Siks Mikah met Emelia Simon Ho in a small village in Kota Belud, Sabah. This is the story about Emelia who is so inspired by her mother’s struggles, strength and resilience that she believes she has the same spirit in reaching out to help those in need.
Emelia Simon Ho is a community worker who thinks her life’s mission is to care for her family.
From the events that happened since her birth, you would think that she was born into the role.
Her life is a series of dramas that started unfolding when she and her twin brother was born in a village in Keningau, Sabah. Four days later, their father was murdered leaving an emotionally devastated young teenage mother to care for the babies and two other daughters.
Emelia’s paternal grandparents were traditional Chinese who blamed the twins for bringing bad luck. They kept their distance and left the young Dusun widow to fend for herself. There were people who asked to buy her children but she refused.
Her mother struggled for 4 years with the help of her own parents before she remarried and had 5 more children.
“Who I am today,” Emelia declared, “ is all because of my mother. The spirit of my mother.”
Emelia’s life journey of unceasing challenges landed her as a supervisor at a shelter for unwed mothers.
“I was 19 and not much older than the girls whose hands I held as they screamed through the pains of labour. The first time I took a girl to the clinic to give birth I didn’t want to be there with her. But she held on so tight to my hand I couldn’t leave. She was only 16.
“I saw the pain the girl was going through, the baby coming out and saw how she cut the cord, my thoughts went back to my mother. The day she gave birth to me and how she suffered through confinement without my father,” Emelia couldn’t talk about her mother without feeling emotional.
“The girl was still holding my hand after cutting the cord and she told me: I’m so glad you are with me.” And from then on Emelia knew that was her destiny. She worked at the centre for 7 years helping unwed mothers go through this crisis in their lives with counselling and support.
“Journeying with these girls helped me to discover my potential. My potential is the human touch. Counselling them face-to-face and seeing their will to survive the crisis also helps to empower me.”
When the second marriage didn’t work out, Emelia’s mother separated from the husband and took all the four girls with her back to her village while the five sons followed her husband. Emelia, who is proficient in Bahasa Malaysia, Dusun, Mandarin and English, remembers attending a Chinese school that was far away from home.
“My sisters and I didn’t have time to play as children. I had to sell kueh (cakes) in the school canteen during recess to pay for my bus fare. My mother would get up at 5 am to make the kueh and I will sell them to my friends.
“When we were in school, my mother would go to the field to plant padi (rice). After that, at 3 in the afternoon she would go and set up a stall in the night market till 10 pm. My mother was very strict. When we came home from school we had to cook and do housework.
“She told us we had to work hard and study well or get married! My second sister was married when she was 15. My eldest sister stopped after Form 5 to support the family.
“I was scared because I didn’t want to be married off. So I worked part-time as a supermarket cashier to pay for mine and my sister’s school fees. After Form 5 I went to Kota Kinabalu to look for a job and found a place to stay at a hostel run by the Good Shepherd Sisters.
“It was a culture shock for me. I couldn’t speak English, no computer skills and no handphone! After working 8 months as a pharmacy assistant, I missed home and I went back to the village.”
But curiosity about the job offer to run the shelter for unwed mothers set up by the Good Shepherd Services brought her back to Kota Kinabalu.
While working at the shelter, she harboured the dream of going to study. When she was offered a diploma course in Psychology and Counselling at UKM, Emelia had to turn it down to handle a family crisis.
“My stepfather had remortgaged the land that my father left us and I had been sending money home to pay for the mortgage. I was informed that my stepfather had gone missing and the bank was auctioning off the land.
“It was the only thing my father had left us and his cemetery is also there. I didn’t know about law or land rights. I was only 22 but I was determined to learn and with advice from lawyer friends I learnt what are my rights and how to reclaim my land.
“I had to borrow money to pay the buyer who had put a down payment for the land at the auction. And I had to forgo my dream of going for studies as I had to work to repay the loan in nearly 8 years.”
Emelia was 30 when she finally stepped into Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia to pursue her course.
Today at 36, Emelia is an experienced community organiser, has worked with World Vision Sabah, is well-versed with child protection and has built a home on their family land.
“I told my mother I may not have a secure government job or one that makes me a lot of money to buy a big house and big car but she has brought up as a good and responsible daughter.”