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)

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Visiting the pregnant girl

It has been 2 months since I last visited Dahlia and her children. It was during the last visit that Dahlia told me about her daughter’s pregnancy.

The girl, 15, had yet to sit for her PT3. But since her pregnancy wasn’t too obvious yet at that time, she went ahead to school and sat for all her PT3 papers.

During the early stages after being raped, the girl somewhat became rebellious and even tried to run away from home without telling her mother what her problem was. Dahlia suspected something was amiss, but it took her a while before she found out that her daughter was raped by a “friend”. Police reports were made, and fearing the worse, Dahlia brought her daughter to the clinic for tests, and lo and behold, her worse fears came true. The girl was pregnant.

Yesterday I went to visit the family again, to send over some supply of diapers for Dahlia’s 2 youngest children, and to check on how they’re doing, especially the pregnant girl. Frankly, I was expecting her to stay in her room throughout my visit.

But to my surprise, when I arrived, the whole family greeted me, with Dahlia’s 4 younger kids all waiting at the door while Dahlia came out to unlock the gate. They seldom get visitors (almost none at all), so having me visit them at home excited them.

The 15 year old girl stayed on in the living room, together with Dahlia, myself and her other siblings. I think she has trusted me enough by now to know that I was there to support them, not to judge or lecture them.

Both Dahlia and her daughter looked calm despite the problems they are facing. I felt comfortable enough to joke around with them, and it was so good to see the girl’s sweet smile. Dahlia has even planned for the girl’s future, registering her for a skill training course, enabling the girl to get a certificate in 2 years time, which can later on be used to continue her studies to diploma level. The registration will be in December, before the girl delivers, but her course will only start in March next year, ample time to get back into shape after she delivers the baby.

Dahlia’s second child, a 13 year old boy, wasn’t at home when I visited. He went to a kelas mengaji nearby. The boy has been doing very well in school, getting first in class for the recent school exams, and being very active in his school’s co-curricular activities.

Dahlia herself, finding it difficult to get a proper job because she has toddlers at home she needs to take care of, in addition to the fact that no public transport are available at her housing area (the only way is to call a taxi, which she can’t afford to do too often), has resorted to working at home, giving tuition to a few school children. May not be much, but at least she does get some extra income to add to the welfare aid she’s been getting.

By the looks of things, I strongly believe the future of this family is very promising. No doubt when I first got this case, Dahlia felt she and her children had no future. When her daughter was raped, she felt even worse. But all they need is SUPPORT. And that makes a whole world of difference. They look much more empowered now. And with that, comes confidence.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Seeing the positive of a negative situation

When Ana first called me, I was quite confused initially. She mentioned she went to the ID clinic for an appointment for her 12 year old daughter, but at the same time she told me that she herself had been confirmed negative. Then she told me that her daughter was also negative. OK, so why did she get an appointment at the ID clinic?

Apparently Ana’s late husband died more than 7 years ago of AIDS-related illnesses. Ana and all her children got tested and all of them were confirmed negative. Recently Ana’s 12 year old daughter got sick, and worried that the girl may have been infected, Ana got her tested for HIV and she got mixed results… reactive on one and non reactive on the other. In the absence of risk factor (the mother was confirmed negative on every test done), the girl’s blood sample was sent to Penang for further confirmation and they fixed an appointment for Ana to bring her daughter to see the specialist in Ipoh GH.

That was when the nurse at the Ipoh ID Clinic gave Ana my number, knowing that Ana may require some assistance for her children’s schooling needs. Ana herself was at first quite hesitant about calling me, but after a few days, braved herself and finally made that call.

A visit to her home was needed to enable me to assess her situation. I wanted to bring along a few trainee volunteers with me, so I purposely arranged for the visit to be done on a Saturday. But after I fixed the date, I found out that all 3 trainee volunteers were unable to join me. Ah well, alone again… as always.

So today I went to visit. Ana stays in a rented kampong house and works as a cleaner in various individual homes, getting paid RM30 each time.

Initially when her late husband was diagnosed HIV+, only the 2 of them plus a few of her husband’s family members knew about it. However, when he died at home, with the obvious visit & instructions given by the health department people, the whole kampong knew on the spot. What with the use of clorox to bathe him, use of plastic outside the kafan, the burning of clothes of the deceased and whatever other things he used (including pillows and mattresses), I am not surprised Ana’s family got shunned after the incident. (This was circa 2006 or 2007. During the past 2 years, I have attended courses given to health department staff in handling HIV cases, and they were specifically told NOT to do what was done in the above case.)

