Hibby: An Ordinary Person With An Extraordinary Upbringing

We all have someone we are rooting for in our lives. Whoever they may be, we want them to reach their full potential without many mishaps bothering them. But what if the means to their success have not even been offered to them? What if they are deprived of the privileges we all take for granted? They’re ready to take the leap. Ready to put in their effort to achieve their dreams. But the door to their opportunities is locked. Neglected or abused children lack these opportunities in life whereby their future seems uncertain with fewer options compared to other kids their age. And fear to take risks due to its unfamiliarity. This is the story of Cheong Nyet May, also fondly known as Hibby who seems ordinary like the rest of us. Hers is a stormy journey to find the key to unlock her door of opportunities.

Hibby posing and smiling.
Hibby represents just a handful of success stories of overcoming misfortune and creating her own bright future.
Image by Hibby Cheong

Behind Hibby’s Eyes, A Tale Lies

A name, a quick conversation, or a long glance. None of these can tell you enough about the person behind it. To truly know a person takes dedication. It might be hard to realise that everyone is a protagonist in their own story. They’re not just a supporting character in yours. It’s important to understand that you are not alone, and you will never be. If we know that others need as much help as we do. Helping others through charity, volunteering, or out of pure kindness, in turn, heals us back.

Hibby posing and smiling in a store.
A young woman like Hibby who is friendly and smiles a lot would have a different story to tell. An ordinary looking adult, but with an extraordinary childhood.
Image by Hibby Cheong

1) The Year That Hibby’s Life Took A Drastic Change

Waking up at 6 am, going to work every weekday, and having her own home. Hibby is just like the rest of us. A customer service specialist, and prior to that a beautician. She has faced many challenges and successfully conquered them all. Everything sounds “normal” and we would never have thought that getting to where she is today wasn’t the hard part. Unbeknownst to most people, Hibby was fighting for her family.

Whilst most people grow up in a loving family of parents and perhaps siblings, Hibby is one who didn’t. Her mother passed away from cervical cancer, and her father a year later when she was only 13 years old. After her mum had passed, her father was left fighting his own illness. Making it impossible to care for his young 13-year-old daughter. Instead, she started living in a temporary home in Klang, Selangor with the goal of returning some stability back into her life. Things unfolded like a domino effect within a span of one year. Her chances of leading a normal life were crushed. Having a change of environment and a loss of sense of home are very scary. Especially to young kids who aren’t completely aware of the situation they are in.

2) Hibby Graduates From A Helpless Child To A Confident Teenager

Initially, it started out as a temporary solution until her father recovered well enough to take care of her. But he never came back, and as a result, Hibby became a permanent resident. It was home to her for ten years from 2005 to 2014. She experienced puberty, and teen years, the most crucial part of a girl’s life with her family. She was actually the only Chinese in the home full of Indians. But it didn’t matter to her, and she fit right in easily. She started bonding with her new friends and caretakers, and became family as they grew closer living together.

Hibby and her friends posing and smiling together.
Hibby (first from left) and her other friends from the same home hanging out with each other outside. Nancy (second from left), Sangeeta (bottom left), a volunteer Aunty Rosie (second from right), and Grace (first from right).
Image by Hibby Cheong

Eventually, she began attending Chung Hwa Independent High School in Klang. A different school from the other kids at the home. This is when she developed her personality and started to carve her own identity. Here, she learnt Mandarin besides the small phrases of Tamil which she learnt from her housemates. She partook a six-month beautician programme upon completing her secondary education. Hibby realised she was getting older and wanted to make room for new kids. She decided to take a leap of faith into adulthood… moving out.

3) The Neccessary, But Scary Transition Into Adulthood For Hibby

Hibby, now 29 years old, moved out of the home at age 22, when she started working. Being financially independent for the first time, she rented a small room. Thus, the beginning of a new chapter for Hibby in the real world. Most of us get the luxury of support from family when we begin to live on our own. But not for people who do not have what we would assume is the normal support system. They have a higher chance of running into psychological, financial, and academic difficulties.

