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, 16 May 2017

Helping them get started

While the main objective of Buddies is to provide moral support to people living with HIV/AIDS (PLHIV), from time to time and on a case to case basis, we do try to source for funds to help the needy PLHIV families with financial assistance. The financial assistance is however, rather limited, mainly for their children's education, and once in a while, we also approve assistance from our Client's Welfare Fund for hospital transportation to hospital, or for tests not available at government hospitals but still needed to be done.

Our support is basically to help these PLHIV become independent, not dependent on us. Which is why I love it when any of my clients come up with plans to carry out small businesses as their source of income. But a major factor in carrying out your own business is the need for at least a minimal amount to get started. Buddies however, do not have specific funds for this purpose. So how do I help them? By getting funds from other sources, namely, the social media.

For the most recent case, when Dahlia mentioned to me that she (together with her daughter, Dilla, the young mother of a 2+ year old girl) plans to start baking at home as their source of income, I was happy about their plan. Dilla had after all completed level 2 of her culinary course and in addition to her interests in pastries, she's also very business-minded. And while she does plan to further her studies, starting the baking business at home will enable her mother, Dahlia, to continue with the business even if Dilla furthers her studies later. With the flexibility of working at home, Dahlia doesn't have to worry about sending her younger children elsewhere while she works.

But they can't start without some basic needs. An oven, a mixer and other kitchen utensils are needed to get started. I mentioned their plight on my FB page, and within hours, I had more than enough contributions to buy the necessities. Yesterday, I went out to buy a big enough oven, and a sturdy mixer, and this morning I went to deliver the items to Dahlia and Dilla. I also gave them some cash for them to buy some other baking utensils and the raw materials to get started. At least they have some time to bake some samples before Ramadhan begins before taking orders for whatever they're baking. I even ordered for myself one of each type, which I hope to get during my next clinic duty in Taiping in early June. If they're good, I may even recommend to others.

So far, the other families who got similar assistance are doing okay. 2 clients opted to sell roti canai and were given some minimal cash capital to get started. Both are still selling roti canai. 4 others who could sew, were given sewing machines. All of them are still actively using their sewing machines as their source of income.

While they may not be rich (yet), at least they are independent enough to have a source of income instead of depending totally on welfare assistance. Hopefully one day their business will grow, and who knows, they may even help others get started...

Saturday, 15 April 2017

After 13 years

I can't remember the exact date I joined Buddies as a volunteer, but I know it was circa April 2004, roughly about the same time as the registration of The Buddies Society of Ipoh Perak. Prior to that Buddies of Ipoh was a unit under Perak Family Planning (now Perak Family Health) Association.

That means it has been 13 long years. Many things may have changed. If back then, about 70% of new infections were among injecting drug users, and less than 30% were sex-transmitted, nowadays it's the other way round. There has also been a drop in new reported cases. Back then, when our volunteers went to the hospital for clinic duty, we'd be kept busy with the new cases referred to us, sometimes 4 to 5 cases each clinic. Of late, we've had very few cases referred during clinic. Sometimes just one. Sometimes none at all. Very rare we'd have more than one. Which is of course a good thing, unless the "no case referred" was due to no-show by the newly diagnosed case.

Like any other new volunteers, I too, when I first joined, had to be a trainee under the supervision of a senior volunteer before they could confirm me. And once I was confirmed, one by one, I started getting new cases assigned to me. Being the only female Malay volunteer then (before me there was none), and with so many cases of HIV+ Malay ladies needing help, it was a no-brainer for the volunteers on clinic duty to assign me to cases involving Malay ladies, especially those staying in kampong areas.

I used to do a lot of home visits back then. For a few of the poor families, I went to visit them monthly without fail, as I knew they needed all the support they could get. Dealing with calls and messages from clients was almost a daily thing. Due to the long list of active clients that I had, I used to have a log book to note down all the calls and visits, so I could have a record to refer to.

But things have changed of late. I don't visit as frequent as I used to. Initially I wasn't too sure of the reason... maybe I was too busy with admin matters ever since I became the chairman... maybe the families I used to visit are already independent enough and no longer need as much attention... maybe it was because we've had a few more Malay ladies as volunteers to share the burden.

