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Old Girl's Associations: Circle of sisterhood

Mission: An alumni strengthens links with its school to ensure a tradition of excellence

SECONDARY school education may seem a natural progression to prepare for higher education after finishing the primary level.

But for Kolej Tunku Kurshiah (better known as Tunku Kurshiah College — TKC) students, it is a pivotal point for self-discovery in terms of not only academic abilities but also talent and potential.

Its alumni, which consists of an influential network of politicians, high-powered civil servants, professionals and experts in various fields, is certainly proof of this. With names such as Professor Datuk Mazlan Othman, United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs director and  Malaysian National Space Agency founding director general; Bursa Malaysia Bhd public interest director and Yayasan Sukarelawan Siswa (Students Volunteer Foundation) chairman Datuk Zuraidah Atan, Tan Sri Dr Rafiah Salim, the country’s first female vice-chancellor, namely at University of Malaya (UM); and many more in TKC’s hall of fame, the college has played an instrumental role in producing women leaders for Malaysia and also in organisations beyond our borders.


MGC girls in their classroom.

Established as Maktab Perguruan Melayu (Malay Girls’ College – MGC) in 1947 at Bukit Damansara in Kuala Lumpur, the school was the first premier fully residential school for girls in the country. This institution was originally meant for the daughters of royalties and top government officials but later opened its doors to those from various levels of society. In April 1962, the school moved to a nine-hectare site on Bukit Merbah in Seremban, Negri Sembilan and was renamed TKC. In January 2013, TKC moved to Bandar Enstek, Negri Sembilan.

While the students come from all walks of life across the country, the school has stringent academic entry requirements as it aims to groom future leaders. It has proven to be a valuable platform for students to achieve their potential academically while nurturing their psychological, social, emotional and spiritual development. The boarding school encourages students, who are away from their parents, to be self-motivated and pro-active. Activities like debates, dance and drama competitions, and house games assist in the development of social skills, self-assurance and mutual respect, along with preparation for adult life.

Rafiah, the MGC/TKC Old Girls’ Association (OGA) president, remembers fondly her experience at school. When offered a place to study in MGC at 12 years old, the Kelantanese – who was born in Kuala Krai and raised in Kota Baru – sensed it was a significant moment and insisted on attending the school despite the financial constraints her father was facing then. After persuasion by a grand uncle, her father eventually relented and Rafiah entered MGC in 1960.


Members of the present school orchestra getting ready to perform.

“I knew the school was for ‘clever Malay girls’ and I wanted to be part of it,” she said.

Rafiah, who had never been away from home until then, had bouts of homesickness but was comforted by her “sister” in college, an older girl appointed to keep an eye on her.

“At that time, the college sister system was very sound. The college sisters really looked after the adik. If the younger girl felt homesick and cried, the older one would comfort her. Even in the dead of the night, a college sister would comfort the freshie. So, the care was really there. I remember my college sister scolded me because I was such a crybaby! Even now when we meet, we’d laugh about it!”

Apart from exposure to Western dining etiquette and a more urban environment, and becoming more confident and independent, Rafiah said the most important thing that she acquired at school was interpersonal skills where one learns to give and take – a trait of alumni members.

Another defining moment was during her fourth year at school when she learnt leadership after grappling with an issue she had with school rules.

“I was always a non-conformist and I voiced my concerns. But I wasn’t able to garner support at that time. But yet the year after that, the whole of Form 5 rebelled. I realised a leader must be able to exercise influence. That was a huge lesson I learnt at TKC. I always feel I have to do what is right.”

After graduating with a Bachelor of Laws and earning her Master’s of Law at Queen’s University of Belfast, Rafiah chartered an illustrious career beginning as a lecturer and later dean at the Law Faculty of UM. Next, she joined Malayan Banking Berhad as head of the legal department and went on to become the general manager of the human resource department. She then served Bank Negara Malaysia as assistant governor of three departments – security, legal and property and service – from 1995 to 1997. Her achievements led to her appointment as assistant secretary general for human resource management at United Nations (UN), New York from 1997 to 2002. She was the first Malaysian to be appointed to such a high post in the UN.

“I wouldn’t be where I am today if I had not been plucked from Kota Baru to MGC/TKC,” said Rafiah.

The drive to excel and the belief in one’s abilities to initiate change is also apparent in Professor Dr Adeeba Kamarulzaman, who attended TKC from 1976 to 1980.

Adeeba is dean of the Faculty of Medicine and Professor of Medicine and Infectious Diseases at UM. She has dedicated her career to the prevention, treatment and research of infectious diseases and HIV/AIDS. She is also a strong advocate of HIV prevention, treatment and care in marginalised communities.

“Boarding school taught me to be independent from an early age. TKC also introduced me up to a wider range of friends and people from all sorts of background whom I may not have had the opportunity to meet otherwise.

