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)

Monday, 20 November 2017

Education Sponsorship: After 10 years

November is coming to an end. Soon I will need to start with my back-to-school-shopping for the children of my needy clients. It's something I've been doing annually without fail for the past 10 years. Being the volunteer assigned to the highest number of clients, most of them from poor families, I had always been the one who had to bring the most number of children, usually between 30 to 40 of them, to go shopping. And since the families stay all over Perak, I've had to do separate shopping trips, covering Ipoh, Taiping, Kuala Kangsar, Kampar, Batu Gajah and Slim River. For someone who doesn't quite like shopping, that by itself is an achievement!

The sponsorship programme has been on-going for 10 whole years now. Over the 10 year period, 65 children had been sponsored, RM305K were collected from generous sponsors, and slightly over RM290K spent to date, not only for the annual back-to-school needs, but also various other schooling needs like monthly bus fares and pocket money.

So, what have become of the sponsored children?

Well, some 30 something of them are still in school. A few dropped out of school despite the assistance. But given that the success stories generally outweigh the dropouts, I must say the education sponsorship programme obviously met its objective in ensuring that poverty does not deprive these children of basic education at the very least. It's a welcomed bonus when many of the children decided to go a step further... either to further their academic studies in universities, polytechnics, colleges... or to go for skill training courses to provide them with better job opportunities.

We already have a few who successfully completed their certificates and diplomas, and are currently working to enable them to help support their respective families. But the best news this year is, in its 10th year, the sponsorship programme has finally produced its first ever university graduate. Yes, a degree holder finally. And with more of them currently in various local universities doing various courses, we should expect more university graduates from among the sponsored children in years to come.

Of course we can't expect each and every single sponsored child to graduate with a degree or diploma. Some are simply not academically inclined at all. But the fact that they agreed to go for vocational or skill-training courses (instead of opting to look for a job immediately after SPM like what they had initially planned to do), can still be considered a success story for the sponsorship programme.

Having been involved with the running of the programme since day one, the satisfaction of seeing one by one of the sponsored children getting their certs, diplomas and degrees, made it worth all the effort. With education in hand, comes better job opportunities. With better jobs opportunities, a brighter future awaits them. And THAT is the reason behind the education sponsorship programme.

Although these children aren't mine, I can't help but feel like a proud mother every time I hear of their success stories. I certainly hope there will be many more success stories in future. It helps keep me motivated.

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Targetting the teenagers

While the main objective of the Buddies Society of Ipoh is to provide moral and emotional support to People Living With HIV (PLHIV) and their families, we do try to get involved in awareness campaigns from time to time whenever we can. As for financial support, we concentrate on children education, that is to help out with the educational needs of the infected and/or affected PLHIV children. My main target... the teenagers! For awareness campaigns, I prefer to go to schools to empower the teenagers with the necessary knowledge on HIV/AIDS. For educational support of the infected/affected children, as far as possible I want them to go farther than just SPM.

However, with limited manpower (no full time staff and majority of volunteers have their own full time jobs), our involvement in awareness campaigns is limited. Basically we only get involved in exhibitions and talks whenever invited. In other words, we don't organise the campaigns, we only participate.

For the first half of the year, things were rather quiet for our awareness programmes. But this month alone, I've been invited to give talks to 2 schools. Last week, to about 200 form 6 students and early this week, to about 300 students from form 2 right up to form 5. Back when I initially started to give talks on HIV/AIDS, the contents of my talks were merely explaining about what HIV & AIDS were, how they spread and how they do not spread. After years of experience, especially in dealing hands on with real life HIV cases, I now make sure I also share some real life stories with the students. To me, it is important that they know what the PLHIV and their families went through, how they got into the mess they were in, and how it impacted their lives.

As for the educational support to the infected/affected children, while our Education Sponsorship Programme covers only schooling expenses up to form 5/form 6 in government schools, I do try my best to encourage the children to go farther than just SPM or STPM. It gives me great satisfaction whenever any of the sponsored children decides to further their studies. While our Education Sponsorship do not cover higher education, whenever any of these children get any offers and need some cash for registration and initial expenses, all I need to do is to update my facebook status about it and usually within less than an hour, there's always someone willing to chip in. For that I am very thankful.

Every year, once the SPM/STPM results are released, I'd start targetting the sponsored children who just got their results, gauging what fields they're interested in. If they are academically inclined, I need to make sure they apply for suitable courses. If they aren't academically inclined, I'd encourage them to go for skill training courses. To date, we already have one who graduated with a degree, a few with diplomas and a few more with vocational certificates. They are now working and are able to help out with their respective families' living expenses. Many more are now in local universities, polytechnics or skill training colleges.

I may not get any cash incentives from my voluntary work, but the satisfaction I get whenever any of these children succeed, is totally PRICELESS.

