Shelter for child survivors of abuse in Malaysia

by Women's Aid Organisation (WAO)
Shelter for child survivors of abuse in Malaysia
Shelter for child survivors of abuse in Malaysia
Shelter for child survivors of abuse in Malaysia
Shelter for child survivors of abuse in Malaysia
Shelter for child survivors of abuse in Malaysia
Shelter for child survivors of abuse in Malaysia
Shelter for child survivors of abuse in Malaysia
Shelter for child survivors of abuse in Malaysia
Shelter for child survivors of abuse in Malaysia
Shelter for child survivors of abuse in Malaysia
Shelter for child survivors of abuse in Malaysia
Shelter for child survivors of abuse in Malaysia
Shelter for child survivors of abuse in Malaysia
Shelter for child survivors of abuse in Malaysia

“Reena”, her mom and 4 other siblings came to seek refuge at the WAO shelter in 2019. Her mother endured more than 15 years of abuse. She stayed on for the kids and with hopes that her husband would change someday. But it only got worse and to a point that “Reena” and her siblings did not attend school regularly as the situation at home was unrest. One day, the abuse was so bad that it drove her mother to a suicide attempt. Her mother was referred to WAO by a doctor in the hospital after a week of recovery in hospital. They all became WAO shelter residents soon after her discharge.

After being absent from school for 4 months, “Reena” was transferred to a secondary school in Petaling Jaya. The adjustment was not easy as she now only was it a new environment, but the stress of the crisis her family was facing. She struggled in class as she had missed many months of class. What worried her most was knowing she had to take her PT3 examinations in September.

WAO arranged tuition for English, Bahasa Malaysia, Science, Mathematics and History. “Reena” was determined to do well although it was a tough having missed 4 months of school. Though she was disappointed with her trial results, we continue to motivate her to study smart. Closer to the examinations we arranged for more tuition classes with intensive classes for her weakest subject History.

PT3 2019 Subject & Trial Results

Subject                              Trial Results                 Actual PT3 Results

English                                        B                                     A                     

Bahasa Malaysia                        E                                     C                     

Matematik                                   E                                     D                     

Sains                                          Fail                                  E                     

Reka Bentuk Teknologi              Fail                                  E                     

Geografi                                     Fail                                  D                     

Sejarah                                      Fail                                  C                      

Her hard work paid off with much improved results in her PT3 examinations. She was very motivated and realised that she needed to continue to work hard to achieve better results. She knew that being the eldest of 5 siblings, she had to set an example to them. “Reena” is determined to do well in her SPM especially after seeing how difficult it has been for her mother to find a job without the SPM qualifications.

“Reena” also participated in all the other extra-curricular programs for the clients of WAO. With only 4 months of ukulele lessons at WAO, “Reena” was proud to perform for a live audience on 2 occasions. She also actively participates in all WAO sports programmes like futsal, badminton, yoga and body weight exercise classes. One of her favourite programme was Care2Run, a 10-week motivation programme.

She also attended the several WAO events for girls; Dream Big workshop with BodyShop, Love Your Body book launch with Scholastic & CRCM Report launch at Rumah Tangsi.

“Reena” has come a long way. She is diligent and very caring. She dotes on her siblings and is very organised. We are very proud of her achievements and the amazing personality she has.

“Reena’s” testimony: “I am now more confident and am able to come out from depression thanks to WAO. I have improved in my school work…..before I could not do mathematics and could not speak English, but now I can thanks to all the tuition and programme activities I have attended. I am now a happier me. Thank you WAO for helping my mother and us (children) from our abusive father and help me to go to school again….. for giving me a second chance to improve in my academic. Because of WAO I will continue to study harder and help my mother”


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Supporting Child Survivors Through Covid-19
Supporting Child Survivors Through Covid-19

Covid-19 hit us just as school resumed early this year. We had just finished Chinese New Year school break and more news about the pandemic was breaking. Right at that point we quickly implemented new hygiene rules to the shelter. For the kids, we had a special tutorial to teach them what Covid-19 is and how important is was to practice good hygiene. We also had a hand washing tutorial at the Child Care Centre to ensure all our kids were keeping good hand washing standards.  Our child-care providers ensured all school kids had their showers the moment the got back from school and all other activities. 

