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)

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

The children and their future

Since one of our regular clinic volunteers started working 9 to 5 instead of his previous flexi-hour job, we are now short of one team for our clinic duties. So now there are only 2 teams for Taiping duty. One team will cover the first Thursdays of each month, while the other team (aka ME) will cover the last Tuesdays of each month. Today being the last Tuesday of this month, I was in Taiping for my duty.

I was just approaching the doctor's room when I saw a familiar looking teenage girl. As I was trying to recall who she was, I saw an elderly lady with her who I immediately remembered as the grandma of the teenage girl. The girl, Zaira, together with her younger brother Zairul, are orphans whose parents died when they were still very young. Their grandma then took care of them. When Zaira was about 11 or 12, she was down with various illnesses. She even stopped schooling because of the illnesses. The doctors then decided to do a full blood test on her, and only then was she found to be HIV+. They then tested her younger brother, and he too was found to be +ve. But Zairul continued schooling despite not doing too well academically. He is now in form 4. According to the grandma, Zairul seems more interested to set up a small business (in fact even now during weekends, he'd help out at food stalls to earn some extra income). Thank goodness his grandma insisted that he must at least complete his SPM before he starts thinking of going into business full time. I told him that he should probably take up a short business course in one of the community colleges before he goes into business full time.

Since there were no new cases referred to me during today's clinic, after the chat with the orphans and their grandma, I immediately headed over to Dahlia's house. This family certainly still need attention and support and I make it a point to visit them whenever I go to Taiping for my clinic duty. Besides, today there were more reference books I needed to pass to Dilla, the teenage mom, who's planning to sit for her SPM as a private candidate this year. Since there were also contributions of children's books at the Buddies Centre, I brought some along for Dahlia's younger kids.

It was good to get updates from Dahlia on the children's progress. Dilla has started her own revisions at home for her SPM in addition to going for her culinary classes. Her younger brother, Anuar, 15, is also doing well academically despite being very active in sports and cocurricular activities. Dahlia herself has restarted giving tuition at home for a few kids in the neighbourhood, as her source of income in addition to getting monthly welfare aid.

Dahlia told me that both Dilla and Anuar are beginning to put aside a part of their daily pocket money, trying to save money, hoping to get enough capital to one day set up a burger stall in front of their house. Their plan is to study as usual during the day, and sell burgers at night, to get additional income to help out their mother. I told them to concentrate on their SPM and PT3 first this year. Next year, if they want to proceed with their plan, and if they're still short of capital, I may even get some help for them.

I am impressed with their determination and sense of responsibility, without compromising their education. Children like these always inspire me to do whatever I can do to help them achieve their dreams. I look forward to seeing them become successful people one fine day...

Thursday, 21 January 2016

The HIV+ mother and child

Some time after Hari Raya last year, I got a call from an unfamiliar number, asking for Puan Afizah. The caller identified himself as a staff of MBI, and he asked if I knew a lady whose name he mentioned. The name didn't sound familiar at all to me, and when I asked how he got my number, he explained that he had found a purse with this lady's MyKad, together with her son's MyKid plus some hospital cards and also my number written somewhere. The moment he mentioned that, I figured this person had to be a PLHIV who was given my number by the staff at the Ipoh ID clinic because they felt she needed help, but she had yet to contact me. So I just took down the lady's full name and the next time I went for my clinic duty, I informed the nurse, asking her to get this lady to contact the guy from MBI to get her important documents back. I didn't hear any more about her since then.

That was until late last year while I was holidaying in Penang, the nurse from Ipoh ID clinic called me, asking if I could help out a single mom who also has a 1 year old HIV+ son. The moment the nurse mentioned the name, I immediately remembered the lady who lost the purse. When I enquired, true enough, this was the same person.

The lady, Nora, is divorced and has an older son, who is under the custody of her ex-husband. After her divorce, she used to stay at a low cost flat. Her family had actually applied to rent the flat (from MBI) under her brother's name. But her brother doesn't stay there. He stays in KL. One of the requirements when you apply to rent the low-cost flats from MBI, is that the applicant him/herself must stay there. When they found out that the applicant actually stays in KL, Nora was asked to vacate the flat. Initially she stayed at her sister's house elsewhere in Ipoh, but there were already too many occupants at that house, Nora didn't want to trouble her sister further. Nora's older brother then offered to take care of her and her son at his house in KL, but after a while, Nora felt uncomfortable. She didn't want to trouble any of her siblings. She wants to work to support herself and her child.

