‘Our Nepal trek made our 4-year-old more resilient and adaptable than we could have imagined.’
Our That Mama of the month is Maslina Mohamed Jalani, an educator and wildlife conservationist with a special interest in the critically endangered Malayan Tiger. Maslina shares how she has taught her daughter to embrace adventures having started her young – a highlight being a life-changing climbing adventure in Nepal with her husband and daughter who was only 4 years old at the time! From teaching her daughter to scuba dive when she was 10 to going on Tiger Saving Family Outreach trips in Malaysia when her daughter was 13, Maslina shares why she empowers her daughter to step outside her comfort zone to teach her that everyone including all of you could be part of the solution to advocate for tigers and wildlife.
Can you tell us a little about yourself and your family?
I’m a mum to a 17-year-old daughter, Nur Sumayyah. I try to juggle all my commitments and carve out time to volunteer and be of service to projects that I find meaningful. I’ve been married to Zaki for almost half my life — twenty years. When we met each other, we thought we had a lot of common interests; for example, the love for adventure. I agreed to marry him because we made a promise, that we should always encourage each other to pursue our interests despite being married young.
Tell us something crazy about yourself!
From a young age, I’ve always had a burning desire to explore the world beyond Singapore. However, as I live with a close-knit family, migrating is a farfetched option. My husband entertained my wanderlust journey to challenge the status quo and embark on a journey of self-discovery. We decided to explore living in different parts of Singapore and we have moved seven times! With each move, we challenged the traditional mindset of staying rooted in one place with an attempt to break free from societal expectations and stereotypes. After seven moves, exploring Singapore, it taught us that the only constant is embracing change. Migrating within Singapore has enriched our lives, and the experiences gained along the way are a reminder that it’s okay to dream big, and explore, in pursuit of a more vibrant life. Next, which part of Singapore would I like to move to?
Can you talk us through your career pre- and post-kids?
I started my career as an interior designer. I compromised my dreams to pursue arts because I was born into a family of modest means, and the weight of financial independence pressed heavily on my shoulders. However, after three years as a designer, I faced a crossroads. I love designing, but felt a desire to share my love for Art. I realized that teaching was my calling; to inspire young minds to pursue their passions.
When I became a mother, balancing motherhood and career was an arduous task. My dreams and my aspirations for my daughter became intertwined. I wanted to role model to my daughter that hard work and passion could lead a life filled with purpose and creativity. When my daughter was nine years old, I was offered a stint with the National Arts Council (NAC). The experience was transformative, I learned invaluable lessons in leadership, advocacy, and the importance of nurturing artistic talents.
As the pressure of the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) weighed heavily on both my daughter and me, I felt a compelling need to spend more time with her. I made a difficult decision to take a temporary break from my career and we spent quality time bonding and studied together. Once she was through this period I returned to my work as an educator. My journey through my career, in part, was possible due to the unwavering support from my husband and my family. Despite my decision to change career paths, we navigated the challenges of parenting while pursuing our own individual passions.
What got you interested in volunteering with the Singapore Wildcat Action Group?
Singapore Wildcat Action Group (SWAG), is a registered non-profit run by volunteers who share a passion for conserving wildcats, specifically leopard cats and tigers. The SWAG objective: to build a network of supporters for wild cat conservation and raise funds to save the critically endangered Malayan Tiger resonated with me. The co-founder Dr Vilma D’Rozario was my lecturer when I took on Service-Learning elective module. We did many projects together back then before I was married and had my daughter.
During my hiatus, I learnt about Dr Vilma’s effort to organise Citizen Action for Tigers (CAT) Walks, after reconnecting with her, and decided to take part in one. We headed to a jungle in Malaysia that had been shrinking due to the planting of palm fields. It was a 3D2N adventure led by a MYCAT facilitator and two Orang Asli guides.
With climate change taking a huge toll on nature, it has become dire for us to work together to safeguard our planet. Through her actions for wildlife conservation, Dr Vilma inspires me to want to be a better person — to not only think and feel but also to do.
Apart from CAT walks, we do local projects by rendering our services through various SWAG events since its inception namely, Saving Tigers Family Outreach, Tiger Week, Wildcat Party, and various outreach programmes. My husband and I raised SGD$3,000 by participating in the Chiang Mai Marathon to help SWAG reach its 2019 goal of contributing SGD$25,000 to support MYCAT’s Community Ranger program, which trains local villagers on advanced anti-poaching techniques so they can provide additional surveillance of illegal wildlife trade. The following year we took part in SWAG100, a 31-day challenge to run and/ or walk a total of 100 kilometres each to raise USD$10,000 to support Malaysia Conservation Action for Tiger (MYCAT) conservation projects in Malaysia.
Have you ever seen a wild tiger?
