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)

Thursday, 13 October 2016

The complicated cases

It has been more than 12 years since I first joined Buddies of Ipoh as a volunteer. After looking through the whole list of over 500 clients of Buddies, and with about 25 confirmed volunteers, on average each volunteer should have been assigned to 20 cases each. But average doesn't seem to apply to me. I listed down all the clients that I had been assigned to since day 1, and the total I have is 78 clients! That of course includes those who have passed on, or have moved to another state, or have gone MIA.

With the number of clients I had been dealing with, I've come across all kinds of problems and complicated situations faced by my clients.

There was Anita, who had problems registering for her son's birth cert, not because of her unwed status, but because she never had a birth cert herself (after over 20 years)! With her parents already dead, and problematic siblings from various fathers not willing to cooperate, the last I know, that problem had yet to be solved.

Then there was Lily, whose husband had been infected with HIV for quite some time without her being told about it. The husband's family took him back to their hometown, and when he died, they didn't even bother to inform Lily or her children about it. It was only when one of the children called to ask how their father was doing, that they were told of his death. And with a death cert indicating that the husband died of AIDS, Hana went to get herself tested. Hana was not the only one infected, her youngest son (5 at the time) was found to be positive too.

There was Fuzi, an Indonesian citizen, whose marriage was never registered in Malaysia even after 12 years. She only realised her problem when her eldest daughter had problems at JPN to get her MyKad at 12 years of age. By then Fuzi's husband had died, and Fuzi had to go through all sorts of trouble to legalise the marriage to enable her children to get their MyKad. That problem is now settled, but her youngest son, being born out of a rape case 10 years ago, is "stateless" and is still unable to go to school.

Then there was Hana. When her case was first referred to me, she had 3 children, the 1st child with a different father's name, the 3rd child with a different father's name, and the 2nd child without a father's name. After we helped them out with the children's education etc, and her family's life seemed to be more stable, Hana quietly remarried, this time with a young jobless guy only 3 years older than her eldest daughter. They then had baby, and with the husband still without a job, Hana was back to being financially burdened with 2 additional mouths to feed (the baby AND the husband). And when her husband was accused of molesting a young girl in their kampong, Hana (who never even told me about her latest marriage) had the cheek to seek my help to get a lawyer for her husband! <sigh>

Finally there's Salmah, whose first marriage failed. Both then remarried, but since the out-of-court divorce was not officially registered, there was no black & white. No problem for her ex-husband to remarry, but since Salmah herself was on paper still "married", technically she couldn't remarry. Well at least not in Malaysia. Salmah then took the "short cut" - she married her 2nd husband in Thailand. Her divorce was still not "official" by the time she gave birth to her 4th child (fathered by her 2nd husband), so again she took the easy way out, in the child's birth cert, her first husband was named as the father.

Salmah was infected with HIV by her first husband, and she then infected her 2nd husband. Now her husband needs to start treatment. So what's the problem? He's an Indonesian citizen. Treatment is not free for non-citizens, unless they're married to Malaysian citizens. He is married to a Malaysian citizen, so there shouldn't be a problem, right? Fuzi didn't have problem getting free treatment using the Thai marriage cert after her husband passed away. Apparently, in Salmah's case, her ex-husband somehow managed to get hold of her Thai marriage cert, and tore it apart. Without that marriage cert, Salmah's present husband is unable to get free treatment (and HIV drugs are not cheap).

By now the divorce of her first marriage has been officially recorded, and Salmah shouldn't have any problem remarrying. We suggested to her to officially have her akad nikah with her present husband, here in Malaysia. Solve the problem once and for all. Easy, right?

Wrong. Apparently her present husband is here in Malaysia without a permit. <smacks forehead>

If you have been following my blog from the beginning (since I started blogging in 2007), you'd surely know there had been many other problems and complications faced by my clients. The above were just a few examples. Sometimes I can't help wondering why some people get themselves into the mess when it could have been avoided. For some, maybe it wasn't really their doing (like the one without a birth cert after 20 years), but for some others, the situations they faced were avoidable. The "easy way out" they chose turned out to be even more complicated than they could ever imagine.

