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, 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...

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

My Ramadhan Visits

For the past 10 years or more, Ramadhan had always been my busiest month. Ever since I was confirmed as a Buddies volunteer, most of the cases assigned to me involve poor PLHIV families, mainly involving single mothers. While for some of the hard core poor families, I make it a point to visit every month to deliver groceries, during the month of Ramadhan I usually visit even more families to bring some cheer especially to the children from these poor families.

Imagine their excitement getting pre-loved and/or new clothes and whatever other Raya goodies I could get hold of. Some got excited the moment they knew I'd be visiting. For some, without any kampung to go to for Raya, they'd excitedly be asking when I'd be visiting them for Raya, because they seldom get visitors at their home.

It helps that I tend to get a lot more donations during Ramadhan. My sincere thanks to my old school friends, my blog friends, my FB friends and even some of my blog readers whom I've never even met before. Without the support of these generous donors, I wouldn't be able to give much assistance to the poor PLHIV families I've been assigned to.

I may not be doing as many house visits as I used to do during my early years as a volunteer. Back then, sometimes I'd visit 3 or 4 homes in a day. I remember once I actually went to visit and delivered groceries to 4 different families within half a day. From my home in Ipoh, I headed to Sg Siput, followed by Chemor, then Pusing and last one in Batu Gajah before I headed back home. And yes, during fasting month, my visits cover homes from all over Perak. Tg Piandang, Taiping, Kuala Kangsar, Gerik, Gopeng, Kampar, Parit, Sungkai. And oh, even Cameron Highlands.

Most of the hard core poor families aren't doing too bad now. Some may still need assistance, but not as much as they did back then. A few are totally independent, and no longer need any assistance. For those staying quite far from Ipoh, and still need help, I'd just transfer some cash online from my charity account into their respective bank accounts. That is, of course, after I visit them at least once to assess their situation at home.

Likewise, for this year's Ramadhan/Raya contributions, for those staying quite far from Ipoh, I'd just do online cash transfers. Quite far means more than an hour drive from Ipoh. The ones I still visit are usually the ones with young children. Less visits to the homes of those with grown up children, unless there are specific matters they need to discuss, especially pertaining to education.

I have no choice but to choose who I need to visit. After over 10 years with Buddies, I've been assigned to close to 80 clients. Imagine if I have to visit each and every single one of them during Ramadhan... banyak letih lor!!!

Friday, 2 June 2017

All in a day's voluntary work

Whenever I'm on voluntary duty at Taiping Hospital ID clinic, I'd usually make it a point to at least visit any clients staying around the area. Yesterday was no exception. In fact, yesterday I covered more than I usually did.

A client, Nor, who had received assistance from us for a pair of glasses, had texted me earlier if I could help get orders for kuih siput which she's making for Raya. I told her since I was going to Taiping yesterday, I'd like to get a kilogram first for myself, since I'd like to taste them first before I can recommend to anyone. So, we promised to meet up at Simpang area, before I proceeded to Taiping town. My intention was to pay her for the kuih siput, but when I wanted to give her the money, she told me it wasn't necessary. She wanted me to taste them first so I could start taking orders from others, if I could get any.

That done, I headed on to Taiping Hospital. It was quite a busy day yesterday during my clinic duty, although of late we haven't had too many cases referred to us. Sometimes we go to Taiping without even a single case referred. Sometimes it's because the new case never turned up at the hospital, while sometimes they felt they didn't need any help and so it wasn't necessary to see us. Usually the nurse would only refer cases which she felt needed help, and even so, she'd ask them first if they agree to see us.

The first case referred yesterday was a guy in his 50's, who came with his wife. The wife has been confirmed negative, but when the nurse mentioned about Buddies, she thought her husband could use the help. The guy had not been working for the past 5 years because of illnesses and since he's feeling better now, he plans to start looking for a job. But getting a job when you're above 50 is not easy. When he found out that Buddies is a support group, he felt uncomfortable and said he didn't need any help. I'm not sure what he said to his wife after that (they spoke in Chinese), but it sounded like he was scolding his wife for agreeing to see Buddies. Ah well, never mind. I just gave his wife our brochure, just in case some time in future they need our help, at least they have a number to call.