As most of the animals are nocturnal, we don’t get to see these endangered species during the CAT Walk expeditions, however we discovered evidence of wildlife, like the claw marks of sun bears and the footprints of elephants, wild boars, and Leopard Cats! Despite having to navigate in the dense tropical rainforest, our guides kept us safe. We managed to retrieve the memory cards from surveillance cameras set up for research and monitoring purposes. When we went through the images, we learned so much about animals’ habits in the forest.
Have you taken your daughter on conservation trips? How has the experience impacted her?
My family participated in an educational outreach titled “Saving Tigers Together Family Outreach”, a first for Malaysian Conservation Alliance for Tigers or MYCAT, for short. Our trip was covered by The Sunday Times entitled ‘Young and caring for the wild!’. This article highlighted the growing educational awareness of wildlife conservation for children and youths.
Overall, it was a very educational experience that brought my daughter completely out of her comfort zone. Even so, we had a lot of fun. She learned that everyone including all of you could be part of the solution to advocate for tigers and since, she has volunteered for SWAG, Love Kuching Project, and many other organisations to do her small part to care for the things that matter.
You have taken your daughter on lots of outdoor adventures such as climbing Mount Kinabalu and diving in Tioman and the Maldives – what has been the most memorable experience?
It would be planning and embarking on a life-changing climbing adventure to Nepal in 2010, which was not without its share of challenges. The one significant obstacle we encountered was the scepticism and reluctance of travel agencies to help us plan the adventure. Their reservations centred around my daughter, who was only four years old at that time. We reached out to several agencies to discuss our plans for trekking in the Annapurna region with a young child and we received mixed responses. The common thread emerged for their unwillingness to assist us because they felt Sumayyah was too young to appreciate the experience and that she might become cranky or pose a hindrance to the trek.
Undeterred, we continued our search and met an agency that was willing to help us plan the trek to accommodate our family’s needs. They tailored our itinerary to be child-friendly and provided us with an experienced guide, Lakhpa, a porter Katarman and Sureen.
Our journey to Nepal made Sumayyah more resilient and adaptable than we could have imagined, it also allowed her to develop a deep appreciation for nature and respect for others. Her giggles and curiosity became integral to the trip, drawing smiles and warmth from both fellow trekkers and locals we encountered along the way.
Last year, our family returned to Nepal to tackle the Everest Base Camp trek with Lakhpa organizing the trip for us. Sumayyah was sixteen last year and she proved her resilience once more, surpassing our expectations to reach the Everest Base Camp after conquering her O-Levels.
How do you prep your daughter for these adventures?
We started introducing Sumayyah to adventures at a very young age. Before she took her Junior Open Waters at 10 years old, we had already been introducing her to the beach and ocean since she was a baby because it offered a rich sensory environment – the feel of the sand between her toes, the sound of waves crashing, and the salty scent of the sea stimulate the senses. When she could swim, we thought that diving could be a good progression for her.
As an educator, I advocate for a well-balanced life. Both my husband and I believe that the outdoor teaches valuable life skills such as teamwork, leadership, problem-solving, and adaptability. These skills can be applied in all aspects of life, including work and personal relationships.
How do you define success? Any tips for others who may not have yet found their ‘thing’?
I hope the time will come when the criteria by which our society rewards its individuals are influenced by the course of one’s life, particularly during years of opportunity and personal development. Meaning as an individual grows and matures, one develops a deeper understanding of themselves, their interests, and their strengths. This self-awareness can influence their life goals, ultimately shaping the criteria by which we seek success.
What is your parenting approach?
My parenting style is derived from the teachings of Islam. It places an emphasis on nurturing physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being. The best way to teach is to model and as parents we are encouraged to lead by example. Thus, if we want our child to be honest, kind, humble, and have resilience, we must demonstrate it to them because as children, they are learning by observing our actions and attitudes. While love and compassion are the foundation of any family, Islamic parenting also involves setting discipline and clear boundaries. I have been living with my in-laws and it was intentional because filial piety is highly regarded in Islam.
What is your favourite family ritual?
My favourite family ritual is having conversations over drinks and meals. It’s a simple yet meaningful routine that brings the family closer together for us to connect share stories, and bond. We make a conscious effort to put away electronic devices to minimize distractions during our conversation time. When we have our conversations, we want to be fully present and engaged with one another.
As a mama I wish I were better at… Reading my daughter’s mind.
I wish I had more time for… Making art.
I always feel saner after….Having conversations over drinks or meals.
I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about…. Whispering a prayer for my family and friends.
My favourite moment of the day is…When I return home from work to my daughter and cats greeting me.
Thank you so much for sharing your amazing outdoor adventures as a family as well as your conservation volunteer work Maslina!