When the 2-week Restricted Movement Order (RMO) was announced, the children were sent to stay with their mothers. We continued to support the women and children remotely with food and toiletry supplies, medical treatment and educational workbooks. They were also offered to have counselling via Google Hangouts. Our dedicated Social Workers kept in touch with them frequently to ensure that they were not in any hardship. We arranged for clinic trips when any child or mother was sick. We also closely monitored the children who were home because of MCO and helped their mothers maintain a balanced structure in the children’s lives in terms of academic, activities, meals and hygiene. On that note, we would like to share a case on one of the children who had difficulty in accepting and practicing structure.

David was 10 years old when he came to WAO shelter in 2018 along with his mother and two siblings and he continues to be a recipient of our services under WAO Child Care Centre. Growing up in a home that saw violence frequently, being aggressive with his siblings came almost as a second nature to David. This was a struggle for David’s mother when David first came to WAO shelter. She had to manage his outburst of energy, in addition to the prevalent sibling rivalry among her children.

While David’s mother worked towards obtaining protection orders and job opportunities, David struggled to regulate his energy and adapt to the rules in an entirely new environment. We learnt from David’s mother that David is a very active boy who had a lot freedom back at home due to the lack of proper family structure and poor parenting skills.  As David’s father did not contribute to his family and comes home late being drunk. David’s mother on the other hand had to work really hard to make ends meet. This struggle contributed to the lack of structure in the children’s lives.

The first part of healing for many child survivors include establishing a structure which allows them to have a sense of certainty and security. In the effort to establish structure, we quickly enrolled David into school again and introduced academic and sports programmes. David, being a very active boy, he naturally excelled in sports. At WAO, we give equal importance to curriculum and non-curriculum activities. David had also represented his school at district level for athletics (running).

David always stood out in the crowd. He takes pride in helping adults. However, we recognized that David would not communicate the same way to children of his age. He had difficulties expressing his true emotions and his actions were a resemblance of the toxic masculinity in which he grew up. While he wants admiration of other children, being seen as vulnerable was unacceptable for him. As such, we introduced him to therapy to enable him to formulate and articulate his feelings and thoughts, and to promote self-control. Part of the therapy also included play therapy which promotes frustration tolerance and intervention in terms of installing appropriate interpersonal behaviour through modelling. David showed a lot of improvement in his interpersonal skills and almost entirely stopped physical violence. 

David is a very bright boy and had so much potential, yet his grades in school were not reflective of his actual ability. After trying out multiple interventions in terms of assisting him personally in academics, we assisted David’s mother to get him assessed at a government hospital for hyperactivity. Through that intervention, we were able to help David to focus better in his classes. We are very hopeful that David will also show good progress in the academics.

Now, even after leaving our shelter, David continues to be recipient of our services. David’s mother is very grateful to WAO for the interventions which are holistic and tailored to the individual needs.


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In Women’s Aid Organisation, we not only aid women in need, but also the children that come in tow with them, to seek assistance and protection from the crisis that they have faced. We hold by the principles that a child who is subjected to live and grow in an abusive environment, is a survivor of violence in his/her own right regardless of whether he/she encountered direct physical abuse from the perpetrator. Psychological and emotional abuse are often sidelined, because they are abuse which is invisible from the naked eye, but found to have a lasting impact on a child’s growth and ability to relate to healthy relationships in a long run. 