I do notice however, that the other volunteers in Buddies are also facing the same thing. They are no longer as busy with their HIV clients as they used to be. At least in my case, since I have a long list of clients, and I am also in charge of our Education Sponsorship for Children program, I still keep in touch with some of my clients, and I still do visit a few families from time to time.

Providing moral and emotional support to People Living with HIV and their families had always been the main objective of Buddies. It is still our main objective, but with lesser new cases referred, maybe we need to consider other objectives as well. We don't want our volunteers to get bored. We're planning to have a volunteer retreat this year, during which we hope to have a brainstorming session to discuss our past achievements and our plans for the future, in order to stay relevant.

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Thank you donors!

For the past month or so, many of my friends have been very generous with their donations for the families I'm dealing with in my voluntary work with Buddies. The funds under Buddies are rather limited, so the financial assistance under Buddies are mainly restricted to children's education (only for school-going children of our poor clients) and clients' welfare (approval given by discretion of the Board on a case to case basis).

Whenever any of my clients and/or their families need any additional help, I usually resort to outside sources. Like for example, remember the girl who was raped at 15 and stopped schooling after her PMR? The girl was previously under our Education Sponsorship Program, but she no longer qualified after she stopped going to school and went to a culinary college instead. But given her situation, her sponsor agreed to still help her out directly through me, not only for her further studies, but also additional expenses for her baby's needs. And when, against all odds, she scored excellent results in her SPM despite having to study on her own as a private candidate, quite a few joined in to share a reward for her as acknowledgment & encouragement. (I bought her a laptop for her to use for further studies.)

Likewise, when many of the other children, upon completion of their SPM, further their studies at higher learning institutions or vocational colleges, since expenses are no longer covered by the Buddies Children Education Fund or Sponsorship Program, many of my friends had been more than willing to help out, particularly for whatever amount needed during the initial registration.

Sometimes, there were clients who wanted to start small businesses as their source of income, but their main problem had always been the money required as initial capital, which they didn't have. Again, I usually resort to my friends (mainly via FB) for help (after my own assessment of the clients of course, I don't simply help them out without any kind of assessments). Today, for example, I went to send a brand new sewing machine (money from donors) to a client who badly needed it to continue sewing curtains as her source of income. All these while, she had been using an old mechanical sewing machine which she inherited from her late mother.

Knowing that my dealings with needy clients are always on-going, some friends donate from time to time without me having to ask for it. I usually use their donations for any immediate needs of the poor families I come across.

Oh, I must also specifically mention that I even have blog readers who had never even met me before, who had been donating without questions asked.

I don't even have to prepare pages and pages of reports to be given to these donors. For donors among my FB friends, they get their reports from my FB updates. For donors among blog readers, they get their reports from my blog postings (which makes me feel a bit guilty because I no longer update my blog as often as I used to, sorry!).

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all you donors out there for making my voluntary work easier. I'm so lucky to somehow be connected to so many generous people.


Monday, 20 March 2017

What now after SPM?

Every year, whenever the SPM results are announced, I'd be eagerly waiting to find out the results of the children under the Buddies Sponsorship Program. 5 of our sponsored children sat for their SPM in 2016 : 3 girls and 2 boys. For the 2 boys, it had been obvious from day 1 that they had never been academically inclined. So my target is for them to go for vocational training.

As for the girls, I was so happy when my client texted me on Thursday to inform me that her daughter managed to score straight A's. But I was even more elated the next day when I found out that another girl scored 5A, 2B and 2C.

Why was I more excited for the one who scored 5A's compared to the one who scored 9A's? Because the girl who scored straight A's, although she too comes from a poor family and received financial support from our sponsorship program, faced her exams in a more conducive environment. She went to a fully residential school since form one. Although the girl still did exceptionally well, the straight A's didn't really come as a surprise.

The second girl, in contrast, had to struggle. At 15, she was raped. When she sat for her PMR, she was pregnant. By the end of the same year, she gave birth to a cute little baby girl. And guess what? Although the baby was born from a rape case, she didn't want to give the baby away because she loves kids. She stopped going to school despite scoring 6A 2B for her PMR, and instead registered to study for a 2 year culinary course at a private college. At 17, while she was still studying culinary, she registered to sit for SPM as a private candidate. I was already impressed back then. Her determination was admirable. I don't know if I can do well studying on my own for a single subject without the help of a teacher or tutor, she registered for 9! The moment her mother told me that this girl was embarrassed to tell me her SPM results, I thought she didn't do too well. I'd still be proud of her, no matter what her results show. Her determination alone impressed me.

