Not all heroes wear capes, some wear hijabs – like Heliza Helmi. Though she doesn’t possess extraordinary powers like flying or have the ability able to read minds, she is superlative in her own right.
In Malaysia, Heliza is a singer-turned-humanitarian who is best known to her fans as the affable, wide-eyed finalist of a reality singing competition called Akademi Fantasia (Season 5, 2007). Though she finished fourth, the show became a launchpad for her to carve her niche in showbiz. Over the years, she has shifted her passion for humanitarian work.
Currently, the 33-year-old is on a humanitarian mission in Cameroon, Africa with her sister to assist with the refugee camps in that area. The trip marks her first-time celebrating Eid al-Adha abroad, far away from family. But in true Eid-al Adha spirit, that’s what you call to sacrifice in the name of religion.
In a recent Instagram video, she gave followers a sneak peek inside her experience celebrating Eid al-Adha abroad. The night before Eid al-Adha, Heliza and the other volunteers on the mission were busy delegating tasks for the Feast of Sacrifice.
FOR THE LOVE OF MISSIONS
Her dedication to humanitarian activities is certainly an inspiration to many. She truly, deeply cares about helping those in need, even if it means risking her own life for it.
Just last month, Heliza and her sister embarked on a humanitarian trip to Gaza, Palestine together with a group of Malaysian delegation. As we know, the ongoing Gaza-Israel conflict has turned the land into a warzone, so the safety of aid workers is always in question. Yet despite so, Heliza braves the odds to provide humanitarian relief.
Her one-week stay was filled with nerve-wracking experiences to say the least, as she and the others frequently found themselves in life-threatening situations, leaving them to question if they would ever make it back home to Malaysia safe and sound.
A chilling example would be when the group encountered a major setback on the day they were supposed to return home upon completing their mission.
After traveling from Gaza to Rafah (the final point before embarking home), the group found themselves stranded at the Rafah border crossing, due to being denied entry into Egypt by the Egyptian authorities.
They opted to spend the night there, despite no food and water supply, basic amenities – this meant surviving through 16 hours without going to the bathroom.
To make matters worse, the weather was scorching hot at 50 degrees Celsius, and it certainly wasn’t the icing on the cake when they had to share little space with a swarm of other civilians who were also stranded.
Worse still, they lost contact with family and loved ones at that particular time, due to no network coverage and the Internet.
But that is the reality of life in Gaza – Heliza says there is no guarantee you will be able to gain access or be permitted to leave as you wish.
Of course, they made it back home safely eventually otherwise this interview wouldn’t have taken place.
HOW IT ALL BEGAN
To table out her experiences throughout her humanitarian missions for the past 6 years would provide enough material to be turned into a novel on its own.
Best believe her stories sent chills down our spines and caused our jaws to drop multiple times. But it was empowering to watch her talk with so much passion. Her whole body moves animatedly with expression.
“I’m sorry I can’t help but to feel all hyped up when talking about this,” she said with a smile.
Let’s backtrack for just a little bit. Heliza embarked on her first-ever humanitarian trip in 2010 to Cambodia when she was just 24.
It was then she had her first taste of experience as a humanitarian, providing necessities for the less fortunate.
“I saw many things on that trip. There were families who live on small boats. That taught me to be grateful and count my blessings,” she said.
But something sparked in her during that trip – this unexplainable happiness in helping others. She came to the conclusion that this was something she wanted to pursue.
Her first-ever trip to Gaza was in 2013. “Admittedly, I’ve always heard about the ongoing conflict in Gaza but never really set my mind on going there.
“But one day, while sitting in my room, I received a text from a friend who told me about Gaza being attacked.
“Instantly, I felt this jolt of emotions across my body. My heart was literally pumping so fast, I just knew I needed to do something,” she said.
“The first time I set foot there, the people welcomed us with open arms and said ‘welcome to your home.’
“We broke down because despite struggling to survive in a war-torn country with inadequate electricity, health services, lack of basic necessities, they stayed hopeful with wide smiles plastered across their faces.
“Ironically, despite us flying there to provide assistance for them, it was them who had to console and comfort us upon arrival,” she said.
“It was hard not to get emotional especially when you’re witnessing everything in person for the first time,” she added.
“I remember them telling us that they do not hope in desperation for humanitarian aid, but they fear for us. They fear that when Allah S.W.T asks us in the hereafter what we have done for them, we wouldn’t have an answer for that.”
MEMORIES TO CHERISH
Being in Gaza for the first time, she was amazed at the civilians’ way of life.