Vincent, an 11 year old boy was a good example of how emotional and psychological abuse played a huge role in shaping his pre-teen years. Being the eldest of three and a male in a male dominated family, his father had high expectations of him to be just “like him”, a version of machoism and authority. Vincent’s real name was Jason, but at the age of 7, his father felt that “Jason” was way too “soft” and sensitive. He was often the kind of child who would sit by his mom’s side to wipe her tears when she was beaten up or was empathetic towards the feelings of others. As such, his father decided to change his name to Vincent, which was after a famous villain in a movie he had watch, in hope he embodied more of the toxic masculinity which was portrayed rather than the empathetic qualities Vincent was naturally blessed with. 


Over time, Vincent’s dad took him more in his stride, making him sit in the corner to watch while he would whip his mom with his belt, forcing him to watch and not look away. He encouraged Vincent to throw insults at anyone who challenged their authority and in some situations, Vincent was beaten for not being ‘manly” enough when he didn’t rise up to the occasion of joining those toxic masculinity practices. Any child who has been repeatedly exposed to such behavior would inherently inherit those traits, and eventually Vincent learnt to be aggressive especially towards his mom and sister. 


When Vincent’s mom decided to leave home due to a severe beating she had taken, and after years of enduring the abuse, she took all of her three kids with her, including Vincent. As WAO engaged more with Vincent and put him through therapy, he would have moments of internal conflict which his social workers would notice. There would be days where he would be a perfectly sweet and understanding child who is patient and kind. And then there are days where he would be aggressive in nature when he didn’t get what he wanted or when his mother would try to set limits or put disciplinary steps in place when he stepped out of line. We noticed he responded differently to female and male teachers, and coaches, and through a whole series of therapy, we managed to break it down to the reasons above which were not divulged to us earlier when we received them, that Vincent was a product of a toxic environment, and had endured years and years of psychological and emotional abuse from his father. In many ways, Vincent declared that he never wanted to be anything like his father, yet in many ways, he found it hard to accept compliments and praise when he did something kind or compassionate. 


WAO’s approach to children comes in many forms besides just therapy. We believe that exposing them to a world of what they could have such as sports and music classes, educational coaching and peer support groups is necessary to help them grow. We believe that their resilience is there, and there is just the extra nudge and confidence we need to give them. Vincent was a great example of how our constant faith in him paid off. Sure he has had his outbursts and moments where it felt as if we moved one step forward and 3 steps back, but the fact that a 11 year old can acknowledge the root of his feelings, is able to put in effort to strive to do better academically, and is willing to accept that the gender gap is but a notion, but not a real thing is a great achievement for him, and for us.  


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Focusing on the Child's Needs at WAO
Focusing on the Child's Needs at WAO

We all dream of that perfect relationship we have with those we love since we are children. When a survivor finds herself in an abusive relationship, it often turns out to be one of the hardest things she would ever have to admit to herself, which is that someone she loves is capable of hurting her and her children. In most cases, the children of these survivors are really the driving force of why women say, "I have had enough", and walk away. Having said that, Children who come from abusive households, although resilient, endure the most conflicting challenges of dealing with conflict in the only way they know how to, fight or flight. 