So when the mother said the girl scored 5A, 2B and 2C (the A's include Maths, Accounting and Economics), I was elated! I immediately told the mother to make it clear to her daughter that I was PROUD of her.

Tomorrow I plan to visit the girl. I want to tell her straight in her face how proud I am of her. I also want to discuss her options. I do know she wants to further her studies, hopefully I can give her some advice based on her strength and interest. She has gone through so much in her young life, she certainly deserves all the support she can get.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Cuti-cuti Sabah 11-13 Feb 2017

I've been to Sabah before in 2012 to climb Mount Kinabalu. Didn't really have time to jalan-jalan back then as our time was spent more on Mount Kinabalu, and the day after the climb, we went water rafting in Padas. Recently, after looking at photos of family and friends at Desa Cattle Farm in Kundasang, I was tempted to go. A "jom gi Kundasang" invite to my eldest sis came back with a quick "JOM!", and after asking friends from my all female adventure-loving group, we finally ended up with 11 all-female tour group, although I initially set the limit to 10 pax (to make it easier for me to book for accommodation and transportation). Note that I personally arranged all the itinerary in this 3D/2N tour, without using any tour agents. Just use the internet to google for suitable accommodation, transportation and activities. And since it was to be a very tight schedule to cover as many places during the short visit, I made use of google maps to estimate the time to go from one place to another. The choice of activities and accommodation were made to minimise the time of travel from one place to another.

DAY 1: 11th February 2017
Since we booked the 7 am Malindo flight from KLIA, my sister and I decided to take the 1 am direct Ipoh-KLIA bus, expected to arrive KLIA at 4.30 am. We left home at midnight (meaning we had our "morning bath" before midnight), heading to the Aman Jaya bus terminal in Ipoh. The bus ride was smooth, and we actually reached KLIA before 4.10 am, giving us more than ample time to drop off our luggage, and then waited at the prayer room at the departure hall for our Subuh prayer.

Our flight was however delayed by about half an hour, and by the time we landed at Kota Kinabalu airport, the moment I switched on my phone, the guy from whom I booked the van from had already texted, asking if we had landed. Apparently the van was already waiting for us, but since we were late, they had to move away from the passenger pick-up area. Although I booked a 14 seater van (the extra seats to put 11 people's luggage), the van which fetched us was an 11 seater van. It was however a relief when the driver told us that there was another car there to pick our luggage, and that he would be getting a 14 seater van later.

As planned, from the airport we went straight to Jesselton Point, to get a boat to Pulau Sapi. The van guy even helped to book a boat for us. The boat ride to a single island cost RM23 per pax, but since there were 11 of us, we chartered a boat for RM250. In addition, we also had to pay for terminal fee (roughly about RM7 each inclusive of GST), and once we got to Pulau Sapi, there was also a conservation fee of RM3 each.

Why did we chose Pulau Sapi you may ask? Because our main target was to do the Coral Flyer Zipline from Pulau Gaya to Pulau Sapi. This activity is only available if you go to Pulau Sapi. But seriously, even without the zipline, and you have limited time and can only go to one island, I'd still suggest Pulau Sapi because of its crystal clear waters.

At Pulau Sapi jetty

It was around 11.30 am when we reached Pulau Sapi, and when I asked the girl at the zipline counter, she said that since we were quite a big group and the zipline guys usually take their lunch break at noon, she suggested we come back at 1 pm for the activity. So we decided to find a spot for lunch (which we had bought earlier at Jesselton jetty). It was during this time that I was looking high and low for my phone. My sister and friends did try calling my number, but while the phone was indeed ringing (based on the ringing tone they heard on their phones), we couldn't hear any phones ringing around us. Wherever the phone was, it was definitely nowhere near us. Tried calling the boat guy to ask if he found any phone in the boat, but by the time we called him, he had already made another trip with other passengers, and so it was difficult for him to say if I did drop my phone in the boat. By then I was resigned to the fact that the chances of getting back my phone was slim, and that I was going to get a few days of no calls and no whatsapp holiday (always think of the brighter side of things). The only problem was, since I was the one doing all the bookings, all contact details (for van, accommodation and other activities) were on my phone. However, since I got all the info online, I resorted to using my sister's phone to google for the contact numbers again. Thank goodness I managed to get them all, except for the van guy's number. But we did tell the van driver to pick us up around 3 pm at Jesselton Point, so we figured it shouldn't be much of a problem.

