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)

Saturday, 10 March 2018

Helping clients to become independent

A client texted me yesterday, asking if Buddies could provide her with monthly financial assistance. Hmm... I always tell my clients that the only financial assistance Buddies may provide is for children’s education, and maybe on a case-to-case basis, for transportation when clients whose hospital appointments are quite far from their homes.

In the first place, financial assistance was not the objective when Buddies was initially set-up. Our main objective had always been (and still is) to provide moral and emotional support to people living with HIV, and their family members, if need be. The idea of the education fund came about only later, when Buddies came across poor clients whose children almost had to quit school because they couldn’t afford to pay for bus fares and other schooling needs.

Despite whatever I mentioned above, from time to time, when I do come across clients who need more, I do try to get help for them, depending on what they need. Those who remember the late Sofie, may remember that I did go out of the way to get more help for her. She was too weak to work. In fact when I was first introduced to her, she was bed-ridden. With 4 school-going children, and they had nothing to depend on, I felt obliged to help. We couldn’t use funds from Buddies’ bank accounts, so I sought for outside help, mainly from my friends. And since my friends were already aware of the voluntary work that I do, thankfully I always get good response from them whenever I mention about these cases. In Sofie’s case, I like helping her, because despite being unwell and weak, she did not want to be too dependent on outside help. Whenever she felt slightly better, she’d go out and try to earn some income of her own. When she mentioned about wanting to sell nasi lemak in the mornings, I had no problem getting donations from friends for the initial capital needed.

Sofie was not the only person who had help, although I must admit I loved helping her because of her attitude. Whenever any of my clients plan to start off a small business as their source of income, I’d try to get help for them, depending on their needs. Those who can sew, I’d get donations to buy sewing machines. Those who wanted to start a home-based baking business; I’d get donations to buy them ovens etc. As long as the donations are used as investments for a better future for these clients, I would help them.

However, for clients who are able-bodied but always using HIV to come out with all sorts of excuses why they can’t work, that’s where I draw the line. If they don’t make any attempts on their part to improve their lives, I don’t see why I should go out of my way to help them. It’s different if they are too weak and already bedridden, and don’t have any support from own family members.

As for the client who texted me yesterday, despite being infected with HIV, she is still able to work if she wants to. In addition to that, she’s staying with her parents who are supportive, and so no worries about having to pay for house rental and utilities. Her one and only daughter is in school, and she does get help from our education fund. Asking us to provide her with monthly financial assistance? No way! I have clients who are in a much worse situation than hers, yet they don’t ask for such assistance.

The main point of consideration whenever we help, is that we must help them to become independent, NOT dependent on us. That’s why we do help with the children’s education, because the best investment for a better future is in their education.

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

14 years as a volunteer

It is already February 2018 and I have yet to publish a single posting in my blog this year. While I am aware that not as many people read blogs nowadays (at least not MY blog), I do have a small number of donors who aren’t my FB friends (most of my updates are now posted on FB), who deserve to get some updates from time to time. So I can’t abandon my blog altogether.

The Buddies Society of Ipoh will be 14 this year. Although Buddies of Ipoh was formed earlier in the late 90’s as a wing under the Perak Family Health Association (back then known as Perak Family Planning Association), we registered as a society officially in 2004 and since then we were no longer under PFHA. I joined the association the very same year, in 2004, not far off from the date of Buddies’ official date of registration. So it’s easy for me to keep track of how many years I’ve been with Buddies, all I need to do is to take a look at the society’s certificate of registration.

To date I’ve been assigned to over 80 cases, which I believe is the highest number of clients ever assigned to any of our volunteers. During the recent board meeting, some of the male volunteers mentioned that for most of the cases assigned to them, after a few follow-ups, the clients are no longer interested to keep in touch. I guess all they needed were some initial info they wanted to know, after that they no longer wanted anyone to call them to ask how they’re doing etc.

I guess the ladies are different, especially when they are single mothers having to take care of their children and are left with nothing but the virus by their late husbands. Many of them need some sort of support system, especially those whose families aren’t aware of their HIV status.

