THEY WILL ASK thee as to what they should spend on others. Say: "Whatever of your wealth you spend shall [first] be for your parents, and for the near of kin, and the orphans, and the needy, and the wayfarer; and whatever good you do, verily, God has full knowledge thereof." - Al-Baqarah (2:215)

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Done with this year’s Back-To-School-Shopping

For the past few years, I had always been reserving December as my back-to-school-shopping (BTSS) month. Previously I used to bring one family at a time to the shopping centres to shop for the children’s schooling needs. But as my list of clients grew longer, I could no longer afford to bring them one family at a time. So since 2 or 3 years ago, I started doing the BTSS batch by batch, based on where my clients stay.

This year the board decided to have it as some sort of a special event to be listed under our calendar of events. So for the Ipoh BTSS this year, we had a bigger group consisting of more clients, with a few other volunteers helping out as well. The majority of the clients needing assistance were still my clients anyway.

I started off with Kuala Kangsar, with 4 children from 2 families. Not a problem handling this one. Both families were my clients anyway.

Next up, Slim River. Again, 4 children from 2 families and both were my clients.

Round 3 was in Ipoh. 23 children from 9 families were my clients. Thank goodness there were a few other volunteers to help supervise. But I still had to swipe my card for all 9 families. Another volunteer paid first for the children of her client.

For round 4, I went to Kampar. 4 children from 3 families. Although one of them wasn’t my client, it wasn’t too bad handling it alone as there were only 4 of them.

Next, I went to Batu Gajah. 14 children from 8 families, including 2 families who aren’t my clients. And I was doing it alone.

Round 6 was in Taiping. 15 children from 7 families, including 1 family who is a client of another volunteer who did not come along. Again, I had to handle it alone.

For round 7, I went to Sungai Siput. 9 children from 4 families. I’m the main buddy to one family with 2 children, and a co-buddy to another family with 1 child. The other 2 families, with 6 children, were clients of 2 other buddies.

Round 7 was supposed to have ended this year’s BTSS, but 2 girls from Ipoh had missed the earlier Ipoh BTSS because of some family problems, so yesterday I took them out to shop for their schooling needs.

After 8 rounds of shopping, 36 families, 75 children and about RM18.5K spent, I am officially done with this year’s BTSS.

I ended up having to shop for 11 additional children who aren’t my clients. Instead of getting additional manpower from other volunteers to help me with my many clients, I ended up getting more children to handle by myself. I think next year I will have to stick to just my clients alone. Let’s just leave the Ipoh BTSS as a special event. The rest? Let the respective Buddies handle themselves.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Time to get updates on my clients

Looking through the list of phone numbers saved in my mobile phone, I noticed quite a number of them belong to clients of Buddies. 67 of the phone numbers belong to either my clients, or the clients of my fellow volunteers (who sometimes tend to call me when they can’t get hold of their own buddy) or the children of my clients who are now big enough to have their own phones and mature enough to call me directly.

With that many clients, how do I keep in touch with them?

Well, initially when I did not have that many clients, I’d be visiting almost all my clients quite regularly. And if they are poor, the visits would usually be on a monthly basis. Yep, I used to visit Lin, Yah, Fuzi and Mrs K on a monthly basis, bringing along some groceries with me as well. And previously, stories of Nuri, Wani and Zainab also cropped up from time to time in this blog. Yep, these are some of my older clients.

But once my list of clients grew, I had to prioritize, visiting the needy ones more often, while the rest would have to do with just phone calls or text messages, and meeting them only occasionally like during our annual Family Day, or during our year-end back-to-school shopping (BTSS) sessions.

So yes, for the past 5 rounds of BTSS, I’ve been taking the opportunity to get some updates from my clients, although when the BTSS involved so many families in the same session, like last week’s BTSS in Ipoh and today’s BTSS in Batu Gajah, even getting that little bit of info from each and every one of them was quite difficult.

Lin is no longer joining this year’s BTSS as her youngest daughter has recently completed her SPM. Nuri’s youngest daughter (who is also HIV+) will be in form 5 this coming year and so this was probably the last time for them to join our BTSS, unless the girl ends up doing form 6. Mrs K has 2 more daughters still in school. The youngest girl, if you remember Baby K who underwent a heart surgery some time back, will be in standard 2. While Mrs K herself didn’t mention anything about Mr K, I do know that Mr & Mrs K are no longer staying together, although I am not too sure if they are just separated or already divorced.