“Some people are born into this world differently. We can’t choose the life that we want but we can choose to make our own destiny.”

– hibby cheong, 2021

Hibby overcame all these struggles even without a family support system. All the support she needed was the home that raised her. Upon graduating, she started her first job as a beautician and later transitioned to a beauty consultant for three years. She got accustomed to her true identity through trial and error. Hibby tried a different approach and changed careers. She found her calling in the service industry working as a customer service specialist at Shaklee Malaysia. Hibby took the leap of faith and has gone through so much in life. The moral of the story is that taking risks is inevitable in finding one’s success and happiness in life.

Some Lessons Learnt In Hibby’s Life

There are many limitations to growing up in a non-governmental organisation (NGO) for children. They are not allowed to use their phones for too long. Hanging out with friends outside of the NGO, unless supervised or pre-planned is not allowed. They have a curfew, and no extra allowance for personal items besides occasional rewards. Despite all that, Hibby says that these limitations are a part of who she is now, and have helped shape her lifestyle.

Two parent walking while holding hands with their toddler.
People who don’t have a family compared to people with one become more independent as they rarely rely on others, especially during difficult times.
Photo by Caleb Oquendo from Pexels

Since they are missing a parent figure whom they can look up to, they can’t be told what’s considered right or wrong. Her caretakers encouraged them to save any money they earned. A strong advice that she abides by even after she graduated. The technology restriction whilst growing up also caused her to live a more productive life with reduced screen time. And she also mentioned that she can easily mingle with different people despite their ethnicities or cultural background. This is the direct result of being raised in a diverse crowd.

The NGO’s philosophy is heavily grounded on religion. Thus, many of the lessons the kids learnt is accepting the plan God has made for them. Whatever the outcome, they learn not to feel bad for themselves. Hence, they should push themselves to become a better version of themselves than they were yesterday. The kids, like Hibby, find some comfort in knowing that “everything happens for a reason”.

“God planned it another way so you can have a better life. Just trust that you can do better.”

– Hibby cheong, 2021

Rumah KIDS: A Home Where All Children Are Loved Unconditionally

Hibby spent her formative and teenage years in Rumah KIDS which stands for Rumah Kanak-Kanak Ini Di Sayangi. This translates to “children of this home (house) is loved”. Established in 1990 for abused, neglected, and orphaned children to reside in until their situation improves. Or until they are mature enough to stand on their own feet. The majority of the kids are Indians. Rumah KIDS welcomes all children in need of a home despite their ethnicities. Their first priority is making the child comfortable according to their needs, which might differ with different races. It’s important to know that they are not racist. Understanding that the child’s comfort is the priority is to help them adapt better.

Two caretakers and some of the kids from Rumah KIDS in Klang sitting together on a couch in the same home as Hibby.
Sam (back row, third from the left) and Rachel (back row, third from the right) are the caretakers. They are surrounded by some of the current residents of Rumah KIDS.
Image by Rumah KIDS

Where Is Rumah KIDS?

Rumah KIDS operates two homes in Selangor, one in Klang and the other in Subang Jaya. The kids all live in one house with their caretakers, with boys, and girls living in separate buildings. They have children as young as one-year-old to manage. Panir Paul Rajamany is the presiding chairman of Rumah KIDS, recently appointed in August 2020.

The Rumah KIDS house in Klang where Hibby lived in.
This is the building of the Klang branch of Rumah KIDS, where Hibby spent her teens.
Image by Rumah KIDS

“In this safe and loving environment, shielded from the violence, abuse and neglect they once knew, many of these children grow up in the home, finish their education and are empowered to lead productive lives in the community.”

– Rumah KIDS’ homepage

A Conducive Home With Opportunities For Self Development

The usual activities the kids in Rumah KIDS enjoy very much depend much on volunteers. They include taking the time to teach, coach, or entertain them, like writing workshops. Sometimes they have friendly competitions amongst themselves and winners receive cash prizes. One of Hibby’s favourite activities during her time in Rumah KIDS was music. She found it relaxing and fascinating to try playing the different instruments. She also suggested that more art programmes would be nice for the kids too.