According to Ana, for at least 2 years they had to endure discrimination from her kampong folks. No invitation to kenduris, and when Ana worked at her uncle’s food stall for a few months, the customers refused to eat/drink there for as long as Ana was still there, even if it was just to wash the dishes. All these, despite the fact that Ana and her children had all been tested NEGATIVE.

Every time any of the children fell ill, the kampong folks would immediately assume that it had something to do with HIV.

But guess what? They held their heads high and went on with life as usual. They did not run away from the problems, they simply faced them head on. Despite all the financial constraints, they have survived so far.

The mixed results in the daughter’s blood tests were a blessing in disguise. Because of that, Ana brought her daughter to see the doctor in Ipoh GH. And although there will be no further appointments for her at the ID clinic, it was during that one visit that the nurse suggested to her to give me a call. Otherwise she wouldn’t have found out about Buddies and I wouldn’t have found out about her case. And her children wouldn’t have been able to get help from our Children Education Fund.

Now they can get the help and support they need.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Marrying a burden…

I’ve been assigned to so many clients ever since I joined Buddies in 2004. Basically almost all of them were/are women, either widowed, or divorced.

While there were some, like the late Sofie and Shila, who didn’t even consider remarrying after getting a divorce (Sofie) or after her husband died (Shila), quite a few felt that they NEEDED to get married, even if it was just for the sake of getting married, and nothing else.
I remember once, while driving the late Lily to the hospital, she talked about the need to get married, implying that a woman simply cannot survive without a husband. (she didn’t know I wasn’t married, of course)

Then there was Jah, who was such a happy-go-lucky person. She managed to get over her past bitter memories (of losing both husband and son within a short period) with the support of her whole family. Then came a guy who she saw as her prince charming coming to her rescue, and they got married, without either family’s consent. Her family was against the marriage because the guy didn’t even have a job to support Jah. His famiy was against the marriage because Jah was HIV+.

Despite family objections, they went ahead and got married anyway, in southern Thailand, & never got the marriage registered in Malaysia. Now they are both rejected by their families, without any fixed income and have a baby to feed. And I am not even done talking about all the problems Jah is facing now.

Then there’s Hana. When her case was first referred to me, her 2nd husband was still alive, although already in critical condition. He passed away not long after that, and Hana was having financial problems supporting her children. But after we arranged for some financial help, especially for her schooling children, Hana finally managed to cope. Things seemed to be going well for her… she got a job, her children were covered under our sponsorship program, her parent’s house (where she was staying) was repaired using her father’s EPF money. I thought this family was becoming more and more independent…

UNTIL… one day when quietly she married a guy who’s only 3 years older than her eldest daughter. All the while when she needed help she’d call or text me without fail, yet when she got married, she never bothered to even tell me about it. Worse, the guy didn’t have a job, and in fact he was told by his father to marry Hana because Hana had a job with fixed income. Errr… so who’s supposed to support who?

Now, with an another child in addition to Hana’s 3 earlier children, and the husband still not working (in fact his young friends use their house as their “port” to lepak), Hana never seem to have enough… always asking for help from her assigned buddy. She’s always asking for diapers, milk etc. She even tried to ask for cash. Latest is that she asked her buddy to lend her some money, purportedly to start a business with her husband. Based on what we’ve seen so far, I doubt very much the money will be used to business purposes. I told the buddy that lending money to Hana was a big NO.

If these ladies want to get married, by all means, go ahead. But don’t get married just for the sake of having a husband. The guy doesn’t have to be rich, but at least get someone who has some sense of responsibility.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Visiting 3 clients in a day…

While I was getting ready to fly to Johor last Friday, 2 calls came in from unfamiliar numbers, seeking help. They got my number from the nurse at the Ipoh ID clinic. Before that an old client, Helena, texted me, saying that she needed to pay for her children’s books for next year. The particular school that her children go to, asked for the students to pay up for next year’s books before the school holidays.

