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)

Friday, 27 November 2015

BTSS into the 9th year

Last year, the committee decided to have the annual back-to-school-shopping for the poor families as a special event for Buddies, involving not only my clients, but also clients of other volunteers as well. The other volunteers also came to help out. I thought with the other volunteers helping out, it would help lighten my burden, being the one with most clients. Only problem was, when it came to paying, as the person in charge of the sponsorship and education fund, I was the one who ended up having to run like a mad woman from one cashier to another to pay for all the families. And with so many families involved, it was difficult for me to control the spending by each family.

So this year, I told the volunteers to take care of their own clients who need help with their children’s schooling necessities. I already have over 40 children to handle just dealing with my own clients, surely the other volunteers can handle at the most 8 children each.

This year’s back to school shopping will start off next week. Taiping-Ipoh-Kuala Kangsar-Slim River-Batu Gajah. With Ipoh having the biggest group, I purposely arranged for the shopping to be held on a Saturday, so that a few trainee volunteers can help supervise the families.

Looking back, I started taking the children of my clients to shop for their schooling needs since 2007, before we even started with our Education Sponsorship Program. Back then, I used to take them out one family at a time. However, with the increasing number of clients I got, in the end I just had to get the various families to meet me at a specified shopping complex (based on where they stay), so I could cover a few families on the same day.

Some of the children that I used to take shopping are already in higher learning institutions, so no more BTSS for them. Into the 9th year of BTSS, one of the children I used to take shopping for her schooling needs, and who is now a diploma holder, will be joining me, this time to assist me! It’s so satisfying to know that one of the children we’ve helped before, has graduated with a diploma. And even more satisfying when she also decided to assist me to help others, even though she has yet to get a job for herself.

Hoping to see more of these children taking full advantage of the help given, to build a better future for themselves.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

A day in the Life of Pi…

When 2 neighbours of mine were at my house recently, they found out that I just came back from delivering some groceries to an Orang Asli mualaf at the flats nearby. The very next day, they came again, “Nak jumpa YB,” so they said. They were actually looking for me, to pass me the phone number of another orang asli mualaf that they knew of, who wanted to learn more about Islam but didn’t know who to approach.

So I met up with this lady last week, and since her only off-days are Thursdays, I promised to bring her to the Pejabat Agama this morning. Apparently they usually do have classes every Thursdays for reverts/converts, but today the ustaz had to attend a course elsewhere and so class was cancelled. The staff there did however ask this lady to leave her name and number so they can call her for the next class. Since there was no class today, I sent her home. I don’t have to send her for the next class though, because after seeing that the place was accessible by bus, the OA lady told me she can go for classes on her own. She did promise to update me on any developments.

One matter settled.

Next up, to buy groceries and deliver to a client. Last night, a client sent me a text message, asking if Buddies could help give her a small amount of money so she could buy some groceries. She just moved to a newly rented house recently (the landlord of the previous house sold the house and so she had no choice but to move out), just started work as an assistant at a restaurant, and was really broke. The family was running out of food supplies in the kitchen and she didn’t have any money to buy any.

Since Buddies don’t make it a practice to give money to clients, I told her I’d send her some groceries instead. From time to time I do get donations from friends, and usually I use them for necessities like these. Client welcomed the idea, and gave me her address. Thank goodness the address given is listed in my GPS, and so after buying stuff like rice, flour, sugar, canned food, biscuits etc, I headed off to her place, about 30km from Ipoh.

Client’s house looked very bare inside, with not a single furniture. But it was a nice house, and the family looked comfortable. I may need to consider sending another round of groceries next month, in addition to taking client’s daughter for the yearly back-to-school shopping.

I got home just in time for lunch, and in my mind, I thought I’d just be staying home for the rest of the day, and just do some work on my laptop. But a whatsapp message came in from Aini’s daughter Erin, at about 3 pm, asking me to call her back. Obviously she ran out of credit. Aini, who was hospitalised since last week, was to be to discharged today, and since they do have 2 prior unpaid hospital bills, they’re afraid they may need to pay today’s bills before Aini could be discharged. I did tell Erin earlier to see the matron in charge and appeal for exemption, but the matron was not around today as she’s on leave. I then told Erin to just try and ask to defer payment until later.

A few minutes later, a call came in from an unfamiliar number. The guy, a client of another volunteer, got my number from the ID clinic. He wanted to inform me he’s got a new phone number and he was afraid he may be left out for this year’s back-to-school shopping. Among the volunteers of Buddies, I’m already the one with the most clients, way more than the others. I didn’t want to have this guy also calling me when he already has a buddy of his own, so I told him I’d give his number to this assigned buddy and get the buddy to call him back.

