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, 30 June 2007

More phone calls... and the "tak makan saman" child...

OK, done with the tagging business, now back to my usual postings.

Actually after my NGO’s board meeting last Tuesday night, my task now is to call ALL my PLWHA clients to invite them to our Family Day outing due to be held on 5th August. Being the one with the most clients assigned looks like I’ve got to make the most calls! And the children attending the Family Day will mostly come from the families assigned to me.

I’ve already made a few calls. And some, coincidentally, so happened to call me these past few days. So I took the opportunity to tell them about the outing.

Jah is definitely coming: She had decided on that long before we decided on the date and venue!
Yah will be coming with her children: 1 adult + 4 children
Fuzi will also be coming with her children: 1 adult + 5 children
Zaki and Zainab will be coming with their 2 daughters: 2 adult + 2 children
Lily’s children will be coming with their new guardians and the guardian’s 2 kids: 2 adults + 6 children.

Yesterday I called Sha and Maria. Both sounded very keen and most likely they will be joining but will confirm by next week after they discuss with their respective husbands. If they do join, then there will be additional 2 adult + 2 children for Sha and 2 adults + 4 children for Maria.

That’s already 11 adults and 23 children – more than the total number of PLWHAs and children who joined us in last year’s family day. And I haven’t finished calling all my clients yet. I’ve still got to call Mrs. K, Nuri, Noni, Ifa and Ani. I do believe Mrs. K’s family would want to join.

You see, during last year’s Family Day, I didn’t have as many clients yet. And the ones already assigned to me couldn’t join for various reasons. Maria at that time just gave birth… Sha was heavily pregnant… Zainab had to work. The ones with many children were only assigned to me AFTER last year’s family day…. Yah, Fuzi, Mr. & Mrs. K, Lily…

Anyway, remember I said last Tuesday Yah called to tell me Angah got second in class? Well, yesterday, she called again. This time her eldest daughter, Kak Long, also insisted that Yah called me. You see, Kak Long too, got second in class! Yeah, I think they do expect presents from me…

I’m so happy for them! Despite all the difficulties the family had to face, the children did well in school. And since Yah has confirmed that she and her children will be joining the Family Day, I will congratulate the girls personally when I see them on that day.

But Yah’s son, Abang Chik, has problems in school. He never pays attention… he never listens… everything said to him goes in one ear and goes out the other. Class ends at 1.10 pm, by 1 pm he simply walks out of the class. Teacher calls him in; he’d still walk out as though he didn’t hear anything. He never does his homework no matter how you force him. His mother buys him pencils to use in school; he “donates” them to his friends, so he ends up with no pencil every alternate day. The school arranges for special classes for problematic students, he simply refuses to attend. You pull him into the class; he’ll just walk out again. The teachers are running out of ideas on what to do about him. His sisters got 2nd in their class, Abang Chik got first… from the bottom laa…

Abang Chik, if you remember, is in standard one this year: same with Angah. Initially they sat beside each other in the same class. But since Angah did well she was transferred to a better class.

Any of you had any experiences with children like Abang Chik? The tak makan saman type? Care to share tips?

Thursday, 28 June 2007

Generate RM127 the easy way!

Does the title of this post sound like one of those work-at-home money making opportunities?

Well, maybe it is in a way...

The difference is that for this one the money generated will be going to charity!

So yes, how would you like to contribute RM127 to an orphanage without having to fork out your own money? All you have to do is to complete at least seventeen of 27 sentences, and one taukeh by the name of Idham will contribute RM127 to the Darul Izzah orphanage! Easy, isn't it? And there are no wrong answers!

Actually I was tagged... by K.Ruby and Kata Tak Nak. Since this tag is for charity, I shall oblige. While I'm not fond of tags, I do support charity. I shall not tag anyone, but if any of my blog readers wish to participate, by all means, please do! Don't forget to leave a comment at Idham's blog after you've done so.

OK, so, I'd better get this done before something else crops up!

*These can be copied and pasted to your entry*

1. A person is only as good as ................... what's in his/her heart

2. Friendship is always ................. so meaningful when you have true friends.

3. To love is to.................... care for someone unconditionally.

4. Money makes me................... normal. Without them very susah lor...

5. I miss ....................... my school days (minus the exams laa...)

6. My way of saying I care is by .................... being there when I'm needed.

7. I try to spread love and happiness by................ caring for people.

8. Pick the flowers when................... you really need to do so. Otherwise just leave them as they are.

9. To love someone is to............................. do so unconditionally.

10. Beauty is........................... something that is not ugly. hehehe

11. When I was thirteen, what I remember the most was............ I was in form one lah!

12. When I was twenty one, I remember.................. wondering bilalah nak habis belajar ni...

13. I am most happy when ........................ something I've been worrying about ends well.

14. Nothing makes me happier than .................. having happy people around me.

15. If I can change one thing, I will change......... a frog into a handsome prince. (hahaha... kidding, kidding...)

16. If smiles were........ able to change bad guys to good guys.... then I..... would smile to every crook! (for the moment I don't think I dare do so... they may get other ideas...)

17. Wouldn't it be nice if we could....................... just snap our fingers to get things done! (I wouldn't have too many outstanding things to do if I could do that!)

