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, 28 March 2007

When the poor need help...

Although my NGO’s main objective is to provide moral and emotional support to people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA), whenever necessary we do take care of their welfare, especially the single mothers amongst the PLWHAs. They are not only poor in monetary terms, they are also poor in terms of education and knowledge. They don’t know where to get help. They don’t know how to get help. So we help them where we can.

One source of financial aid is the Welfare Department. Just to be sure we get things right, we called one of the higher ranking officers from the state welfare department to give us a talk – to explain to us what are the funds available, who qualifies, how to apply and whatever other necessary info.

This officer explained that the PLWHA ladies can qualify for welfare aid because they are single mothers without sufficient income, and not because they have HIV. That’s a fair statement, I thought… until he continued, “Sebab HIV ni penyakit sendiri cari!” (HIV was something they asked for). To which a male colleague of mine quicky responded, “Mana ada encik, perempuan selalu kena pasai dia punya suami tak guna punya orang!” (the ladies usually get it because their husbands are useless)

That aside, the talk enlightened us on quite a number of things. It gave us hope that there are many things our poor PLWHAs are entitled to… bantuan am, bantuan kanak-kanak, etc. We were even told that it is our responsibility as human beings to highlight these cases to the welfare department for further action. “Berdosa kalau kita diamkan” (It’s a sin if we just kept quiet about it), so he said. We were also told that we didn’t have to submit separate applications for the various categories as the welfare officers doing the house visits will assess themselves what kind of financial aid can be given.

Ahh… such high hopes we were given!

However, in reality, whenever we do any follow ups for our PLWHA clients asking about the status of their application, we get asked, “Kenapa dia orang tak telefon sendiri?” (Why didn’t they call us themselves?) Or sometimes if the approval is for bantuan am of a measly RM120 per month when the applicant actually has 5 children and should also qualify for bantuan kanak-kanak, they’ll say, “Dia tak minta pun.” (She didn’t apply for that.) Or the application has been approved a few months ago and the funds are already available, we are told the officers have yet to find the time to hand over the money to the approved applicants… “If they need the money urgently please get them to come to our office.” Yeah right, to go to your office they need money for bus fares. Worse, when they go to your office, the officer in charge is not in and other officers simply cannot help out. Waste of bus fares when they can use the money for food!

However, I do admit there are a few officers from certain districts who are really dedicated and committed. Those whose files are handled by these few officers are lucky indeed.

Another source of funds for the PLWHAs is the EPF withdrawal for permanent disability. Most of the cases we help out for this involve families where the husbands are already too weak to work and the wives have to take over the responsibility as the bread-winner. So, we help them to apply for the husband’s EPF withdrawal. The submission of the form must be accompanied by a form signed by a doctor confirming the nature of illness of the applicant. Of course they’d need that, otherwise anyone can simply apply to withdraw all their EPF savings.

Most of the people trying to withdraw their EPF under this scheme are those who are poor. They get medical treatment from government hospitals because they can’t afford to go to private hospitals or clinics. Great! That means they can just bring the form to the hospital during their next appointment and get the doctor to sign the form, right?

WRONG!

The doctor they see in their next appointment may be a new doctor who doesn’t know their medical history. He/she will have to go through the file before he/she can write the report. Those who need the medical report signed by the doctor need to go through certain procedures.

They now need to go to this specific counter, hand in their application together with copies of their hospital cards etc. The application will then go through the respective clinics where the applicant goes for treatment where their medical records are kept. In a month or so, when the report is ready, the hospital will contact the applicants to come and get their reports. The doctor signing the report has to be answerable if anything goes wrong. OK lah… fair enough. It may take a bit longer but at least the applicant can still easily get their report, right?

WRONG AGAIN!

When they ask for the medical report, they will need to pay RM40 to get the M.O. to sign. And if they want a specialist to sign, (so that later they need not go to EPF panel clinic when their application gets submitted to EPF) they will need to pay RM80.

Oh dear, now they need to pay some money to withdraw some money which in the first place is their own money. (Duh! Am I making sense here?)

For the average person, paying the RM40 or RM80 may not be a problem if they really need to withdraw their EPF savings. But for the poor, every single sen counts! Just 3 weeks ago, one PLWHA called up one of my colleagues seeking help. She was at the hospital, about to submit an application for her husband’s medical report for EPF withdrawal purposes, but she couldn’t afford to pay RM40. My colleague, a lawyer, thinking that maybe this lady had RM40 in hand but may be left with no money if she pays, asked her to pay first and promised he’d go to her house and reimburse the money to her after office hours. Guess what? This lady had no more than RM5 in hand. She had no choice but to come back to the hospital later after she got the RM40.

So, if nobody helps them out, what becomes of these people? DIE lah! (OK… a bit exaggerated there maybe… but still possible kan?)

8 comments:

Apandi said...

I can understand the frustration and I salute you for your efforts. If, along the way you need someone to take pictures or something (I am not that good, but I do have the equipment and know how push its buttons) please get in touch. Oh, and some advance notice would be good as my schedule is tight, hence I do not formally join any groups or society.

raden galoh said...

Reading your writing I can feel the stress Pi.... U definitely have the greatest sabar...

Pi Bani said...

Apandi,
Thanks for the offer. However, since the people I'm dealing with are mostly HIV infected/affected, I don't think they'd appreciate someone coming along with me to take pictures of them. But who knows, maybe in future when any of them are ready to expose themselves to the world, I may consider...

Raden
So far insyaAllah I can handle the stress. But yes, it does get frustrating at times.

Anonymous said...

hi Pi bani

Stumbled across your blog and thought you are doing a great service to society, i am humbled. will definitely visit this blog regularly.

Chin

Pi Bani said...

Hi Chin
Thru this blog I'm hoping to make more people aware of the trials and tribulations of some unfortunate people out there who face so much discrimination.

Thanks for visiting, and yes, do drop by again.

Anonymous said...

i for one do not have ur patience, even to deal with red tape in my kids school makes me take deep breath many times...but i do like to go visit these unfortunate kids when i can, i am staying in seremban...u know anyone i can talk to abt this?

d3zulsmum

Pi Bani said...

d3zulsmum
My NGO is only Perak based. Am not too sure if there are any similar organisations in NS but I'm sure there are a few in KL. Why not check with Malaysian Aids Council (link to MAC provided in my blog under "Other Links")? For a start there is a Rumah Soleha in Cheras which houses quite a number of HIV infected/affected kids.

Anonymous said...

pi bani,

thanks for the info...yes i am familiar with rumah solehah in cheras as the company i work has adopted the house and we visit the house quite regularly...i will try the links you mentioned....

d3zulsmum