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)

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Seeing the positive of a negative situation

When Ana first called me, I was quite confused initially. She mentioned she went to the ID clinic for an appointment for her 12 year old daughter, but at the same time she told me that she herself had been confirmed negative. Then she told me that her daughter was also negative. OK, so why did she get an appointment at the ID clinic?

Apparently Ana’s late husband died more than 7 years ago of AIDS-related illnesses. Ana and all her children got tested and all of them were confirmed negative. Recently Ana’s 12 year old daughter got sick, and worried that the girl may have been infected, Ana got her tested for HIV and she got mixed results… reactive on one and non reactive on the other. In the absence of risk factor (the mother was confirmed negative on every test done), the girl’s blood sample was sent to Penang for further confirmation and they fixed an appointment for Ana to bring her daughter to see the specialist in Ipoh GH.

That was when the nurse at the Ipoh ID Clinic gave Ana my number, knowing that Ana may require some assistance for her children’s schooling needs. Ana herself was at first quite hesitant about calling me, but after a few days, braved herself and finally made that call.

A visit to her home was needed to enable me to assess her situation. I wanted to bring along a few trainee volunteers with me, so I purposely arranged for the visit to be done on a Saturday. But after I fixed the date, I found out that all 3 trainee volunteers were unable to join me. Ah well, alone again… as always.

So today I went to visit. Ana stays in a rented kampong house and works as a cleaner in various individual homes, getting paid RM30 each time.

Initially when her late husband was diagnosed HIV+, only the 2 of them plus a few of her husband’s family members knew about it. However, when he died at home, with the obvious visit & instructions given by the health department people, the whole kampong knew on the spot. What with the use of clorox to bathe him, use of plastic outside the kafan, the burning of clothes of the deceased and whatever other things he used (including pillows and mattresses), I am not surprised Ana’s family got shunned after the incident. (This was circa 2006 or 2007. During the past 2 years, I have attended courses given to health department staff in handling HIV cases, and they were specifically told NOT to do what was done in the above case.)

According to Ana, for at least 2 years they had to endure discrimination from her kampong folks. No invitation to kenduris, and when Ana worked at her uncle’s food stall for a few months, the customers refused to eat/drink there for as long as Ana was still there, even if it was just to wash the dishes. All these, despite the fact that Ana and her children had all been tested NEGATIVE.

Every time any of the children fell ill, the kampong folks would immediately assume that it had something to do with HIV.

But guess what? They held their heads high and went on with life as usual. They did not run away from the problems, they simply faced them head on. Despite all the financial constraints, they have survived so far.

The mixed results in the daughter’s blood tests were a blessing in disguise. Because of that, Ana brought her daughter to see the doctor in Ipoh GH. And although there will be no further appointments for her at the ID clinic, it was during that one visit that the nurse suggested to her to give me a call. Otherwise she wouldn’t have found out about Buddies and I wouldn’t have found out about her case. And her children wouldn’t have been able to get help from our Children Education Fund.

Now they can get the help and support they need.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Marrying a burden…

I’ve been assigned to so many clients ever since I joined Buddies in 2004. Basically almost all of them were/are women, either widowed, or divorced.

While there were some, like the late Sofie and Shila, who didn’t even consider remarrying after getting a divorce (Sofie) or after her husband died (Shila), quite a few felt that they NEEDED to get married, even if it was just for the sake of getting married, and nothing else.
I remember once, while driving the late Lily to the hospital, she talked about the need to get married, implying that a woman simply cannot survive without a husband. (she didn’t know I wasn’t married, of course)

Then there was Jah, who was such a happy-go-lucky person. She managed to get over her past bitter memories (of losing both husband and son within a short period) with the support of her whole family. Then came a guy who she saw as her prince charming coming to her rescue, and they got married, without either family’s consent. Her family was against the marriage because the guy didn’t even have a job to support Jah. His famiy was against the marriage because Jah was HIV+.

Despite family objections, they went ahead and got married anyway, in southern Thailand, & never got the marriage registered in Malaysia. Now they are both rejected by their families, without any fixed income and have a baby to feed. And I am not even done talking about all the problems Jah is facing now.

Then there’s Hana. When her case was first referred to me, her 2nd husband was still alive, although already in critical condition. He passed away not long after that, and Hana was having financial problems supporting her children. But after we arranged for some financial help, especially for her schooling children, Hana finally managed to cope. Things seemed to be going well for her… she got a job, her children were covered under our sponsorship program, her parent’s house (where she was staying) was repaired using her father’s EPF money. I thought this family was becoming more and more independent…

UNTIL… one day when quietly she married a guy who’s only 3 years older than her eldest daughter. All the while when she needed help she’d call or text me without fail, yet when she got married, she never bothered to even tell me about it. Worse, the guy didn’t have a job, and in fact he was told by his father to marry Hana because Hana had a job with fixed income. Errr… so who’s supposed to support who?

