Way back in 2004, I was looking around for NGOs I could join so that I could give back to the society in whatever ways possible, however small. I did join a few NGOs earlier but their activities weren't really what I was looking for. When someone told me about a support group for People Living With HIV (PLHIV), desperately looking for female Malay volunteers, I was intrigued. Apparently at that time, Buddies of Ipoh, did not have a single female Malay volunteer, yet they had so many female Malay clients (clients here meaning PLHIV who agreed to accept the support service from Buddies). Not that my non-Malay colleagues didn't want to become the assigned buddy to these ladies, but sometimes these ladies themselves, being sensitive about their HIV status, would feel more comfortable talking to another female Malay, and especially so when they wanted to talk about religious matters. Not that I'm that highly knowledgeable when it comes to Islam, but at least the clients could talk about it if they wanted to.
I've been with Buddies for 15 years now. I've lost track of how many clients had been assigned to me in total. Some have passed away. Among others... Ros, Lily, Rina, Shila, Sofie... and most recently Zana & Yah. They were among the first few cases assigned to me.
Ever since I was put in charge of the Education Sponsorship program, I got to know even more clients, including those who had been assigned other volunteers as their buddies. For those with children covered by this sponsorship program, I'd need to follow up with them so I could give a progress report to the various sponsors. While not all of the sponsored children completed their studies, today I'd like to share a few success stories.
When Fuzi's case was first assigned to me, her eldest child was still in primary school. Fuzi had to face so many difficulties, including getting MyKad for her kids. While their father was Malaysian, the marriage in Thailand was never registered in Malaysia until after his death. When the kids needed to get their MyKad done, being accompanied by an Indonesian mother didn't help. Thank goodness after a whole lot of trouble, the marriage got registered and the children got their MyKad (except for the youngest boy, but that's a different story altogether). Fuzi's eldest child, Wina, had always been the responsible type. She was among the first 8 children covered by the education sponsorship program when it started off in 2008. And the girl certainly made good use of the sponsorship. After SPM, she was offered a place at a matriculation college, and then later she was accepted at a local university. I personally sent her to register at the university up north. She graduated with a degree in accountancy, and even invited me to go for her convocation. I had something else on, so I didn't go. Besides, I wanted it to be more of a family affair for them, to celebrate her success, and hopefully, to inspire her younger siblings. Now, she's capable of taking care of her family, and I no longer have to visit the family on monthly basis to send them groceries, like I used to do some years ago.
Then there was Aini, who had 3 kids still in primary school when she was first diagnosed HIV+. Her husband died not long after he was diagnosed. Although initially Aini was working and able to financially support her children, her workplace later shut down and she was left jobless. Things then became worse when she was also found to have kidney problems as well, needing dialysis. Needless to say, her children too were covered by the education sponsorship program. After SPM, the eldest girl always sought my advice when it came to the courses she could apply for. She was finally offered a place to do a diploma course at a polytechnic up north. I remember one year, when she was still studying, she texted me, saying "Mama dah tenat". I was at the airport then, about to go for umrah, so all I could offer her was my prayer. Even the doctors told her that her mama's condition was 50-50. Seriously, I thought I would be getting sad news before my flight back to Malaysia. But guess what? Aini actually got better and even attended the girl's convocation a few years ago. As for her 2 younger boys, they didn't do well academically but did go for short skill-training courses and are both working now. Aini no longer has to worry about financial problems.
Another case identified for the education sponsorship was Mala, who was first diagnosed with HIV way back in 1997 when Buddies was still a wing under the Perak Family Health Association (Buddies registered as a society on its own only in 2004). She had 2 little boys then, both not even old enough to enter school yet. Based on public perception back then, nobody (not even Mala herself) would have thought that she would live long enough to see her sons finish school. I must give her credit for bringing up 2 well mannered boys. Both boys did well in school and although I'm not their mother's assigned buddy, both of them would consult me when it came to their higher education. The older boy even called to thank me before he boarded the bus to go to a matriculation college. He later entered a local university, graduated with an accounting degree and is now working with a highly reputable company. The younger boy also consulted me after SPM about his studies. He later took form 6 and was later offered a place at a local university, doing Electronic and Instrumentation Physics. Before he left to register at the university, he texted me to thank me for the help given, and promised to keep me in the loop about his progress. Just yesterday I was informed that he too has graduated with a degree. Mala not only got to see her sons finish school. She had already attended her older son's convocation a few years ago, and will be attending the convocation of her younger son this month!
These are a few of the success stories that have kept me going with this voluntary work. We do have a few other children who used to be under the sponsorship program, who are now studying at various local universities and colleges, so yes, I do expect more good news in future. Hopefully the 30 children who are currently being covered under the sponsorship program will also become successful one day and will be able to not only support their own family, but also to assist other children in the same predicament they had been through.