Maria (not her real name) is a 39-year-old mother who lives with her daughter, 13, in their small home on the edge of Kuala Lumpur, striving to make ends meet to support her family.
Maria’s story is one of many faced by girls who went through foster care and drug abuse. She is one of eight siblings and when she was nine years old, Maria’s mother gave her away to a foster family. Her father lives in Singapore with her other siblings and does not want to have anything to do with her.
Despite feeling abandoned, Maria was well taken care of by her foster parents who showered her with love and support. Unfortunately, when she was 12, her foster parents perished in an accident. She then lived with her foster aunt which did not make her life any easier. Even though she was still in school, her aunt forced her to marry. Reluctantly, Maria obeyed her aunt and got married in her teenage years. However, the marriage only lasted for four months and this drove Maria into a dark place.
Influenced by her friends and the people around her, she found release in using drugs. She spent the next few years travelling between states and spending her inheritance money on substances that provided her with temporary comfort. She fell into addiction and was even jailed numerous instances for drug use.
In 2003, she was diagnosed with HIV, a risk that she was well aware of when she started using drugs. At first, she decided not to seek treatment as she feared the side effects of the medication. But after a few years, she realised that her health was slowly deteriorating and found the courage to start on antiretroviral therapy at Hospital Sungai Buloh with full support from her husband whom she married in 2006.
Thanks to her effective treatment, she gave birth to a healthy, HIV negative baby in 2007. Maria was very thankful that she did not have to share her burden of being HIV positive with her child. However, her drug use still continued, especially as the husband is also a user.
After being jailed several times with her husband, she vowed to be a better mother. She began looking for job opportunities to occupy herself and to provide for her family. She even tried to persuade her husband to stop using drugs but this fell on deaf ears. He wanted to keep using substances while leaving it to his parents to take care of their family needs.
Convinced that her husband did not have the best intention in mind for their family, she decided to file for a divorce and start a new life. Maria joined the National Anti-Drug Agency (AADK) where she met another AADK staff whom she married in 2013. She later joined several other NGOs such as the Federation of Reproductive Health Associations Malaysia (FRHAM) and the Malaysian Public Health and Welfare Organisation (PKKUM) as she found a cause to fight for and help others who shared the same fate as her.
Maria has started a small online business where she sells clothes, bags and beauty products. This is thanks to the Malaysian AIDS Foundation’s MyLady Assistance Scheme where she was given the financial assistance and skill training to kick-start her business. This serves as a side income for her family while her husband works as a security guard. The extra income has helped her to give her daughter the life she deserves by sending her to school and providing food on the table.
“My life journey is not perfect as you would expect from a fairy tale. I went through a lot of ups and downs that shaped me into the woman I am today. All I want is to be a good role model for my daughter and give her a normal life”.
“With help from the Malaysian AIDS Foundation, the MyLady Assistance Scheme motivated me to start my online business, which in turn, has improved my family’s life,” said Maria.