BEAUTY pageant winner and lawyer V. Kokila Vaani once said: “Wear your failures as a blessing for your new beginning.”
“Pageantry gifted me with a voice to be heard, a pair of hands to help, and taught me a very important lesson: that no beauty shines brighter than a kind heart,” added the 34-year-old Miss Asia Millennium Universe 2019, who is also currently retaining the title for 2020/2021.
A barrister-at-law from Lincoln’s Inn, Kokila is also the deputy president of the NGO Astivaaram Malaysia, set up by Datuk G. Kumar Amman in 2017.
For Kokila, education and food are the two most important things in life.
“Being a foodie myself, I feel no one should go to bed hungry, and basic education must be made mandatory for all. If I had it my way, I would provide free food and free education to all,” she quipped.
What inspired you to be a part of Astivaaram Malaysia?
“It all started after I won the title. As a winner, I organised a charity project, in which a group of five winners participated in a project called Girl Talk.
“We handpicked shelter and orphanage homes with a majority of girls aged between four to 18 years old, and gave talks on legal awareness, health, love, relationships and fitness, and ran mentoring sessions and provided notebooks, to encourage the girls to write a journal daily.
“We provided the carers with daily [provisions] for three months as a token of appreciation for managing both the homes and the children.
“I kept in touch with the girls and followed their progress through social media and Whatsapp chats, and this never failed to make my heart feel content. I realised that the kids are just like me. If given the time they can be the best version of themselves.
“To date, none of the students have failed me. It was then that I thought that I needed to continue being a part of it, and subsequently, I joined Astivaaram.”
What are the objectives of Astivaaram?
“Astivaaram’s main objective is to become a one-day and one-stop welfare centre providing free aid or legal advice on a one-to-one basis for those with a household income of less than RM2,000 through Astivaaram Legal, which includes mentoring sessions and basic education for students.
“The Mentoring Programme falls under our Astivaaram Kids. I think the biggest challenge with the education system today is that we are focused on calibre and character. The core of education must help a student to navigate through life, and we feel the mentoring sessions alongside education can help.
“Every fortnight, we mentor and gauge the interest of each child and provide them with tuition, based on their needs.
“Under the Health wing, the children get an annual medical check-up with doctors, and we provide everything from acne creams to multivitamins.
“Recently, we started Get Fit with Astivaaram, and conduct free online classes [due to the pandemic] like Zumba, yoga and Bollywood dance and basic self-defense.
“Occasionally, we have free skincare and makeup classes under Pampered by Astivaaram.”
Tell us about the free legal aid clinics.
“The legal clinics are one of our busiest services in Astivaaram Legal. We don’t turn down anyone. We welcome walk-ins, but an appointment is preferred.
“Since the pandemic, we have switched to tele-conference and WhatsApp video calls. Our advice relates to employment, will and estate-related issues, domestic violence and family problems.”
What is your plan now that you are retaining the title for 2020/2021?
“They say dreams are your signature and with that, I plan to sign off two of my dreams under Astivaaram; the Astivaaram Communal Library and Astivaaram Food Bank (F&B).
“I plan to build a small library at the Astivaaram HQ in Kelana Jaya. The food bank is going to be launched on a small scale in Selangor and KL first and then, hopefully, nationwide.”