18. If you want to ...... pee .......then you have to ....... go to the toilet lah! Jangan buat hal merata-rata!

19. Money is not everything but........................... lack of it can give me BIG headache.

20. The most touching moments I have experienced is.................. when an orphan came and suddenly just sat on my lap uninvited...

21. I smile when............ I am happy.

22. When I am happy, I....... smile. (hey, if A=B, then B=A right?)

23. If only I don't have to .........see other people's sufferings......, then....... I wouldn't be too appreciative of the good things that come my way.

24. The best thing I did yesterday was............ hug a 6 year old orphan.

25. If I ever write a book, I will give it this title, "The Untitled Book" :)

26. One thing I must do before I die is...................... to forgive everyone and hope that everyone forgives me too!

27. Doing this meme, I feel like ............... Hey! I just made RM127!! ;)

Wednesday, 27 June 2007

Things that upset, things that excite...

When SN called me last week asking me to help look into the case of a jobless PLWHA who has to look after 2 kids, I thought I heard SN mention that this PLWHA “kena tinggal dek laki” (left by the husband). Well, either I wrongly heard what SN told me, or SN wrongly mentioned it to me. Apparently this PLWHA “kena tinggal dek bini” (left by the wife). I guess I must have assumed that the kids were left behind with their mother.

On Monday, when I told SN I’d be coming to meet this PLWHA on Tuesday, then only SN gave me the name and then I realized that this was a man. His wife left him with the kids! My first thoughts were what kind of a mother is this?! I understand if she left because she thought this guy was a good-for-nothing kind of guy, with his drug addiction and all… BUT if she was responsible enough, she wouldn’t have left the kids with an irresponsible guy, would she?

No, I shouldn’t come to my own conclusions. I need to meet and talk to them first. Without knowing heads or tails it is not fair for me to make assumptions. There may be a thousand and one reasons for whatever had happened.

So yesterday morning I went to the HIV clinic. Upon seeing me, SN immediately called the methadone clinic telling the staff there to send Zali to the HIV clinic before giving him his methadone treatment for the day. We needed to twist his arm a bit, otherwise he wouldn’t come. He wouldn’t even set his foot at the hospital if not for the methadone treatment. And if SN didn’t use the “arm-twisting” method, he would have defaulted his HIV clinic appointments as well.

Zali knew about his HIV since 15 years ago even before he got married, and according to him, his wife knew about this but still married him anyway. I’m not sure how true this is (about the wife knowing his HIV status before marriage). They were blessed with 2 daughters – a 5 year old who is in kindergarten this year and the other is about 1 ½ years old. I asked if his wife and kids had gone for HIV tests. According to him, his wife refused to go for tests (based on the story I heard from SN, I think the wife feels ashamed to set her foot at the HIV clinic for fear people who know her may see her there) and Zali had not brought his 2 daughters for tests either. Zali said his children looked fine and therefore he didn’t see the need to bring them for tests.

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear… he was waiting for them to look sickly before he brings them for tests?!! He had known of his HIV for 15 years and he was waiting for the kids to fall sick before he brings them for tests?!! Argh!! Now I understand why SN was so mad with him! I begged him to bring his daughters for tests. I told him if he didn’t cooperate it will be very difficult for me to help get the much needed financial aid for his children. He has to come to the hospital everyday anyway to get his daily methadone treatment… so it’s not like he has to go out of his way to get his children tested. And it’s not like he has to pay… just get the letter from SN and go to the blood clinic.

I tried asking him how I could contact his wife. I figured if she was ashamed to meet SN at the HIV clinic, maybe I could arrange to meet her outside where people won’t suspect anything. If she didn’t want to have anything to do with him anymore, at least she needs to take care of herself (and her children, for heaven’s sake!) and go for tests just to be sure. I could tell Zali knew how to contact his wife; he just didn’t want to tell me or anyone else for that matter. All he said was, “Nantilah, saya cuba pujuk dia dulu.”

Well, his wife just left him about 2 weeks ago. She had been the family’s sole breadwinner for so many years. I guess she couldn’t take it any longer. But to leave behind her children as well??!!

You see, while the wife was out at work, Zali was home to take care of his children as he wasn’t working. His children became closer to him. I guess the children haven’t really missed their mother. And maybe for the time being the wife has not really missed her children yet. It’s just 2 weeks. I’m not sure how it will be later. If she doesn’t miss them at all then I don’t know what kind of a mother she is. I really wish to meet her so I know what’s in her mind.

For the time being, Zali isn’t working. To feed his children, he asked for money from his mother. His mother would scold him and nag, nag, nag… but she’d still give him some money. Not much, but he’s still surviving for the moment. I'm not sure how long he can last living that way. He has not been paying rental for the flat he’s staying in, and his utility bills are outstanding for 2 months. Not much, but still outstanding. He has thought of moving to his mother’s kampong house (his mother now stays with his younger sister in another town), but if he does that he will miss his methadone treatment – something he is not willing to let go of at the moment. (He even complained to SN that his HIV medication “potong steam” his methadone treatment…)

I don’t know yet how to help the children. I’ve told him that I’d only help him if he doesn’t miss his appointments and he brings his children for tests. I wouldn’t want any financial help to be misused by him to buy drugs instead and then he will start missing his methadone treatment. No way is help coming his way if he doesn’t want to help himself first. If he doesn’t take the necessary actions, then we may need to resort plan B to protect his children. What’s plan B did you ask? Heck I don’t know yet!!!

