Irene Fernandez’;s legacy lives on as family and friends hail her activism and friendship

It has been a month since Tenaganita director Irene Fernandez (pic) died but to many who knew her and whom she had helped, the human rights activist's legacy will live on forever.
Some 200 people paid tribute to her at a memorial last night which turned out to be a joyful celebration of Irene's life and achievements.
Through songs, dances and speeches, they hailed her indomitable spirit and her dedication to improve the lives and fight for the rights of migrant workers, refugees, abused women and children.
In thanking those present for their display of love, kindness and generosity, Irene's youngest daughter Katrina showed a picture of the activist taken a day after she was hospitalised in Serdang Hospital on March 25.
The picture showed Irene's hand clutching the rosary and giving the thumbs up.
"To her, the rosary was not a symbol of blind faith but the principles on which the church was built.
"She was hooked to numerous tubes and I told her the messages from activists all around the world was in solidarity with her and that we would keep up the fight and that's when she gave me the thumbs up," said Katrina.
She said her mother was the embodiment of so much love and that no matter how tired she was, Irene would take time to cook for the family.
"Our dinners would be full of debates and yes, we shared filthy jokes too," she said to laughter from the crowd.
Irene's colleague, Tenaganita programme director Glorene Das said the activist was her mentor, teacher, friend, leader and fellow comrade and she had grown so much working with Irene in the last 15 years.
"She gave me space to grow, to discover what I had within myself, helped me realise how strong I am, believed in me more than I believed in myself, and most of all, she did the same to all of us here in Tenaganita," she said.
Saying that she missed Irene so much since her death, Glorene said it had been a struggle going to work.
"It pains me deeply you are not around for me to run to for advice, organise, brainstorm, or simply just sit and laugh," she said.
Glorene pledged to continue Irene's vision and dreams to protect the rights of migrants, refugees, women and children.
Opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, who knew Irene since the 1970s when they were youth leaders, said Irene was his chief campaigner when he contested for the Malaysian Youth Council presidency, which he won.
"However, she was very displeased when I became a minister," he said to chuckles from the floor.
He said she was a great source of strength to his wife, Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail during the years he spent in Sungai Buloh prison and Irene even took a stab at politics, when she "reluctantly" contested under PKR for the Subang parliamentary seat in the 1999 general election.
"With religious tensions and extremism on the rise, we need leaders and committed friends like Irene," he added.
Former Bar Council chairman and electoral reform advocate Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan, who worked together with Irene when the two were in the electoral reform group Bersih 2.0, said she was grateful to Irene for supporting her during difficult times.
One of those times was in July 2011 when a group of people had burnt Ambiga's pictures in protest against Bersih's rally for free and fair elections.
"At the rally, Irene spoke and castigated the perpetrators, saying that Ambiga's pictures are burning but our hearts are burning too," she said, adding that Irene was at every Bersih gathering to rally the crowd.
Awam president Judith Loh said Irene had fought against oppression, injustice and marginalisation, and had campaigned for the tabling of a domestic violence bill, amendment of laws on rape and better protection for migrant workers.
Suhakam chairman Tan Sri Hasmy Agam described Irene as a tireless and a courageous human rights defender whose life and work had been an inspiration to many.
"She was a passionate advocate for human rights and justice in Malaysia. Irene was an inspiration to a generation of young activists as well as the local and international human rights community," he said in a message that was read out by Suhakam commissioner James Nayagam.
A resident of a women's shelter run by Tenaganita who only identified herself as Rachel said Irene was a strong and kind person and her heart still ache with the loss.
"We have lost a great lady with a heart of gold, we will miss you but we feel your presence daily," she said.
Irene, 68, died on March 31, after suffering heart failure. She had been admitted to the Serdang Hospital a few days before that after complaining of breathing difficulties while on her way to attend the Bersih People's Tribunal on the 13th general election.
Irene is survived by her husband Joseph Paul, daughters Katrina and Tania and son Camerra Jose.
Irene, a human rights advocated, was a vocal champion of migrant rights. She was also a strong supporter of other causes like free and fair elections and women's rights.