I called up Nora early last week, asked if we could meet up whenever she's back in Ipoh so we could discuss her problems and how we Buddies could help out. Apparently she had been back in Ipoh since last week, but she was busy with her younger sister's wedding. Yesterday she sent me a message asking if we could meet, so I agreed to meet her today, after I settle some matters with the nurse at the ID clinic regarding a homeless PLHIV who needs to be sent to a shelter home next week.

I was hoping Nora would bring along her son, and she did! Despite being HIV+, the boy looked healthy. The boy's HIV status was only known when he was about 6 months old. Nora's HIV status was not detected during her pregnancy and so no precautions were taken for the baby... no anti-retroviral given, it was normal delivery, and Nora breastfed her baby during the initial month after the boy was born. When the boy's growth seemed somewhat very slow, the docs finally decided to refer him to specialists. Full blood tests were done, and the boy was found to be HIV+. That was when Nora was again tested for HIV, and this time the results came out positive, with CD4 of less than 300. Both Nora and her son had to start on anti-retroviral treatments immediately.

The boy is growing well now, in fact he's quite a chubby looking boy. Nora showed me pictures of the boy when he was initially warded. He was so skinny. There has been a HUGE improvement since then.

I like Nora's attitude. She doesn't want to be too dependent on others. That's why she's looking around for a job and a house to rent. Based on what I saw just now, she also has many friends who care about her, who helped out in getting her a job and a home/room to rent. With the job, she says she can afford to pay for the monthly rental. But for the moment, she needs help to pay the deposit. I promised to help her out using the funds in my charity account, donated by my friends.

Nora is already thinking of her son's future. An SSPN account has already been opened for her son.

Nobody among her family and friends know that both Nora and her son are HIV+. For the moment, she has no plans to tell them.

I am confident she is capable of becoming independent soon, but I will still follow up on this case. I want to see that her son will grow up like any other normal kids.

Thursday, 14 January 2016

2 different types of visits

Last week I received a few used SPM reference books from a friend, asking me to distribute them to any of my clients' children who may need them. Since most of the books were Add Maths, and not many of these children take the subject, this morning I decided to send them to Rosiah, a client whose daughter is the only one I know taking the subject for this year's SPM.

Rosiah sells nasi lemak and kuih in the mornings, so instead of heading over to her house, I went straight to her stall. It was 10 am by the time I got there, and usually when business is good, she'd be packing up by 10. When business isn't too good, she'd be there until about 11 am or so.

Anyway, Rosiah was happy to get the books. I sat down with her for a few minutes to have a short chat. It was good to know that based on the last blood tests done, client's CD4 has increased to over 1,000 while her viral load was undetected. Great news indeed.

After visiting Rosiah at her stall, I went to a book shop to buy a few books for Dilla, the teenage mom who will be sitting for SPM this year as a private candidate. I did get a whole box of books from a donor to be given to Dilla, but there were a few subjects missing, and although the donor did promise to send more books to cover those subjects, I figured I can always buy a few books using the funds I got from donors. At least the girl can start off with something while waiting for the other books to arrive.

While I was at the book shop, a nurse from the Ipoh ID Clinic called, seeking my assistance to follow up on a case of a homeless HIV+ guy who's currently warded at the hospital.

After my asar prayer, I headed off to the hospital to visit the homeless guy. I decided not to take the shuttle van as it was getting late and I wasn't sure how frequent the shuttle vans would be at that hour. I didn't expect to get a parking within the hospital compound, if I had to walk a distance, I'd walk. But I guess it was my lucky day. Just as I was about to turn the last corner before exiting through the hospital's back gate, the hospital guard waved to me and showed me a vacant space where I could park my car. It wasn't a proper parking space, but hey, since the hospital guard himself told me to park there, who was I to argue? Besides, parking my car there wouldn't obstruct any other vehicles.