Anyway, lost handphone aside, the show must go on. While waiting for the zipline at 1 pm, a few of us did go snorkeling.
How much clearer can the water be?

By 1pm, we were already back at the zipline counter, eager to go "flying" across Pulau Gaya to Pulau Sapi. We were taken by boat to Pulau Gaya, together with another group of 5 girls. After getting us into all the safety gear (harnesses, helmets etc), we had to hike up to the starting point. The group in front of us had already started, one pair at a time. From my group, I decided to go first so I could take photos of other members in my group doing the zipline. No point sharing all of them here, they all look just about the same, especially from far.

Group photo at the landing point.

We then trekked back to our earlier "picnic" point, and on the way we bumped into a few monitor lizards roaming freely on the island.

Done with our main activity for the day, we packed up to leave the island and head back to Jesselton Point to meet up with our van driver and head to our accommodation in KK to check in. Only problem was, the driver by then was waiting in a 14 seater van, totally different than the van he drove earlier when he fetched us at the airport. Unable to call (since I lost the guy's number when I lost my phone), I was hanging around there, feeling rather helpless. After some time, the driver saw me, and only then did he start winding down the van windows. Apparently he had been waiting for quite a while, but I couldn't see him with the van windows up. I think we wasted about half an hour waiting (despite both parties getting there on time). Never mind, we just went straight to our apartment at Tower A, One Borneo to check in and to perform our zohor/asar prayer. I made sure the girls didn't waste too much time at the apartment after checking in, since we had a sunset cruise to catch, and what's the point of a sunset cruise if we missed the sunset, right?

Getting to Gayang Village Explorer for the cruise was another story. Based on the map given, the driver managed to get to a nearby school, but couldn't find the location for the cruise. When he asked a passer-by, he was told to go to another end. And so, despite almost reaching the correct place the first time, we ended up going further away before finally reaching the place after a few more calls to the operator of the cruise. Thank goodness we still made it on time to watch the sunset. 

We watched the sun set from Pantai Dalit, and I have to say it was the most beautiful sunset I had ever seen in my entire 54 years of life.

We then left Pantai Dalit and headed to see the fireflies.

Sorry, but while we did see the fireflies, I didn't manage to catch them on camera. Did attempt to take a few photos, but all I saw on the photos were total darkness. I guess I shall just store the beautiful sceneres in my own memory bank rather than in photographs.

Done with the cruise, we headed to Gayang Seafood Restaurant for dinner. Apparently it was quite a popular place. We did have to wait quite a while for our food to arrive, but the food was totally worth the wait.

After dinner, we headed back to our apartment in KK. (I so needed a bath by then!) And that ended our tour for day 1.

DAY 2: 12th February 2017
Planning to check out early before 7 am, we got up early to ensure there was enough time for all 11 of us to use the 2 available bathrooms.
 View from our 24th floor (level 23A) apartment on the morning of day 2.

This morning we had a new driver fetching (using the same van since they're from the same company). We had just started the journey when someone reminded me that there were some hungry girls at the back (I sat at the front passenger seat). I told them to endure another hour or so because I had actually already planned to stop at Pekan Nabalu for a 4-in-1 purpose... i) photo shoot with Mount Kinabalu in background  ii) breakfast  iii) toilet break   iv) shopping for souvenir items.

Unlike my previous trip to Sabah when the mountain was covered by clouds during our stop at Pekan Nabalu, this time we were lucky because the peak of Mount Kinabalu was clearly visible. After slightly more than an hour at Pekan Nabalu, we continued our journey to Poring Hot Springs in Ranau and managed to get there at about 10.30 am. The sound of the waterfall as we entered the park was oh so soothing and soooo inviting (I felt like jumping into the river despite not knowing how to swim!). 

