As a young girl growing up in the Orang Asli community, Shereen Ajani Abigael had always been a happy-go-lucky person. Her cheerful and friendly disposition gained her much adoration from friends and family alike.
Yet, Shereen yearned to experience things outside her comfort zone and hoped to mingle with children of different races – “I was surrounded with my own type of people, which made me feel isolated from the rest in other villages and urban areas,” said the 26-year-old in an interview with The Malay Mail.
Eventually, her dream came true when she turned 13 and was sent to a secondary school with children of other races. Although this was an exciting experience for Shereen, she found it difficult to adjust to the new culture.
“It was a culture shock for me to suddenly find myself in between Malays, Chinese and Indians,” she said.
It was difficult because she was getting bullied by her classmates in school. Due to their lack of knowledge about her ethnicity, many of them found her peculiar – “All they know was the common misconception that Orang Asli people are like African tribes living in the jungle. I was also called various terms such as ‘sakai’ and ‘jakuns’, which are discriminatory terms to describe those who live in the jungle.”
The constant teasing and discriminatory remarks made her and other her indigenous students feel small. While Shereen made an effort to not allow the bullying affect her, the same could not be said of her friends – many of them lost interest in their studies and eventually dropped out of school.
“When I started going to school, I was with 20 other Orang Asli students but due to constant bullying, some of them stopped attending classes,” she recalled.
“I remember only five of us ended up going for SPM (Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia) examination.”
Shereen, on the other hand, transformed her pain into victory. She aced the exams with flying colours, securing 9A’s.
Today, this inspiring student is in the midst of completing her law degree at University Malaya after receiving a scholarship from the Orang Asli Development Department due to her excellent results in her foundation in law studies.
Well, Shereen is definitely off to a good start!
She emphasized that her dream of pursuing higher education would have just remained a dream as her parents wanted her to finish school and look for a job.
Thankfully, fate stepped in and changed things for the better!
As she was driving home from work one day, she came across a group of Universiti Malaya students. She learned that they were running some social engagement activities for their local community.
“That caught my attention and made me think that I should also do something for my community. I notice that my community is somehow left behind in terms of education, living standard and economy, hence I thought that there must be somebody to be their role model and prove to them that they can become successful.” On that note, Shereen shared her aspirations of becoming a voice for the Orang Asli community and to empower them through education.
Her inspiring story is proof that regardless of one’s background, through hard work and determination, every individual is capable of achieving success and contributing to society!
*Featured image sourced from The Malay Mail