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)

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Financial assistance: Where and when to draw the line

Having been a volunteer with The Buddies Society of Ipoh for about 12 years now, and having been assigned to over 70 clients throughout those years (including those who have now passed away and those who I'm no longer in touch with), I've had to deal with all kinds of clients' attitude. There are those who really put to good use all the assistance they're getting, there are those who think that helping them is what we're paid to do so we must help them each and every time no matter what their problems are, there are those who misuse the financial assistance they're getting without feeling any guilt even after we find out about them.

For the record, the main objective of The Buddies Society of Ipoh is to provide moral support to people living with HIV and their families. Financial assistance was out of the question back then as we ourselves had to depend on fundings from the public. However, as time went by, and as we found out some cases of our clients in desperate need of financial help, we passed the hat around to collect donations on a case to case basis.

When fundings became more stable, and realising the importance of education, we decided that our financial assistance would be more in the form of supporting the children of identified PLHIV families for their basic schooling needs. That was when we set up the Children Education Fund (CEF). The fund is used to cover basic schooling needs, mainly the annual back-to-school expenses. Later, we came up with the Education Sponsorship for Children program, to help children of families needing monthly help.

So yes, financially, our help is more to see that these children are not deprived of education. So far, I'm satisfied with the results. Although we had a few school dropouts despite the help they're getting, seeing quite a number of these children continue their studies to higher learning institutions or at least to go for skill training courses, made all the effort worth it. And oh, I must say how happy I am that out of the 4 who either sat for their STPM or did their matriculation last year, 3 of them (2 boys and 1 girl) have been offered places at local universities. And the best part is that their respective sponsors agreed to help out with the initial registration fees and expenses.

Despite making it clear that our financial assistance is basically for their children's educational needs, there tend to be clients who'd try to take advantage of us. We give them money to pay for whatever payments necessary to the respective schools, they misuse the money for their personal needs (or sometimes not even their needs, but instead their wants). There was one particular case where the client asked for money to buy a handphone for her daughter, another asking us to pay for their electricity bills, and another client, when asked to list down her children's schooling needs, wrote down "motosikal RM2000" in the list. I wonder what they'd ask for next, if we gave what they asked for.

For the family misusing the school fees we gave them (the same family asked for handphone), we had no choice but to take them out of the sponsorship program. For those who asked for more than educational assistance, we just had to be firm and told them that our help is only for educational purposes. Of course from time to time, when there are cases of clients desperately needing financial help, we'd try to source for fundings for them (after proper assessment is done) either by getting donations or by channelling them to the rightful departments or relevant organisations. The money will not come from our own funds.

We now do have what we call a Clients' Welfare Fund, but that is only to cover for clients' hospital needs. Not to pay for their house rent, not to pay for their utility bills, not to pay for other needs.

We have our limits, and sometimes even when we make that clear to our clients, they either don't understand (or pretend not to understand) and still try their luck to ask for all sorts of things. That is why I always tell my volunteers to never lend them money because once you do, chances are they'd be asking for money again and again.

Having said that, I must mention that most of our clients do not take advantage of us. Only a few of them do, but the ones who do, can really piss you off. Thank goodness the success stories managed to outweigh the frustrating ones. Otherwise I'd probably no longer be in this voluntary work.

With a few families already financially independent, and a few more anticipated to be on the road to success in a few years time, I am satisfied with what I see so far. And I will stick to the lines already drawn as to the limit of financial assistance we should give.

Being compassionate doesn't mean we shouldn't be firm. And being firm is something I can be. Don't believe me? Ask my school juniors. ;)

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

A Fun Day Out

After a few months of planning, the annual Buddies Family Day for this year finally took place on Sunday 7th August 2016 at Refarm Kampar. Somehow our Family Day always seem to clash with the Ipoh International Run... some years back, we organised our Family Day on the first Sunday of July, Ipoh Run too was on the same day, we organised ours in September, Ipoh Run too was on the same day, and this time we chose first Sunday of August, it so happened Ipoh Run was again held on the same day. And since our Buddies Center is in Ipoh Garden area, and the Ipoh Run covers Ipoh Garden area as well, there were a few road closures  leading to our meet-up point near our center.