Our main target however was to go for the canopy walk, and so with the exception of 2 group members who decided to opt out of the hike to the starting point of the canopy, the rest went straight ahead to the canopy walk counter. The walk uphill to the start of the canopy walk can be tiring especially if you're not fit, but to me it was worth the sweat. Actually it rained during our canopy walk, but since we were after all under the canopy, we didn't really get that wet.

 After completing the canopy walk, we headed for lunch at the restaurant within the park, followed by solat qasar zohor/asar at the park's surau, before moving on to our next destination.

Our next destination? Tagal Sg Morali Fish Spa. It was a Sunday and so there were quite a number of visitors and so each group was given a limited time to get in the river and have the fish surround our feet. Fish food were sold at the counter for us to feed the fish and while a number of people just threw the fish food into the river near their feet, I decided to feed them by hand. Seriously, they don't bite. No worries there. However, if you were there listening to a few of my group members screaming away, you would have thought they were bitten by piranhas!

After the short stint at Tagal Sg Morali, we moved on to the nearby Sabah Tea Garden, enjoying not only the beautiful view, but also also delicious tea and scones.

After tea, we headed back to Kundasang, and got there just in time to visit the Kundasang War Memorial which closes at 6 pm.

After the visit, we went to the nearby shops to buy some necessities, including to tapau some dinner before checking in to our accommodation for the night, and also to buy bread and eggs for our breakfast the next morning. It was already very foggy by the time we made a move from Kundasang town heading over to our homestay in Kg Mesilou nearby. While the driver had no problem getting us to the kampong, it was a good thing I managed to recognise the homestay from the photos I had seen earlier online. The most prominent landmark was their gazebo.

We were lucky I managed to get a homestay with 3 bathrooms (one in each bedroom) plus another additional toilet in the kitchen area. Most of the homestays there usually only have 1 bathroom, which would have been a problem for a big group like ours. The kampong, located at the foot of Mount Kinabalu, had "natural" aircond, there was no need for any of the houses there to install aircond. In fact, if not for the heaters installed in the bathrooms, we would have to bathe using icy cold water.

DAY 3: 13th February 2017
Not wanting to miss a clear view of Mount Kinabalu from our homestay, I went out for a short walk (together with my sister and another member of our group) as early as 6.30 am around the kampong. It was already bright by then. We passed by quite a number of homestays during the short walk. Anyway, the view of the mountain was magnificient!

 View of Mount Kinabalu from Cinta Villa Homestay, our accommodation in Mesilau.

The effects of the earthquake a few years ago can be obviously seen from far below.

We checked out around 8.15 am, but of course not without a group photo at the gazebo in front of our homestay.

Our first destination for the day was one of the main itinerary for the whole trip (other than the zipline at Pulau Sapi on day 1), the Desa Cattle Farm. Since we were there early morning as soon as it opened, it was really foggy and cold. The atmostphere makes you feel like you're overseas, although in our case, we only travelled over South China Sea. Certainly a recommended go-to spot if you're in Sabah, especially Kundasang.

From Desa Cattle Farm, we headed on to the foot of Kinabalu Park, just for a short photo stop. 

Since we wanted to make sure we had enough time to stop for a last minute shopping spree at Filipino Market in KK before going home, we decided to not get into the park as it would be time consuming. We needed to be at the airport before 4 pm, and so it would be safer to be in KK by 1 pm. We had ample time to shop at Filipino Market, followed by lunch before the driver sent us off to the airport. It was good that we reached the airport early to enable us to repack our things, especially the stuff bought at Filipino Market.

All in all, I had a good time, and I hope the others in my group did too, despite some minor setbacks especially on day 1. Since I arranged everything myself, the ground expenses (van rental + driver for 3 days, 1 night accommodation in KK, 1 night accommodation in Kundasang, activities and entrance fees to various attractions, but NOT inclusive of food and flight) came up to just RM370 each. If you don't intend to do zipline and sunset cruise, you can deduct another RM139 from that total. For accommodation in KK, if your group is smaller, say 8 pax, you can get slightly cheaper apartments, because most of the apartments I saw online, catered for a maximum of 8 pax. But I would suggest you spend at least one night in Kundasang, particularly in Kg Mesilou. Totally worth it.