At Women's Aid Organisation, we acknowledge that our clients are not just the women who approach us with their needs. We acknowledge that the children that come along with them, the dependents are individuals and selves, and that they deserve intervention and social work which is catered to their needs, not just the needs of their mothers. It is only through holistic intervention of healing and providing for the family based on their individual needs, do the family truly begin that healing process.
Vanessa, a 15 year old girl found herself admitted into our shelter when her mother decided they needed help. Abuse was an anomaly in the family that Vanessa grew up in. Thats all she knew. Her biological father was abusive towards her mother, her mother's new husband was making sexual advances towards her, she then left home at 13 years old looking for her father whom she hoped would provide her the love and attention she needed, but he ended up leaving her with his extended family who then forced her to quit school and work in Bars where she would sit and drink with them. When Vanessa's mother who had been a victim of various failed and abusive relationships found out her child was not being cared for, she decided that was it and went looking for ways to get Vanessa out of the situation she was in. Together they approached WAO for assistance and have been in our shelter for months. 
Their case was challenging as the biggest difficulties we faced was getting Vanessa back into the school system whilst ensuring she was able to cope. WAO decided that with the child's wit and thirst for education, that we would intervene and ensure she secured a place in school and attended remedial classes to ensure she would be able to catch up with the years of school she had missed. The journey was difficult, as usually when the mother of the child is ready to leave the shelter, we would encourage her to kickstart her journey of independence. But social workers had to be creative to look at this case from a Child protection aspect, and ensure the needs of Vanessa, even though a child and dependent of the main client, was put at the highest importance. With our relentless efforts to ensure Vanessa received the appropriate guidance and support, as well as with Vanessa's drive to make her life a better one through counseling sessions and family therapy sessions, Vanessa is all geared up to take an exam she never thought we would be remotely ready for, given the fact that she had missed formal school for almost 2 years. 
The story of Vanessa and WAO's approach in managing cases based on each and everyone of our client's needs, shows the versatility of the social workers team and how every case that walks through our door is given the benefit that they are unique and each intervention is tailored towards their individual needs. It also highlights the importance WAO holds on ensuring clients themselves, are heavily involved in the decisions that revolves around their Healing plan and social work plan, and how it is only through this way, that we are able to ensure we provide the clients the best that we can offer. Your donations helps us reach out to not only the women who are in crisis, but most importantly to ensure the children that come along with the women are given equal importance and a say in how they want to be assisted. 

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Child Survivor and her Mother
Child Survivor and her Mother

Emily, 5 years old, was admitted to WAO shelter with her mother and elder sister in April 2018. Emily has been exposed to domestic violence against her mother since birth, making her very insecure and clingy toward her mother at all times. This also caused Emily to be very fearful of her surroundings and her mother’s and sister’s wellbeing.  As a result of being in an abusive environment and trauma exposure, when Emily first came to WAO, she was very shy, quiet, reserved, scared and continuously had nightmares of her father returning. The exposure also impacted her learning and intellectual abilities, in that she could only speak a few words, and none of english when she first came to the WAO, which was a concern for her age. At times Emily would experience breathing difficulties, and other behavioural difficulties such as maintaining positive relationships with her sister. Emily additionally had limited strength-based development, such as in areas of interpersonal skills, resourcefulness, creativity, and basic academic areas of reading and writing. 


Since coming to WAO in April 2018, Emily has blossomed as a result of a positive, interactive and supportive environment, and Emily’s mother is extremely proud of all the positive changes she is now seeing in her daughter.  Emily, her mother, and sister live in the WAO Shelter, and it is clear that the combination of  such an environment,  intellectually stimulating programs and homeschooling sessions has shown conducive for Emily’s overall development and growth. 


Emily’s mother has expressed that today, she is very interactive and social, and has truly come out of her shell of being reserved and fearful toward others. She has even been observed as a ‘ natural leader’ by some of the mentors and coaches of programs and activities she has participated in. This advance in interpersonal development observed in Emily is not limited to simply being more interactive however, as Emily also displays knowledge of interpersonal soft skills such as manners and recognition of social cues when interacting with others. Emily has additionally burgeoned creatively and academically, as she is now able to read and write, and form full english sentences when conversing. Her mother notes that in the activities she participates in, she is resourceful, imaginative and thinks outside the box when she encounters a challenge, and is additionally a very fast, hands-on learner. 


Evidently, through bringing her out of a negative and discouraging abusive Emily’s mother has observed the great potential her daughter has toward developing and strengthening her intellect, interpersonal, and academic skills; capabilities that were shadowed and limited by the abusive situation she was previously in. Emily is increasingly bright and creative, and both her mother and WAO are looking forward to her being able shine brighter each day in a supportive and encouraging environment. 

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Organization Information

Women's Aid Organisation (WAO)

Location: Petaling Jaya, Selangor - Malaysia
Project Leader:
Sumitra Visvanathan
Petaling Jaya, Selangor Malaysia
$53,868 raised of $64,000 goal
387 donations
$10,132 to go
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