But things still ran quite smoothly. We set 8 am as the meet-up time, and targetted to make a move by 8.30 am. Despite a few volunteers having to go one whole round to get to our center, we made a move at 8.20 am.

We had arranged for 2 busses. One bus to pick up volunteers and clients/families from Ipoh and another bus to pick up volunteers and clients/families from Taiping. Those staying nearer to or south of Kampar had to arrange for their own transport to get to the place. The Ipoh bus also made 2 stops to pick up 2 families along the way.

The Ipoh bus managed to reach the place at about 9.20 am while the Taiping bus got there about 20 minutes later. I had earlier ordered nasi lemak from a client of mine staying nearby (this clients sells nasi lemak in the mornings as her main source of income) so while waiting for everyone else to get there, and while waiting to arrange for the tickets etc, we gave the families a pack of nasi lemak and a bottle of mineral water each. My fellow volunteers commented that the nasi lemak was really good, and after I managed to sit down and have my breakfast (after settling all other matters), I must say I agree with them.

While we were distributing the entrance tickets to everyone, a client of mine who had gone to the toilet earlier looked worried. She said she hung her handbag at the toilet, and forgot about it when she got out, and later when she went to look for it, it was no longer there. When everyone else had gone in, we were still outside trying to look for her handbag. No luck. All her children's ICs were in her handbag. Finally I told her to just get in with her family members and I told the security about the lady's handbag, and to notify us if anyone handed over the handbag to the office. I knew the lady would no longer be in the mood to enjoy the day, but she came all the way with her 8 children, might as well let her children enjoy themselves at least. Later in the afternoon, the client came to me to inform me that the security called her and told her that someone had handed over her handbag at the office. Thank goodness!

Anyway, we just wanted our clients and their family members to relax and enjoy themselves, so we didn't plan for any games or anything like that, just free and easy. Up to them if they wanted to just play in the pool, or to walk around the place, or just to see the animals. To be sure nobody went home empty handed, we held a lucky draw during lunch. We had more than enough prizes for everybody, courtesy of donors who gave pre-loved toys or even new stuff, and so the lucky draw was just to determine who got what.

In total 131 people attended our Family Day, consisting of 19 volunteers and 112 family members of 21 different clients. 13 of them are my clients but with the exception of 2 clients, I know all the other clients who attended even though they aren't my clients.

The clients, and especially their children, seemed to enjoy themselves. For some of these families, the only time they get to go for outings like this one is during the Buddies Annual Family Day.

It was a fun day out, not only for our clients and their family members, but also for us volunteers.

Thursday, 21 July 2016

And another baby is born...

Ever since I was confirmed as a Buddy more than a decade ago, I was assigned to quite a number of pregnancy cases. From married pregnant ladies, unwed teenage (or even adult) pregnancies, rape cases etc, I'm quite used to dealing with HIV+ pregnant females. Once I even had to go out in the wee hours of the morning to send an unwed pregnant HIV+ teenager to the hospital because she was about to deliver much earlier than anticipated. I've even met a young lady who never married but when her case was referred to me, she was already pregnant for the 7th time. And would you believe it, her mother until now only knows of one of the 7 pregnancies because this young lady gave all but one of her babies away. I've met a married couple who tried all sorts of DIY abortion methods because they thought the baby would sure be infected with HIV if born (but none of the methods worked and after much coaxing, they finally agreed to tell the doctor and eventually the wife gave birth to healthy boy).

I thought I had seen them all. Yet, I was caught off-guard when I went to visit Dahlia today. Dahlia, a single mother with 6 children, also has a teenage daughter, Adila, who was once raped and got pregnant. Both Dahlia and her daughter Adila decided to keep the child after Adila gave birth to a baby girl about 1 1/2 years ago. When I last went to visit Dahlia about a week before Raya, Dahlia only told me that she felt a bit stressed out because Adila had somehow become a bit rebellious of late. Dahlia blamed it on Adila's jealousy of her friends who aren't burdened with so many resposibilities.Today I figured out that Adila probably turned rebellious because of something else.