The next case was a young lady who gave birth 5 months ago. Apparently when she was pregnant she was not detected for HIV. So no precautions were taken during her pregnancy and delivery. As such, her baby needs to be tested from time to time. So far so good, but the baby still needs to go for follow up until he/she (I forgot to ask about the baby's gender) is confirmed not infected. Again, this lady said she didn't need help, and so I didn't assign any buddies to her.

I thought I was done with the 2 cases, but then the staff nurse told me that another PLHIV wanted to see me, because he was interested to become a volunteer. Since I was already at the hospital, I might as well interview him there and then. Another client, Dahlia, who was also there for her appointment, wanted to hitch a ride home in my car since I was going to visit her family anyway, so she had no choice but to wait.

Back to the guy, he was first diagnosed after a blood donation drive. He was so depressed he didn't even go to get any treatment. All he wanted to do back then was to commit suicide. He thought of jumping down from a tall building, but then he thought, that would embarrass his family. After some time his condition worsened, and he went back to his hometown to stay with his family. To this day, none of his family members are aware of his HIV. They only know of his hepatitis. He kept everything to himself and didn't have anyone to talk to about how he felt. One day he collapsed, and by then he had no choice but to be hospitalised and get treatment.

Now that he's feeling a lot better, the moment he heard about Buddies from the staff nurse, he wants to become a volunteer. Which was why he requested to see me. After all that he had gone through, I think he'd make a good volunteer. The only problem is, since he doesn't stay anywhere near Ipoh, it will be difficult to train him. New volunteers are taken in as trainees first, and will only be confirmed later after following the senior volunteers around either during home visits or clinic duties. I hope we can somehow arrange for some sort of training for this guy... that is if the Board agrees to take him in as a trainee. For that, he will have to wait until our next Board meeting.

Done chatting with the volunteer-wannabe, I headed over to Dahlia's house. Dahlia was done with her appointment earlier, but had to wait for me for that ride home. Her daughter Dilla, the young mom, has been offered a place at a polytechnic, and so I brought along some stuff for her including a luggage bag. I also brought along some baju kurungs I managed to collect from donors. I was hoping she'd be home, but although her last day of work at a nearby hotel was on the 31st, she continued working for a friend, helping out to cook and sell at a bazaar Ramadhan. She wanted to earn as much as she could before she furthers her studies, because she wanted to leave as much money as she could for her 2 1/2 year old daughter.

Truly, I am impressed. Despite the fact that the little girl was a result of a rape case (when she was just at a tender age of 15), and despite quitting school after that, Dilla has proven to be a mature and responsible mother. Instead of passing the whole responsibilily of taking care of the little girl to her mother (the little girl's grandma), Dilla wants to make sure she's doing as much as she can for her daughter. And she's only 18! Oh, by the way, I did leave her some cash for her to use later on after she registers. I am sure there are other stuff she may need to pay for later.

Anyway, other than stuff for Dilla, among the things I managed to collect from donors were some new (old stock) children clothings. So there were stuff for Dilla's younger siblings and of course her daughter too. I loved seeing the excited children trying out the clothes. And oh, since I had earlier on delivered an oven and a mixer (donated by my family/friends) for Dahlia and Dilla to start baking at home to earn an income, I was also given 2 types of cookies they had baked (yes, using the donated oven and mixer).

Next up, I headed over to a nearby supermarket to meet up with another client, Maya. She stays a bit further up north, but Maya agreed to meet me in Taiping. Maya's daughters had been performing quite well in their studies, and this time her 2nd daughter had been offered a place for Asasi. I had another luggage bag in my car meant for this girl. And since I've been told she may need to buy some books and lab kits later, I told her I had already banked in some cash into her account for her to use when the need arises.

I wish these girls success. Hopefully one day they will become successful women, and they will be able to help others as well, especially their own family.

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.