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, 4 October 2018

Feeling like a proud mother

When I first started blogging way back in 2007, I had quite a handful of problematic cases to share. Some names (not real names, of course, although their stories were real) appeared quite frequently in my blog postings. To those who had been following my blog when blogging was still the "IN" thing (now most of my blog friends are no longer updating their blogs but we are following each other on facebook), names like Fuzi, Yah, Lin, Sofie would probably sound very familiar.

It is now 2018, 11 years since I started blogging. So, what happened to those who had been some of the main characters in my blog postings?

For certain cases, I lost contact with their families after my clients passed away. One such case was Lily, whose youngest son, Boboy, then only 5 years of age, was sent to a shelter home for HIV+ children after Lily died. His 3 older sisters however, were taken care of by their uncle. Although I told the uncle Buddies would still help out with the children's educational needs, he no longer contacted me after he sent the youngest boy to a shelter home, separated from his sisters. I don't know what has become of Boboy. He should be a big boy now.

Then there was Sofie, whose family I used to visit without fail on a monthly basis due to Sofie's weak condition. After Sofie passed away, her sister who took over as guardian to the children, moved back to their kampung in another state. I then lost contact with them. But I did search for the children's names on facebook, and managed to find 3 of them, and am glad to note they are doing okay now despite the problems they had earlier.

Recently under an event organised by Pertubuhan Wanita Prihatin Perak (PWPP), of which I am also a committee member, one young girl who was a staff of one of the exhibitors at the event, approached me and asked if I still remembered her. Then I realised she was actually Lin's daughter. Lin too at one time had to face so many problems, especially with 6 children who were all still studying back then. Now all of the children are working. The girl who approached me during the recent event, is Lin's 3rd daughter. I even went to her wedding, and her older sister's wedding too, before Lin & I both lost each other's phone numbers. Thanks to the girl, we are now back in touch with each other. I don't really have to follow up on Lin's family anymore as the family is totally independent now.
Another family already independent is Aini's. Her eldest daughter, who graduated with a diploma from a polytechnic, had been working for a few years already, and is already able to buy herself a car to bring her mother for appointments etc. Aini's 2 younger boys, although they didn't too well academically, obtained certs from their vocational training, enabling them to get good jobs as well.

Earlier today, after visiting a new client, I went to visit Fuzi, since she's staying not far from the home of the new case assigned to me. Like Lin, Sofie & Aini, Fuzi's home was also in my list of monthly visits. Today I found out that Fuzi's eldest daughter, who recently graduated with a degree in accounting, has already started work at an audit firm slightly more than a month ago. In fact, she had already earned her first ever pay last week. Her convocation will be held some time at the end of this month. I'm sure it will be a proud moment for her mother.

Later today after I got home, I got a message from Yah. She sent me a photo of herself, together with her eldest daughter during the girl's recent convocation. Yes, the girl is now a diploma holder. Yah's family may not be fully independent yet, and Buddies is still helping out with the younger children's educational needs, but they are heading in the right direction.

I'm sure the success of my clients' children had made their families, especially the mothers proud.  Our Education Sponsorship Program is finally showing positive results, and while these children aren't mine, I can't help but feel like a proud mom too!

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

Cuti-cuti Sabah (again) 8 - 10 September 2018

It has been a week since I came back from a wonderful holiday in Sabah together with 11 friends. Initially I didn't intend to update my blog about it, but I've been getting queries from some friends regarding my itinerary etc, so I guess I might as well update my blog so if anyone else asks, I'll just give them this link. Besides, I did the same thing for my last 3D2N Cuti-cuti Sabah in February last year. You can read that story here. This time, we headed to another part of Sabah. Instead of landing at KK Airport, this time we landed at Tawau Airport, enroute to Semporna. And unlike my previous Cuti-cuti Sabah (KK-Kundasang trip) where I had to deal with a few separate people to make all the arrangements, this time I booked direct with Lato-Lato Resort for a full 3D2N package inclusive of airport transfer, boat transfer, accommodation, food, and island exploration tour.

Saturday 8th September 2018 - We all booked the 7.40 am flight to Tawau. Unlike the rest in my group, my journey started from Ipoh, so I had to leave home just after 1am to catch the 2am direct bus from Ipoh to KLIA2. I decided to park my car at Terminal Aman Jaya, Ipoh, so it'll be easier for me when I come back, as I expect to arrive Ipoh also in the wee hours of the morning.

