family Development Foundation was established as a Johor State Government Statutory Department to implement projects and programmes that strengthen the family institution and address social problems that affect women.  This is a subject close to my heart and since I could help Prof Jamilah to compile academic papers for a book publication and coordinate the organization of an APFAM International conference in Kuala Lumpur, I joined the team.  And as I worked behind the scenes in her home office in Saujana, I had the privilege to get to know Prof Jamilah better. 

Very few people are aware that Prof Jamilah excelled both academically and in her professional work with the various universities.  In 1995, just as she was poised to join the league of top academic professors in the international stage, she sacrificed her academic ambitions to be a full-time politician’s wife.  Even as she had to give up the icing on her academic cake, Prof Jamilah furthered her academic career with UTM as their first woman professor and applied her experience and expertise in the JUITA-ku Sayang projects in Johor as well as in the consultancy and research fields for UN Agencies and Federal Government ministries.

Prof Jamilah cuddling a child as they
watch fireworks at a Ramadan event
at Sinar Juita children's shelter
As the Menteri Besar’s wife, Prof Jamilah is the President of JUITA, the acronym of Badan Amal Tenaga Isteri Wakil-wakil Rakyat Negeri Johor, an NGO actively involved in community welfare projects for women and children in Johor.  With Prof Jamilah at the helm, 14 welfare projects has since been implemented in Johor to help needy single mothers, children and indigenous groups under “smart partnerships” in cooperation with State Departments, NGOs and the private sector.  My previous experience with Prof Jamilah in APFAM laid the foundation for my understanding of her objectives and sentiments in the comprehensive projects by JUITA and it is now my privilege to work in partnership with JUITA to report on the good work they are doing for underprivileged and marginalized people.

I can still recall my confusion in 2003, when I had to revise how I wrote the official title for Prof Jamilah to include “Datin Paduka.”  Then I understood that this revision was because the title “Datin Paduka” came with the Darjah Paduka Mahkota Johor (DPMJ) honour that was awarded by Sultan Iskandar in appreciation for her contributions to the social welfare needs in Johor.  Even though her official title is quite a mouthful, Prof Jamilah is comfortable to be politely addressed as, “Prof.”

Prof Jamilah and her recently launched
book, Seorang Professor dengan NGO Juita
In December 2011, a book entitled, Perkongsian Bijak: Kejayaan Projek-projek Juita (Bersama Agensi-agensi Kerajaan Johor dan Pihak Swasta) Dalam Kebajikan (1996 – 2011), that recorded the achievements of JUITA in the last 16 years, was launched by Dato’ Seri Sharizat Abdul Jalil, when she was the Women, Family and Community Development Minister.  This publication on the “Success of JUITA Welfare Projects through Smart Partnerships with Johor Government Agencies and the Private Sector” so impressed Shahrizat that she recommended it to be used as a guide in her Ministry and as a benchmark for other welfare activities. 

On Nov 8, Prof Jamilah’s latest book entitled, Seorang Professor dengan NGO JUITA or “A Professor and the JUITA NGO” was launched by Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor, wife of the Malaysian Prime Minister, to give readers a glimpse of how a professor applied her skills to lead a women’s NGO and successfully implemented a comprehensive range of welfare projects.  

Her book was launched on Nov 8 by Datin Seri Rosmah
Mansor, the Prime Minister's wife [2nd from Left];
Looking on is Director of MPH Group,
Datuk Dr Abdullah Abdul Rahman [2nd from Right]
The success of the JUITA-Ku Sayang projects can be attributed to the participation and commitment of the wives of Johor State Assemblymen and is indeed a legacy of Prof Jamilah’s foresight, passion and leadership.  Working from concept to implementation of each project where help reaches the needy, Prof Jamilah has proved herself to be a woman with steely determination and a heart of gold.  

Congratulations Prof, on the launch of your new book and may your readers be inspired to follow in your footsteps to do more to help the needy in their communities!

Prof Jamilah and I enjoying our ice-cream dessert at breaking-of-fast meal
with the children in Sinar Juita shelter
A version of this article was published in The New Straits Times, Johor Streets on 20 November 2012

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