Heart means love from friends and family, says 11-year-old Asma.
The feather is a symbol education.

A new t-shirt collection lets the kids it’s raising funds for express themselves, writes Aznim Ruhana Md Yusup.

IT takes a village to raise a child, the saying goes. But model and activist Deborah Henry takes it further, she says, “it takes the world to raise children”.

Together, this makes the motto for Fugeelah, an accessories brand that’s also a social enterprise for helping refugee children.

While society tends to see children as the sole responsibility of their parents – and for sure there are functions that only parents can perform – no family lives in a vacuum. So bringing up a child to become a beneficial member of society means that everyone has to step up and pitch in.

This is particularly important when a family has to leave their homeland. A forced removal due to war, conflict and persecution strips away much of the comfort and security of having a home; and the life of a refugee in Malaysia is precarious.

The country is not a signatory of the 1951 Refugee Convention, and a refugee’s stay here is considered temporary while the UNHCR finds a third country to resettle them. But temporary can still mean a number of years, and there’s no pausing on a growing child.

Deborah co-founded the Fugee School for refugee children in 2009. It has about 300 students, and relies solely on public donations. Fugeelah began as an offshoot of the Fugee School, due to the need for a more sustainable way of raising funds for the school’s operations.


Stepping in to help Fugeelah and the Fugee School is Japanese fashion brand Uniqlo. Under a special collaboration, Uniqlo has released five special edition t-shirts with all the proceeds going towards the Fugee School. Each t-shirt retails for RM59.90, and is available on the company’s online store.

What’s special about these t-shirts is that each graphic is designed by a student from the Fugee School. Uniqlo staff had come to the school and the students were asked to draw or paint a particular design with a meaning that’s close to their heart.

One of the students is 11-year-old Somalian refugee Asma, who’s been in Malaysia for three years. Her design was made of hearts, light bulbs and three stylised earth-over-open palms, in a three by three grid.

“Heart means love from family and friends,” she says. “The bulb represents education and knowledge, while the earth means sharing with one another. The hand is all of us helping each other. If we all come together, we can achieve something very powerful.”

She says the project with Uniqlo has helped to broaden her horizons, and she’s very interested in becoming a fashion designer when she grows up. She’s still figuring out her design aesthetics, but she seems to have an eye for detail.

“I don’t know much about fashion yet but I do like my jeans with the floral embroidery,” she says.


Meanwhile, 15-year-old Humudi wants to be a businessman. He’s from Somalia by way of Yemen, and will sit for his IGCSE at the Fugee School next year. He knows that a good result will go a long way to help him achieve his ambition, but he has his own interests too.

“I love Japanese manga,” he says. “I love Naruto, Boruto, Boku no Hero Academia and many others. I like the storyline about friendship and having faith. Most of them have superpowers but it’s also a bit realistic.”

“Most of my schoolmates, like 90 per cent of them, don’t know about manga. When I asked if they want to see my manga drawing, they said, ‘What? Mango?’”

He tried drawing in the same style for the Uniqlo t-shirt, but it didn’t come out very well. Deborah had asked him to express himself through his drawing, but he struggled for inspiration until a friend suggested a feather.

“A feather symbolises education. You can write with a feather, like in the old days, or a pen, or anything. With education, nothing can stop you.”

Humudi drew the feather over a blue and white background that’s flecked with paint splatter. That’s the hurricane, he says. The whole drawing is symbolic of how education can take a person higher despite all the odds.


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