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Meet Paulina Henry. Pitas Girl Broke Out Of Poverty

Meet Paulina Henry. She is an entrepreneur and director of an education group in Kuala Lumpur. If you saw her today you wouldn’t have the slightest hint that she had her beginnings in one of Malaysia’s poorest districts, Pitas in Sabah. 

Pitas is situated in the northern region of Kudat and is roughly 200km away from the state’s capital, Kota Kinabalu. Pitas is the second poorest district in Sabah with 53.6% of its citizens living in poverty.[1] This rural region is dominated by hills, with very dense forests and difficult to access.

Paulina grew up in Pitas and as a child, she had no clue of a world beyond her kampung (village). She was under the impression Kuala Lumpur was full of foreigners. The thought was compounded with the fact that she did not speak a word of English! But that didn’t stop her from dreaming. 

From left to right: Paulina’s brother, cousin, and her at their aunt’s house in Kampung Manduring, Pitas in 1989. Paulina spent the first 12 years of her life growing up in the village.

Malaysia’s First Woman Prime Minister? 

She aspired to be someone big and notable. As a child, she would tell anyone who would listen that she would be a businesswoman and the next Prime Minister of Malaysia. After scoring very well for her UPSR she was miraculously offered an opportunity to participate in a student exchange program by Yayasan Sabah. At 12 years old, Paulina packed her bags and left home for the first time and flew to Kelantan to further her studies.

The Catalyst Moment That Changed Everything 

In preparation for the program, Paulina asked her father if she could buy a new pair of shoes. With whatever little money her father had, he managed to get her a shoe but it was a size too big so she could wear it for longer. The design was definitely not something she wanted. Grateful but a little discontent, she determined then and there that she was going to change the way her family lived. A strong desire rose within her with a resolution that one day she will be able to afford and buy any shoe she wanted! 

Paulina fulfilled her dream of being able to afford any shoe she ever wanted!

Paulina thrived in her studies despite being away from her family at a young age. She learned resilience, independence, and grit – qualities that would propel her to where she is today. She excelled in Physics and developed a love for education. Today, Paulina is an Executive Director at Regent College with more than 13 years of teaching experience. She also has a cupboard filled with all the shoes she ever wanted! 

All Things Are Possible, Yes! Even Breaking Out Of Poverty 

Paulina feels strongly about youth who grew up in disadvantaged or marginalised backgrounds. She hopes that youth coming from low-income families will tell their story and never be ashamed of where they came from, especially if it’s a rural village in the middle of nowhere. It makes for a more powerful story or one that’s in the making. 

She believes that she’s been awarded golden opportunities in life to get her to where she’s at, but her success did not come without real sweat, tears, and hard work. Along the way, acknowledge and appreciate people who supported you such as your parents, family members, teachers, and friends. She urges those working towards their own dreams and ambitions to be persistent, consistent, and don’t give up easily! I wanted to be the next Perdana Menteri as a kid, who’s to say you can’t be?

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Explore our sources:

  1. Department of Statistics Malaysia. (2019). Household Income and Basic Amenities Survey Report by State and Administrative District. Link.

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