With a few lifts out of order and quite a number of people were waiting for the lifts, I decided to take the stairs. This time up to level 5. The moment I got to the ward, the first thing I did was to check the list of names outside the door, to find out the bed number of the homeless guy. To my surprise, I saw the name "Afizah" as one of the patients. Hey, that's my name (the exact spelling), and it was a male ward! Oh well...

The homeless guy, Din, is 52 years old, but he looked much older. So frail and skinny. He had been in and out of Pusat Serenti before, and he has an older sister in Ipoh, who's a widow, and who doesn't mind if her brother stays with her. So, there shouldn't be any problem, right?

Wrong! Although the sister doesn't mind, her children does. They don't like the idea of their uncle staying with their mother. They don't even dare share utensils with their uncle, and to them their uncle is a burden to their mother. Din knew he wasn't welcomed, so he moved out. Since then, he had been homeless, sleeping wherever he could get cover from the sun and the rain.

How about food? Who supports him? He supports himself by doing odd jobs here and there, getting paid by the day. Not much, just enough to survive, barely. But he needs to start on his anti-retroviral soon, and if he continues living as a homeless person, chances are, he wouldn't strictly adhere to his medication. He needs to be sent to a shelter home, where at least someone can supervise and remind him to take his medication on time. But he said if possible he doesn't want to be placed outside of Perak, aa he'd be far from his sister. Despite all that had happened, he still loves his sister and he knows his sister loves him too.

I will have to discuss the matter further with the doctor/nurse at the clinic ID before we decide where to send him to.

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Visiting the orphans and their grandma

When I brought the second Ipoh group for their back-to-school-shopping less than a month ago, among the families involved were Helena’s. She looked so skinny and frail then, I almost did not recognise her. Although she had 4 children, all boys, only of 2 came with her to shop for their schooling needs. They had to just get schooling items for the other 2 based on their sizes without trying them on.

When I saw Helena’s condition, I thought they either came by taxi or someone sent them to the shopping complex. I was surprised when Helena told me they came by bus. I didn’t have the heart to let them go back by bus, what with all the stuff the 2 boys had to carry, and in addition they’d have to help their mother as well. So before they went home, I gave Helena some cash and told her to take a cab.

About 2 weeks later, while I was on clinic duty at Hospital Raja Permaisuri Bainun in Ipoh, a call came in from an unfamiliar number…

“Hello? Ini puan Afiza ka?”
“Ya, saya. Siapa ni?”
“Ini Helena punya emak. Helena sudah meninggal la puan.”

Then she started crying, making it difficult for me to understand whatever else she was saying. I told her I’d call her back one of these days.

So after my own year-end holiday in Penang, I called Helena’s mother on the first day of 2016. I was planning to visit her this week, and I wanted to be sure she’d be home. I was told she’d still be home for the whole week as they have this 16 days mourning period, which only ends at the end of this week.

This morning I finally went to visit this family. Another volunteer I assigned to follow up on this case came along. Although Helena is no longer around, Helena’s eldest son, Bala, 14 years, is also HIV+, infected since birth. We need to make sure Bala continues going for his hospital appointments and adheres to his anti-retroviral treatment.

Helena’s mother is already 65 years old, but she still needs to work to support herself and her grandchildren. She works at an Old Folks Home, getting a pay of RM25 a day, with no pay on off days. In other words, no income whatsoever for her during the 16 days mourning period.

According to the grandma, Bala is doing well in school, usually getting top 3 in class for his school exams. However his 3 younger siblings aren’t doing too well academically.

Whatever it is, we want them to continue going to school. The 2 in primary school boys go to school in a neighbour’s car, at RM50 per month. For the 2 older boys in secondary school, their school is a bit further and they have to take a school bus at RM60 each per month. In total RM170 per month just for transport to school. I am hoping to get education sponsors for the children, or at least donors to pay for their monthly transport fares.

I also told the grandma to go to the Welfare Dept and apply for financial assistance. When Helena was alive, she used to get a certain amount of welfare aid every month. I honestly think this family deserves to get continuous aid, especially now that the boys are under the care of their 65 year old grandma.