It’s really upsetting when innocent children suffer because of their parent’s doing.

Anyway, not long after I got home yesterday afternoon, my hand phone rang. It’s that James Bond ring tone again. Oh please, don’t let this be another problem, I hoped.

The call was from Yah. Like Fuzi, Yah is lucky that one of my blog readers is contributing a fixed amount every month into her bank account. It seems this month all welfare recipients are getting their financial aid late due to some technical problems. Yah had in fact tried to call the welfare office herself to enquire and was told, “Sabarlah sikit!” Yeah right, if the welfare staff got their salary late and told to “Sabarlah sikit”, I wonder what their reaction would be…

But Yah didn’t call me to complain about the welfare department. It was her 2nd daughter, Angah, who insisted that Yah called me. Angah came home from school and excitedly told her mother to “Taliponlah makcik, bagitau Angah dapat nombor 2.”

Yes, Angah got second in class in her recent school exams.

Well, Angah wasn’t the only one who got excited. I got excited as well. No, not so much because Angah got 2nd. Of course I am happy for her. I’d be happy if any of these children do well in their studies. It makes it worth all the effort of getting the much needed financial help for their schooling.

What made me excited was the fact that this seven year old girl herself asked her mother to call me and inform me of her achievement in school. Now THAT made it even more meaningful.

“Angah my dear, you really made my day… THANK YOU! Hugs, Makcik Pi.”

Monday, 25 June 2007

House visits/Phone calls: What do I say to them?

I was going through my PLWHA contact log book and noticed that most of my house visits are to the homes of Fuzi, Yah, Mr. K and Zainab. The first 3 families are not only poor, they also have babies. Zainab’s house is quite near my office and so visiting her is not a problem at all. Although Fuzi and Mr. K are staying out of Ipoh, I still visit them quite frequently as the journey usually takes just about ½ hour from Ipoh town. (some people need more time than that just to get to their office!) As for Yah, now that she has moved to further up north, my visits are limited although I still try to visit her as often as I can. My car would serve as a delivery van each time I visit them – full of groceries, diapers, milk powder and whatever other things donated.

When Rose was alive, she was the one I visited the most, not so much because she was poor, but mainly because she was very weak at that time (her cancer of the cervix had spread by then) and needed lots of support, physically and spiritually. My car was then more like an “ambulance”, ferrying Rose to and from the hospital.

The not-so-problematic PLWHA clients, I’d usually just pay them a courtesy visit from time to time, sometimes just once. Most of my contacts with my PLWHAs are by phone.

Before any first time house visits, I’d have to seek my clients’ permission first. Sometimes they do not wish us to visit them at home – they’d rather meet outside. Either they’re scared kepochi neighbours may ask all sorts of questions… or they have other family members staying in the same house who don’t know about their HIV. Coincidentally, the 2 clients whom I’ve met a few times but never visit them at home are both staying in the same kampong – Nuri and Ani. With the 2 of them giving the same reason why they don’t want me to visit at home (reason being kepochi neighbours), I have no reason not to believe them. And I can imagine what kind of neighborhood they live in.

Even those whom I visit, I cannot simply bring any of my colleagues (I’m supposed to bring trainee volunteers to come along with me when I visit my clients). I will have to assess the situation first – got kepochi neighbors or not… is the PLWHA comfortable or not if I come with another volunteer…

You see, sometimes when I bring along a fellow volunteer, the PLWHAs I visit don’t talk much. In cases where I need to know more details about their background, I’d usually go alone. They are usually more ready to open up if I go alone. Sometimes they even tell everything from A to Z – even if it meant to highlight their own weaknesses. Rose’s sisters were surprised when they found out I knew quite a lot of things about Rose’s past.

And even if I do go alone, whether or not they open up will also depend on who is at home during my visit. Maria for example, had so many things to say when I visited her, but the moment her husband got home (husband knows me, we met earlier at the hospital) suddenly she became quiet.

Ifa’s like that too. To get her to really talk things out, I will have to be with her alone – nobody else around. She has this female cousin who is very close to her, but even if only this female cousin was around when I met Ifa, Ifa would just say yes or no to any of my questions. Nothing further. But during that one time that I managed to talk to her alone, she even told me all her wrongdoings in the past.

The late Lily too, wouldn’t talk much whenever Roy was around. Thank goodness after she moved to another house, I managed to visit her quite often without having Roy hanging around so Lily could share her problems without having to filter whatever she needed to say.

But with people like Jah, the happy-go-lucky PLWHA, you can visit her anytime with anyone, she’d be happy to see you. And you won’t have much of a chance to talk – she’d be doing most of the talking! Even her mother commented that the house was always quiet when Jah wasn’t around.

Some people ask what do I say or do to make them talk. Well, not much really. I don’t know, somehow they just talk. I’m not their counselor. I’m just supposed to be their buddy. Someone they can trust and talk to without fear. The important thing is to gain their trust.

The first few meets all I do is just listen and listen, and only ask questions when there is a need. I don’t give them advice unless they ask for it. Only after I’ve gained their trust, I can slowly talk some senses into them if I feel they’re not doing something right. If from day one I tell them they shouldn’t do this, they shouldn’t do that, they’d probably think I’m just another kaki leter and they would probably try to avoid future contacts.

