MERDEKA AWARD LAUREATE DATIN PADUKA MOTHER A MANGALAM who turns 95 this year, is known as the Florence Nightingale and Mother Theresa of Malaysia. The humanitarian joined the Pure Life Society in 1949 and has since dedicated her life to welfare work.
The Pure Life Society is a multi-ethnic organisation for orphaned and underprivileged children. It was the first non-government orphanage in the country. 2000 and more children have passed through its doors since its inception and some of them are in the civil service and in professions such as medicine. Over the years, under Mother Mangalam’s guidance, the Society which started with establishing a Home for the Orphans and Underprivileged, expanded to include schools, a clinic, and facilities for skills training, aiming towards a vocation.
Mother Mangalam was born in Singapore on May 17, 1926. She studied at the Raffles Girls' School for Pupils Own Language and the Saradhamani Girls' School. In 1948, at the age of 22, she made a bold decision to leave home and family to train as a teacher for Tamil in Tamil schools. Her first posting was at a Tamil school in Bangsar. Later she was discovered by the Inspectorate to be over qualified as she had a Cambridge School Certificate, so she was posted to a Government English School.
In her spare time she assisted Swami Satyananda, the Founder of the Pure Life Society, in his relief work among the poor. In 1961, upon his death, she was made as Life-time President of the Society.
Below is her letter to her quiet, contemplative, younger self.
To the young girl often labelled a dreamer,
Don’t for a moment consider this tag a negative trait. Dreamers are more introspective and imaginative. Be more aware of the thoughts that take one deep inside oneself. Don’t be afraid of them and don’t shut them out, but let day-dreaming lead you to gain perspectives about life and death.
When you are first exposed to religion, you will not understand it, but just accept it in full faith. You will be introduced to Dr. Swami Satyananda at the young age of 11 and you will be drawn to his teachings. Go with the flow. Having a mentor is a very valuable thing in life. Keep following him and make him your guru because later, even in his disembodied state, your Guru will help you find your purpose and your destiny.
Mangalam, you are small in stature, but big in heart. This, together with an unalloyed devotion to the Creator will lead you into feelings of compassion. When you see orphaned children, with their widowed mothers, lining the streets as a result of World War II, your heart will melt. Let that compassion build in you a resolve to help them. It may seem a very big task, and a long road ahead with some sacrifices to make, but don’t shy away from difficult situations. It is your calling to nurture the children on the streets and give them a future rather than marry and have children of your own. You will not regret this decision because you will have many more children than you can bear on your own. They will bring you much joy, and you will help them have a better chance in life.
You will wonder how you are going to help them. Write to your guru. He will show you the way. That’s what mentors are for. They can guide you when you are feeling a little lost. They can give you that extra push you need with confidence. He will help you provide a place of hope, refuge and development for destitute children.
There will be a time in your life when you will consider becoming a doctor. You will have this burning desire to inspire others to be healthy in body, mind and spirit. Mangalam, this is a good vocation for you to choose. But you are meant for something more spiritually fulfilling. If you continue on your path to becoming a teacher and then follow your heart to help the underprivileged children, you will be doing the same thing. You will still have the satisfaction of inspiring the children raised in your home to have a healthy body, mind and spirit.
Remember to teach them the values of self-effort, respect, compassion, being friendly with all irrespective of race or religion and respecting all places of worship. Yes, make sure your children’s home will be multi-ethnic and multi-religious so that it is truly a home for all Malaysians. The children will be comfortable mixing with other races once they leave the home too. Your “children” will uphold the values you taught them. It will warm your heart and make you proud to see them doing well in life.
When you are in your 90’s Mangalam, you will look back and not regret the decision you made soon after the 2nd World War, to do what you are still doing now. Your life will be a great inspiration to others and your heart will always be filled with joy. This I assure you.
In 2001, The Pure Life Society published a book of poems composed by Mother Mangalam, called Dew Drops on A Lily Pad in conjunction with her 75th birthday. She has also written a book on the History of Kuala Lumpur for Tamil schools and has been the editor and publisher of the Dharma Quarterly since 1961.
Mother Mangalam received the Pingat Jasa Kebangsaan (PJK) from the Sultan of Selangor in 1955 and the Tun Fatimah Gold Medal from the National Council of Women's Organisations in 1977. She was honoured with the Kesatria Mangku Negara (KMN) by Seri Paduka Baginda Yang di-Pertuan Agong in 2003. In 2010 she was awarded the Merdeka Award for her dedication in the field of Education & Community upliftment.