Noorhafizah Abdul Rahman, known as Fizah to friends and family, had a pretty normal childhood. Her life changed when she found out at 12 that she was adopted.
“It made me very angry and upset. I mixed with the wrong crowd and didn’t go to school. I did whatever I wanted to do,” she said.
But the breaking point came when her father passed away.
She shared: “That changed everything. We were very close. He did everything for me … He picked me up from school, even until I was in Secondary 3.
“And he just passed on and I felt so alone. I had nobody to turn to. I was not close to my mum and younger siblings. So, I did more bad things. I started to take drugs.”
The First Sentence
Fizah is now 34. But she cannot forget the dark times she had to go through.
After trying unsuccessfully to discipline her, Fizah’s mum put up a Beyond Parental Control order application against her. She was placed at the Singapore Girls’ Home for rehabilitation.
“I thought that would make me better but no, I turned out to be worse. I took more drugs and got involved with bad company after I got out,” she said.
These activities eventually landed her in prison in 2001.
She recalled: “That was only for a short period. But it was a horrible experience. I didn’t ever want to go back there.
“But I did go back there in 2017, again, because of drugs.”
The Second Sentence
Fizah’s second time in prison was the wake-up call she needed. It began when she realised she couldn’t be there at her brother’s wedding.
It was four days after she was scheduled to start her prison term.
“On the day I went in, he said to me, ‘You’re my elder sister, I need you to be at my wedding.’
“I told myself, I can’t do this anymore. I have to stop taking drugs. I have to stop going back to all the bad company. I really have to work and be a better person,” said Fizah.
But it was what her mother said during a visit while she was incarcerated that strengthened Fizah’s resolve to begin again.
“My mum told me she needed me to help her take care of my siblings. She wanted me out of prison soon.
“It broke my heart and was devastating because I was inside, I couldn’t do anything. I wanted to take care of her. Even though I’m not her real child, I believed that it was my responsibility to take care of her when she’s old,” Fizah said.
The New Chapter
Shortly after her mum’s visit, fate stepped in.
Fizah came to know about Agape Connecting People, a social enterprise and contact centre that employs disadvantaged people, even inmates serving their time.
It was the opportunity Fizah hoped for to make something of her life.
“We heard rumours saying that there’ll be a call centre in prison. I thought, ‘How can there be a call centre in prison when security is very tight?’
“Until one day, they came in to do an interview, and we were called in.”
That was the beginning of Fizah’s transformation. She started training for the job in September 2018, began working three months later, and continued at Agape for more than a year.
A few months after her release in July 2020, Fizah joined the company full-time as a customer service officer.
At last, Fizah was on the right path.
“Agape doesn’t believe in judging others and they accept you as you are – as long as you have the correct attitude, a positive mindset, and you’re willing to grow with them,” Fizah said.
Turning the Page
No one understands Fizah’s journey better than the founder of Agape himself, Anil David.
Like Fizah, Anil has done his time in jail – three stints for fraud and criminal breach of trust. He came out in 2012 after serving eight years behind bars.
Anil too had a chance to work in a call centre during his time inside, and he wanted to give others the same hope that the experience gave him.
“When I came out, I had a dream. I wanted to start a small company … A place, a platform where people like me could process their pain, and come out stronger, and go back to the marketplace,” said Anil.
It was exactly what Fizah needed to heal from the pain of the past.
“Fizah is a very bright, very talented person. And we were there at a stage of her life where we could get the best out of her.
“She was committed. And, most importantly, teachable. She was re-learning a new skill. And she embraced it wholeheartedly. She’s a good example that given the right environment, the right partners and opportunity, people excel,” Anil said.
Working with NTUC’s e2i (Employment and Employability Institute), Agape embarked on a place-and-train programme to equip Fizah and other disadvantaged individuals like her with the tools to succeed at the job.
Rewriting the Future
Fizah was recently promoted to assistant team leader after nearly eight months on the job. With the trust and training she received from Agape, and Anil, she is confident about her prospects for a better life.
“I believe that as long as you have the mentality and capacity to learn and absorb as much as you can, you will go far,” she said.
Another indication of how far Fizah has come is her relationship with her mum. From being constantly at odds with each other, they are now the best of friends.
“She now calls me every day. I am very close to her, and we share things. We open up to each other and we talk things out. It has been good,” said Fizah.
Looking ahead, Fizah says that she would want to have a better career, her own family, her own house, and a chance to travel. She also wants to keep growing with Agape.
“They accepted me as I am. This is somewhere I want to stay. They believe in what I can give and do for them.
“There were ups and downs, and in-betweens, but I managed to get through all that. And I’m still happy — I’m still here,” Fizah said with a smile.