Of the 80 over cases assigned to me to date, 13 of them have passed on. A few have moved to other states (therefore no longer covered by Buddies) and some I’ve lost touch with (changed phone numbers and never informed me and defaulted hospital appointments as well). I am however still actively in touch with 30 of them. I do reduce my visits/calls to clients who are becoming more and more independent, particularly those whose children previously covered by our Education Sponsorship program, who are now already working and therefore able to support their respective families. That’s the whole purpose of our support service… to help them become independent instead of becoming dependent on us.

Yes, there are some who tend to ask for everything they can think of the moment we start helping them, but I always tell them that our financial assistance is limited to their children’s education. And if they still keep trying to ask for more, I usually just ignore, especially when I know they are actually capable of working.

All in all, my 14 years with Buddies had been an eye-opening experience, and while I do admit sometimes it can get frustrating when some of the clients I try to help aren’t even bothered to put in any effort on their part, I have no regrets whatsoever becoming a volunteer. It was the best decision I made, not only for the families I try to help, but also for my own good.

Friday, 15 December 2017

Back-to-school-shopping 2017

It's mid-December and I'm done with this year's back-to-school-shopping (BTSS). 6 rounds of shopping. 5 different venues. 40 children. 23 families. Close to RM8K spent.

Since I don't visit my clients as often as I used to, I usually take the opportunity to catch up with my clients during BTSS, to find out how they and their children are doing.

Starting off this year's BTSS was Kak Aida. Since Kak Aida had to come to Ipoh for her hospital appointment, I made special arrangements to take her and her son to shop for the boy's schooling needs on the very same day in Ipoh. That way, Kak Aida didn't have to come to Ipoh too often, and I didn't have to drive all the way to her place to take the boy shopping. It was a win-win situation for the both of us. When Kak Aida's case was first referred to me, all her 3 boys were still in school. The youngest boy will be in form 5 next year, so this year's would be the last BTSS for them.

Round 2 of BTSS was also in Ipoh. Since a client of mine, Yana, who stays in Grik needed to come to Ipoh for her hospital appointment, I made arrangements for the other Ipoh group recipients to shop for their schooling needs on the same day. But the Ipoh group is smaller this year, because many of the previous years' recipients are no longer in school. Other than Yana's one and only child, the others were Julia's 2 youngest children (forms 4 and 2) and Fuzi's HIV+ son, Ijam who will be in form 4 next year. Fuzi's youngest son, 11, is still unable to go to school because of his citizenship status.

For round 3 of BTSS, I headed over to Kuala Kangsar. 4 families were supposed to join this round of BTSS, but one of them didn't turn up till the end. Another client almost missed the boat because she totally forgot. She only realised it when I called to ask her if she was coming. Since she was stuck at home having to take care of unwell family members (MIL, SIL, uncle, you name 'em), she quickly told her 2 daughters to get on the motorbike and meet me at the agreed place. Only one of the girls was eligible for BTSS this year since the older daughter just recently sat for her SPM. When I asked what her plans were after SPM results are announced, she told me she was planning to take up form six.

Round 4 of BTSS was held in Batu Gajah. There used to be a big group for my Batu Gajah BTSS, but this year, we only had 6 children from 4 families since many of the children have left school and there were no new clients with school-going children.

BTSS round 5 was held in Kampar, not only for my Kampar clients but also my Sungkai clients who agreed to come all the way to Kampar. 5 families involved this time, but only one child from each family. 3 families with only the youngest child still in school, while 2 others just joined this year's BTSS since their children will start primary school in 2018.

The final round of this year's BTSS was held in Taiping, with the biggest group involving 17 children from 6 families. Yah, who used to "star" in my blog during my early blogging years (remember Yah Ah Ngau & Mr Darling?) this time came with her 2 daughters. Her eldest is now doing her practical training while her one and only son (the ADHD boy) quit school and is doing odd jobs. The youngest girl, who I used to visit when she was still a toddler, will be in year 6 next year. How time flies.

Another client, Dahlia, came with 6 of her 7 children. (Her eldest Adila, the young mom who was raped and gave birth when she was 15, is now studying at a polytechnic somewhere). The youngest is still a toddler, so no school stuff for him. So we had to shop for the schooling needs of 5 of her children, from kindergarten right up to form 5. Still a long way to go for her.

Ok, time to submit my claims. I'm also beginning to get the lists of the children's various fees and workbooks, so yep, will need to start calculating those as well.

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.