I arrived KLIA2 at 5.45 am, as expected, and headed straight to the baggage drop off counter. Saw the long queue and was wondering if that's the check-in queue or the baggage drop off queue, so I decided to ask one of the staff there, and since I had already printed both my boarding pass and bag tag, I was told to go to the the self-baggage drop area. First time for me! We had to attach the bag tag to our bags, place the bag on the belt, scan our boarding pass and bag tag with the hand scanner, and verify that no prohibited items are carried, and voila, we're all set! (yes, even this makcik "peghak" could do it)

After dropping off my baggage, headed over to the prayer room for my subuh prayer. After that there was another long queue getting in to the departure hall. Saw a few people heading over to the front of the line under the pretext of weighing their cabin luggage, and then simply jumping queue from there.
Our departure gate was J20, and with J22 being the last gate, that meant we had to walk quite a distance to get to our departure gate. But I shouldn't be complaining I guess, since my morning briskwalk is usually 5km and takes about an hour.

As soon as I switched on my handphone after landing at Tawau airport, before I could even step out of the plane, my phone rang. One lady who was doing the arrangement for our transport to Semporna, called to ask if we had landed. I told her I was just about to step out of the plane and would call her once we're out. That took quite some time, having to queue through immigrations, waiting for our baggage, and of course, our toilet stop on the way out.

By the time we left Tawau airport, it was close to 11.30 am. There were 12 of us, and since the vans could only take 10 pax each, we had to go in 2 separate vans. 10 of us in one van, while the other 2 joined another 5 tourists, also heading over to the same resort. One van sped far ahead of us (I was later told the guy was driving at 140km/hr at the maximum 90km/hr road), but when our van got to the jetty in Semporna, we didn't see the other 2 members of our group. When we called our 2 friends, they said they were also already at the jetty. So, why couldn't we see each other? Apparently, our van brought us to the wrong jetty! We had to get our bags back into the van so the driver could take us to the right jetty.

 Wrong jetty
 Finally at the right jetty

Our boat left the jetty around 1.20 pm, by which time, most of us were already hungry. It took another half an hour or so from the jetty to get to Lato Lato Resort. And what a sight it was when we first saw the resort. What a view! The water was crystal clear! The resort is in the middle of the sea, built on stilts in the shallow waters off the coast of Semporna. At that moment we knew it was going to be a wonderful relaxing holiday.


Since we were all already hungry, after checking in (by writing our names and particulars in the book provided), we had our lunch before getting our rooms assigned to us. Staying in resorts like this one, you don't have to worry about arranging for activities. You can snorkel/swim anytime you want! However, even though life jackets and snorkeling masks are provided without any extra charges, when the resort is full, there may not be enough for everyone to use at the same time. So if you can swim and can do without the life jackets, it may be advisable for you to bring your own snorkeling mask.

 View from inside our room.

While some of our group members were having a good time snorkeling/swimming, we had freshly made doughnuts delivered to our rooms. They were still warm and oh so yummylicious. Another boost to our holiday... beautiful sea view, away from the hustle and bustle of the city, freshly cooked doughnuts delivered to our rooms... it was bliss!




I was planning to capture a time-lapse video of sunset, but it was quite cloudy, so no luck there. But the view was still spectacular anyway. After dinner, a few of us decided to borak-borak at the dining area (hot drinks are available 24/7) and it was close to midnight before we decided to head back to our rooms. Good thing we were already back in our own rooms, getting comfortable on our bed, when it started raining heavily.

Sunday 9th September 2018 - During breakfast, a group of boys who were staying at one end of the resort, told us that they saw a turtle from their room, but everything happened so quickly they didn't get the opportunity to snap a photo of the beautiful creature.

Today the plan was to explore a few islands, including Bohey Dulang. But our boat was only due to pick us up at 10 am, and so after breakfast at 7 am, there was ample time for another round of snorkeling/swimming at the resort for those who wanted to do so. Like I mentioned earlier, even if you don't plan for any other activities, you can simply laze around at the resort. There was no need to hire a boat to go snorkeling.