Monday, 26 September 2016

The talk for teenagers, and another day at the clinic

Over the weekend, there was a sex awareness program for teenagers called PROGRAM PEKERTI, jointly organised by LPPKN Perak and Family Wellness Club at YMCA Ipoh. Just like their previous similar program held in March this year, I was again invited to fill up a slot to share my experiences in dealing with HIV+ people. My slot was on the 2nd day of the 2 day program, so yesterday I went to carry out my part.

Apparently there were supposed to be 28 teenagers from 2 schools. And indeed 28 students turned up on Saturday. However on the 2nd day, all 16 students from one of the schools, made a disappearing act, together with their accompanying teacher. So during my slot yesterday, there were only 12 students attending. But the show must go on, and so we proceeded with the 12 teenagers. Creating awareness in even ONE person is still better than none at all.

This morning I was back at Hospital Raja Permaisuri Bainun for clinic duty. I was told by the nurse that there weren't any cases to be referred to us today, but I still waited for a while for a trainee volunteer to come, as I had promised to introduce him to the staff nurse at the ID Clinic. You see, this trainee volunteer is also a medical student and he is now carrying out a project on PLHIV for his studies, and needed to get the cooperation of the ID clinic.

While I was waiting for the trainee volunteer, a staff nurse from one of the wards called, seeking my help. They had a case of a PLHIV who needed to be sent to a shelter home in Penang, but needed transport. I told the staff nurse I'd go to the ward as soon as I was done at the ID clinic. 

So after introducing the trainee volunteer to the staff nurse of the ID clinic, I headed over to the ward to visit the PLHIV and to discuss with the nurses there. For the past few cases of guys needing transport to go to shelter homes, I'd just buy their train tickets and they'd go on their own. This time however, I was told that arrangement was not possible. You see, the PLHIV, an Orang Asli guy, needs full supervision. He even forgets if he has eaten. He may even forget where he's going and so if we were to send him off by bus or train, he may just end up lost.

I asked the nurses if he had any relatives at all. I was thinking, even if they refuse to take care of him at home, they may be willing to just accompany him on a bus or train to Penang. But I was told that his family members do not wish to have anything to do with him. He was married before, and had children from that marriage, but his ex-wife and children aren't even bothered to know how he's doing. He has a mother, but when the nurses called her to inform her that they'd need to send her son to a shelter home, she just told them to go ahead, without even wanting to know where, when or how.

The nurses initially thought I'd be able to make arrangements by tomorrow. They probably thought we have full time staff in Buddies and so it shouldn't be a problem. But we don't have anyone full time, most of the volunteers work 9 - 5 and so we can't simply go as and when we are needed. Anyway, I told the nurses, I'd have to ask around and find out if and when any of my male volunteers are free to send this guy to the shelter home.

Just as I got home, the staff nurse called again. She said she managed to arrange for the guy to be sent by ambulance. Under normal circumstances, the ambulance can only be used to transfer a patient from one hospital to another, not to send a discharged patient to a shelter home. That was what I've been told each time they seek my help to send HIV cases to shelter homes. However, due to his inability to be independent, and with no family members taking him, they decided to be a bit lenient this time. Thank goodness.

Monday, 5 September 2016

Freemarket at Kg Ulu Geroh, Gopeng

Pertubuhan Wanita Prihatin Perak (PWPP) organised its 6th freemarket yesterday. The first one was held in March this year at Chenderong near Batu Gajah. The second one in April at Kg Changkat Tin, Tg Tualang. The third in May at Kg Suak Petai, Manong. The fourth in June at Ashby Flats, Ipoh. The fifth in August at Manjung. This time, for the first time ever, we ventured deep into Orang Asli settlements, in Kg Ulu Geroh, Gopeng.

I've actually been to the place twice before, the first in 2011 for an awareness campaign. During that time, there was a part where we had to drive off-road before getting back onto the tarred road, and so we were advised to go in a 4 wheel drive. That was my first time ever driving a manual 4WD (it was a Pajero) and it turned out I was the only female driver. The second time I went to the very same kampung, it was for a trekking trip to see the rafflesia. The tour operators drove us there.