Monday, 14 August 2017

Buddies Family Day 2017: My Clients & Their Family Members

We had our annual Family Day yesterday, 13th August. This time we brought our clients and their family members to Taiping Zoo, followed by lunch, lucky draw etc at Legend Inn Hotel, Taiping.

This year, in total we had 111 (including 6 toddlers who weren't charged for tickets) in attendance, including 15 volunteers. Which meant 96 attendees were from among our clients and their family members. I just checked out my list, and guess what, from among my clients alone, we had 48 pax. That's exactly half!

Initially I had 68 pax from 16 families in my list of clients who confirmed with me that they were coming. Of the 16 families, only 10 families turned up. The other 6 families comprising 20 supposedly confirmed number of pax, ended up no show. While I did expect pullouts and while I can accept reasonable excuses given, I just can't comprehend when some of them just texted me last minute saying they weren't joining without even saying why. Worse, when they don't even bother to inform me that they're pulling out. They simply don't turn up because they don't lose anything since they didn't have to pay a single thing.

Among the 6 of my clients who didn't turn up, only 1 had given an excuse that she wasn't well. She and her sons don't usually miss our Family Day.

Another client, had one week earlier informed me that she had to pull out, but a few days later requested that she and her children be included again. And then, at the very last minute, she pulled out again. No reasons given.

2 other clients, who had earlier called me personally to make sure their names were included in the list, simply kept quiet and were no longer contactable after I came back from Kashmir. My calls weren't answered and my messages weren't replied. They simply vanished.

Another client texted me at the very last minute saying she couldn't make it. This is the second time she's doing this, she did the same thing last year. I'm not sure if I should invite her for next year's Family Day.

Another client, texted me on Saturday, asking me what time he and his family of 5 pax should be at the bus pick-up point on Sunday. After I told him they needed to be there by 8 am, he didn't say anything, so I assumed there shouldn't be any problem. On Sunday however, they didn't turn up by 8 am. I called there was no answer. By 8.06 am, I texted to ask if they were coming. By 8.20 am, we made a move. Then at 8.26 am, client texted back, saying he had to take his medication first and asked if we could wait. Duh! I already told them to be there by 8 am, and only at 8.26 am he wanted to negotiate? We weren't going to delay 2 bus-loads just to wait for a family of 5.

However, it was good to meet up with my other clients, some of whom I had not met for quite some time. Fuzi and her family are doing okay. Her eldest daughter who's studying at a local university also joined the Family Day. She'll be home until Uni reopens next month. Fuzi's 2nd daughter, who sat for STPM 2 years ago, is now working in another state. Fuzi's son, who stopped schooling when he was in form 4, and then went on to work in another state (and earns enough to support himself without bothering his mother), is now thinking of sitting for SPM as a private candidate because suddenly he feels like joining the army.

Dahlia came with 5 of her 6 children (the eldest is studying at a polytechnic) and husband. The last time I went to visit them, the children were telling me about their father who disappeared from home after the police came. You see, Dahlia and her hubby had a fight and upon seeing that her father was about to hit her mother, Dahlia's 10 year old girl called the police. When I went to visit them, Dahlia spoke as though there was no way she was giving her hubby another chance. Well, guess what? Yesterday for the Family Day, her hubby tagged along. Somehow, I am not at all surprised...

Then there was Aini, who had to miss our Family Day for the past few years because she had been in and out of the hospital. Even the last time she was able to join us, she needed the aid of a walking stick. This time, she came with her eldest daughter (who is now already working) and Aini walked without the need of a walking stick. Of course her daughter was walking beside her all the way, but still, it was good to see her looking so well.

Laila, the orphan who lost her mother when she was 11 (and her father very much earlier), came with her grandma and aunt. Still looking as petite as ever, the girl will be sitting for her SPM this year. Our education sponsorship will cover for her schooling needs until she completes her SPM, but I do hope to continue overseeing her educational needs after SPM.

The other families too seemed to be doing okay. Unlike my early years as a volunteer when my clients had all sorts of problems, life seemed to have improved for many of them. And the newer clients, although they do have problems, the problems don't seem to be as dramatic as the ones I had to endure earlier.

All in all, it was a successful Family Day. The rangers at the zoo did a good job in making the visit an interesting one. The food at Legend Inn Hotel was yummy. The lucky draw prizes (obtained from various donors) drew smiles especially from the children's faces. And the "mini-freemarket" we had (where the ladies had the chance to pick and choose clothes in good condition, some even new - all given by donors) was also a hit.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

6D/5N Kashmir Great Lakes Trek

Sunday 30th July 2017:
After spending one night at Heaven Breeze Houseboat in Nigeen Lake, Srinagar, this morning we set off with our backpacks, heading to Sonamarg to start our Great Lakes Trekking expedition. Away from the noise of cars honking in Srinagar. No wifi. No mobile data.

