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, 2 May 2020

A different kind of Ramadhan

I joined Buddies of Ipoh some time in 2004. Initially I was just a trainee volunteer, following the senior volunteers in their visits. By 2006 I started visiting my clients at their homes on my own. Gradually I started to bring along trainee volunteers in my visits.

Since then, every Ramadan, without fail I'd be visiting the poor PLHIV families assigned to me, delivering groceries courtesy of donors. Since most of the clients assigned to me were from poor families, there were quite a number of homes I had to visit. The more clients I was assigned to, the more homes I visited.

Gradually, some of the families started to become more independent. The number of visits then reduced. After I became the Buddies chairperson, I did not visit the clients as often as I used to. But every Ramadan WITHOUT FAIL I would be visiting the poor among my clients to deliver them some goodies before Raya. I always made it a point to buy groceries and deliver, rather than giving them cash, unless it was totally necessary.

From 2006 to 2019, every Ramadan would be a busy month for me and my Kenari, visiting clients all over Perak. My Kenari's mileage was always higher in Ramadan (the other high-mileage month is during December's back-to-school-shopping). Frankly, I always enjoyed the visits. I always looked forward to my Ramadan visits. Not only did I get to reach certain places in Perak that I hadn't been to before, every visit was an eye-opener for me. Seeing for myself the trials and tribulations some of these families had to go through, always made me feel humbled, and thankful for the life Allah gave me.

Then came 2020. The Movement Control Order came into effect in March, and is still on-going now in the month of Ramadan. No home visits. No visits even to the nearby Masjid. My tarawikh prayers are done on my own at home. My Kenari's mileage this Ramadan is the lowest ever recorded. The longest journey it made was to a hypermarket about 3 km away from home.

So what happened to the poor PLHIV families I usually visit? Well, I still get money coming in from donors to be distributed to these families. While I usually make it a point to NOT give cash, this year I had to make an exception. My clients are after all, from all over Perak, and I can't be delivering groceries to them like I used to. I too had to stay home. This year, for the first time, I had to transfer cash into their bank accounts, and hope that they wouldn't be using the money for anything other than necessary. Since quite a number of them had been depending on daily wages to survive, having to stay at home meant they had no income. So no, I doubt they'd be using  the money for their wants instead of their needs. Besides, I don't give them the cash in one big sum. After a reasonable time, when more money came in, I gave the clients some more. I doubt they'd have any "extra" to spend on anything else.

I guess 2020 is my (and my Kenari's) rest year. I am sure there is a hikmah to all these. Whatever it is, I am thankful that I am still able to communicate with people from all over despite having to just stay at home.

It's up to us now to not make the situation worse. Let's continue to do things we've been trained to do during MCO (social distancing, washing of hands etc). Let's all pray that things will get much better soon, insyaaAllah.

Sunday, 3 November 2019

The Success Stories

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.

Saturday, 7 September 2019

A 4D3N Nature & Adventure Retreat in Khao Sok


When my adventure-loving friends joined me for a 4D3N trip to Khao Sok recently, I got asked how I found out about the place. It started some time back when AA had their RM0 airfare promo. I noticed that one of the destinations with such offer was to Surat Thani. I then started to google for “things to do in Surat Thani” and top on the list was Khao Sok National Park. So I googled more about Khao Sok National Park and “treehouse accommodation” attracted my eye. That was how I found out about Our Jungle House, our place of stay for the 3 nights we were in Khao Sok recently.

By the time we decided to make this trip, AA no longer had direct flights to Surat Thani. The nearest airports with direct flights from KL would be either Phuket or Krabi, with another 2 – 2 ½ hour drive to Khao Sok. We opted for Phuket. However, beginning September this year, you can fly direct to Surat Thani from KL via AA. If you love nature & adventure, then I’d certainly recommend you to this place. 