Fuzi’s eldest daughter is already in a local university, and no longer qualifies for our BTSS. The youngest boy should be in standard 3 this coming year, but is still unable to go to school because of citizenship status. You see, Fuzi has yet to obtain PR status despite applying for it a few times already, reason being her husband is no longer around. Her first 4 children however, have Malaysian citizenship by virtue of having a Malaysian father. Her youngest son however, was born out of a rape case, and with a mother who doesn’t even have PR status, the fatherless boy is not considered a citizen. So the poor boy who is going to be 9 next year, is not accepted at any government schools, not even as a foreign student, unless and until Fuzi can get PR status. And if you think that at least her other 4 children are doing ok, Fuzi’s 16 year old son, who has every chance to go to school, has decided to stop going to school. He used to get into all sorts of trouble in school and even when Fuzi sent him to a vocational school, staying at the school hostel, the boy ran away during the night.

I am done yet with this year’s BTSS. Will probably be meeting with Yah this Saturday and Wani next week. I should be able to get more updates, hopefully heart-warming ones.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Shopping again… for a bigger group

For the past years, I’ve been taking my clients for their back-to-school-shopping (BTSS) by myself. Even when I decided to shop for a few families at the same time, I went by myself without involving other volunteers.

This year however, for the bigger Ipoh group, we decided to make it a special event for Buddies, involving not just my clients, but also clients of other volunteers as well. Nonetheless, the majority of the families involved were my clients.

I was initially supposed to have 11 families joining the Ipoh BTSS. However only 9 families turned up as the other 2 families had more important matters to attend to.

Out of the 9 families, 2 came down from Cameron Highlands. Last year I went up to CH to take them shopping. However, this year, they agreed to come down to Ipoh to join the other families, and make things easier for me as well.

So yesterday, after my Saturday pasar tani routine, I went to fetch Aini at her home. I agreed to fetch her despite only having one child still in school, because of all my clients, she’s physically the weakest, needing a walking stick to move around. Her eldest daughter has gone back to the polytechnic where she is studying, while her second son had just completed his SPM.

We reached the hypermarket quite early, and as I expected, we were the first ones there. But it didn’t take long before I started getting calls and text messages from my clients, telling me they had already arrived and was asking me where exactly to find me.

My fellow volunteers too started arriving, including the 3 new trainee volunteers. All in 8 volunteers turned up to help out.

As for the families, I just gave them the guidelines as to what items to choose and how many of each item to buy. Things were quite easy for me initially, leaving them to choose things for themselves with the volunteers helping them out. But when the time came to check out and pay at the cashiers, I had to standby in between 2 counters. The families queued at 2 separate counters, luckily the counters were next to each other. You see, I used my card to pay for my clients (an advance cheque was made out under my name earlier, but I wasn’t about to carry thousands of Ringgit in my handbag, it was safer to pay by card), so I just had to wait in the middle, whichever cashier finished entering the codes for all the items first, I’d go to that counter to make payment. And this continued for 9 families.

Once payment was made, each family needed to show the receipt to the guard to be stamped before leaving. I needed the receipts for my claims and I wasn’t in the position to follow them out and come back in again to pay for the other families. Thank goodness the trainee volunteers were around and waited till the end, so once payment was made, they’d accompany the families out for the receipt to be stamped, after which they’d bring the receipts back to me.

Total amount swiped was RM6,495.95 for 24 children from 9 families. That does not include the RM1.3K+ another volunteer had to pay for the children of her client.

After 3 rounds of BTSS, I’ve already covered 32 children from 13 families. I have another 4 rounds to go, covering at least 30 more children.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Back to school shopping begins…

With more and more children covered by our Education Sponsorship program or the Children Education Fund, this year I need to really plan for back-to-school-shopping (BTSS) in various towns for various families. Most of them will join the Ipoh and Taiping BTSS though, so for the 2, I need help from my fellow volunteers to help me out. So for those 2 towns, I purposely arranged for the BTSS to be held on a Saturday so that my volunteers can join me.

However, for the smaller towns where I only have a few clients, I decided to go alone on weekdays.

I started off yesterday in Kuala Kangsar. One of the families needed a pair of bicycles as well for the 2 children to ride to school, and since the bicycles are usually cheaper at the shop I usually go to in Ipoh, I decided to buy in Ipoh and carry them in my Kenari to be delivered to this family at their kampong before taking them to town to shop for their schooling needs. Meanwhile, since another client of mine whose children are also under sponsorship, stays further in Pengkalan Hulu, had agreed to meet up in Kuala Kangsar, I told her to meet me at the specified place at 10 am.

So there we were, myself, my 2 clients and 4 children (2 secondary and 2 primary) choosing uniforms, shoes, bags and stationeries for next year’s schooling. More expenses for the secondary school girls definitely, since they also needed scientific calculators and geometry sets. Paid a total of RM1,105 for all 4 of them.

This morning was round 2 of my BTSS. 3 more families were supposed to meet up with me at a specified shop in Slim River, but one client called me yesterday to inform me she wouldn’t be able to make it as she needed to be elsewhere. We agreed that she should just buy whatever necessities, send the receipts to me and I’d reimburse her the amount (subject to a specified maximum limit).