I was waiting to finish my Puasa 6 before going for my Raya visits. After visiting 2 families on Monday, I decided to visit Dahlia and the kids today. Yesterday I texted Dahlia to find out if she'd be home. When she said she had a hospital appointment in the morning, I asked if she expected to be home by 11 am. She felt it shouldn't be a problem. I promised I'd call her once I arrived in town.

When I called about 10.40 am, I called Dahlia to ask where she was. When she said she was still at the hospital, I told her I'd drop by the hospital first. She just said okay without telling me anything else, so I assumed she was at the ID clinic. Parked my car, went straight to the ID clinic to see if she was there. When I couldn't find her in front, I went to the back door to see if she was there. The staff nurse then came out and was surprised to see me. She thought I got my dates wrong and came for my clinic duty. The moment I told the staff nurse I was there to see Dahlia, her first reaction was, "Oh, akak dah tau ya?" "Tau apa?" I asked. "Dia dah beranak!" the nurse replied.

I totally did not expect that! Apparently I wasn't the only one who didn't know about Dahlia's pregnancy, even the doctors and nurses at the ID clinic weren't aware of her pregnancy as they were never told. They only knew after the nurse at the maternity ward called to inform them. During Dahlia's last appointment at the ID clinic (which was a week before Raya), they did query her if she was taking her medication on time etc because her CD4 dropped and her viral load increased, but she only told them how stressed she was with Adila's attitude. She never even hinted that she was pregnant. With her chubby figure, her pregnancy wasn't obvious. So no, none of us figured out she was pregnant. Not the doctors, not the nurses, and no, not I.

After a while, Dahlia finally texted me to ask if I was already at the hospital and where we should meet. I called to ask her where she was exactly and when she said she was at the new building, I told her I'd wait for her at the main lobby of that building. Again, she never mentioned about the baby or why she was there.

When she finally arrived at the main lobby to see me, she was alone. I told her to wait outside the lobby while I went to get my car. The moment she got into my car, the first thing I asked was, "Kenapa tak bagitau ID clinic?" She smiled sheepishly and said, "Saya takut kena marah, puan."

Sigh... she's afraid she'd get scolded? How long did she think she could keep the secret? I told her she'd better not miss her next appointment at the ID clinic just because she thinks the doctor might scold her. She just may get scolded, not because she got pregnant, but because she didn't inform them.

Anyway, Dahlia gave birth to a baby boy a week ago, in addition to her earlier children age ranging from 3 to 17 years. Which means she now has a son who is younger than her granddaughter who is now 1 1/2 years old.

I hope I won't have to deal with any more "surprise" babies...

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

And my Raya rounds begin...

Having completed my puasa 6 last Saturday, this week I decided to start visiting my clients. Wan, a pregnant client of mine, had been asking me to come by her roti canai stall since last week. I told her I wanted to finish the additional 6 days of fasting first.

So yesterday I decided to start off my Raya rounds by visiting her roti canai stall. Hey, it's not often that you get served with roti canai for Raya ok? Wan looked a whole lot happier compared to the last time I met her in Ipoh GH in June. Back then she was almost at the verge of crying with the problems she had to face (in fact when I spoke to her earlier on the phone, she was actually crying, I couldn't understand what she was saying). Later when she mentioned about needing some cash to start selling roti canai after Raya, I gave them a small amount from my charity account, courtesy of generous friends who donated money through me.

They started the roti canai stall on the 2nd day of Raya. And business so far had been good. The best part was that the lady who owns the stall, let them sell roti canai there without charging them anything. She felt she too would benefit by having them there, because she only sells drinks, rice & other dishes. So by having Wan and her husband selling roti canai there, those who do not wish to have rice may still drop by to eat roti canai, and the drinks will still have to be ordered from the stall owner. She even allowed Wan & husband to use her tables, plates, etc.

I told Wan to make sure they keep a good relationship with the stall owner, and once they start making enough money, to at least give the lady a token amount on monthly basis.

As I was about to leave and wanted to pay, Wan's husband insisted that it was on them. Both Wan and himself repeatedly thanked me for helping out with the initial capital. It may have been just a small amount (I only gave them RM200), but to them it was huge.