A girl name Madhu practising for a storytelling competition.
Madhu, currently living in Rumah KIDS, practising for a storytelling competition.
Image by Rumah KIDS
A volunteering teacher name Joshua teaching kids around a table.
Joshua, a teacher volunteering his time to teach the kids at Rumah KIDS.
Image by Rumah KIDS

Many of the kids have sponsors to support them to do vocational training so as to fast-track a job more easily. Panir has also stocked the home with proper equipment for online schooling. Providing portable computers with supervised screen time. The rule of no technology, if possible still applies, but with COVID-19, the use of technology is quite impossible. Online schooling is already a headache impacting mental health and academic difficulty. But it is even harder to manage when they have limited resources.

Girls from Rumah KIDS sitting in front of a computer to do their online learning.
Online learning at Rumah KIDS like this is harder when the caretakers themselves aren’t experts in technology. So they do the best they can with what they have.
Image by Rumah KIDS

Challenges Rumah KIDS Needs To Overcome

Rumah KIDS is an NGO that operates on donations. Fortunately, they are eligible for tax exemption as they provide charitable activities for children. In other words, they can keep all the donations they receive. Nonetheless, the pandemic has hit their donations quite hard. It’s more difficult for people to visit them, hence less donations than pre-pandemic.

Kids in Rumah KIDS surrounding volunteer Stephanie as she teaches them to make bracelets.
Stephanie, a volunteer (third from left) teaching the kids at Rumah KIDS to make bracelets.
Image by Rumah KIDS

A stay-at-home order brought stress to those stuck at home. This traumatic experience can leave them vulnerable if they aren’t interacting with other people in society. Especially in a home full of kids of similar age, they become more irritable and claustrophobic. This can cause a strain on their mental state as they might feel even more lonely. Graduates like Hibby are working very hard to contribute back to the system that she had benefited from, allowing her to adapt to society. She occasionally visits Rumah KIDS as they have become her family. She hopes that Rumah KIDS gets more exposure online and around Malaysia.

Three girls from Rumah KIDS in their school uniform and getting ready for school.
Jeeva (left), Nisha (centre), and Tharsine (right) getting ready for school from Rumah KIDS.
Image by Rumah KIDS

Would You Lend A Helping Hand To Children In Need Like Hibby?

Without the guidance of an NGO that dedicates itself to serving rescued children, they would otherwise lose their direction in life. Many will likely slip through the cracks of society. All the strict policies, routines, and schedules exist to ingrain in them the ability to care and act upon their successes. There is only so much homes like Rumah KIDS can do to provide the less fortunate with care and guidance.

A boy name John posing with a mask on.
This is John, currently living in Rumah KIDS. He is taking Monfort Hospitality Course, and aspires to be a chef once he graduates with the support of Rumah KIDS.
Image by Rumah KIDS

As responsible members of society, let’s do what we can to help Rumah KIDS to continue what they’re doing. You can donate cash, or sponsor a kid in their education. Also, volunteering some of your time at the home by teaching them useful skills or just interacting with them. If you are willing to spend part of your life serving children in need of a warm home, get ready for my next episode on fostering children in Malaysia. If you have any questions about how else you can contribute, drop a comment down below or inquire here.

Donors dropping off groceries at Rumah KIDS.
Walk-in donations such as groceries for the kids by the amazing people in the country like this one is a great start to contribute to society.
Image by Rumah KIDS

Would you be interested to contribute to Rumah KIDS? If so, what will you contribute to them?
4 votes


This article is part of Espoletta’s CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) initiatives.

About Dina GHAZALI

Raised abroad almost her entire life, Dina is well exposed to the multi-cultural world around her. Penned her innermost thoughts on paper as a child, and eventually fell in love with writing. Aims to be a successful writer one day.

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