In conjunction with the International Women’s Day—a global event celebrated on 8 March annually—MIMS Today’s editorial desk is proud to present seven profoundly inspiring stories for the entire month of March. Putting forward the notion that “women are healers”, we bring to you our #HealsInHeels special feature—capturing a month of amazing, empowering stories—dedicated to our women in healthcare.

Our highlights of Part 1 are four leading women in healthcare who have contributed to the country’s firsts, who are inspiration to many and who are making waves in the healthcare industry. They are showing the world that they are women of worth—symbolizing a #WOW force of nature not to be meddled with. Our next guest in the #WOW series is Matron Fadzilah Abd Hamid, Human Resource Officer and Trainer of Rumah Solehah.

Matron Fadzilah took it upon herself to nurture, teach and discipline the residents of Rumah Solehah with tough love. She had to be strict and their behaviour needed to be rectified.
Matron Fadzilah took it upon herself to nurture, teach and discipline the residents of Rumah Solehah with tough love. She had to be strict and their behaviour needed to be rectified.

One on one with Matron Fadzilah binti Abdul Hamid

Matron Fadzilah is the full-time caregiver at Rumah Solehah, a shelter for HIV-positive women who have been shunned by their families and society. She was among the first to set up the shelter on behalf of the Islamic Medical Association of Malaysia in 1998.

Having joined nursing in 1970 and served the Ministry of Health for over 30 years, Matron Fadzilah was a public health nurse—where she worked in rural areas in Selangor, Pahang, Johor and Wilayah Persekutuan—before running Rumah Solehah.

The journey was not an easy start, considering Rumah Solehah was one of the first shelters of its kind. With limited funds, the shelter was not well equipped initially. The World Health Organization (WHO) even stated that not many houses like this can sustain, as there were too much obstacles and challenges. Nonetheless, with increasing awareness throughout the years, the shelter has managed to stand on its own.

In the 20 years that the shelter has been operational, Matron Fadzilah has taken care of over 300 women with HIV—providing assistance, not only with their basic needs; but also helping them to find meaning again in their life.

left) Matron Fadzilah alongside the team behind Rumah Solehah. Photo credit: Matron Fadzilah
left) Matron Fadzilah alongside the team behind Rumah Solehah. Photo credit: Matron Fadzilah

1. Share with us your journey with Rumah Solehah. What was the turning point—your inspiration to be involved full time?
Before running Rumah Solehah, I was a public health nurse in the government sector for about 30 years. During that duration, aside from working in rural areas and teaching the community about health and nutrition, I also have midwifery experience.

I was given the opportunity to start a rehabilitation shelter for HIV-positive sex workers in Kuala Lumpur by the Ministry of Health (MOH), where I was sent to the United Kingdom in 1994 for a counselling course. Unfortunately, the project was not approved by the parliament—so, I was advised to start small and identify as a non-government organization.

I feel that we need to help these girls because they are just unfortunate. I nag because I want them to be able to take care of themselves and be accepted in the community. And when they die, I hope it will be in peace and with dignity.

2. Looking back, what was the biggest challenge that you had to face?
In my 30 years of working, I had to travel a lot. I had my children in different parts of the country and we built our homes in over ten different places! [Smiles] The nature of my job was that I had to go to wherever my service was needed. Sometimes, we had to take sampans and helicopters just to get to patients in an emergency. But, it was an enriching experience nonetheless. I am who I am because of my experiences.

In Rumah Solehah, as I am dealing with the girls first hand, it’s more of their own attitude and behaviour. We must understand, their background is different. Their upbringing is different, how they perceive things is also very different.

I remember having to chase them at four in the morning when they attempted to run away. They have actually climbed over the fence! I had to look for them at Pudu, Bandar Tun Razak at wee hours. I can laugh about it now—but at that time, it was very challenging. I truly believe that HIV is just a virus; and it is their behaviour that causes them to be outcasts.