About half an hour after that call, another message came from Erin, informing me that the guy at the payment counter insisted she had to pay for the latest bill before Aini could be allowed to leave. The bill came to over RM400, an amount they simply couldn’t afford to pay. I didn’t have the heart to ignore them. I told Erin I’d be there as soon as I could. After a short stop at the bank to withdraw some money (thank God some donors banked in some money into my account today), I headed off straight to the hospital, praying all the way that I could get a parking spot near enough. Erin told me they’d just wait for me at the unit hasil. When I got there, I could see Erin looking so frustrated. She was so pissed off by the guy who insisted that payment be made today. She had already sought the help of a friend of hers to come with a car to get her mother home, and the friend was also there waiting.

Not wanting to prolong matters, we just settled the bill. Since Aini still needs to come to the hospital this Friday for her dialysis, I told Erin to still see the matron to at least appeal for exemptions for the previous 2 bills.

Erin, who just completed her diploma recently, is still looking around for a job in Ipoh. Hopefully she can get one soon.

And so that was a day in the Life of Pi. I mean Life of Pi Bani lah… not Life of Pi the movie…

Friday, 13 November 2015

Poor but not eligible for help?

Just earlier this week, Erin, one of the children who were covered under our Education Sponsorship for Children program, texted me to inform me that she had completed her final exams for her diploma course. She’s back home and looking around for a job, hoping to get one in Ipoh so that she can be near her mother, Aini, who has multiple health problems. Since Erin had expressed her interest to be a volunteer before, I asked if she’d like to join me in my voluntary work visits. She was excited at the possibility, saying she’s more than willing to do that.

Yesterday Erin sent me another message. This time to tell me that her mother had been hospitalised. Since I was out this morning to meet up with an Orang Asli mualaf (NOT one of my HIV cases) who was seeking help to learn more about Islam, I figured I might as well go visit Aini at the hospital after that.

As I was driving to the hospital, I received another message from Erin, saying that her mother had to go through some tests including CT scan, to find out why there were excess water in her lungs. Very likely she’d also have to start her dialysis since she also has kidney problems. Apparently the nurses had already wheeled her out of the ward to go to the necessary departments to get the various tests done.

As I reached the hospital, I called Erin to ask where they were. They just got back to the ward. The nurses had forgotten that today was Friday, which meant the various departments close early and would only reopen after Friday prayers.

Poor Aini was in and out of hospital quite frequently of late. Hospital bills were not an issue earlier when Aini was a recipient of the JKM’s monthly financial aid. But ever since her health condition got worse, her family decided that she should move in to stay with her parents. Otherwise during the day she’d be alone at home. Erin, her eldest, was studying at a polytechnic in another state, her 2nd son, who didn’t do well in his SPM was doing odd jobs during the day time, while her youngest son was still in school.

Well, staying at her parent’s house seemed like a good idea. Indeed, it was the best solution they could think of. That was until Aini’s monthly financial aid from JKM had to be reviewed. The officer who reviewed her case told her to include her father’s pension in the household income. The moment that was done, Aini no longer qualified to get monthly financial aid from JKM.

Without the monthly financial aid, Aini’s father was the one who ended up having to support more dependants in the house. With Aini needing to use adult diapers, and with more mouths to feed, that’s not a small amount for her father to cover.

Previously, with the JKM card she held as a recipient of their financial aid, every time she was hospitalised, all she had to do was show the card at the payment counter and she’d be exempted from paying the bills. Now that she is no longer a recipient of JKM’s monthly aid, she no longer has that privilege. She has to pay every time she is warded. The only exemption is if she’s warded because of anything HIV-related. In her case, most of the time it’s her other ailments that requires her to be hospitalised. We did help them from time to time with their hospital bills, but after some time, they became too embarrassed to ask again. Right now her bills for her previous 2 hospitalisation has reached RM1K, which is still outstanding. Now that she’s hospitalised again, and having to go through so many tests, am sure the bill may probably come up to another RM500.

Now that Erin is back home, she has submitted an appeal to the hospital welfare unit for a discount. Still waiting for response. She also went to Baitulmal to seek assistance to pay her mother’s hospital bills, but although there was a possibility to get help from them, they requested that Aini pay the bills first before submitting the receipts and other documents to Baitulmal to get a reimbursement. I can understand that there may have been irresponsible recipients before who used the money they got for something else instead of what the money was requested for, but how on earth is Aini supposed to pay first when she’s not earning anything at all?

Worse, when Aini needs to start her dialysis, she’d have to go to the hospital 3 times a week. That involves transportation costs.

I suggested to Erin to apply for monthly financial aid from Baitulmal, now that they are no longer getting any financial aid from JKM. Whatever it is, I told her to update me on the outcome. If need be, I will try to find other sources.

Erin has a job interview to attend this coming Monday. I do hope it will have a favourable outcome.

Monday, 9 November 2015

The determined young girl

What would you do if you were just a 15 year old girl, still in school, suddenly somebody raped you? And how would you feel if you are a mother to such a girl?

