Of River Terrapins, Sewing Machines and Batik

What do river terrapins, sewing machines and batik have in common? 

To most, nothing. But to 49-year-old Azlina binti Zakaria (or Kak Na), it’s a whole different story.  

Thanks to a community empowerment project hatched by the co-founder of Turtle Conservation Society of Malaysia (TCS), Dr. Chen Pelf Nyok in 2019, Kak Na can now earn about RM1,000 to RM1,500 by sewing crafts for TSC.

The programme’s two-pronged objective involves improving livelihoods by empowering local women while spreading awareness on the plight of river terrapins.

“Yayasan Hasanah’s funding came at the right time and I managed to host three upskilling workshops,” said Dr. Pelf. Participants of the workshops learned photography, product marketing and financial literacy skills.

Kak Na has attended every workshop and enjoyed them all. 

“It doesn’t matter that people said I am an IT illiterate!” exclaims the mother of four who can sew 100 masks in five days while working from home and concurrently caring for her children. 

When the pandemic hit and her husband — like many others — lost his job, Kak Na was grateful that her sewing earnings could support her family. 

Dr. Pelf, however, describes the programme as a win-win situation.

“Without them, TCS would not have merchandise to spread awareness about our initiatives. We saw during the pandemic that non-profit organisations cannot depend on donations alone; one way to be sustainable is to run a business.”

On what motivates her to run this programme, Dr. Pelf recounts the time she saw how overjoyed a participant felt at having her own, independent source of income for the first time in her life. 

She also remembers seeing husbands help their wives string elastics into masks. “It is not just a money-making tool, it has brought families together,” she says, summing up some impacts that are not measurable in dollars and cents.