Day 1, 30th August 2019: Due to the recent system breakdown at KLIA & KLIA2, passengers were advised to get to the airport as early as 4 hours before our flights. Our flight was at 7.10 am, and so based on that logic, we should be at the airport by 3 am. I had however booked my Ipoh-KLIA2 bus earlier, expected to arrive KLIA2 at 4.45 am. I had ample time to print my luggage tag & check-in my luggage before meeting up with the rest of the gang. By 5.30am, we started moving in to the International Departure hall, went through immigrations etc and performed our subuh prayer.

Our flight was on time, reached Phuket International Airport earlier than ETA, but as we landed, it rained heavily, thus began our Let’s Get Wet holiday in Thailand.



I had earlier arranged with Our Jungle House for airport transfer so we wouldn’t have to worry about getting lost. As we had 10 pax in the group, the person I was liaising with via email, advised that I should take 2 vans. I was told that someone will hold a card with my name on it. As we exited the airport, we saw this...



I was expecting 2 vans, but instead we got a single 11 seater van which was comfortable enough for us and despite our luggage being full of food stuff (mostly instant noodles & rice – we knew there wasn’t any halal restaurant in Khao Sok), there was enough space for all of us plus our luggage. After about a 2 hour drive, we reached our destination... Our Jungle House.

My first impression? Love it! My kinda place.



We arrived around 11.30 am, and initially we were told that our rooms weren’t ready yet (check in was supposed to be at 2 pm), but as we were making plans to walk around the place, we were told that our rooms were ready. So off to our rooms we went. 4 of us at Half Moon treehouse, and the other 6 at Happynest treehouse. It rained on and off, so after checking into our rooms, and after our zohor/asar prayer, we just relaxed in our rooms, waiting for the rain to subside.

When we thought that the rain had finally subsided, we planned to walk to Khao Sok town, about 20 minutes walk from Our Jungle House. But just as we were getting prepared to go out, it rained again. We were not going to let the rain dampen our holiday spirits, and although the treehouses we stayed in had beautiful views of the cliff and soothing sounds of the jungle and the river, we decided to put on our raincoats/ponchos and take that walk to town. One of the gang even brought along her umbrella. Those without raincoats/ponchos, could easily buy one at the reception for only 40 baht.



After maghrib/isya prayers, we started preparing our dinner of either instant noodles or rice. Knowing that no kettles are provided in the rooms, I brought along my collapsible travel kettle (capacity 600ml). I personally only needed the kettle to prepare hot drinks. For food, I only brought along Kembara’s self-heating rice with either beef or chicken. The 4 occupants of Half Moon then headed over to Happynest  (with our instant food and all) to join the gang there for dinner. And since it was the eve of Malaysia’s National Day, we took a group photo together with the Malaysian flag which I had brought along for the trip.


Day 2, 31st August 2019: Merdeka! Merdeka! Merdeka! At the reception as we were getting ready to go for our first tour, the Full Day Lake Tour, we met the GM of Our Jungle House, Gonthong, or GT, who’s married to a Malaysian and has stayed in Malaysia for quite a number of years before moving back to Thailand. Having stayed that long in PJ, she certainly sounded like a Malaysian when she spoke. When she found out that a group of Malay ladies were staying at Our Jungle House, her main concern was how we were going to survive without any halal restaurants around. Little did she know that we came fully prepared! GT was kind enough to offer to snap a group photo of us, again with the flag, but this time by the river. (the night before I had the help of my mini-tripod and used the timer to have a group photo taken)


We then started our tour in a 14 seater van. Other than the driver & the 10 of us in the group, we had Ed, our guide for the tour, and 2 other tourists from the same resort, an Italian guy and his Turkish girlfriend/wife. Before the journey began, we were asked about any special food requirements, and we were happy to note that they would provide halal food for lunch. And since the Turkish girl doesn’t eat pork, she was also a perfect match for our group.

After about an hour drive or so, we had a short stop at a small town before heading to the pier of Khao Sok National Park, to buy some tid bits. We bought some Thai desserts and a few also bought langsat. Upon reaching the pier, we had to purchase the entrance ticket to Khao Sok National Park @ 300 baht each, before getting on to the boat.