On Sunday, while I was still in Johor, another call came in, again from an unfamiliar number. Like the earlier 2 cases, she too got my number from the ID clinic. Looks like my number is “hotter” than the Buddies hotline. To all 4 ladies, I told them I’d call them once I got home.

I got home on Monday, so on Tuesday, I called all 4 ladies. First up was Ros, who was at the hospital, accompanying her husband who had been warded since Friday last week. Since she said she’d probably be at the hospital for quite some time as her husband’s condition was quite critical, I told her I’d visit her at the hospital the next day (today).

Next up, I called Ruby. Ruby stays in Ipoh, and when I asked if I could visit her at home, she said ok, provided I don’t mention anything about hiv if her daughter’s around, as her daughter doesn’t know anything about her hiv.

Then I called Ana, who stays out of Ipoh. Her case is also slightly different as neither she nor her children are HIV positive. It was her husband, who died 7 years ago due to AIDS-related illnesses. Apparently the whole kampong found out that he died of AIDS, and worse, even his death cert indicated AIDS as cause of death, and so Ana had to go through all sorts of problems despite being tested negative herself. I will need to properly plan a visit to her house, as she stays in a kampong outside of Ipoh.

After calling Ana, I called Helena. Most of the other children I have handled before require payments for books etc only after school reopens, not before, and so I found it quite odd that she needed to pay for her children’s books before the school term for this year ends. Since Helena mentioned she’d be coming to the hospital today, I told her to bring a copy of the letter from the school regarding the above. I was planning to go to the hospital anyway to see Ros, I might as well meet up with Helena and get the letter.

So yes, today I went to the hospital although I wasn’t on clinic duty. I initially I thought of seeing Helena first, get the letter from her and then proceed to the ward to see Ros. But when I called Helena, she said she was still on the way. I might as well meet up with Ros first.

And so meet up with Ros I did. Her husband was still in the ward, his condition quite bad. Ros herself had been tested negative, but the last test done was 6 years ago. Her husband had defaulted his hospital appointments & HAART treatments since 2012, and is only now back at the hospital after his condition worsened. The couple has 6 children. The eldest is now studying at a Teachers Training College. The second, having only completed form 4 at school, is doing odd jobs. The third is doing accounting at a MARA College, while the younger 3 are all still schooling. So none of the children are able to help out the family financially yet. With the husband now unable to work, and Ros herself, who usually gets an income from baby-sitting children, is currently unable to do her job as she needs to take care of her husband at the hospital. The children are on their own at home right now, except for the youngest, an 8 year old boy, who had to be sent to the home of Ros’ parents temporarily. This family definitely needs help with the children’s schooling needs. I told Ros to inform me of any latest updates about her husband’s condition so I can follow up by visiting her at home later.

While I was talking to Ros, Helena called to inform me she had arrived, so I went over to see her, had a short chat, and got the letter from her.

Later in the afternoon I went to visit Ruby. Based on the address she had given me earlier, I depended on my GPS to show me the way. When I arrived at her house, the door was open, and I could hear the TV was on, but when I gave the salam, nobody answered. So I decided to call, and after a few rings, she finally answered. She was actually watching TV while waiting to go fetch her daughter from work, and while waiting she slept in front of the TV, which was why she didn’t answer when I gave my salam earlier.

And her daughter who was at work? Her 15 year old daughter who decided to do a part time job to help earn some extra income while waiting for her form 3 exam results. She had not paid her school’s PTA fees etc, and was feeling quite embarrassed being asked about it by her class teacher. She’s also concerned that her PT3 results may be held back later if the amount is not paid soon.

Ruby also has another problem. She is in the process of filing for divorce from her present husband (her second marriage, she got hiv from her first husband who died 8 years ago), the documents are all ready, BUT she has yet to submit the documents as she needs to pay RM100 for that purpose, and for the moment, she still can’t afford it from the money she gets selling nasi lemak by the roadside every morning. Bear in mind, she also needs to pay for her house rental and utilities.

Anyway, I told her not to worry about her daughter’s schooling needs, as we Buddies can cover the costs through our Children Education Fund. In fact, before I left I gave her some money to settle what she still owes to her daughter’s school.

As I was about to go off, Ruby cried, thanking me for helping her out. I gave her a hug, knowing pretty well she needed it very much.

That definitely won’t be my last visit to her house.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

3rd National AIDS Conference: Kuantan 11-12 October 2014