Tomorrow night my NGO will be having our monthly board meeting. We always meet on the last Tuesday of each month. And tomorrow we will decide where we will be going for this year's Family Day. I will then have to start calling my clients to invite them and to confirm how many people are going to join us. Lots of phone calls to do...

Friday, 22 June 2007

And I thought Fuzi's case was complicated enough...

I wasn’t on clinic duty last Wednesday, but I still went to Ipoh GH nevertheless. I promised Ani I’d accompany her to the medical records unit to find out what happened to her request for her medical report; and after that I had to help get Rashid admitted to Ipoh GH. Rashid was already bedridden and his wife simply didn’t know what else to do.

Anyway, in the afternoon when HIV clinic was over, I dropped by the clinic to meet up with SN. She was not as busy as always so she invited me to sit down in the room (on the doctor’s chair some more!) so we could discuss on some of the patients. I needed to get updates on some of my PLWHA clients while SN wanted to know if I was in contact with some of her patients whom she could not contact. I must add that SN is a very dedicated nurse who remembers her HIV patients by name!

SN’s main concern was Makcik Minah, the grandma. Since we both only have Makcik Minah’s house phone number, neither one of us managed to contact her. I’ve tried calling her in the morning, I’ve tried calling her in the afternoon and I’ve even tried calling her at night. And every time nobody answered the call. Both SN and I assumed that Makcik Minah’s only son may have taken her with him to KL where he works. This is good, really, rather than have Makcik Minah staying all alone at her kampong house. But our worry is that from the last conversation SN had with Makcik Minah, the son still didn’t know about his mom’s HIV. Chances are even now he thinks his mom’s only suffering from illnesses elderly people usually have. Since Makcik Minah’s kampong is quite far from Ipoh, SN finally decided that she’d contact the people at the Pejabat Kesihatan Daerah to visit Makcik’s house to find out where she is. Even if she’s not home maybe her neighbors know how to contact the son.

I asked SN about Fuzi whose CD4 seemed to have dropped. I told her about Fuzi’s difficulty in getting her daughter’s MyKad done. According to SN at least Fuzi has a marriage cert even though it is not recognized in Malaysia. SN then related to me about Hasnah, a 27 year old woman, whose story was even more complicated…

Hasnah’s parents got married in Thailand. When Hasnah’s mom got pregnant, her father simply left, just like that, to God knows where. Hasnah’s mom then ran to Southern Thailand, and delivered Hasnah there - without any birth certificates. After delivery, she brought Hasnah back to Malaysia (don’t ask me how they managed to cross the border without any documentations whatsoever, okay?) and so Hasnah was brought up in Malaysia. I guess Hasnah didn’t go to any government schools; otherwise she would have had problems entering a government school without a birth cert.

Hasnah grew up and got married. Now, without the birth cert, Hasnah couldn’t have an IC either. So she grew up without any identification documents. How on earth did she manage to get married in Malaysia? She didn’t. Like mother like daughter, Hasnah too, got married in Thailand. Rather than trying to solve the problem of not having any identification documents, Hasnah opted to avoid the problem by getting married in Southern Thailand where the requirements are not as stringent. I’m not sure if it was any kind of syndicate, but the marriage sounded suspicious to me as there was no marriage certificate issued – so no question as to whether the marriage was recognized in Malaysia or not. Obviously it was not.

Hasnah’s husband then died of AIDS-related diseases and when Hasnah herself went for tests, she too was found to be HIV positive. Her in-laws took her 2 kids (I’m not too sure if they had birth certs!) and disowned Hasnah. Hasnah now lives with her aunt, the only person for the time being who can testify who Hasnah really is. Well, Hasnah and her aunt better do something now to get Hasnah the proper identification documents. If the aunt dies before that is done, chances are Hasnah’s status will remain as it is for life – no birth cert, no IC, no marriage cert, not a citizen of ANY country. In short, on paper, she doesn’t even exist! If she dies, what is there to report? Oh boy, if ever this case is passed to me, I wouldn’t even know how to start helping her!!

After SN told me about Hasnah, I thought to myself… wow! Fuzi is at least in a much better position. At least she has a marriage cert to show, although not recognized. And she has identification documents. If her children are not Malaysians, they are at least Indonesians. But Hasnah? No matter where she goes, she’s just like a fugitive…

Wah pening… pening…

And this morning, after my bath, I saw a missed call on my handphone. It was from SN. I wasn’t even ready for work yet and she has already called me. (I usually leave home around 9am… after my usual kampong exercise.) SN’s calls would only mean it has something to do with the PLWHAs, so I returned her call.

SN actually wanted me to look into a new case: Another young woman who was not referred to us earlier because her appointments never clashed with my NGO’s voluntary clinic duty. Disowned by her family, left by her husband, two children to care for and no income to support her living. Oh dear, what does she feed her children then?

Since this woman needs to come to the hospital every day for her methadone therapy, whenever needed, SN can easily tell the staff at the methadone clinic to tell her to come up to the HIV clinic before they give her the treatments she needed. Sort of twisting her arm – you don’t go upstairs first, we don’t give you your treatment for today. Otherwise she may just ponteng her HIV clinic appointments. So SN suggested that whenever I am free to come, just call SN by giving one day notice and SN will make sure this woman comes up to the HIV clinic to meet me on the appointed day.