Halfway through the boat ride, the boat stopped in the middle of the Cheow Lan lake, and Ed the guide told us to put on our raincoats/ponchos, as we could see heavy rain looming ahead. Yep, just like day 1, day 2 was also going to be a wet day for us. Ah well... Let’s Get Wet was printed on our tshirt, so whaddaheck... LET’S GET WET!

At the next stop where we got off the boat, we had to pay another 200 baht each to hike up a hill. That was also our toilet stop, and we could also leave our bags there. I decided to leave my backpack (with my telekung in it) and only brought along my smaller dry bag to protect my camera from the rain. For those who didn’t come with proper shoes, shoes (something like the kampung adidas I was wearing) were available for rent. Hiking sticks were also available for free for those who wanted it. I decided to not use the hiking stick as I felt it would be easier for me to take pictures without the hiking stick.



We then reached another pier where we had to leave the hiking sticks and went on a bamboo raft to head to the next stop, the Pakarang Cave. Initially a few of us thought of skipping the cave and just wait on the bamboo rafts, but after a short hike up to the opening of the cave, I noticed that all 10 of us (and the 2 tourists from our resort) all made it up. Nobody wanted to be left behind.

The tour inside the cave didn’t take long as it was just a small cave, but it was an interesting tour nonetheless. Ed even asked us to switch off our headlights he provided us earlier, and told us to imagine how the group of Thai soccer boys trapped inside the cave managed to survive in total darkness for 13 long days.



After the cave tour, we headed back, first by bamboo raft to where we had left our hiking sticks, then we hiked back through the same trail we came earlier. Initially during our hike the rain had subsided, but as soon as we reached the starting point where we started our hike earlier, it started to rain heavily again. From there, we had to get on to the boat again, this time for just a short 5 minutes ride to the floating bungalows for our lunch.

Getting hot freshly cooked food for lunch was bliss, especially since we were wet & cold. The omelettes, the fried fish with Thai chilli sauce, the vegetables and whatever that was served were swiped clean off the plates!

We were told that we could swim or use the kayak available at the place, and we could also relax in front of any of the empty bungalows (those who opt for the 2D1N tour of the lake would spend one night in the bungalows). Since we knew that by the time we’d get back to Our Jungle House, it would be too near to Maghrib, we decided to do our zohor/asar prayer in front of one of the bungalows. Praying on a floating bungalow – checked!



Before leaving the place, we were served again with another Thai dessert, sticky rice with banana inside. And langsat.

By 3.30 pm, we got back on to the boat, and it started to drizzle again. Ed joked that the “Let’s Get Wet” that was printed on our t-shirt was the reason. We all then decided that for our next t-shirt, we should print “Let’s Get Rich... Quick” instead.

On our way back to the pier, the sun finally came out and we could finally see blue skies. Ed was kind enough to get the boat to stop and he even offered to take a group photo of us.



By the time we got back to Our Jungle House, it was 6 pm. Maghrib was about 6.30 or so. Thank goodness we performed our zohor/asar prayer earlier at the floating bungalows.

That night, the 4 occupants of Half Moon were too lazy to head over to Happynest for dinner, so we had dinner in our own treehouses. Good thing it wasn’t raining, so we were able to go out on the open deck  to enjoy the view outside. It was the night of Awal Muharram (new year in the Islamic calendar), there was no moon, but as I looked up to the sky, wow! What a beautiful sight of stars! (Sorry, my camera wasn’t good enough to get a good photo of what I actually saw.)

Day 3, 1st September 2019: As we were having breakfast in the room, with doors to the deck widely opened,  a monkey appeared right in front of our windows. We quickly closed the doors, only to realise that there was not one, but 3 of them, including a little one. (Apparently the Happynest treehouse had more visitors than our Half Moon treehouse.)


