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A buddy in times of adversity

January 29, 2013

Everyone needs a shoulder to cry on when things get out of hand and clinical psychologist Urmillah Dass understands this better than most.

Outraged and shocked at the very existence of human trafficking in her own country, Urmillah Dass pledged to help the victims of this sickening crime through the SMILE Buddy Programme she currently runs.

No stranger to human suferring, Urmillah explains, “In 2005 I worked with Mercy Malaysia to render aid to earthquake victims in Iran. I started the ‘Milk and Cookies’ project there to get starving kids off the streets and into school.”

Now Urmillah’s SMILE Buddy Programme works with victims of human trafficking in Malaysia who have been rescued and housed in government shelters. “My work here involves recruiting and training students and volunteers who are keen to work with these victims. It is sad to know that many of the victims are Malaysians too.”

The SMILE Buddy Programme consists of three components – physical skills, cognitive skills and social skills training.

Urmillah explains, “This programme has helped the women and children here overcome grief, post traumatic stress including depression and anxiety symptoms associated with this tragedy. Apart from this, the programme is a great platform for creating awareness and educating students and volunteers about the crime of human trafficking.”

Relating how she became involved in her current work, Urmillah says, “I first heard of human trafficking at the Semenyih Detention Camp while working with Doctors Without Borders as their national psychologist. I was shaken by the things I heard there.”

One incident in particular so angered but saddened her that Urmillah resolved to fight human trafficking in any way she could. She recounts, “I will never forget the Myanmari refugee asking to rescue his pregnant wife from being sold for RM2,500. Although he was incarcerated in the detention camp, he managed to raise the money through the Myanmar grapevine. He then sent a representative to the border and ‘bought’ his wife back.”

Currently working with the International Organisation of Migration (IOM), Urmillah works with the victims in shelters, runs the SMILE Buddy Programme with volunteers and trains immigration, police and shelter staff on how to deal with victims of human trafficking.

Bent on spreading the word about the horrors of human trafficking, Urmillah helped produce a multi-lingual brochure on the subject. She has also written numerous articles as well as given interviews in e-media, television, radio and newspapers. Recently she was cast for a role in an play that dealth with the issue of human trafficking.

Urmillah believes every Malaysian can do their part in helping victims of human trafficking. “Keep your eyes and ears open and try to extend a helping hand to the victims. Call 999 to report a suspected case of human trafficking – you might just save a life!” she says.

She also cautions people against participating in any behavior that can be construed as trafficking. This would involve recruitment, transfer, transport, receiving as well as harboring through coercion or force, a person or persons for the purpose of exploitation.

Currently Urmillah says she urgently needs more volunteers to run the various programmes at the shelters. Equally important is sponsors to fund shelter programmes and awareness campaigns. “I need to recruit more students and get universities and centers of higher learning to understand that the younger generation needs to be educated and exposed to this cause so they will never participate in it,” she explains.

With the efforts of Urmillah and her committed team of volunteers there is a ray of hope that human trafficking can someday be totally eradicated.



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Acknowledging the heroes among us


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