Well, I’d better make arrangements to see her soon, hopefully by next week. I am very concerned about the 2 children. No matter what the parents have done, the children have the right to live a proper life!

Wednesday, 20 June 2007

Malaysian or not?

What happens when a Malaysian man marries an Indonesian woman in Narathiwat, Thailand? Well, if this was some kind of a dish, I’d call it MALINDO TOMYAM! And with too many ingredients, including lots of hot and spicy stuff, this dish can cause major stomach upset...

This story is about Fuzi. I’ve already highlighted Fuzi’s financial problems in my earlier postings. Her never-ending welfare woes continue… her measly RM115 monthly financial aid from the welfare department is still inconsistent. Thank goodness my earlier posting in this blog has resulted in one of my blog readers contributing a fixed amount monthly into Fuzi’s bank account. At least she has something to rely on to survive, especially when the welfare help comes in late.

This time I am not going to touch on the welfare problems again. It will only “make my blood go upstairs”!

Fuzi is an Indonesian woman who married an elderly Malaysian man about 13 years ago. It was this man’s second marriage after his wife died a few years back. I am not sure why he decided to get married in Thailand though. Maybe his children didn’t agree to his second marriage… or maybe there were other problems, I don’t really know.

He should have registered his marriage in Malaysia, but he did not. Whenever Fuzi asked, he just said everything had been done. Fuzi herself didn’t really know what the procedures were so she never asked further. There were no problems when Fuzi gave birth to her first 4 children. In their birth certs, their citizenship was clearly indicated as Malaysian, so Fuzi didn’t foresee any problems.

When Fuzi’s husband died a few years ago, Fuzi immediately became a single non-working mother. She has not got her PR status yet. Since her children are Malaysians, she was determined to stay on in Malaysia even if she needed to renew her visa on a yearly basis. She had her late husband’s house to stay in, even though the door may not be too secure (it didn’t have proper lock), at least Fuzi and her children still have a place they can call home.

To cut a long story short, one night somebody broke into their home and Fuzi got raped. As a result, Fuzi got pregnant, and during the tests done, she was also found to be HIV positive.

When her 5th child, Iwan, was born, without a father, in the birth cert, under the father’s info it was written as “Maklumat bapa: Tidak diketahui”. And with the mother’s citizenship being Indonesian, Iwan was considered as a non-citizen. His siblings are all Malaysians, while he is not. That’s not so bad I guess. What I can’t imagine is how he will be going to school with a birth cert which says father’s info not known – especially if the birth cert falls into the hands of a judgmental person. Oh poor Iwan!

Well, if Fuzi thought Iwan was her only worry, she was wrong. Her eldest daughter Wina turned 12 recently and off they went to JPN to get her MyKad done. Since the girl's father is no longer around and the mother is an Indonesian, JPN needed further supporting documents other than Wina’s birth cert to confirm that she’s really a Malaysian citizen. Fuzi produced her Narathiwat-issued marriage cert which is not recognized here unless and until the marriage is properly registered in Malaysia. Apparently it was not. Fuzi’s late husband never registered the marriage. So here goes…

Now Fuzi needs to go through all sorts of hassle. First, she needs to “legalize” the marriage with her late husband. That's not an easy task when the husband is no longer around. Amongst others, she needs to find the 2 witnesses to her marriage in Narathiwat. She knows where one of them stays but doesn’t know where the other one is. Now she needs to get the full name of the other witness (full names of witnesses not even written on the marriage cert, just their signatures, would you believe it?), and then get JPN’s help to find the latest address.

Other than that she also needs to prove that the marriage cert she has is not fake. The onus of proving it is on her. It was suggested that she goes to the Thailand embassy to get that done. After that she needs to go to Majlis Agama Islam, together with the names and addresses of the 2 witnesses. Once that is done and the Majlis Agama Islam is satisfied, only then will they issue a letter which Fuzi will have to bring to JPN.

I’m not sure how long the process will take. Along the way, Fuzi will need to incur lots of expenses, not only for her trips here and there, but she will also need to pay for attestations, penalties and whatever other fines for not having her marriage registered earlier (which should have been done by her late husband long ago!).

If Fuzi fails to do all that, Wina and the other children will not be getting their MyKad despite their birth cert indicating they are Malaysians. And if they don’t get their MyKad, they may face other problems in the future.

And all the while Fuzi thought Iwan was her only problem…

Monday, 18 June 2007

Sha's dilemma

When I first met Sha during my HIV clinic duty, the first question she asked was whether the hospital could arrange for an abortion. She was pregnant then and it was during the tests done for her pregnancy that she was found to be HIV positive. Not knowing much about HIV, she thought her baby was sure to be infected if she continued her pregnancy. She was in a dilemma - what was she supposed to do?!

What she didn’t know was that there were precautions that could be taken and the baby need not necessarily be infected. We explained to her that she’d be given medication called AZT which she must take during her pregnancy, delivery must be through operation and after delivery, she must not breastfeed her baby. Although she was not totally convinced, Sha finally decided to continue with her pregnancy after her husband disagreed to abortion.

Sha was married to another man earlier and had a child from her first marriage. Due to her former husband’s drug addiction and his promiscuity activities, she asked for a divorce. Both remarried and still stay in the same kampong, so they still do meet each other. As a matter of fact, Sha’s relationship with her mother-in-law is still as good as before.