“Over there, they chase after the hereafter, instead of worldly goods. It has been instilled in the minds of the young ones that the world is a temporary destination, and that death is a sure thing. After all, we all belong to Allah S.W.T.
“So when a family member dies, they are well-prepared and can accept fate because they know that one day, everyone will die and we will all meet in the hereafter,” she said.
“That is why you’ll see young kids living independently. Some go to Friday prayers without being accompanied by their parents,” she said.
While on a separate mission trip in Aleppo city in Syria, Heliza shared another nail-biting story about surviving.
“We were en route to another location called Kafr Zita, and that place is like a ghost town. We were wandering around to find if there was anybody at all living there and turns out there was!
“We asked them why have they not left the place, they simply wanted to do what they can to protect their home.
“Then we asked – aren’t you afraid of dying? This place is not safe. They said why should we be afraid of death? Allah is waiting for us,” she said.
“These things are what makes these humanitarian trips so worth it because it constantly resets your mind to focus on what’s most important, which is our Creator.”
A short while after that, the group’s leader received an alert via walkie-talkie that the area is armed with soldiers, ready to fire at anything on the move.
Instantly, the group frantically runs to search for cover. They get into a van, and the driver zooms off, driving in a zig-zag motion to escape any chance of getting shot.
Fortunately, they found a large underground area to hide for cover, so they go in stealth mode to put themselves out of sight from the army.
“Little did we know, all that time, we were hiding in a very large grave,” said Heliza.
Not long after, we escaped from the grave and hopped in the van to make a move. Just as we began our drive, we were stopped by a man armed with a sniper.
“I thought the hardest part was over, but then we were met with this stranger who had a sniper with him. At that point, I had accepted my fate should my life end there.
“Alhamdulillah, the man was not an enemy. He told us to get out of that area immediately as it was not safe.
“Off we went, trying our best to escape from that area as quickly as possible. As fate would have it, the place was bombed minutes after we left.
“It was like living a scene out of an action movie, literally!” she said.
DUMBFOUNDED BY NATURE’S WRATH
Heliza also visited Palu, Indonesia after it was struck by a tsunami, sweeping shore-lying houses and buildings, killing thousands of civilians.
A visit to Palu was unlike any other she had encountered during her many humanitarian trips. She and the rest of the volunteers felt dumbfounded by nature’s wrath.
“Roads were destroyed. People were screaming for help. We saw many dead bodies stuck under ruined buildings and homes. It was heartbreaking.
“But what left me and the others feeling dumbfounded was witnessing soil liquefaction happening right before us.
Soil liquefaction occurs when soil loses strength and stiffness and starts behaving like a liquid.
“The ground started to build up 6 meters above us and it was moving so quickly. It was hard for me to digest that whole scenario.
“Roads cracked open and closed on its own. There was one incident, a small child accidentally fell into the road opening. The parents tried to save him but just as they were about to, the road closed up. It was devastating to witness that,” she said.
“This sounds all too unreal, and frankly it felt unreal. I had a hard time wrapping my head around the after-effects of the tsunami,” she said.
You would think that after going through countless nail-biting experiences she would be too traumatized to get back on the field – no. She’s still a woman on a mission, or rather mission impossible – as she likens it to.
We ask Heliza, why do you do this and where do you get the strength to keep moving forward? “I am scared that I am not able to answer Allah when he asks me what have I done for my brothers and sisters in need of help?”
“When we help people, Allah S.W.T increases our blessings in so many different ways. There is this satisfaction I get when I help others,” she said.
“I thought to myself, there must be a reason why Allah S.W.T blessed me with an opportunity to be a part of the entertainment industry. But there’s got to be more than just singing and entertaining.
“Perhaps I am here to use my platform to raise awareness about these humanitarian issues,” she said.
“Ultimately, we do good deeds for our own benefits. We pray and donate to increase our good deeds. But what about doing good for others? It’s okay to hustle and work hard while we’re on earth because then we’ll get to rest in the hereafter, insyaAllah,” she said.
Behind the Face of Salam
- Face of Salam : Heliza Helmi
- Project Manager & Co-ordinator : Shah Shamshiri
- Text: Syahirah Mokhtazar
- Editor : Ili Farhana
Photographer: Bustamam Mokhtar, White Studio
- Graphic Designer: Asyraf Tamam
Stylist & Art Director : Helmi Anuar
- Make-up Artiste : Saidatulnisa Aminuddin
- Wardrobe: Eja Shahril, Wanpa, Telekung Siti Khadijah