Raja Riza Shazmin in an exclusive interview with Bernama at Mercy Malaysia. Photo: Bernama


KUALA LUMPUR: She is a successful career woman, wife, mother and active volunteer all rolled into one.

Even as a five-year-old growing up in Ghent, Belgium, Datin Raja Riza Shazmin Raja Badrul Shah – who has participated in humanitarian missions overseas – was quite unlike other children her age.

Instead of playing and having fun all day long, she preferred to spend her time going from house to house selling apples to raise funds for charity.

Raja Riza Shazmin was born in Ghent where she also received her early education, and stayed there with her parents Dr Raja Badrul Shah Raja Shah Kobat and Fara Majmin Datuk Abu Bakar for seven years while her father pursued his master’s degree and PhD in agriculture.

Raja Riza Shazmin’s penchant for charity work and her humanity remained intact after she returned to Malaysia but the scope grew bigger as she became older and now she is vice president II and legal advisor at M Malaysia, a well-known humanitarian organisation.

In fact, she was also instrumental in establishing Mercy Malaysia United Kingdom in 2014.

Raja Riza Shazmin in an exclusive interview with Bernama at Mercy Malaysia. Photo: Bernama

Interviewed recently at Mercy Malaysia’s headquarters here, Raja Riza Shazmin, 44, told Bernama that her interest in charity and volunteering activities was sparked while schooling in Belgium.

“The school I studied in helped me to foster the spirit of volunteerism and develop a strong sense of identity from young.

“I still remember the time when my teachers would share their stories (of needy people) and show us certain photographs. We, students, were also given a bucket each to help collect donations and contributions,” said Raja Riza Shazmin, who practised as a lawyer for almost two decades before resigning at the end of last year to take up the post of director of Philanthropy at Sunway Education Group.

Her current job requires her to groom the younger generation to engage in volunteering activities, as well as build up their philanthropic spirit.

The compassion that wells up in her heart is matched by her humility — she refuses to be addressed as ‘Datin’ and insists that her friends, colleagues and acquaintances call her by her name.

Active in humanitarian missions

This mother of three children aged 21, nine and five has been actively participating in Mercy Malaysia’s humanitarian missions since 2003 after she joined the organisation as a volunteer.

Her first mission was to Aceh in the aftermath of the killer tsunami that struck the Indonesian province in December 2004 and claimed 280,000 lives.

The experience, she said, grounded her and gave her a new perspective on life.

“(When I arrived there) the smell of death still lingered. Realisation dawned on me and I learned to be more grateful, more appreciative and more giving because I believed that God would repay kindness with
kindness,” she said.

Recalling a heart-rending moment, she said she came across a girl aged about five or six sitting all alone and “I was grief-stricken when I found out that the child’s parents were swept away by the giant waves. I then thought of my family members and children back home”.

In 2008, Raja Riza Shazmin took part in a humanitarian mission to help the victims of the deadly Cyclone Nargis that struck the south of Myanmar. Some 146,000 lives were lost and infrastructure, rice fields and farms were destroyed.

Mercy Malaysia had helped to build a maternal and children’s clinic at a remote village in the Ayeyarwady Delta region, which was also badly affected by the cyclone.

It was a small clinic, offering only basic medical equipment but for that village, the facility was the first of its kind set up there.

Raja Riza Shazmin said when she and her team visited the clinic, the locals expressed their gratitude to Mercy Malaysia for providing a safe and comfortable place for women to deliver their babies and seek medical care for their children.

Legal expertise 

Raja Riza Shazmin’s expertise in the legal and governance field came in useful for Mercy Malaysia. She assisted the organisation in drafting policies and standard operating procedures to enable it to be more transparent and practice good governance in all its processes.

“In the early years of my involvement with Mercy Malaysia, I contributed ideas and helped in drafting and collating documents. As a lawyer, I worked on every aspect related to the legal point of view for the organisation.”

She also took it upon herself to study International Humanitarian Law (IHL) in greater detail as back then, not many lawyers were involved in humanitarian work.

“I had to read many references, books and articles from the west to gain a better understanding. I also attended conferences and seminars in Geneva, London, Bangkok, to name a few, to learn more about IHL and its related issues,” she added.

In between juggling her career and humanitarian work with raising her children, Raja Riza Shazmin finds time to manage her household and tries to cook for her family as often as she can. – Bernama