Atty Sulaiman who has served Antarabudaya Malaysia in several capacities since 1994, announced her early retirement recently to pursue her own interests while she is still “healthy and capable of doing so.”
Atty joined AFS Malaysia as Program Coordinator 29 years ago. At the time, the only other full time staff was a new National Director, Ivy Josiah, who had been at the job for only two weeks. AFS International brought in Mr Darren Mudge, a staff of AFS Thailand, to teach Atty the ropes.
It was a baptism by fire for the young graduate on her very first job. She was given a crash course in hosting programs and then left to sink or swim on her own. “ I remember Darren’s first assignment to me,” recalled Atty. “He said: Atty, we have 39 students coming in 2 weeks and 16 of them have yet to be placed. Here’s the list of volunteers you can call to find host families.”
It was an intense 2 weeks of scrambling to find host families but she managed to find volunteers who stepped up and found families before the students arrived. “Kak Jah from Perlis Chapter deserves a special mention here as she worked miracles to find the families.” Former National Director Zu Mian also became her mentor and guided her through all the administrative work that needed to be done.
April 1994 was a significant milestone for Antarabudaya Malaysia when it signed a Partnership Agreement with AFS International which shaped the new direction of AFS globally.
Financially, it meant that AFS Malaysia was now responsible for the operational expenses of the organisation. “There was no longer a “Bridge the Gap” (BTG) system, and it was a struggle to stay afloat. We started the Partnership with a debt to AFS International for funds not collected or fundraised prior to partnership,” Atty explained.
The first few years proved challenging as there were many changes to how things operated after the Partnership. Navigating through all the application forms, participant agreements and handbooks was a tedious job. The painstaking work of building relationships with volunteers and government agencies also needed to be done. Learning the ropes of the digital world became a necessity.
“In 1996, Lau Chee Eng became the National Director, and her shrewd business acumen shaped the basis of our financial system. Cheang Sin Yung came on board as the ND in 1998 but left in 2000, after which, I was offered the post,” added Atty.
In her long tenure with AFS, Atty considers herself fortunate to be able to witness many important milestones. Among them was Siti Khadijah Hassan, or fondly known as Kak Jah, becoming the first Asian to be awarded the prestigious Galatti Award in 1998; fully settling AFS Malaysia’s debt with AFS International; being awarded the honour of hosting the 2009 World Congress and again the Partner Network Meeting in 2015, as well as the purchase of Antarabudaya Malaysia’s own office building in 2015.
“The pandemic hit us hard, but we were lucky to have the YES & Kakehashi grants to sustain us,” Atty continued. However, the National Office staff shrank from 14 staff to 7 and the Office’s prized meeting hall had to be rented out for additional income.
Atty said that 2023 was the right time for her to leave and pursue her other goals in life. “Alhamdulillah, I am leaving AFS in good hands as we have a healthy surplus for 2022. This would go a long way to helping my successor achieve her vision for Antarabudaya Malaysia.
We have a very lean staff so the new ND would have ample room to recruit new staff when the time comes for expansion. In addition, we have well-trained and experienced staff who will be a great asset to the new ND.”
Atty added that 2023 looks promising with an increase in Program Numbers. “Our relationship with MoE has improved which is evident in the prompt approvals that we have received for both sending & hosting programmes.”
Technically, Atty has been involved with AFS since she was 12 when she was host sister to an American student in 1980. Her family continued hosting an AFS student every year after that until she went on the program herself in 1986. After obtaining her university degree, she began volunteering in 1989 and then joined the organisation as a staff in 1994.
“I have been with AFS almost all my life and all my 3 children are also AFSers, so naturally I hope to continue with AFS sometime in the near future, albeit wearing a different hat this time. Hence, this is not “goodbye”, but “till we meet again”!
“I would like to thank all the volunteers, colleagues and board members who have guided and supported me over the years. I’m taking with me thousands of fond memories and funny anecdotes which will forever be in my heart,” she said. Atty disclosed that she will be revisiting her host family in New Zealand for a few weeks before embarking on her personal projects upon her return.