After she was diagnosed HIV positive, Sha’s first child and present husband were brought for tests. They were both confirmed negative. It was a relief for Sha knowing they were both negative, but Sha still felt guilty for her husband. She told her husband that she was willing to be divorced and let her husband marry another woman and lead a normal life.

But no, her present husband was very supportive. He refused to let her go just because of her HIV status and he totally disagreed to her idea of abortion. After discussing with her present husband, Sha decided that she should tell her former husband about it so he could avoid passing the virus to other unsuspecting people, particularly now that he has remarried.

But Sha’s former husband was in total denial. He simply refused to accept the fact that Sha got the virus from him. That good-for-nothing guy insisted that he had nothing to do with Sha’s HIV infection.

There was nothing much Sha could do then. She tried to tell him for his own sake and for the sake of the people he loved, but he refused to listen. She had done her part and if he was responsible enough, he would have at least gone for tests.

During last year’s Hari Raya gathering I organized for the Malay ladies, Sha was at first reluctant to join as she feared she may be meeting someone she knew. She kept asking me if there was anyone else from her kampong who would be attending the gathering. Actually Zana was from the same kampong and I was quite sure they knew each other but I never told them about each other. Furthermore by then I had already sent Zana to the shelter home in KL.

I persuaded Sha to come for the gathering so that I could introduce her to other HIV positive ladies who had gone through pregnancies. It would be good for her to learn their experiences first hand instead of just listening to my stories. Sha finally agreed to join.

It was a good experience for her. During the gathering, she got to meet Zainab, whose child was already one year plus and Fuzi, whose baby was then about 5 months old. Sha became more relaxed after listening to them about their experiences during pregnancy and delivery.

Sha delivered in December last year, a few days earlier than the scheduled operation. When she called to inform me that there was some bleeding and asked me what was to be done (as though I knew what to do… *sheepish smile*), I told her to immediately go to the hospital and not wait for her appointment day.

Thank goodness she went immediately. She delivered a baby boy that very same night. Had she waited for the day of her appointment, she probably would have just delivered at home through normal delivery and her baby’s chances of getting infected would then be high.

Sha and baby are doing fine now, and her husband is still very supportive of her. Sha may have been unlucky to get infected from her first husband, but she is very lucky her present husband is a very responsible and understanding man. He always knew what to say when Sha got caught in awkward situations with all sorts of questions people ask… the most popular question being, why she did not breastfeed her baby despite being a full time housewife.

Unlike my other PLWHA clients whom I have to visit regularly on a monthly basis, in Sha’s case I’d just call from time to time to ask how she’s doing. Although initially during her pregnancy she was rather paranoid, now she is a more relaxed person. I think she’s doing just fine. If I do get another pregnant PLWHA assigned to me, I now have another good example to show.

Just as I was about to publish this post, I received a call from Wina, Fuzi’s daughter. They ran out of milk powder for Iwan again. Has it been a month already? Oh dear, time sure flies. So there will be another house visit tomorrow…

Friday, 15 June 2007

The story of Shila and Laila

Shila has been a client of Buddies ever since before I joined the NGO. Another colleague of mine was assigned as her buddy and they get along quite well.

The first time I got in touch with Shila was when I was trying to arrange for Shila’s and Jah’s transportation to come to Ipoh to join us for our family day trip to Teluk Batik last year. Jah was supposed to get a taxi from her place, stop by to pick Shila on the way and come to Ipoh together in the same taxi.

But just 2 days before the family day, Shila got involved in a minor accident, fell off a motorcycle which got her feet swollen. So she had to back out from the trip, much to the disappointment of her daughter, Laila.

All contacts then were by phone calls or SMS, so we (Jah and I) didn’t get to meet Shila personally.

The next time we planned to meet up was when I arranged for a Hari Raya gathering for the Malay ladies among the PLWHAs. Again, Shila and Laila were excited to come. And again, at the last minute Shila backed out as she was not feeling too well. Not only was Laila again disappointed, so was Jah as she had been looking forward to meeting Shila.

We finally got to meet this year when Shila and little Laila joined me for the International Aids Memorial Day celebration in KL. During the 2 hour trip to KL, Shila told me her story…

When Shila’s husband was first diagnosed HIV positive, he didn’t tell Shila for a few months. Not that he didn’t want to, he just simply didn’t know how to. He was afraid Shila might leave him. Eventually he had to tell because the staff at the HIV clinic insisted he brought his wife and daughter for tests. Thank goodness little Laila was spared but Shila was not as lucky.

But Shila took it well. Her husband apologized to her for causing her to be infected with the dreadful virus. Shila told him that what was past was over and done with, there was no point bringing up the matter. She told him not to give up hope. Yes, Shila was very supportive of her husband.

Shila was never really accepted by her husband’s family. The family had actually wanted him to marry someone of their choice, so when he instead married Shila, they couldn’t accept Shila into their family. When Shila gave birth to Laila, they accepted Laila as part of their family, but they still could not accept Shila.

When they were both diagnosed HIV positive, both sides of the family didn’t know. Shila and husband were not sure how their families would react so they didn’t tell anyone.