Our program for this morning was the Canoe Tour. The good thing about this tour was that we didn’t have to paddle the boat. The local guides themselves would paddle, and so we were able to enjoy the views and take pictures as we liked. We even had a coffee break where we got down from our canoes. The guides boiled water and made coffee/tea for us, served in bamboo. They even gave us the bamboo cups as souvenir.



The fact that the guides didn’t understand much English, and we didn’t understand Thai, didn’t make the tour any less interesting. The guides (mostly in their 20’s) who initially seemed shy finally did seem more relaxed after a while seeing that the aunties (oh well, speaking for myself and a few other seniors in the group) were laughing away almost throughout the tour.



End of canoe tour, we headed back to Our Jungle House. The next tour was only due at 3pm, so we had ample time for lunch, prayers and to have a short rest in our rooms. By 3pm, we were already back at the reception, ready for the next tour, the Elephant Experience. This time only 9 of us went. The other member in the group, who had similar experience before at Kuala Gandah, decided to go for a 2 hour massage (which is also available at Our Jungle House). Just after we left the resort, the one who decided to go for the massage called me to inform me that GT (the GM) has agreed to drive us to a town about 45 minutes drive away so we can get freshly cooked Thai laksa for dinner.

On our way (for the elephant experience), we stopped by a nearby resort to pick 4 other tourists, 2 French couples, who were also joining the same tour.

Upon arrival, we were briefed by the guide, Dream, who introduced us to the 2 elephants,  Seenin & Watsana, (which we later changed to Wassini & Wassana – just to make it easier for us to remember) and told us about their daily routine. Both were rescued elephants, one from doing logging work, and the other from being used to give rides to tourists.



After a round of feeding the elephants with sugar cane, we then walked together with the elephants for their mud bath. We joined in the pool of mud to scrub mud all over the elephant’s body. One of the elephants even ended up peeing in the pool (yep, the same pool of mud we were in). And this was an elephant we’re talking about, the peeing was more like a gush of water coming out of a broken sewer pipe! Seriously!


After the mud bath, we all walked over (together with the elephants of course) to the river to rinse off the mud. Again we joined the elephants in the river and had fun. If earlier on we experienced the elephant’s pee, this time at the river, the elephant pooped! Ah well, the name of the tour is “elephant experience”, so might as well experience everything elephant, including the pee & the poop.


After the river bath, it was another round of feeding time for the elephants. And thus ended our Elephant Experience tour.

We got back to Our Jungle House quite early, around 4.30pm. Thinking that it was still early, and since the next morning we were already checking out, we decided to go for a walk at one of the nature trails at Our Jungle House itself. One of the resident cats even followed us up to the beginning of the trail.


We got out of the nature trail around 5pm, and lo and behold, GT was already there to take us out for dinner! Errr... and none of us were ready. We didn’t want to go out for dinner smelling like elephants! So we rushed back to our rooms, did the mandi express, and all 10 of us managed to get ready by 5.30pm.

By the time we reached the restaurant GT wanted to take us to, there were no tables available. So GT took us to the nearby stalls to buy some Thai desserts and some ayam percik. We also got a few pieces of fried chicken for free because we greeted the seller with salaam.

Later when we finally managed to grab a table at the restaurant, we were obviously the noisiest customers there. Loved the Thai laksa, especially since we were served with “take all you want” vegetables to go with the laksa. After having meals of instant food without vegetables for the past 2 nights, the vegetables were like treasure.

On the way back, GT stopped by a fruit stall by the roadside, selling rambai. A few of us did go down to buy, but guess what? We ended up getting a whole bunch of rambai, free!

Back at Our Jungle House, since it was our final night there, we had to start packing. We had already sought GT’s help, not only to arrange for a van to transport us back to the airport the next day, but also to make a few stops along the way, namely shopping & lunch stops. Since the drivers don’t speak English, we needed GT’s help to tell the driver where to stop before sending us to the airport.

Day 4, 2nd September 2019: Our final morning in Khao Sok, and finally it was a bright and sunny day! Since I had an extra ration of instant food meant for dinner the night before, I decided to give my Kembara meal beef rendang with pilaf rice to GT, so she could give it a try, and maybe something she could recommend to future Muslim visitors in need of halal food. 

