Entertaining real-life stories with valuable lessons on how to succeed in business and in life
Entertaining and compelling real-life stories with valuable lessons on how to succeed in business and in life. The author is successful business, real estate, and media entrepreneur Dick Kazan.
Published on August 19th, 2014

Irene Fernandez: The voice of the oppressed in Malaysia.

It takes a strong conscience and tremendous courage to challenge one's government when it harms others as Irene did when she spoke for the downtrodden and the voiceless.

Irene, who recently passed away at age 67, was loved and respected by human rights groups all over the world but despised by the Malaysian government, which claimed she was a traitor.

Malaysia is a prosperous Asian nation of 29 million people but 16% of its workforce is immigrant, more than half of which are undocumented.

They are the poor who come from the Philippines, Indonesia and elsewhere in Asia and they do the dirty, ill paying jobs most Malaysians won't do.

Irene, a former school teacher, became their voice.

Irene Fernandez
Irene Fernandez    photo: teohbenghock.org

Her best known campaign began in 1995 when she interviewed more than 300 migrant workers who told her of beatings and rapes by detention center prison guards and of a shortage of food and water they had to endure in those detention centers.

In 1996, Irene's findings were published and she was arrested by an irate Malaysian government which charged her criminally with "maliciously publishing false news."

The court trial took seven years, one of Malaysia's longest trials ever, and Irene was convicted and sentenced to a year in prison.

But Irene was released pending her appeal process, until in 2008 an appellate judge overturned her conviction.

Despite her legal difficulties, Irene continued to run Tenaganita (in Malay means women's force), an organization she founded in 1991 which operated shelters for abused migrants and human trafficking victims, including men.

Irene also helped organize a Malaysian textile workers union and was a consumer activist and a women's rights leader, all the while being harassed by the Malaysian government.

For in the tradition of Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and other remarkable people, Irene had the courage to make her grievances heard and to appeal to the collective conscience of humanity.

It is through such people that mankind sometimes elevates itself beyond greed, beyond war and beyond other forms of cruelty, stupidity and exploitation to make this a better world for all of us.

Success Tip of the Week: If there is a cause you believe in, it is meaningless if you don't act on it.

Editor's Note: To learn more, please visit: nytimes.com and www.hrw.org

In the next KazanToday: A man who waited 72 years for his high school graduation ceremony.

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