When the husband’s condition worsened and he became so weak, his family accused Shila as being the cause of his illness. Oh no, they didn’t know anything about the HIV, they just accused Shila of using the services of a bomoh to cast a spell on her husband. Oh dear…

Shila couldn’t take it any longer. She decided to call one of her sister-in-laws (the one most open minded compared to the rest) and told her the whole truth. It was only after that Shila’s in-laws began to accept her, especially after knowing that Shila too was infected. They knew of the husband’s drug history and so it wasn’t Shila who caused her husband’s illness. It was in fact the other way round.

Not long after that Shila’s husband died. Shila and Laila now live with Shila’s mother. Shila’s relationship with her in-laws is much better but they seldom get to meet as the in-laws stay in another state.

Shila may not be doing too well financially but she’s willing to do anything for the future of Laila. She applied for Welfare help but it wasn’t approved. Reason given? She had only one child and she had family support (Oh for heaven’s sake, she makes a living helping her mother sell kuih every morning!). She applied for Baitulmal help but had to go through “hell” during the interview. The officer drilled her with all sorts of sensitive questions (particularly on her HIV); Shila broke down and cried in front of the officer. But ahh… Shila’s tears caused the officer’s knees to go wobbly. Her application was approved without much delay…

Well, so far Shila and Laila are doing okay. I must say I admire Shila’s determination. I believe they will be alright.

Wednesday, 13 June 2007

Dilemma of Boboy's new guardians

After a few attempts at getting in touch with the new guardians of Lily’s children, through Roy, the possessive and authoritative friend, yesterday Lily’s brother called me. FINALLY!

I had last week called Roy to ask about the children and also to ask for the new guardian’s IC and bank account number, to enable me to submit the necessary documents to MAC for the purpose of applying for Pediatric Aids Funds. Despite telling me that the kids are being taken care of by their uncle (Lily’s brother), Roy did ask if he could give his own IC and account number instead. I politely told him the new guardian must be a family member. Roy promised to call me back after he contacted the brother.

I was hoping and praying that Lily’s brother would insist he’d get in touch with me direct as he needed to pass me the photocopies of his IC and bank account. My prayers were answered.

Yesterday about 3 pm, I received a call from an unfamiliar number. The guy introduced himself as Lily’s brother. I recognized the voice – this was the same guy I met on the day of Lily’s funeral but I never had the chance to speak to him privately without Roy appearing in the picture.

Lily’s brother told me he had the photocopies of the necessary documents ready with him and since he was in town, he could just meet me somewhere to hand over the documents. I told him to come to my NGO center around 4pm. We never allow families of our clients to come to our house for various reasons. Some clients tend to be manipulative and if we get this kind stalking us at home, we volunteers may land in trouble. So, to be safe, we don’t allow any of them to come to our homes, regardless of whether they’re manipulative or not. I didn’t want to visit his home either, as I wasn’t sure yet how his wife was taking this.

He reached my NGO center around 4.15 pm, together with 2 other guys, whom I assume were his relatives. I asked about the children. He said they were doing fine but he was a bit worried about Boboy, the youngest.

I was thinking maybe Boboy had been crying, missing his mother. But no, that wasn’t the uncle’s worry. The uncle was worried because Boboy was HIV+, and he didn’t know heads or tails about how to take care of a HIV+ boy. He was worried because he too had children of his own. He was worried that somebody else in the family may get infected by having Boboy stay in the same house.

For someone who knows nuts about HIV, except for the fact that it is something people fear, I understand his concerns. I explained to him there was nothing for him to worry about by taking care of little Boboy. No need to worry about sharing things with the others in the family. He just needs to be a bit cautious about wounds but that’s about it.

I explained to him to make sure Boboy doesn’t miss his hospital appointments and if the doctor starts giving him medication, then the uncle must make sure the boy complies.

Of course, the short explanation I gave to Lily’s brother was not enough to get the worries off his mind. He said if there was anyone knowledgeable enough willing to take care of Boboy, he doesn’t mind giving the boy away. He’d still visit, he said. I asked if he didn’t pity the little boy being separated from his siblings. He said he does, but he’d rather have someone who can take good care of Boboy to look after him.

He’s just scared. I could tell. But it’s still too early to decide if Boboy needs to be sent elsewhere. While I’d prefer Boboy to be together with his siblings, I wouldn’t want him to get unfair treatment from his guardians – not because they hate him, but because they’re just scared. How would the little boy feel if he has to be “isolated” in his own home? He doesn’t even know he has been infected or what HIV is in the first place.

I told Lily’s brother to hang on first. Boboy’s next appointment is in August, so let’s see what the doctor says. If the boy needs to start medication, we may have problems if the guardians still feel scared.

I think the family needs a few more rounds of counseling. I must continue to talk to them. For the moment I have not met the wife. Talking to Lily’s brother alone may not be enough. His wife needs to understand as well.

I am hoping they will understand eventually. But if I fail to convince them, I may have no choice but to send Boboy to a home for HIV children. Hopefully I need not resort to that. He needs his sisters. Aaargh!! I can imagine his cute little pitiful looking face…

God, help me please…

Monday, 11 June 2007

Shopping with the children

I don’t like shopping. Call me weird if you want but I just don’t like shopping, especially on weekends when there are so many people at the mall. If I need to shop, I’d usually go on weekdays during office hours. With my flexi working hours, that’s possible.

But at the end of last year, when people were busy buying schooling needs for their school-going children, I had to go shopping for schooling needs too… not once… not twice… but 3 times within 3 days and one more time 2 weeks later! Buying the same things… only different sizes. And I don’t even have any children of my own!!