Before leaving, a group photo together with GT was a must. Hey, even the resident cat decided to join us for the group photo!


After saying our goodbyes, off we went. When the van driver made a stop at the town that GT had brought us to the night before, we realised that he probably was sticking to the original plan of taking us for a Thai breakfast before heading to Phuket. We had changed the plan because GT had already brought us out for Thai food for dinner, but I guess there must have been a communication breakdown somewhere. So the driver called GT who then talked to one of us just to be sure we didn’t want to stop for breakfast (we already had breakfast in the room with whatever balance of food we had).

So the journey continued, without stopping for breakfast. Our mistake was we did not specifically ask GT for the plan, we thought the driver would be taking us shopping first before lunch. We tried to ask the driver, without success. One of us even looked up an app on her phone to translate Malay or English into Thai, so we could ask the question in Thai. Wasn’t much help either, the only thing it did was to get us all bursting into laughter. The only word we could understand was “tesco” which to us meant shopping was in the itinerary.

Finally we got a message from GT that the driver would be taking us for lunch first at Markprok Seafood Restaurant (the halal restaurant I had googled for earlier, which is about 10 minutes drive from the airport), before taking us to Tesco Lotus (closer to Phuket) to shop for some Thai stuff (tomyam paste, green curry paste etc).

As we were talking in English to the girl taking orders at the restaurant, we found out that she could speak Malay! (She’s from Narathiwat.) Thank goodness, no more struggling to ask for what we wanted. We even sought her help to tell the driver to take us to a nearby mosque after our lunch, before taking us shopping. (we could hear the azan from where we were having lunch).  For lunch, we had seafood tomyam, fried prawns, ikan tiga rasa, kerabu pucuk paku etc. They even played Malay songs when we were there.


After lunch, it was just a short drive to the mosque. Then we headed away from the airport, towards Tesco Lotus. Gave everyone an hour to buy whatever they wanted to buy. Everyone was on time. By 2.30 pm everyone was back in the van.

There were no more stops after shopping. We headed straight to the airport, our flight was at 5.10pm, so it was perfect timing to go to the airport. Even the 4 who decided to take the later flight at night went with us to the airport so they could leave their luggage at the airport before taking a cab to Phuket town for a final round of jalan-jalan.

As for the other 6 including myself, after checking in our bags (I must mention that the AA staff at Phuket Airport were very helpful) we went straight in. There was a long queue at immigrations but the process was quite fast. Then when it came to where we had to scan our carry-on bags, for the first time ever, I was asked to take off my shoes to be placed on the scanner (this was before I went through the body scan). Then I had to do a whole body scan (hands above the head, feet apart and all those stuff) followed by a body search. When I went to get my carry-on bag, I was asked to take out the power bank I had in my bag. They wanted to check the capacity of the power bank. It was the power bank I had always brought along with me in my travels without any problem whatsoever, and after checking they gave it back to me.

And thus ended my 4D3N holiday in Thailand. I had a wonderful time with like-minded nature-loving friends.

Would I recommend Our Jungle House to anyone else? A definite YES but only if you love nature and adventure.

Saturday, 25 May 2019

After 15 years

It has been 15 years since I first joined Buddies of Ipoh as a volunteer back in April 2004. 12 years since I started blogging in March 2007. Blogs were the "in" thing back then, it was through the blogosphere that I got to know many new virtual friends. While many of the blogs have already been "abandoned" by their owners (laman sesawang dah dipenuhi sawang), I am still in touch with many of my virtual friends, although no longer through blogs. Many of them are my friends on FB, and in fact, I have also met some of them in person, face to face in real life!

I used to write about quite a number of my clients when I started blogging, without using their real names of course. As a matter of fact, since I no longer update my blog regularly (am still trying to keep my blog alive), sometimes I forget what their blog names are. But I guess, for some of the regular characters, like Yah, Lin, Fuzi and Sofie, and maybe a few others, even my regular blog readers back then who no longer reads my blog now, may still remember them.