We finally left Lato Lato Resort at 10.30 am to start off our island exploration for the day. It took about half an hour to reach Bohey Dulang, the first of 3 islands in the planned itinerary. The main activity here is to hike 600m up a hill to witness the beautiful view from up there. There was also a Pusat Pembenihan Kima Gergasi there, but it was closed for maintenance, so if you aren't going to hike up the hill, there's not much to do there. No swimming allowed. Those who plan to hike up, make sure you bring shoes. The requirement is that you MUST wear shoes that cover your toes. I thought I was smart enough to wear my hiking sandals, which was suitable to wear even when wet (or so I thought), but no, there was no room for negotiations. There were however, some "adidas kampung" which you could rent from them at only RM5 per pair. Our guide managed to get one pair of adidas kampung from someone who just got down from the hill and offered the pair to me, and since hiking up the hill at Bohey Dulang was one of the main reasons I came, I relented. I don't really mind wearing the adidas kampung, but due to wear and tear (God knows how many hundreds of people had already worn it before me), the pair of shoes I got was so thin and already torn, but what could I say, those who had the authority to let us through would rather I wear those worn out shoes, than my hiking sandals which definitely had better grip, just because those sandals don't cover my toes.

In the end only 4 people from my group hiked up the hill. The rest (some of them didn't plan to hike, a few others because of the shoe requirement) had to wait at the jetty, with a big crowd of other tourists. The hill was quite steep, and on the way up, those coming down would encourage us by telling us "sikit lagi nak sampai" (you're almost there). I probably heard the same line every 2 or 3 minutes. Was earlier told by the guide that if you're fit enough, you could probably reach the top of the hill in about 25 minutes or so. I managed to do so in about 35 minutes, so I guess that's not too bad for a 55 year old makcik. And the view from up there was totally worth the hike, although I must say it wasn't really an easy task trying to get a good angle for a good photo shot with the crowd up there. That is especially so if you're planning to take a selfie of yourself or your group... somehow there's always someone's face or arms (or armpits) in the way, but then again, you can always crop your photos later to exclude those unwanted elements.



 We didn't stay too long on top of the hill. It was crowded, and it also wasn't fair for the other 8 members of our group to wait too long at the jetty. As we headed down, it was our turn to say the magic "sikit lagi nak sampai" line to those who were on their way up. Revenge time!

By the time we got back down, we could see quite a huge crowd at the jetty. Some visitors had their lunch there. We headed back into our boats so that we could have lunch at the next island in the itinerary... Mantabuan Island. Am so glad we did, because it was more peaceful there. The water surrounding the island was so clear, and the sand was soft too.


We chose a shady spot under a tree to have our lunch. But the beautiful clear waters were too tempting to just let go, so despite the hot sun, after lunch some of us did decide to take a dip, especially since the place wasn't too crowded. It wasn't long before the guide called us back to the boat as it was time to head to the last island in the itinerary, Sibuan Island. Before leaving, we did give some goodies we brought along with us to a small group of Bajau Laut boys. We only saw 3 of them. Apparently a few families of Bajau Laut live on the opposite side of the island.

Upon reaching Sibuan Island, we could see that the the place was rather crowded. The island is a popular destination among tourists for snorkeling/swimming. Crowded or not, it didn't stop us from having a good time. The waters surrounding the island was so clear, taking a photo underwater was like taking a photo in a swimming pool!



We got back to Lato Lato Resort by about 4 pm or so. After solat jamak zohor/asar, some of us decided to go for another round of snorkeling/swimming and enjoy the day. We also had another round of freshly made yummy doughnuts. Seeing that it was also a cloudy day, I figured I wouldn't be able to get a good photo of the sunset, but just as I was heading back to my room for Maghrib, I managed to catch this...



Monday 10th September 2018 - Our last day at Lato Lato Resort. After this, we would no longer be waking up to this view.


A few members of our group did manage to catch a glimpse of a turtle sticking its head out of the water for some air.

While most of us decided not to jump into the water as we didn't want to have to pack wet clothes in our luggage, 2 of the gals thought that the early morning high tide was the right time to dive. The diving "platform" was the bench just outside one of the rooms.




We had to check out of our rooms by 9.30 am, and while waiting for the boat to come and fetch us, we spent the time taking more photos.