“And I left to study Form Six in Australia even before the SPM results were out. I went on to university – perhaps these opportunities would not have come by if not for this elite school,” said Adeeba.

Today, in her various roles, Adeeba has a list of causes she is fighting for: from the over supply and quality of medical graduates and specialists in the country and those returning from overseas, to doing more to address HIV/AIDS in the country.

Currently CEO of SMECorp Malaysia and a leading proponent of the collaboration and cooperation of SME boards in India, Thailand, Korea, Turkey and adviser  to the team behind the Yemeni G-G IDS Study for Industrial Development Strategy, Datuk Hafsah Hashim attributed her formative years at TKC from 1972 to 1975 as a contributing factor to her successful career.


Inter-form drama competition at the Bukit Merbah, Seremban campus.

“My role at the international level is made much easier with the training at TKC. I was an active student and organised many events. I was in the English debate team and my varied roles as house captain, president of the Music Society, school badminton player and president of The Cultural Club at Aston University in the UK honed my leadership and oratorical skills,” she said.

Hafsah hopes that she can give back to the school through her involvement in the alumni as vice-president of the education and religion sub-committee. “I hope to inspire the current batch of students and share my management skills and study habits but, most importantly, teach them to become an effective Muslimah leader in the dunia and akhirat.”

Rusnah Karim Afshar, who was at TKC for 5 ½ years from 1972 until June 1977, chartered an unconventional course.

Crowned Miss Freshie during the Freshie concert when she was in Form 1, Rusnah was put in the spotlight and learnt to deal with what comes with the title early in her years at school.

“I handled popularity, adulation, great expectations, criticisms and failures.  I grew up very quickly with support from my parents through their letters. I only went home during term holidays,” she said.

The experience did her good. After TKC, she found herself in England doing A levels and then went on to pursue a BSc (Hon) in Electronics Engineering. She married an Iranian, a fellow classmate, in 1980.

By the time Rusnah’s husband started his postgraduate studies in 1984 at Southampton University, Iran had undergone a revolution and the Iran/Iraq war had started. His family left Iran and settled in Southampton.

Due to their entrepreneurial family background, he and his two brothers along with Rusnah formed Ahmad Tea Ltd in 1986. The rationale was because England is synonymous with tea and the brothers had experience in the business in their home country. Now 28 years later, there are six Ahmad Tea factories worldwide i.e. in Southampton,  Moscow, Kharkov (Ukraine), Ras Al-Khaimah (UAE), Nanchang (China) and Tehran (Iran) with about 2,000 employees.
“We export our hundreds of blends of teas to about 82 countries,” said Rusnah.

She credits her years at TKC for shaping her and her career.

“My years at TKC taught me to aim high. It was my ambition to further my studies in the UK. I focused on hard work to win a scholarship. Competitive inter-house activities taught me courage, perseverance and faith to keep on fighting when faced with difficulties and setbacks. I learnt discipline, acquired the ability to complete a task and be a team player.”

Life at the boarding school taught her to be conscious of other’s needs and she learnt to show consideration and compassion which is crucial when dealing with employees.

“But, above all, TKC taught me self-confidence.  In the words of my late abah: ‘If others can do it, then I should be able to do better.’.”

Rafiah is determined that the culture of excellence instilled into former MGC/TKC students will continue with help from the alumni. At the same time, she acknowledges the challenges the school and its students face are different  today, particularly in the staff strength and level of expertise and dedication required of teachers tasked to groom future leaders.

The vision and mission of the MGC/TKC Old Girls’ Association (OGA) have finally been fine-tuned and formally defined last year.

“Our vision is to be a leading alumni association recognised for its human capital, talent and expertise. We have to gain recognition via the association. Our mission is to improve the members and TKC students’ well-being through capacity-building based on aspired values by networking with members and other organisations,” said Rafiah.

“Our sisterhood aspires to be proactive in grooming leaders who exhibit professionalism (issue- and not people-centred), integrity, respect for seniors and others, empathy and versatility.

“We emphasise empathy especially when it comes to the adik-adik.”

The  Tunku Kurshiah College Special Project  is an ongoing programme based on the vision and mission.  It involves students from low-income families, who form 10 per cent of the current school population. The association is also creating a database to identify talents.

“MGC/TKC membership cards will be distributed on Thursday, which is MGC/TKC OGA Day, in Bandar Enstek. Old girls who are businesswomen will showcase products. We also have programmes to build junior-senior relationship. We are concerned that tradition of respect for seniors and caring for juniors is breaking down. We want to reinforce the culture of TKC.”



Rozana Sani | rsani@nst.com.my NST Channels Learning Curve 27 April 2014
Tags: alumni
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