So, after 15 years as a volunteer and 12 years since I started blogging, what has become of the characters I used to highlight in my blog? Their children who were just toddlers back then, are already teenagers now. Those who were still in school back then, have grown up and have either furthered their studies, working and/or married.

Here are some updates on some of my clients, the ones that I can easily remember off-hand.

As you may be aware, Yah (of the Yah Ah Ngau- Mr Darling fame), one of my most remembered character, passed away earlier this year. Her eldest child, who studied at a vocational college, just started working a few months before Yah passed away. The 2nd girl is still studying, also at a vocational college. Yah's 3rd child, the ADHD son, stopped schooling earlier and decided to do odd-jobs to support himself. The youngest, who was still a toddler when I was first assigned to Yah's case (I remember delivering milk & diapers when visiting them at their home back then), is already in secondary school. They are now staying with their grandfather (Yah's father). Although the eldest girl is already working, I am still keeping in touch with them and in fact the 2 younger girls are still covered by our education sponsorship program.

Remember Lin? Mr Darling's ex-wife. Among my many clients I used to regularly visit on a monthly basis to deliver groceries etc, Lin is the one who is most independent now. So independent that I no longer visit her and at one time even lost touch with her when I lost my phone a few years ago. Thank goodness some time last year, during an event organised by another NGO that I'm involved in, a girl who was there representing her employer at a booth, came up to me and asked, "Makcik Fizah kan? Ingat saya tak?" It was Lin's 3rd daughter, whose wedding I attended a few years ago. Through this girl I managed to get Lin's contact number and some updates of the children. Out of Lin's 6 children, 4 of them are married, including the youngest girl who used to be covered by our education sponsorship program. And all 6 are working, including her 2nd girl who is now a doctor. Lin too has remarried (don't worry, she didn't remarry Mr Darling, but someone more responsible). I remember how tough things were for Lin back then. Although during the initial meet with our volunteers at the ID clinic, Lin refused to be assigned a buddy, my colleagues still gave her my number for her to call in case she needed help. It took her a year before she made that call, and after the first meet, she was comfortable enough to share her life stories with me. Oh by the way, Lin is now a grandma to a few grandchildren.

Then there's Fuzi, the Indonesian lady married to a Malaysian. She had so many problems back then, especially since her wedding took place in Narathiwat, and the marriage was not registered in Malaysia when her husband was still alive. Imagine how troublesome it was to get ICs done for her children despite having a birth cert indicating they're Malaysians by virtue of having a Malaysian father, just because their father was no longer around and it was Fuzi, a non-citizen, who took them to JPN to get things done. Thank goodness her children finally managed to get their ICs done, with the exception of her youngest child, who was born out of a rape case. With a birth cert indicating "maklumat bapa tidak diketahui" and an Indonesian citizen as the mother, the boy is one of the many cases of stateless kids in Malaysia. The boy who is 14 this year, still can't go to school. Fuzi's repeated applications to become a PR have not been approved either, because her husband is no longer around. But, on the bright side, 3 of her 5 children are already working, including her eldest girl who graduated with an accounting degree. And Fuzi's son who used to cause so many problems when he was in school (he quit school at form 4), finally became a responsible human being after he got himself a job in another state, away from the friends he used to hang around with back home. Things may not be as good as Fuzi wants (especially for her stateless youngest child), but at least life for this family has improved a whole lot, and Fuzi knows her eldest daughter can be relied upon to take care of the youngest boy if anything happens to her.