We left the resort around 10.30 am, heading back to the mainland. We were told that our vans would be fetching us in front of Dragon Inn at 3 pm, so there was more than ample time if we wanted to go shopping.

We didn't want to drag our luggage around until 3 pm, so we decided to share a room at Dragon Inn. Luckily there was one room available. They didn't have half day rates, so we had to pay the full daily rate. But it didn't come up to too much with the 12 of us sharing.

For lunch, we had seafood at Pearl City Restaurant, which was located at the same place. Shopping? I just decided to buy some small souvenir items from the same complex. Too lazy to go elsewhere.

We had a good time. The only negative comment I have about this trip is the lack of civic-mindedness in keeping the cleanliness of our waters. It was so frustrating to see plastic bottles and all sorts of rubbish being thrown into the sea. At Bohey Dulang jetty, we even saw diapers in the water. Nearing mainland Semporna, the amount of rubbish was even worse. If we don't do something now, our future generation may not get the chance to see the beauty of the places we visited.

Thank goodness we stayed in Lato Lato Resort instead of any resorts or hotels at the mainland. I miss the place already.

Our flight home was on time and landed at KLIA2 about 9.40 pm. I took the 11.10 pm bus from the KLIA2 Transportation Hub and reached Terminal Aman Jaya, Ipoh at 2.35 am. And guess what? Just as I got to the autopay machine to pay for 3 days worth of parking fee, there was a note there, "Boleh keluar terus. Tak perlu bayar parking hari ni." Woohoo! Lucky me!



Monday, 13 August 2018

Buddies Family Day 2018

12th August 2018 - For this year's Family Day, we decided to head over to Perak Agrotourism Resort (PATRO) in Tanjung Tualang, Perak. We chartered one bus from Taiping and another bus from Ipoh. The Taiping group (including a few from Parit Buntar) had to start off earlier as they are further away. For the Ipoh group, we told everyone to assemble by 7.30 am, but only a few were around at 7.30 am. But it wasn't too bad, we managed to make a move by 7.45 am.

We were supposed to pick up one family in Simpang Pulai. But as we reached Simpang Pulai, I called up my client and she said she was already there but they wanted to drive on their own and just follow behind the bus. Next stop was Batu Gajah, where we picked up an 11 year old HIV+ girl who was accompanied by her grandfather.

We reached PATRO on time, and I was happy to see some of our clients (who drove on their own) were already there. We had already arranged with PATRO to prepare breakfast as we knew many of them would probably be hungry (some had to leave home very early in the morning), so everyone headed straight to the cafeteria first to have breakfast of fried noodles and cucur udang. The Taiping group arrived while we were having breakfast.




After breakfast we headed off for the farm tour, in trams and buggies. For the kids, the tram and buggy rides were already exciting enough for them. We visited the chilli farm & the duck farm, given briefing about the activities there, shown a demo on how salted duck eggs are made. We passed by the honey farm, and then we stopped by to see the horses. Horse rides are only allowed earlier in the morning before 11 am, so no horse or pony rides for the kids this time. However they were all allowed to touch and take photos with the horses.





Once the farm tour ended, we were all sent back to the cafeteria for lunch, followed by the usual lucky draw (where we made sure none of the children would go home empty-handed) and then brought out a birthday cake to celebrate the birthdays of the August babies.



After that, those interested to go for the paddle-boat rides were given a chance to do so, not just for the kids, but also for the adults. We made a move at 2.30 pm, but before we left the place, we stopped by their kiosk to buy some of the things produced there, including salted eggs, honey, drinks, kerepek, and some other things. Overall, it was a success.

For me personally, I was happy to meet up with some of my clients whom I had not met for quite some time. Once my clients become independent, I usually start distancing myself from them to concentrate on the more needy families. I would only contact them once in a long while, or they would contact me from time to time just to ask how I was doing. But they are always still invited to join the annual Family Day, no matter how independent they've become. It was so heartwarming to see them still showing their appreciation not just by attending the Family Day but also by their sincere hugs whenever we meet. The children, who are now grown-ups and working, even express their interest to become volunteers. And I was also happy to see a client of mine, who was once so weak and needed to use a wheelchair (or at least a walking stick), looking so healthy. She can already walk all by herself without even the need for someone to be beside her.