Having been there twice, I kind of knew what to expect. When a few PWPP committee members went to recce the place and to discuss with the head of the community about our freemarket project, I didn't worry at all about driving there in my faithful old Kenari. We finally fixed the date for 4th September, asked their tok batin for the number of families staying in the community so we could prepare the necessary amount of food items to bring along.

So on the morning of 4th September 2016, we met up near the Gopeng roundabout, before we went in convoy to the Orang Asli settlement. The drive took between 20 to 30 minutes.

Also joining us were staff of Klinik Kesihatan Gopeng, who provided free medical check-up (plus papsmear).

Despite the worries of a few members of the organisation about going deep into Orang Asli settlement with the different culture etc, things went really well. In fact, the Orang Asli people there were obviously more disciplined and well-mannered when it came to taking the free items we brought along with us, compared to the supposedly more "civilized" areas we went to before. Nobody even attempted to try get something while we were setting things up despite us working in open spaces, and even when we told them that they could start choosing the items, they didn't rush to grab the things. In fact, they asked first if they had to pay, and when we said everything was free, they asked if they were only entitled to one item each. And the best part was, we received more "terima kasih" here in the Orang Asli community, compared to the other places we've been to before. So seriously, if you think the Orang Asli people are less civilized, think again.

Overall, it was a wonderful experience. For an adventure and nature loving person like me, this is the kind of place I'd go to whenever I need a break from work. (In fact after the freemarket was over, I did go to the nearby Ulu Geruntum waterfalls for a short while, that was the place where I did waterfall abseiling slightly over 4 years ago.) I'm pretty sure the other volunteers too enjoyed the experience of organising a freemarket for the Orang Asli community. Beautiful place. Calming rivers. Lovely people.

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Financial assistance: Where and when to draw the line

Having been a volunteer with The Buddies Society of Ipoh for about 12 years now, and having been assigned to over 70 clients throughout those years (including those who have now passed away and those who I'm no longer in touch with), I've had to deal with all kinds of clients' attitude. There are those who really put to good use all the assistance they're getting, there are those who think that helping them is what we're paid to do so we must help them each and every time no matter what their problems are, there are those who misuse the financial assistance they're getting without feeling any guilt even after we find out about them.

For the record, the main objective of The Buddies Society of Ipoh is to provide moral support to people living with HIV and their families. Financial assistance was out of the question back then as we ourselves had to depend on fundings from the public. However, as time went by, and as we found out some cases of our clients in desperate need of financial help, we passed the hat around to collect donations on a case to case basis.

When fundings became more stable, and realising the importance of education, we decided that our financial assistance would be more in the form of supporting the children of identified PLHIV families for their basic schooling needs. That was when we set up the Children Education Fund (CEF). The fund is used to cover basic schooling needs, mainly the annual back-to-school expenses. Later, we came up with the Education Sponsorship for Children program, to help children of families needing monthly help.

So yes, financially, our help is more to see that these children are not deprived of education. So far, I'm satisfied with the results. Although we had a few school dropouts despite the help they're getting, seeing quite a number of these children continue their studies to higher learning institutions or at least to go for skill training courses, made all the effort worth it. And oh, I must say how happy I am that out of the 4 who either sat for their STPM or did their matriculation last year, 3 of them (2 boys and 1 girl) have been offered places at local universities. And the best part is that their respective sponsors agreed to help out with the initial registration fees and expenses.

Despite making it clear that our financial assistance is basically for their children's educational needs, there tend to be clients who'd try to take advantage of us. We give them money to pay for whatever payments necessary to the respective schools, they misuse the money for their personal needs (or sometimes not even their needs, but instead their wants). There was one particular case where the client asked for money to buy a handphone for her daughter, another asking us to pay for their electricity bills, and another client, when asked to list down her children's schooling needs, wrote down "motosikal RM2000" in the list. I wonder what they'd ask for next, if we gave what they asked for.

For the family misusing the school fees we gave them (the same family asked for handphone), we had no choice but to take them out of the sponsorship program. For those who asked for more than educational assistance, we just had to be firm and told them that our help is only for educational purposes. Of course from time to time, when there are cases of clients desperately needing financial help, we'd try to source for fundings for them (after proper assessment is done) either by getting donations or by channelling them to the rightful departments or relevant organisations. The money will not come from our own funds.