Kashmir is so beautiful, we went ooohh... and aaahh... and wow... before even reaching Sonamarg. 

Upon reaching the starting point, our horses and the horsemen were ready waiting for us.

In no time, we were already on our way up to start our expedition.

For most of us, that was our first time riding horses. But with the help of the horsemen, who assisted throughout the journey by guiding us and the horses, we got the hang of it in no time. We all had to get down from our horses upon reaching the security check-point, had our passports checked and photos taken before we were allowed to continue our journey. But let me tell you, even from the security check-point, the view was already so beautiful. Since it was already 12.40 pm by the time we reached the check-point, we had lunch while waiting, and took the opportunity to take more photos, even with the security officers!!

Upon clearance, we headed on, passing through hills and valleys, and even stopped for a short break at the homes of one of the gypsy families (during winter the families would have to move elsewhere as the place is not livable in winter). The children seemed excited to see us, and even asked, of all things, for pens. Too bad we didn't know what to expect earlier, otherwise maybe we could have brought along some pencil colours and some other stationeries.

After the short stop, we proceeded with our journey, this time passing through rivers and we started seeing glaciers. 

We finally made it to our campsite around 5.30 pm. While waiting for the horsemen to set up our tents, we took wuduk at the river and did our jamak ta'khir on the grass beside the river. There was a special tent for our meals... we called the tent our "dining hall".

The river water was cold, night time was even colder, so for the most of us (for me at least) cleaning up at the first campsite was by using the wet wipes that we brought along. Oh, for those who may want to know about toilet facility, the toilet was basically set up by digging a hole and popping up a tent on it. The view surrounding our campsite was indeed beautiful.

Monday 31st July 2017:
After packing up our stuff and all tents etc were dismantled, we headed on to our next campsite.

Along the way, we came across even more beautiful sights.

The higher the elevation, the more beautiful the view, but at the same time, the more we started feeling altitude sickness, sometimes feeling short of breath just by walking just a short distance. Walking uphill would be even worse.We finally reached our next campsite slightly after 2 pm.We were to stay at this campsite for 3 consecutive nights with day trips planned for the next 2 days.

Despite the very cold water, some of us decided to have a bath in the river. I even washed my hair while wearing  the hijab! Shivered I did, but it was satisfying to finally have a bath!

Tuesday 1st August 2017:
It was a bright sunny morning (but still cold nonetheless), and what a sight it was seeing rainbow trouts jumping in the river just beside our camp.

Today's activity was to go up to the glaciers. Again, with the help of our trusted horses and horsemen, we trekked across rivers, hills and valleys.

Upon reaching the glacier at around 10.30 am, our photo shoots began. Hey, we were stepping on snow.... in summer!!! While many in my group took photos with the good looking Kashmiri horsemen, I took the opportunity to take a photo with 2 Kashmiri ladies who were observing us nearby.

By the time we made it back to our campsite, it was lunch time. This time, instead of having our lunch inside the dining tent, we had lunch under the sky.

Initially we wanted to go to the lake around 3pm, some planning to wear baju kurung for the next photoshoot, but it was drizzling and so we decided to just stay at our campsite. In the end we had our photoshoot at the river near our campsite. Some with baju kurungs, some with batik sarongs.

Wednesday 2nd August 2017:
The plan was to visit the 2 lakes. It was another cold and rainy day. But we weren't about to be sitting around at the campsite doing nothing, so we proceeded with the plan to visit the 2 lakes. However, it was dangerous to ride horses at certain parts of the terrain, and so we had to get down and walk uphill. Tiring, but worth all the effort once you see the wonderful landscape.

Going down the hill to get back to our campsite at certain parts was again dangerous if we were to ride our horses. It was wet and slippery and we wouldn't want to fall off our horses in such condition. So yes, the only option was to walk down, which still was not so easy given the slippery condition.

Thursday 3rd August 2017:
It was time to start descending and head on to our final campsite. Thank goodness, it was a bright and sunny day.

Again, there were certain parts of the route where we were asked to get down from our horses and walk. As we were descending, I decided to join a few other friends to walk a little farther to enjoy the view and take photos (much easier to take photos while walking), until we reached a river crossing. Since we didn't want to get our feet wet (and in freezing cold water too!), we waited for our horses before continuing our journey.

We finally reached our 3rd and final campsite at a gypsy village slightly after 2 pm. In contrast to our 2 earlier campsites, this time there were no rivers around us. Instead there was just a small spring for our water source. There goes our hope of having a splash in the river we were hoping for! But, the view from the campsite was still beautiful nonetheless. Besides, that was to be our final night in the mountains and we could look forward to having a good bath at our houseboat the very next day.

See the small tent beside the tree? That's our mobile toilet!