Now, with an another child in addition to Hana’s 3 earlier children, and the husband still not working (in fact his young friends use their house as their “port” to lepak), Hana never seem to have enough… always asking for help from her assigned buddy. She’s always asking for diapers, milk etc. She even tried to ask for cash. Latest is that she asked her buddy to lend her some money, purportedly to start a business with her husband. Based on what we’ve seen so far, I doubt very much the money will be used to business purposes. I told the buddy that lending money to Hana was a big NO.

If these ladies want to get married, by all means, go ahead. But don’t get married just for the sake of having a husband. The guy doesn’t have to be rich, but at least get someone who has some sense of responsibility.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Visiting 3 clients in a day…

While I was getting ready to fly to Johor last Friday, 2 calls came in from unfamiliar numbers, seeking help. They got my number from the nurse at the Ipoh ID clinic. Before that an old client, Helena, texted me, saying that she needed to pay for her children’s books for next year. The particular school that her children go to, asked for the students to pay up for next year’s books before the school holidays.

On Sunday, while I was still in Johor, another call came in, again from an unfamiliar number. Like the earlier 2 cases, she too got my number from the ID clinic. Looks like my number is “hotter” than the Buddies hotline. To all 4 ladies, I told them I’d call them once I got home.

I got home on Monday, so on Tuesday, I called all 4 ladies. First up was Ros, who was at the hospital, accompanying her husband who had been warded since Friday last week. Since she said she’d probably be at the hospital for quite some time as her husband’s condition was quite critical, I told her I’d visit her at the hospital the next day (today).

Next up, I called Ruby. Ruby stays in Ipoh, and when I asked if I could visit her at home, she said ok, provided I don’t mention anything about hiv if her daughter’s around, as her daughter doesn’t know anything about her hiv.

Then I called Ana, who stays out of Ipoh. Her case is also slightly different as neither she nor her children are HIV positive. It was her husband, who died 7 years ago due to AIDS-related illnesses. Apparently the whole kampong found out that he died of AIDS, and worse, even his death cert indicated AIDS as cause of death, and so Ana had to go through all sorts of problems despite being tested negative herself. I will need to properly plan a visit to her house, as she stays in a kampong outside of Ipoh.

After calling Ana, I called Helena. Most of the other children I have handled before require payments for books etc only after school reopens, not before, and so I found it quite odd that she needed to pay for her children’s books before the school term for this year ends. Since Helena mentioned she’d be coming to the hospital today, I told her to bring a copy of the letter from the school regarding the above. I was planning to go to the hospital anyway to see Ros, I might as well meet up with Helena and get the letter.

So yes, today I went to the hospital although I wasn’t on clinic duty. I initially I thought of seeing Helena first, get the letter from her and then proceed to the ward to see Ros. But when I called Helena, she said she was still on the way. I might as well meet up with Ros first.

And so meet up with Ros I did. Her husband was still in the ward, his condition quite bad. Ros herself had been tested negative, but the last test done was 6 years ago. Her husband had defaulted his hospital appointments & HAART treatments since 2012, and is only now back at the hospital after his condition worsened. The couple has 6 children. The eldest is now studying at a Teachers Training College. The second, having only completed form 4 at school, is doing odd jobs. The third is doing accounting at a MARA College, while the younger 3 are all still schooling. So none of the children are able to help out the family financially yet. With the husband now unable to work, and Ros herself, who usually gets an income from baby-sitting children, is currently unable to do her job as she needs to take care of her husband at the hospital. The children are on their own at home right now, except for the youngest, an 8 year old boy, who had to be sent to the home of Ros’ parents temporarily. This family definitely needs help with the children’s schooling needs. I told Ros to inform me of any latest updates about her husband’s condition so I can follow up by visiting her at home later.

While I was talking to Ros, Helena called to inform me she had arrived, so I went over to see her, had a short chat, and got the letter from her.

Later in the afternoon I went to visit Ruby. Based on the address she had given me earlier, I depended on my GPS to show me the way. When I arrived at her house, the door was open, and I could hear the TV was on, but when I gave the salam, nobody answered. So I decided to call, and after a few rings, she finally answered. She was actually watching TV while waiting to go fetch her daughter from work, and while waiting she slept in front of the TV, which was why she didn’t answer when I gave my salam earlier.