We now do have what we call a Clients' Welfare Fund, but that is only to cover for clients' hospital needs. Not to pay for their house rent, not to pay for their utility bills, not to pay for other needs.

We have our limits, and sometimes even when we make that clear to our clients, they either don't understand (or pretend not to understand) and still try their luck to ask for all sorts of things. That is why I always tell my volunteers to never lend them money because once you do, chances are they'd be asking for money again and again.

Having said that, I must mention that most of our clients do not take advantage of us. Only a few of them do, but the ones who do, can really piss you off. Thank goodness the success stories managed to outweigh the frustrating ones. Otherwise I'd probably no longer be in this voluntary work.

With a few families already financially independent, and a few more anticipated to be on the road to success in a few years time, I am satisfied with what I see so far. And I will stick to the lines already drawn as to the limit of financial assistance we should give.

Being compassionate doesn't mean we shouldn't be firm. And being firm is something I can be. Don't believe me? Ask my school juniors. ;)

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

A Fun Day Out

After a few months of planning, the annual Buddies Family Day for this year finally took place on Sunday 7th August 2016 at Refarm Kampar. Somehow our Family Day always seem to clash with the Ipoh International Run... some years back, we organised our Family Day on the first Sunday of July, Ipoh Run too was on the same day, we organised ours in September, Ipoh Run too was on the same day, and this time we chose first Sunday of August, it so happened Ipoh Run was again held on the same day. And since our Buddies Center is in Ipoh Garden area, and the Ipoh Run covers Ipoh Garden area as well, there were a few road closures  leading to our meet-up point near our center.

But things still ran quite smoothly. We set 8 am as the meet-up time, and targetted to make a move by 8.30 am. Despite a few volunteers having to go one whole round to get to our center, we made a move at 8.20 am.

We had arranged for 2 busses. One bus to pick up volunteers and clients/families from Ipoh and another bus to pick up volunteers and clients/families from Taiping. Those staying nearer to or south of Kampar had to arrange for their own transport to get to the place. The Ipoh bus also made 2 stops to pick up 2 families along the way.

The Ipoh bus managed to reach the place at about 9.20 am while the Taiping bus got there about 20 minutes later. I had earlier ordered nasi lemak from a client of mine staying nearby (this clients sells nasi lemak in the mornings as her main source of income) so while waiting for everyone else to get there, and while waiting to arrange for the tickets etc, we gave the families a pack of nasi lemak and a bottle of mineral water each. My fellow volunteers commented that the nasi lemak was really good, and after I managed to sit down and have my breakfast (after settling all other matters), I must say I agree with them.

While we were distributing the entrance tickets to everyone, a client of mine who had gone to the toilet earlier looked worried. She said she hung her handbag at the toilet, and forgot about it when she got out, and later when she went to look for it, it was no longer there. When everyone else had gone in, we were still outside trying to look for her handbag. No luck. All her children's ICs were in her handbag. Finally I told her to just get in with her family members and I told the security about the lady's handbag, and to notify us if anyone handed over the handbag to the office. I knew the lady would no longer be in the mood to enjoy the day, but she came all the way with her 8 children, might as well let her children enjoy themselves at least. Later in the afternoon, the client came to me to inform me that the security called her and told her that someone had handed over her handbag at the office. Thank goodness!

Anyway, we just wanted our clients and their family members to relax and enjoy themselves, so we didn't plan for any games or anything like that, just free and easy. Up to them if they wanted to just play in the pool, or to walk around the place, or just to see the animals. To be sure nobody went home empty handed, we held a lucky draw during lunch. We had more than enough prizes for everybody, courtesy of donors who gave pre-loved toys or even new stuff, and so the lucky draw was just to determine who got what.

In total 131 people attended our Family Day, consisting of 19 volunteers and 112 family members of 21 different clients. 13 of them are my clients but with the exception of 2 clients, I know all the other clients who attended even though they aren't my clients.

The clients, and especially their children, seemed to enjoy themselves. For some of these families, the only time they get to go for outings like this one is during the Buddies Annual Family Day.

It was a fun day out, not only for our clients and their family members, but also for us volunteers.