These are the things which always motivate me to carry on with my voluntary work despite not getting any monetary gains. The satisfaction of seeing the lives of these families change for the better (much much better than before) - PRICELESS!


Thursday, 17 May 2018

Reassessing the needs of my clients

A few days ago I bumped into Aini, and old client of mine at a supermarket. Usually whenever  I met her, she'd be accompanied by her daughter. This time she was alone, and she looked good! No wheelchair, no walking stick. I've never seen her look so healthy before.

This family is totally independent now, so I no longer visit them regularly as I used to. I only contact them from time to time just to find out how they're doing (or sometimes they'd call me when they don't hear from me after some time) and only meet them during our Annual Family Day (or when I bump into them like I did a few days ago).

Aini's family is the second family among my clients to become totally independent (after Lin's). I am targetting a few more families to be independent soon. Investing in the children's education is beginning to show results. We have always believed that the way to change their future is through education. Even if they aren't academically inclined, encourage them to take up skill-training courses. I am happy that many of these children took up the challenge (although it wasn't easy trying to coax some of them).

I still have a few cases I need to look into to see how Buddies can help though. Like the 13 year old Orang Asli orphan who was just diagnosed HIV+ recently. She may need to take time off school until she's better.

Then there's another client who lost her job after her boss found out she's HIV+. Other than helping out with her children's education, I did suggest to her to start a small business to enable her to earn some income to support her family.

I need to reassess the needs of my clients. Some may need more help than the rest. And it's Ramadan. Time for my Ramadan home visits.
 

Saturday, 10 March 2018

Helping clients to become independent

A client texted me yesterday, asking if Buddies could provide her with monthly financial assistance. Hmm... I always tell my clients that the only financial assistance Buddies may provide is for children’s education, and maybe on a case-to-case basis, for transportation when clients whose hospital appointments are quite far from their homes.

In the first place, financial assistance was not the objective when Buddies was initially set-up. Our main objective had always been (and still is) to provide moral and emotional support to people living with HIV, and their family members, if need be. The idea of the education fund came about only later, when Buddies came across poor clients whose children almost had to quit school because they couldn’t afford to pay for bus fares and other schooling needs.

Despite whatever I mentioned above, from time to time, when I do come across clients who need more, I do try to get help for them, depending on what they need. Those who remember the late Sofie, may remember that I did go out of the way to get more help for her. She was too weak to work. In fact when I was first introduced to her, she was bed-ridden. With 4 school-going children, and they had nothing to depend on, I felt obliged to help. We couldn’t use funds from Buddies’ bank accounts, so I sought for outside help, mainly from my friends. And since my friends were already aware of the voluntary work that I do, thankfully I always get good response from them whenever I mention about these cases. In Sofie’s case, I like helping her, because despite being unwell and weak, she did not want to be too dependent on outside help. Whenever she felt slightly better, she’d go out and try to earn some income of her own. When she mentioned about wanting to sell nasi lemak in the mornings, I had no problem getting donations from friends for the initial capital needed.

Sofie was not the only person who had help, although I must admit I loved helping her because of her attitude. Whenever any of my clients plan to start off a small business as their source of income, I’d try to get help for them, depending on their needs. Those who can sew, I’d get donations to buy sewing machines. Those who wanted to start a home-based baking business; I’d get donations to buy them ovens etc. As long as the donations are used as investments for a better future for these clients, I would help them.

However, for clients who are able-bodied but always using HIV to come out with all sorts of excuses why they can’t work, that’s where I draw the line. If they don’t make any attempts on their part to improve their lives, I don’t see why I should go out of my way to help them. It’s different if they are too weak and already bedridden, and don’t have any support from own family members.

As for the client who texted me yesterday, despite being infected with HIV, she is still able to work if she wants to. In addition to that, she’s staying with her parents who are supportive, and so no worries about having to pay for house rental and utilities. Her one and only daughter is in school, and she does get help from our education fund. Asking us to provide her with monthly financial assistance? No way! I have clients who are in a much worse situation than hers, yet they don’t ask for such assistance.

The main point of consideration whenever we help, is that we must help them to become independent, NOT dependent on us. That’s why we do help with the children’s education, because the best investment for a better future is in their education.