Whatever it is, I told the newly assigned buddy to follow up on this case and see how else we can help out. And before we left, I gave her some cash to help them out especially since she’s not earning any income for 16 days.

Sunday, 13 December 2015

BTSS 2015: Mission Accomplished

Wednesday 9th December – Off I went to Slim River to cover the back-to-school shopping for one more family. There were supposed to be 2 families involved, but the other client had to go elsewhere and could not join us. I ended up just banking in a small amount of cash into her account so she could buy some school stuff for her youngest daughter, her only school-going child.

So this round of BTSS was only for one family of 2 school-going children. Client has 3 children, but her eldest son just completed his SPM recently and so he did not join us to shop for schooling needs. It didn’t take too long to complete this round of shopping, so heading back to Ipoh, I decided to follow the old road instead of the highway. It had been quite a while since I last used the old road.

Thursday 10th December – 2nd round of shopping for the Ipoh group, which included one family from Cameron Highlands. I had to fetch 2 families. First up was Aini’s youngest son, Hafiz. Since Aini herself was too weak to come along, while Hafiz’s eldest sister Erin just started work within the same week, Hafiz alone came with me. From there I went straight to Fuzi’s house to fetch Fuzi and her 2 younger sons, the only ones still schooling. Her eldest is already in a university, the 2nd just completed her STPM, while the 3rd quit school last year when he was in form 4. The boy is currently working.

When we got to the hypermarket, 2 boys who were already at the “back-to-school” section, looked as though they wanted to say something to me, but seemed unsure of themselves. I was expecting to meet Helena and her children there, but it has been a year since I last saw them (Helena is one of the “now-you-see-her-now-you-don’t” kind of clients who tend to miss her hospital appointments), and without Helena herself being there, I wasn’t sure myself if the two boys were hers.

Helena punya anak ka?” I asked. The boys nodded. “You punya emak mana?” I asked again. “Amma ada tunggu bawah,” they replied. I told them to get her to come up.

While waiting for Helena, the client from Cameron Highlands arrived with her 2 younger boys. They boys will be in form 3 and form 5 next year. Unlike some other children, although I don’t really meet this family as often as some of my other clients, the 2 boys are quite comfortable with me. They even called me their “ibu nombor 2”.

Anyway, when the 2 boys I met earlier finally brought Helena to see me, I almost did not recognise her. Not only was she on a wheelchair, she also lost a lot of weight. She looked really skinny and frail. Apparently, she had just been warded recently with all sorts of complications, mainly due to her non-adherence to her anti-retroviral treatment.

Helena has 4 school-going boys, but she could only afford to bring 2 of her boys. For the other two, they’d just have to pick the school items based on sizes without trying out. With Helena herself being too weak, it was all up to the 2 boys to pick and choose their schooling needs. Not much of a problem when it came to choosing their uniforms and shoes, but when it came to the stationery sections, it was quite difficult for me to control them. They simply picked stuff, not only more than necessary, but also without taking into consideration if the stuff were too expensive. When they saw me walking over to them, they’d push their trolley elsewhere, probably for fear of having me put back some of the items they had chosen. But when I had the chance, I did go through the items, and told them to put back whatever was not necessary.

Even at the cashier’s counter later, the boy initially waited there and wanted to hand over the items to the cashier personally, but I told him to wait outside so I could go through the items again before the cashier keyed in the codes of each item. True enough, while I wasn’t looking, the boys had put in more unnecessary stuff in the trolley. I simply put them aside. Even then, the total amount came up to RM20 over the specified budget. Imagine if I had not checked the items, wonder how much more over-budget it would be.

I didn’t have any problems with the other families though. The mothers were well in control of their children’s needs and were cautious enough not to overspend. As for Hafiz, who came on his own, he is mature enough to just pick things he really needed.

Friday 11th December – One final round of shopping, this time in Batu Gajah for 10 children from 5 families. All I had to do was remind the mothers that they shouldn’t go above the specified budget, failing which they’d have to pay everything themselves. I later noticed that each and every single one of them used the calculator function on their mobile phones to calculate the total amount to ensure they did not go over-budget.

With that, I completed my back-to-school shopping for this year. Spent over RM12K with another RM3.5K for miscel fees/workbooks to be disbursed before school reopens.