Ordinary people? No such thing!

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At the Ordinary Women, Extraordinary Lives – Everyday Stories of Inspirational Women book launch in November.

Ordinary Women, Extraordinary Lives – Everyday Stories of Inspirational Women, edited by Chan Lean Heng and Molly N.N. Lee, is a gripping anthology of 29 stories and a poem written respectively by 30 men and women. Each narrative is about the woman who has shaped the writer’s life. The women portrayed range from a courageous housewife battling poverty and patriarchy to a career woman juggling multiple responsibilities.

What is noteworthy about Ordinary Women, Extraordinary Lives (Owel) is that it is a not-for-profit initiative by ordinary citizens. Essentially, it is a labour of love done without a single cent of funding.

The book, launched in November last year, was published by Clarity Publishing, who offered their editorial support on a pro bono basis. Rosalind Chua of Clarity humbly says that their “role is actually very small – we had an easy job putting together all these very inspirational stories.”

Chua, in reference to the women in Owel, stresses that, “The women in this book are incredibly resilient. There is nothing they couldn’t overcome in the face of so much adversity. In modern times where we look up to pop stars and celebrities; this whole meaningless celebrity culture – these women are truly unsung heroes.”

A woman’s contribution to her family tends to be negated. This happens because “the mothering and nurturing responsibilities of mothers are taken for granted, without understanding what all these require,” says Chan. “I felt ashamed of my mother as a very young kid because I was discriminated for being poor. I was ashamed of my mother for having to be a domestic help – instead of being proud of her because despite the odds, she has the indomitable will to be so courageous.”

Indeed, Owel hopes to jolt readers into awareness that the women in their families are society’s quiet movers and shakers. One of the book’s contributors, Amnani Abdul Kadir (Nani), admires her Mak Tok, or grandmother, for her resilience. “She was illiterate and uneducated, but she raised all her kids to be very successful people. My dad is a professor and my aunt became a headmistress. It’s about her leadership qualities, not about education. I wake up every day thinking if I can just be a little bit like her, I can change the world,” says Nani.

The women in this book are incredibly resilient. There is nothing they couldn’t overcome in the face of so much adversity. In modern times where we look up to pop stars and celebrities; this whole meaningless celebrity culture – these women are truly unsung heroes.

Another Owel writer, Soonufat Supramaniam (Soon) respects his mother for her courage. “She left her comfort zone in Penang to follow her lover to KL and created a family there. She then had to manage a temple and also deal with family violence while providing us with food and care. She was brave enough to protect her child from an abusive husband, to be a role model, to continue to choose love even though all else challenged her to embody hate. She is truly extraordinary and has played a huge role in shaping my character and destiny,” says Soon.

Apart from recording the extraordinary lives of ordinary women, Owel also drew different generations together. Some writers of the book attested that it brought the family closer as adults and youths discussed their family history.

Pat Rix, the CEO and artistic director of Tutti Arts.

Thirty-five-year-old Nani did not have much interaction with her younger sister, who is 17, while they were growing up because of the wide age gap and them staying apart. Even so, when the K-Pop loving 17-year-old read Nani’s story, she was impressed that her older sister could write and then told Nani her thoughts about their late grandmother. “We have different memories of her, yet we remember the same things – like how she smelled of cerut and coconut oil.

“Writing is a way to share, heal and reflect. My father never spoke about my grandmother after she passed away, him being a strong and hard man. Writing is incredible because it created a space for him to talk about his mother to his daughter,” says Nani.

The Butterfly Effect

The Butterfly Effect montage is a collective pinning of small origami butterflies done during the launch of the book to signify “the ability to lift each other up, to inspire each other to fly higher than we thought possible and chart our destinies intentionally to make a difference.”

The key change Owel wishes for is to sow the seed of appreciation, especially in the younger generation. Youths need to “embrace the values and practices of our mothers or elders to build a mutually caring, other-centred society for a new Malaysia – much like the millions who came out to vote in GE14 and changed the course of Malaysian history,” says Chan.

The audience at the book launch.

Video of one of Owel's writers performing a song for his mother.

Another aim Owel hopes for is to be a starting point to reach out to various communities. Everyone should be aware of the ordinary people who have built their lives, and school workshops will be led by Siti Salmiah and Soon in SMK Serdang Bahru and SMK Lubok Buntar in Kedah – on top of the previously held panel discussion during the George Town Literary Festival and another two panels for cancer patients held in Johor Bahru.

It is hoped that Owel will inspire others to never doubt the potential of individual agency. We may be ordinary, but together, we hold extraordinary power.

You can sponsor a copy of the book to secondary schools, related institutions and orphanages in Malaysia by contacting +6012 987 3130 or emailing owel.malaysia@ gmail.com. Sponsors can select the school(s) which they wish to sponsor to.

Lynette Low is a freelance writer and a law graduate from the University of London. Passion is her compass in life.



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