Later that evening, we had a campfire, with the horsemen singing and dancing. They did pull in some members of our group to join in their dancing. I however had to retire early as I was down with flu and headache, and really needed to sleep early.

Friday 4th August 2017:
We woke up in the morning to more beautiful views.

It was our final day in the mountains and it was time to head back down. Again, our trusted horses and horsemen made sure our journey was smooth and safe.

We reached the security check-point in no time (where we had our photos taken again) and by the time we reached the start/end point, our mini-busses were already waiting to take us back to our houseboats. After 5 cold nights in the mountains, it was the end of our Great Lakes journey.

It was a tiring journey (especially for a makcik like me), but it was totally WORTH IT! I am so glad I made the trip to this heaven on earth...

Monday, 3 July 2017

Fuzi's family... after 10 years

When Fuzi's case was first assigned to me 10 years ago, I thought it was just another simple case of a HIV+ single mother needing financial assistance for her children. Boy, was I wrong!

Well yes, she did need financial assistance but her problems were nowhere near simple. Fuzi, an Indonesian, married a Malaysian man, in southern Thailand. Fuzi, being naive, totally depended on her husband on matters pertaining to registration of their marriage, and when told that there was no problem whatsoever, she believed him blindly. The fact was, their marriage was never registered in Malaysia, even after 4 children. There wasn't any issue when the husband was still around, but problems started to surface after the husband passed away.

First, an intruder broke into their house, and raped Fuzi. Fuzi got pregnant, and it was during this pregnancy that she found out she had HIV. Initially she thought she got infected when she was raped, but after the children got tested, it turned out her 4th child (the youngest from her marriage) was also infected, which meant Fuzi had been infected earlier when her husband was still around! It was then that Fuzi told me her husband used to frequent southern Thailand although she never really asked why he went there. Her husband probably died not even knowing that he was HIV+.

Thank goodness the hospital accepted her Narathiwat-issued marriage cert, so she didn't have to pay for her HIV treatment, by virtue of being married to a Malaysian. But everything else was so problematic. Her older children, although born to a Malaysian father, had problems when they wanted to get their MyKad done. You see, people don't ask questions if their father took them to Jabatan Pendaftaran, but since their father had died by the time they reached 12 years of age, Fuzi was the one who took them to JPN. And since she's not a Malaysian, her children weren't able to get their MyKad done. Thank goodness, after going in and out of various offices, that matter was finally settled. She somehow managed to legalise her marriage cert and the 4 children from her marriage were able to get their MyKad once they reached 12 years of age. Only thing was, their uncle (their father's brother) had to accompany them to JPN to get their MyKad done, and each time Fuzi had to pay him to do so.

The only problem left was her 5th child who was born without a father. With father's details stated as "unknown" in his birth cert, and his mother an Indonesian, the boy didn't have any citizenship. Neither her nor there. Not accepted as a Malaysian, and not registered as an Indonesian either. Fuzi has tried various methods, asked various people to help out. She tried applying for PR status, so that the boy could at least go to school (albeit paying a higher fee), but every time her application was rejected because by the time she applied, she was already a widow. Now she needs to renew her visa regularly to enable her to stay in Malaysia legally.

A couple offered to legally adopt the boy on paper, with Fuzi still taking care of him, so that they could register him to a school. It was initially approved, but when a nosey neighbour reported the matter to JKM, officers from JKM did a spot-check and found out the allegations to be true, the adoption immediately became void. And with that, the boy still can't go to school.

Someone (from JPN no less) suggested to Fuzi to get her eldest daughter to adopt the boy legally when she (the daughter) turns 21. They tried to submit the application when the girl turned 21 (she's 22 this year) but was then told she'd have to be married before she could do so. Hadoii... how lah?

The boy is 11 this year, and he is still unable to go to school because of all these issues. But that's about the only major problem this family has right now.

Fuzi's eldest daughter is already in university and is expected to graduate next year. I told Fuzi, once her daughter gets a job, get her to apply again for legal guardianship of the boy. Probably her earlier application was rejected because she herself was still studying. At least with a job and a fixed income, her application may be considered.

Although Fuzi's other children aren't academically inclined, the #2 and #3 are now working. The #3 boy used to give all sorts of problems to Fuzi when he was in school, getting in trouble all the time, playing truant, smoking cigarettes, accused of stealing, quit school in form 4, etc. But the moment he got himself a sales related job in another state, away from the friends he had been hanging around with earlier, he became a totally different person. He's a more responsible person now.

Fuzi's #4 child, the one who is HIV+, is in form 3 this year. He is under our sponsorship programme, so his educational needs are covered. Well yes he has HIV, but I know of another child born with HIV who went on to further her studies after SPM, so this boy should be able to do the same if he really wants to.

So yes, overall this family's situation has indeed improved a whole lot. But I do sincerely hope the youngest boy's issues can be resolved soon. The poor boy...