Another character people may remember is Sofie, who passed away 7 years ago. Although initially after her death I was still in touch with the children through her older sister who became the new guardian to Sofie's children, after a while, they moved back to their home state and I lost touch with them since then. All I knew back then was that the eldest boy was in IKM, the second boy who was in a culinary college distanced himself from his family, the 3rd boy ran away from home after he was scolded by his aunt for skipping school, and only the youngest girl was still with the aunt. Based on the last info I had about them before I lost touch with them, things weren't well at all. But I did manage to search for the culinary boy's profile on FB, and from his page (which he set to public settings, so I was able to see his postings), I noticed he was back touch with 2 of his siblings and I noticed even his aunt (the one who took over as guardian) was on his friends list. The boy himself is already working as a cook, and his younger brother who ran away from home earlier, is also working as a mechanic at a workshop. It was a joy for me to see photos of the 3 of them together at a reunion of the siblings after years of separation. Sad though, from the comments, I realised that they have lost touch with their eldest brother. I do hope one fine day they will find him. And oh, the culinary boy got engaged recently. I hope that all he had been through (including his disciplinary problems back then) has taught him to become a responsible person.

Those are just updates on the families of 4 of the characters I used to update on my blog. While many of the children from the families I used to visit have grown so much, I still deal with little children from newer clients, some of whom have never been mentioned in my blog postings. So, while some things remain the same (the home visits, the back-to-school-shopping etc), things feel different now that I have examples of success stories I can actually share with my newer cases. Not forgetting, the satisfaction of personally being able to see some success stories happening right before my very eyes, has certainly given me the motivation to keep on going despite getting some frustrating cases from time to time. So yes, while my body is still willing, insyaaAllah I shall continue with this voluntary work.

Sunday, 24 February 2019

Updates

I just realised I haven't posted anything on this blog for this year. So here are some updates in my attempt to keep this blog alive...

A few clients have passed away within the first 2 months of this year. 2 of them used to be among the starring characters in my blog when blogs were the "in" thing back in 2007-2009.

Remember Zana? Her story was posted under the title "The Problematic Young Woman" which came in a few parts (at least 4 parts, but could be more). She was the first of my many clients who I had to send to shelter homes. In her case, she was pregnant (out of wedlock) and her family, especially her father could no longer accept her in the family. Her older daughter stayed with her grandparents (Zana's parents) while Zana later gave birth to a pair of twins, both boys. One of the twins died while they were still staying at the shelter home, while the other was later given up for adoption due to Zana's lack of responsibility. Zana eventually went back to stay with her family (and back with her daughter). The girl, whom Zana claimed had been tested for HIV earlier but the results were non-reactive, was never brought for follow up tests. By the time she was finally diagnosed, the girl's condition was so bad her CD4 was close to zero. She died at the age of 10. So, 2 of Zana's children died before Zana herself. Zana's turn came in January this year. Apparently, before she died, she asked to see her son (the one given up for adoption). Not sure if such a meeting took place. I don't think so.

Some time late January, the wife of a client, Andi (I don't recall posting any stories on him - not much drama), texted to ask if I could assist to get a wheelchair for Andi. His condition had deteriorated and he needed help to move around at home. I managed to get donors to contribute some cash and I went ahead to buy a brand new lightweight wheelchair for him (lightweight so that it wouldn't be too much of a problem if the wife needed to carry the wheelchair in and out of their old van). I sent the wheelchair to them on Friday. Just 3 days later, on Monday, the wife called to inform me that Andi passed away in the morning.

The very next day, I received a call from an unfamiliar number. The moment I answered the call, I heard the voice of a girl, calling me Makcik Fizah. Initially I thought it could be Andi's daughter, but then she identified herself as Yah's daughter (I think many of my blog readers would be very familiar with the name Yah). "Nak bagitau, mak dah meninggal semalam." Apparently both Andi & Yah, miles apart, died on the same day. 

Both Andi's & Yah's children are still under the Buddies Education Sponsorship Program, so I shall still be monitoring their schooling needs. Andi's children will be getting their assistance through their mother, while Yah's children who now stays with their grandfather, will be getting their assistance through the eldest girl who just started working a few month's back.

Other updates? After a 4 year break, I am back as the Buddies Chairperson. Obviously we don't have enough people in the organisation, so we even had to recycle the chairperson.