Family Makes the World Go Round

Dato' Mariam Nesa

Dato Mariam Mas, the chairman of the National Population and Family Development Board (LPPKN), Malaysia speaks to Joan Fam about what rocks her world and the things that are truly important in life.

‘I believe in building family values. We must include family time in our schedule, build healthy relationship and a healthy home.’

Urban Health: What is your philosophy in health?

Dato Mariam Mas: To be healthy means to do everything in moderation. It applies to whatever you do and whatever you eat. I’m one person who loves to eat and I’ve a sweet tooth. As I grow older, I don’t eat as much as I used to. I have learned to cultivate the ‘moderation’ concept. Every morning, I’ll have my coffee but I’ll limit it to once a day only.

UH: Do you have a particular interest or hobby?

MM: I love reading but nowadays I don’t read novels or books. I read health tips, from the Internet such as social media and even WhatsApp. There are good articles on social media.

UH. What’s your favourite TV show?

MM: I don’t really watch TV, not drama or cartoon. But I like talk shows, comedy, the news and shows on children’s talents such as ‘Child Genius’ and ‘Spelling Bee”. I love to see children showcasing their talents. I’m amazed at what they can do, their creativity.

UH: What do you do during your free time?

MM: To me, family is important. You must make time to be with your family. Whatever charity you do must start with your family. I’m blessed in the sense that I’m the eldest in my family and my father trained me from young to take care of my siblings. My nieces and nephews all call me ‘mummy’. I don’t see any sibling rivalry.

There must be one member in the family that must be the unifying factor who will unite all members of the family together in activities and other issues. In my family, I’m the unifying factor and I advise my siblings to train one of their children to be a unifying factor for the future when we’re not around. My mother passed away 13 years ago and I still maintain the family house. So that there’s a place for gathering during festivities. I see a lot of families dispersed when their parents are no longer around. They don’t meet anymore.

‘In a family, there must be a member who’s the unifying factor to build a healthy and happy family environment.’

UH: What do you usually do during ‘family time’?

MM: I’ve been working since 19 years old. It’s been thirty eight years now and I travel widely for my official duties. I love to travel and when I have time I’ll go to London to spend time with my daughter. I normally go twice or three times a year. My son studies in Scotland and so we’ll go for a scenic drive from London to Scotland, enjoying family time together. I still travel with my extended family. I have nine siblings and we’ll go for local and overseas trips together, especially when my daughter comes back to Malaysia at least once a year.

When I travelled with my children when they were young, I made sure that we spent ‘children’s days’ when we went to places which the children loved to go to. We also visited educational places such as museums, art galleries and architectural monuments. They may not understand when young but once they’re old enough, they’ll know the cultures and histories. Then, of course, there’s the ‘mummy’s day’ when I go for my shopping without any protest from them.

UH: Where is your favourite travel destination?

MM: Amsterdam. I was there once for a long course and I love the scenic country as well as the way of life there. The people, their values which are non-materialistic, friendly and easy. Everybody cycles and only uses their cars for long distance travelling or going on road trips. There were no jams, which was so beautiful.

UH: When you travel, what are the steps you take to ensure that your health is not disregarded?

MM: I don’t especially go all out to take health precautions. But, I ensure that the whole group, especially the children, have a happy time. A healthy mind makes a healthy body.
UH: Do you have a favourite health remedy? And if you do, what is it?

MM: I don’t have a specific personal health remedy but I believe that a family should have a healthy relationship. And, in order to have a healthy relationship, there must be bonding, doing things together and most importantly communication.

UH: What is your advice to our readers when it comes to juggling health and career?

MM: You have to take care of your own health first. Because if you’re not healthy, you cannot contribute to your family and society. This is especially for men who concentrate on work without having any exercise. Statistics have shown that they’re getting heart attacks at the age of 40. So, you must realise that health is very important. If you’re on medication, remember to take it. If you need to see a doctor, take time out and go see the doctor. As advised by doctors, you must also eat a balanced diet.

UH: What is your advice for anyone who wants to maintain a healthy, happy family?

MM: Here, I emphasise again the importance of spending quality time with your family. Have at least one meal in a day with your children. I always made sure my children came home for their dinner while they were still with me in Malaysia. No mobile or iPad at meal times because it’s the time to share experiences and bond with each other.

Now, most families you see at restaurants do not communicate because most of them would be having a mobile in their hand. When the dishes arrive, they eat quickly and then depart.

That is why LPPKN has come up with various programmes and one of them is ‘no gadget during dinnertime’ at restaurants, where patrons going in will have to leave their handphones in a basket so that they can communicate with their dinner group. About 30 restaurants participated and the results were good.

UH: What is your tried and tested remedy for stress?

MM: During my younger days I de-stress by washing my hair. There’s a hairdresser near my home and also a hair salon near my office. Now, I just take a good rest or nap. Sometimes I’ll have a masseur come to the house for a relaxing massage.

UH: Whom do you admire and try to emulate?

MM: I don’t try to emulate them but in the past I used to admire Jackie O. I like her elegance and her style, her sunglasses and the way she did her hair. Good dressing sense and not overboard. Now, I admire Michelle Obama, especially her speeches. She can speak eloquently. I like people who can express themselves very well.

UH: What is your personal motto in life and why did you choose this motto?

MM: Family is important. Because everything starts from family. A person’s behaviour, philosophy in life, etc. All these are cultivated from your family upbringing. It depends on how close you are with your family. It will develop your character, integrity, etc. Spending time with your family can build a healthy family bond and a healthy family environment where the young can grow up to become happy, healthy adults.

LPPKN plans for the future population. The year 2035 will see an aging population when most of the people will be above 60 years of age. The smaller group of productive population who is paying for the EPF and funding other things will be the younger generation. So, we must instil good culture and quality in the young now.

Everything has to start from the home. We cannot depend on this nurturing to come from schools alone. LPPKN has many programmes to help young couples be prepared when they want to start a family. We have parenting programmes. We also have programmes for older couples such as ‘Second Honeymoon’ and programmes for senior citizens. We especially created the Kafe@TEEN for the young, among other programmes for children and teenagers.

Three things you didn’t know about Dato Mariam Mas

1) Since Standard Five, she has been keeping account of where her money was spent on a daily basis.

2) Loves home cooked food and would not refuse an offer from friends to visit them and have a home-cooked meal.

3) After eating fish, she must have ice cream.

KPWKM’s (LPPKN) programmes and services

  • 10-seconds Family Hug
  • Healthy couples relationship
  • Marriage and family counselling
  • Second honeymoon
  • Teenage pregnancy
  • Adolescent Social Problem
  • Kafe@TEEN
  • Addiction
  • Educating on cancer, such as, cervix cancer with human papillomavirus vaccination
  • Working with private hospitals and clinics on free mammogram
  • 1Malaysia LPPKN mobile family centre
  • Community talks at flats, offices, etc.

Family education @KPWKM (LPPKN)

  • Parenting @Work
  • Smartbelanja @ LPPKN (Smart spending)
  • Smartstart
  • Mind therapy
  • Kasih module (preparation for marriage & family)
  • Family development curriculum programme for institutes of higher learning
  • Airis (family centre)

Five happy family values

  • Love
  • Morals
  • Healthy & safe
  • Culture (Ilmu)
  • Harmony

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