3. How do you juggle between family and career?
I came to KL after my youngest child was around 3 to 4 years old. Then, I was still working in the government sector and working with Rumah Solehah on part time basis. I breastfed all of my children for two and a half years, so that's about 15 years of breastfeeding. So that bond, the immunity which makes it easier to take care of my children, as they did not get sick easily—and they never had to be hospitalized. This is also why I am very close to all my children.

Right now, six of my seven children are married and living in different parts of the world. They try to get involved in some activities, occasionally helping out with the groceries. When we have new residents coming in, they help to clean up the rooms and common areas. They try to make it easier for me here and they know my needs. Very blessed indeed, as they are very supportive of me.

4. Your proudest moment as a woman…
I get happy with the little things. For example, when the girls can recite some short verses from the Quran after months of attempting. It may seem trivial to others, and it may seem easy as well—but to me, it is a big achievement, considering their background, and finally achieving these things with the time and effort they put in.

They come from a different background; it’s not easy for them to conform to the norm. Doing the dishes is not normal for them, even taking care of their personal hygiene appears difficult. They are not used to living in a shared home, I guess they have been exploited for too long that they have no idea how to behave.

5. Any advice for those who wish to follow your footsteps?
Good support is most important. I have good support from my husband and my children. I also have friends who help out here sometimes. They take me out for a breather as well. [Smiles]

And really, I am not running Rumah Solehah all by myself. Sure, I take care of the residents at the house—but, we have a good team. From Dato' Dr.Musa Mohd Nordin, who has been the chairman for the past 19 years, to Dr Saadiah Sulaiman, who manages the finances of Rumah Solehah. Here in this house, Fathiiah Hamzah (project coordinator) also deals with the residents.

Ultimately, I guess it really needs to come from your heart. Both of my grandfathers were well known for their humanitarian work, so I guess it has been instilled in me since young. Before I go to sleep every night, I always ask myself what have I done today? Am I qualified to get a good night’s sleep? It’s a part of my life.

Matron Fadzilah at the first HIV/AIDS ASEAN Regional Workshop of Islamic Religious Leaders in 1998. Photo credit: Matron Fadzilah
Matron Fadzilah at the first HIV/AIDS ASEAN Regional Workshop of Islamic Religious Leaders in 1998. Photo credit: Matron Fadzilah

Still going strong

Matron really believes that people with HIV should be treated as part of the community and be given a chance to fend for themselves. There are limited opportunities for them, even for the children who are infected with HIV. She hopes that in the future, there will be scholarships for these children to be given that ‘opportunity’ to further their studies—and have a place in the society.

Matron Fadzilah has been with Rumah Solehah for almost 20 years now; but it is not easy to find a replacement who is as devoted as her. Truthfully, not many people are interested in dealing with people with HIV/AIDS—and especially, if they have additional psychiatric issues. Until then, Matron Fadzilah will continue dedicating her life to taking care of the residents of Rumah Solehah. MIMS

“People with HIV should be treated as part of the community and be given a chance to fend for themselves.” – Matron Fadzilah

Don't miss out our next #WOW leading woman in healthcare—to be revealed on 19 March. Look out for more updates and join our discussions on MIMS Malaysia Facebook page—your platform to Engage, Inform and Inspire.



#HealsInHeels: Celebrating women in healthcare
#WOW: Leading women in healthcare — Dr Jezamine Lim Iskander
“Celebrate, Commemorate and Collaborate”: Inspiring women leading the way in NGOs
A collaborative effort: UNAIDS, Malaysia join hands in strengthening strategic information on HIV


Sources:
https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/cnainsider/malaysia-matron-heals-tough-love-hiv-aids-shelter-solehah-9407082
https://www.thestar.com.my/news/nation/2017/11/29/their-days-come-alive-for-rumah-solehah-residents/
www.ppimrumahsolehah.com
https://www.hmetro.com.my/node/36439
http://ww1.kosmo.com.my/kosmo/content.asp?y=2017&dt=0101&pub=Kosmo&sec=Rencana_Utama&pg=ru_01.htm