In the case of Dilla, at first she was afraid to tell her mother, Dahlia, about it. But she did become somewhat rebellious, and after a while her mother suspected there was something wrong. After coaxing her to talk, Dilla finally admitted she was raped.

Fearing for the worst, Dahlia brought her daughter to the hospital to be tested. What she feared most was confirmed… Dilla was confirmed pregnant. But despite her initial rebelliousness, after getting her mother’s support, Dilla’s strength grew tremendously.

I had expected Dilla to just stay in her room, not wanting to see or talk to anyone during her pregnancy. On the contrary, whenever I went to visit them at home, she sat together with us, and would even smile whenever I joked with her younger siblings. She went to school as usual (with her best effort to hide her pregnancy of course) and sat for her PT3. She stopped schooling immediately after her PT3 as her tummy was getting bigger and her pregnancy became more obvious.

Despite all those, Dilla scored 6A 2B in her form 3 exams. Dahlia managed to register Dilla at a private college (with full sponsorship by the state government) for a 2 year culinary course, a  field that Dilla had always been interested in. Barely 2 weeks after Dilla delivered a cute little baby girl, she started attending classes at the college. Yep, just 2 weeks after delivery.

While some might think it is such a waste that a bright girl like Dilla didn’t continue going to school up to form 5 at least, I was happy enough she did not quit altogether. At least both Dahlia and Dilla had plans for Dilla’s future.

Well, she will soon complete her first year of studies at the culinary college, and she has another year to go. If you think she is already feeling contented with the culinary course she’s doing, well… you’re wrong. Those her age will be sitting for their SPM next year, and Dilla doesn’t want to be left out. Although she no longer goes to school, she still plans to sit for her SPM next year as a private candidate, in fact she has already registered for 10 subjects! I was concerned that she may not be able to cope, but I could also see that her determination is truly exceptional and inspirational. I’ve seen what she is capable of, so I guess I will just continue to give her all the support and encouragement that she needs. It is cases like this one that I usually pay special attention to.

Seriously, I can’t even imagine what I’d do if I were in her shoes. Compared to myself when I was her age, Dilla is certainly a more matured and determined girl. I have nothing but admiration for her. Salute to you, girl!

Friday, 16 October 2015

The children’s education

When Buddies of Ipoh was first set up as a wing under the Perak Family Health Association (then Family Planning Association) back in the late 90’s, its main objective was to provide moral and emotional support to People Living with HIV (PLHIV) and their families. The volunteers were there for the PLHIV to talk to and to encourage them to go on with life despite being diagnosed HIV+. Financial support in any kind was not in the plan.

Then came the case of a poor single mother diagnosed with HIV, with 3 school-going children needing help with their basic schooling necessities. The volunteers then passed the hat around among themselves and friends to collect funds to help out with the children’s schooling needs. The funds were used to buy them uniforms, shoes, bags and also to pay for their school fees.

It was then that the idea of setting up the Children Education Fund came about, so there’d be ready funds to help out any children needing financial assistance with their schooling needs.

In 2004, Buddies broke away from PFHA and was registered as The Buddies Society of Ipoh Perak, standing on our own. That was the year I personally joined as a volunteer. By 2007, when I was the treasurer, the Chairperson then came up with the idea of the Education Sponsorship for Children Program, where we’d be sourcing for individual sponsors for each individual child needing financial assistance for their education. After months of discussion, the Education Sponsorship Programme started off in 2008 with 9 children being sponsored. Right from the beginning, this program was handed over to me as my baby. And it is still my baby now in its 8th year running.

So what happened to the first 9 children under the program? 2 of them are already studying in local universities, 2 more dropped out of school before even completing form 5 (yep, despite getting financial assistance), 1 went to a private college after SPM but dropped out, 2 are now in form 6, 1 in form 3 and the other one in form 4. We won’t let the dropouts deter us from continuing this program. The fact that 2 of them made it to university (and are still there) is reason enough for us to try and provide the same opportunities to other children.

It is 2015 and to date close to 50 children had been covered under this program. Yes, we had a few more dropouts, and a few whose sponsorship had to be revoked for misuse of funds, but what is so satisfying about the program is that more and more of these children are seeing the importance of education. Those who did not do too well academically, started showing their potential once we led them to vocational courses in subjects of interest to them.

I don’t know for sure until when I will have to take charge of this program, and when I can find a suitable volunteer (one who is comfortable with numbers at least) to be trained to take over, but despite some setbacks, I do get great satisfaction when some of the children show some interest and determination in their studies. Although the sponsorship program is only until they complete secondary school (either form five or form 6), those who do well enough to further their studies, would usually still get some sort of assistance from their sponsors especially when they need to register at universities/colleges/polytechnics etc.

I can’t wait for the day they graduate. I know one girl who will complete her diploma soon. And she had already indicated her interest to join Buddies as a volunteer. Hey, seeing the day she graduates with a diploma is satisfying enough for me. Her wanting to be a volunteer? That’s a bonus!