I then headed over to visit Fuzi, who stays nearby. I called her first, just to be sure she was home. She took the day off from work at a vegetable farm, so she was home. Some of you blog readers may still remember Fuzi, the Indonesian lady who was facing all sorts of problems when I was first assigned to her case. I used to visit her on monthly basis without fail not only to send groceries but also to check on the problems she had to face. Some problems involving her children's ICs and citizenship status were eventually solved, but her youngest son's problem has yet to be resolved. The boy was born out of a rape case after Fuzi's husband died, and so, unlike his older siblings, he doesn't have a Malaysian father. In fact, he doesn't even have a father. His main problem now is, despite being 10 years of age, he still can't go to school except a Sekolah Agama Rakyat.

Despite all that, Fuzi's family is living a better life now. With her eldest daughter in a local university and her 2nd daughter waiting for the results of her UPU application, things are going quite well. Even Fuzi's son Hafiz (Fuzi's 3rd child) who had been giving his mother problems all these while and stopped going to school after form 4, is a changed young man. He started working in another state, away from his old gang of naughty boys, and since then, has become more responsible. He even buys clothes and shoes for his mother now.

Not bad for one day of Raya rounds, getting positive feedback from the 2 families. Hope to visit more families later this week.

Thursday, 30 June 2016

Ramadan 1437

It's already the 25th day of Ramadan this year. It has been quite a month. Home visits, deliveries, distribution of Raya contributions (donated by my wonderful friends), getting new clients, getting news of old clients, clients' children registering at higher learning institutions...

One of my clients, an Orang Asli lady whose story I highlighted here, passed away on the first day of Ramadan. I knew about it a few days later, after I banked in some Ramadan contributions into her bank account. As a matter of fact, by the time I banked in the contributions into her account, she had already passed on. I only knew about her death after I sent a message to a nurse at a nearby Klinik Kesihatan, who is my contact person for the OA lady since the lady didn't have a phone. I sought the nurse's help to inform the OA lady about the amount banked in. It was then that the nurse told me about the OA lady's death.

During my clinic duty last Monday, the nurse referred the case of a guy whose wife passed away last year. Apparently the guy needed help with his child's schooling expenses. He does odd jobs, without fixed income. When the guy came into the support service room, I thought he looked somewhat familiar. The nurse then mentioned the name of his late wife... she was a long lost client of mine! No wonder the guy looked familiar, I had met him once a few years ago, together with his wife, Ani. I lost contact with Ani because she kept on changing her phone number.

During this month, 3 of my client's children who sat for their SPM last year, also registered to further their studies either for diploma or pre-diploma courses. The 2 who registered at polytechnics, one girl and one boy, are both doing engineering courses. Again, my generous friends donated for the registration fees and other expenses needed for the children. I usually try to get help for the children for first time registration as I know that's the time when lots of expenses are incurred. A client of mine almost asked her son to turn down the offer as she couldn't afford the registration fees. I did however remind them that after the first time registration, they'd need to apply for PTPTN or whatever other loans or financial assistance available.

I also got a new client within this month. Although the client is a male, and his wife has been confirmed negative, contacts are basically through the wife, and so I'd be a more suitable buddy for the family. The guy used to be a lorry driver, but due to his health condition, had not been working for the past few months. Since then, they had been surviving on their savings. With 6 children, age ranging from 7 months to 16 years, their savings would certainly deplete quickly, especially since their 5 year old child, who had undergone a heart surgery, still needs to go for follow-up in Penang from time to time. This family certainly deserves assistance from our Children Education Fund.

Other than that, my visits and deliveries of Raya goodies involved my old clients whom I felt still needed assistance.

For those whom I didn't visit, I still did contact them to invite them for the Buddies Annual Family Day, to be held in early August this year. The response from my clients were overwhelming. The regulars confirmed straight away they'd be joining, and I also managed to coax a few newcomers to join as well. In total, 74 people (including 2 toddlers) from 16 different families among my clients alone, will be joining this year's Family Day. Given that usually my clients' families make up at least 50% of the total attendees, we can expect a turnout of over 100 pax again this year.

All that done, I am reserving the last few days of Ramadan for myself...