I wanted to look after these children because I wanted to
"God could not be everywhere. Therefore He creates mothers." This saying paints an accurate picture of Norlina Alawi.
Besides having seven children of her own, this 37-year-old businesswoman has adopted 35 other children ranging from 22 to three years old. Four of them have AIDS.
This is not surprising since many of her adopted children have parents who suffer from HIV/AIDS. In fact, in 2004, Norlina has set up a home called Persatuan Kebajikan Anak-Anak Pesakit HIV/AIDS Nurul Iman Malaysia (Pernim) specifically to look after children of HIV and AIDS patients.
"These children always face a certain kind of discrimination," she says. "People are so afraid to adopt them. They are afraid their life will be complicated by the disease.
"The last thing these children want is discrimination. What they need most is love."
Norlina’s journey of mercy began in 2000. At that time, she was running a successful catering business which supplied food for film crew on location shoots.
At that time, she came to know of one of her sister’s friends, who is deaf and dumb – and unmarried, had become pregnant. Out of pity, Norlina offered a roof over her head till the baby was born.
Later, Norlina discovered the girl was also HIV+ and there was a strong possibility that the baby could be infected. Though she persisted in lending the unwed mother a hand, she was persuaded by her own mother to send the girl to a halfway house that looked after HIV patients.
However, Norlina never stopped visiting the girl. When she discovered the mother could not look after her new baby, she decided to adopt the child. The mother returned to her hometown.
"I couldn’t blame her – she didn’t have any experience," recalls Norlina. "I think my motherly instinct told me that I didn’t have any choice but to look after the child."
To continue to breastfeed the baby, Norlina became pregnant with her sixth child. Luckily, that baby is later found to be free of the dreaded disease.
Then in 2003, she added two toddlers to her brood. "Their parents had died of AIDS," she says. "But the relative who passed me the children hid that fact. She was afraid that I would not take them."
Norlina started to read more about HIV and AIDS. Since then, she has taken on other abandoned children of all walks of life.
Initially, her husband was not pleased with her idea of adopting children. "He said what I was doing was utter madness ... that I was taking on other people’s problems on my shoulders."
But it didn’t take him long to come around and accept his wife’s ‘madness’. "I think he learned to love the children like his own too."
Doing what she did has never been easy but the most difficult time for Norlina was when people misconstrued her reasons and actions.
In 2005, a report was lodged against her about mistreating one of her children. There was a court case and welfare officers were called in to investigate. But in the end, she was cleared and found not guilty.
"I know I am not a perfect mother. If I had made mistakes, I hope people will show me the right way, and I am always willing to learn. But they should not have tried to take my child away from me."
There were also insinuations that she was running the centre for glamour and fame.
"Is there glamour in looking after children?" Norlina asks. "Believe me, there is no glamour. There is only hard work.
"Initially, I was upset that people had misconstrued my intentions. I felt sad for my husband too. Because of me, he had to face the heat and the gossips.
"I wanted to look after these children because I wanted to shower a mother’s love on them. As time passed, I decided not to let these negative talks affect me. If I were to let them affect me, I would be depressed and would not be an effective mother to my children."
Whatever people may say, it cannot be denied that it takes a special woman like Norlina with a heart big enough to love 42 children, especially children who are ostracised by society mainly out of fear.