And her daughter who was at work? Her 15 year old daughter who decided to do a part time job to help earn some extra income while waiting for her form 3 exam results. She had not paid her school’s PTA fees etc, and was feeling quite embarrassed being asked about it by her class teacher. She’s also concerned that her PT3 results may be held back later if the amount is not paid soon.

Ruby also has another problem. She is in the process of filing for divorce from her present husband (her second marriage, she got hiv from her first husband who died 8 years ago), the documents are all ready, BUT she has yet to submit the documents as she needs to pay RM100 for that purpose, and for the moment, she still can’t afford it from the money she gets selling nasi lemak by the roadside every morning. Bear in mind, she also needs to pay for her house rental and utilities.

Anyway, I told her not to worry about her daughter’s schooling needs, as we Buddies can cover the costs through our Children Education Fund. In fact, before I left I gave her some money to settle what she still owes to her daughter’s school.

As I was about to go off, Ruby cried, thanking me for helping her out. I gave her a hug, knowing pretty well she needed it very much.

That definitely won’t be my last visit to her house.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

3rd National AIDS Conference: Kuantan 11-12 October 2014





















Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Another unwed pregnancy

It had been quite a while since I was last assigned to unwed pregnancy cases. I still remember sending Zana to a shelter home in KL just a few days after she admitted to me that she was pregnant.

Then there was Sharifah, a student at a private college in Ipoh. Since her parents lived outside of Perak, when things didn’t turn out as planned, I had to send her to the hospital in the wee hours of the morning (I received her emergency call at about 2.30 am) to deliver.

This time however, it’s a totally different scenario. I have not been assigned to a new case of an unwed pregnant HIV+ girl like the previous cases. If you remember earlier in March this year, I received a message from an HIV+ lady, Dahlia, seeking help. Dahlia got my number from someone else who thought I’d be the right person to approach for HIV cases. True enough, I not only had to help her out financially, I also had to help arrange to get her an appointment at the hospital and get proper HIV treatment.

Dahlia is a single mother taking care of 6 children from her failed marriages.

No, the unwed pregnancy case I’m talking about this time is not about Dahlia. And the pregnant girl is not even HIV+. But this story is still about Dahlia’s family. Meaning to say, more burden on Dahlia’s shoulders.

You see, the pregnant girl is Dahlia’s 15 year old daughter. She was raped by a 20 year old boy, a former student of the same school. Apparently he lured the girl with money, taking her out to have some fun. Things that Dahlia herself could not afford to give her kids. Dahlia did not have any earlier knowledge about this boy since her daughter would actually go out with a female classmate of hers.

When the girl was initially raped, she did not inform her mother about it. It was only later when she became more rebellious, and at one time even tried to run away from home, that Dahlia figured something was wrong. When finally the girl told her the truth about being raped, Dahlia immediately brought her to get tested, and sure enough, the girl was found to be pregnant.

Police reports were made, and since the girl is underage, JKM too got involved. Dahlia is adamant that she will take care of her soon-to-be-born grandchild. That was what she told the JKM officers and that was what she told me today. The JKM will still closely monitor the case.

However, since the rape/pregnancy was known later, I suppose there is no proof to show that this particular boy was the actual culprit. While the boy had been remanded for questioning, they will have to wait until the girl delivers, after which a DNA test will be done to determine the biological father of the baby.

And guess what? The boy had the cheek to meet Dahlia at home, offering her some money, asking her to withdraw her police report on him. Despite being poor and at times desperately in need of money, Dahlia did not give in. Instead, she made another police report saying that the boy was harassing her to withdraw her earlier report.

For the moment the girl still goes to school. Her pregnancy is not quite visible yet to the naked eye and the girl will continue going to school at least until she completes her form 3 exams next month. She is due to deliver in early January. Hopefully she will deliver earlier during the school holidays, and then she can continue her schooling when school reopens next year. Dahlia plans to transfer her to another school by then.

My main concern is the girl’s future. It is however good to know that she is still doing okay at school. For the moment the girl doesn’t know that I already know about her pregnancy. I’m sure she’d feel uncomfortable if Dahlia told anyone about it, and I’m sure Dahlia herself doesn’t want people to know about it either. But Dahlia simply had to let things out of her system, and today she got the opportunity when I bumped into her at the hospital. She was there for her appointment and I was there for my clinic duty.

Whatever it is, Dahlia definitely needs more support from now on. I hope to be able to give her the needed moral support at least.