The particular shop was chosen based on the recommendation of one of my clients. I am not familiar with Slim River and so I wouldn’t know where would be the best one-stop shopping place for schooling needs. Since the shop is not listed in my GPS, I asked client for a nearby landmark. True enough, the landmark she mentioned was really near the shop and so it was easy for me to find the place.

One client came with her 3 children, 2 boys in secondary school and a girl still in primary school. Another client, who had to go to the hospital in town to get her supply of meds for the month, came slightly later with her 5 year old daughter. Her older children (from her first marriage) are no longer in school and so they don’t get any more education assistance from us. Since our CEF also covers assistance for pre-school, client brought her youngest daughter so we could buy shoes, bags, t-shirts and other basic necessities for the girl. It didn’t take too long to buy things for just this one girl, so before long they were done and left.

When the shop owner found out that I would be paying for both families, and I told her that it was my NGO project to assist with the educational needs of poor families (of course I didn’t go into further details as to how these cases were referred to us), she actually gave a discount for EVERY single item bought. One of the boys, who will be in form 5 next year, also needed a pair of Boy Scouts uniform. He had been wearing the same one for so many years, it is getting a bit too tight for him already. They sought my permission first of course, and I gave the go-ahead.

All in, I paid a total of RM873.50 for today’s shopping (including for the pre-school girl), thanks to the discounts given by the shop owner. It could have easily reached RM1K without the discounts.

By the time I paid up for everything and we were about to leave, client, who looked calm and was smiling when she first arrived, became somewhat emotional. Holding back tears in her eyes, she hugged and thanked me for helping her out. She wouldn’t have been able to fork out on her own, the amount paid for her children’s schooling needs.

To me it’s simple. As long as the children sees the importance of education, I am more than happy to help. I know of another client, Lin, who only went to school up to standard 6, because by the time she was supposed to go to form one, her parents couldn’t afford to buy her school uniforms and other schooling needs.

We don’t want these children to be deprived of education because of poverty, and end up inheriting their parent’s poverty. To change their future, education is the key.

And the success stories I see in some of these families, for example Lin’s family (her 3 older children completed their studies including one who became a doctor), motivates me to keep on helping the poor families, despite a few frustrating failure stories.

Round 3 of BTSS will be this Saturday in Ipoh. More families and more children expected this time around.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Visiting the pregnant girl

It has been 2 months since I last visited Dahlia and her children. It was during the last visit that Dahlia told me about her daughter’s pregnancy.

The girl, 15, had yet to sit for her PT3. But since her pregnancy wasn’t too obvious yet at that time, she went ahead to school and sat for all her PT3 papers.

During the early stages after being raped, the girl somewhat became rebellious and even tried to run away from home without telling her mother what her problem was. Dahlia suspected something was amiss, but it took her a while before she found out that her daughter was raped by a “friend”. Police reports were made, and fearing the worse, Dahlia brought her daughter to the clinic for tests, and lo and behold, her worse fears came true. The girl was pregnant.

Yesterday I went to visit the family again, to send over some supply of diapers for Dahlia’s 2 youngest children, and to check on how they’re doing, especially the pregnant girl. Frankly, I was expecting her to stay in her room throughout my visit.

But to my surprise, when I arrived, the whole family greeted me, with Dahlia’s 4 younger kids all waiting at the door while Dahlia came out to unlock the gate. They seldom get visitors (almost none at all), so having me visit them at home excited them.

The 15 year old girl stayed on in the living room, together with Dahlia, myself and her other siblings. I think she has trusted me enough by now to know that I was there to support them, not to judge or lecture them.

Both Dahlia and her daughter looked calm despite the problems they are facing. I felt comfortable enough to joke around with them, and it was so good to see the girl’s sweet smile. Dahlia has even planned for the girl’s future, registering her for a skill training course, enabling the girl to get a certificate in 2 years time, which can later on be used to continue her studies to diploma level. The registration will be in December, before the girl delivers, but her course will only start in March next year, ample time to get back into shape after she delivers the baby.

Dahlia’s second child, a 13 year old boy, wasn’t at home when I visited. He went to a kelas mengaji nearby. The boy has been doing very well in school, getting first in class for the recent school exams, and being very active in his school’s co-curricular activities.

Dahlia herself, finding it difficult to get a proper job because she has toddlers at home she needs to take care of, in addition to the fact that no public transport are available at her housing area (the only way is to call a taxi, which she can’t afford to do too often), has resorted to working at home, giving tuition to a few school children. May not be much, but at least she does get some extra income to add to the welfare aid she’s been getting.

By the looks of things, I strongly believe the future of this family is very promising. No doubt when I first got this case, Dahlia felt she and her children had no future. When her daughter was raped, she felt even worse. But all they need is SUPPORT. And that makes a whole world of difference. They look much more empowered now. And with that, comes confidence.