You see, out of the many volunteers in my NGO, I’m the one who has the most children from the families under my care. Not only are these families with the most children, they are also the poor ones. (Yeah, the poor families do seem to have more children, don’t they? The rich ones usually don't have that many.) When we approved the Children Education Fund for 17 children, 11 of them were children of my clients.

Of course I didn’t bring them all together – they wouldn’t fit in my car! It had to be one family at a time, and I had 4 families to handle. Thank goodness my other clients either don’t have school-going children yet, or the few others who have, can afford to buy the schooling needs although they may not be rich.

So first up was Mrs.K’s family. Since I needed to bring Mrs.K to open up a bank account to apply for MAC’s Pediatric Aids Funds, we went on a Friday, after Friday prayers. Mrs. K only had 2 school-going children, but her 5 year old girl tagged along. She was happy enough she could follow, she wasn’t bothered she didn’t get anything. We had to spend quite some time at the bank, after which we immediately went shopping and after that I had to rush back to Ipoh as it was getting late. So, I didn’t have time to bring them for makan-makan

Next day it was Fuzi’s family. We went on a Saturday morning. Fuzi’s children were very excited, not just because they were going shopping in Ipoh, but also because they got to ride in a car. By the time I reached their home to fetch them, they were already waiting outside their house, doors all locked, all set to go. And mind you, I was not late (in fact I am very particular about punctuality). Fuzi had 3 school-going children but the other 2 children also followed as there was nobody home to take care of them.

Since it was a Saturday, and it was during the year-end sale, imagine the crowd...

While Fuzi and her other children were choosing the uniforms, shoes, etc, I took care of Iwan, her then 6 month old baby boy. Good thing I didn’t meet any kepochis who knew me… they’d be wondering whose baby I was carrying… and I wonder what kind of stories they may come up with…

Anyway, since only 3 of the children were at school-going age, the 4th child put on a sour face when he didn’t get anything. And it was tough walking past the toys department. He kept pulling his mom’s baju kurung. I didn’t want to start buying toys for him, he may think I’d buy one for him every time I bring them out. Besides, this is not the only family under my care. But I had other plans they didn’t know about.

After taking them for lunch, I brought them to my NGO center. There were a few boxes of used items in good condition donated to us to be handed over to the needy. There was a box of toys and a box of story books. I told them to choose whatever they wanted from the boxes. They got excited and kept asking me again and again if they could take more than one, no matter how many times I told them to take all they wanted! By the time we headed back to their home, the 4th child was already smiling from ear to ear… this time he got some toys with him… it didn’t matter that they were used toys.

Came Sunday, it was the turn of Lily’s family to go shopping. Since I had other things to do in the morning, we went in the afternoon. Again, the place was packed… even worse than Saturday. Lily’s youngest child didn’t get to choose anything because he was only 4+, but he was happy enough when I brought them out for some ais kacang (actually it was ME who got tempted with the ais kacang… the weather was hot!).

The next family was Yah’s but at that time Yah’s husband, Azman, was warded at the Ipoh GH while the kids were with Yah’s parents. So, it was only 2 weeks later after Azman was discharged, Yah came to Ipoh with her 3 school-going children and I brought them to the same shopping mall where I took Fuzi and Lily. The only problem was that Yah’s son was a bit small for his age and we couldn’t find a uniform for his size. I had to seek the help of a salesgirl who finally found 2 pairs of uniforms for him. His was of better quality so they were more expensive than the rest…

Lunchtime came and I purposely asked the children if they wanted to eat rice or fried chicken. I knew the answer would be fried chicken but I just loved to see their excitement when answering…

So there you go. Now, for someone who doesn’t like shopping, I’d call that an award-winning achievement!

And I haven’t even told you about my monthly shopping for diapers and milk powders! I do get cash contributions from my friends asking me to buy all the necessities for these poor families. So imagine the amused looks I get when my trolley is full of diapers of various sizes and milk powder for various ages.

Hmmm… they may think I’m a mean baby-producing machine!!!

Friday, 8 June 2007

Oh makcik where art thou?

Wednesday, 6th June 2007:
When SN told me during my clinic duty Makcik Minah had to be warded earlier, I thought that was the reason nobody answered my calls. Then SN said makcik was supposed to come to the HIV clinic on Friday so I thought I’d just meet her then. I totally forgot to ask if Makcik Minah had been discharged.

5.45pm: Received SMS from Zana asking me to help find her another shelter home for her to stay. She said she was no longer on talking terms with the other occupants of the present shelter home. Aiyo this woman... I told her I would have to ask around. The fact is, I’d need to discuss the matter with Kak Hawa first. Kak Hawa stays at the other house where most of the children are.

Thursday, 7th June 2007:
I was fast asleep when suddenly I heard the James Bond ring tone on my handphone. Yep, my PLWHA client assigned ring tone. Was a bit blur at that time… not sure what time it was… when I answered the call, Mrs. K asked me to call back. I just said okay, and looked at the time… it was 4.30 am. WHAT?? 4.30 AM?!! No more blur… there and then I became wide awake. They wouldn’t call me at ungodly hours unless it’s really important. I called back and was told that Mr. K was having breathing difficulty and they wanted to bring him to the hospital. Mrs. K asked if it was okay to bring him to the nearest hospital (his medical records are all at Ipoh GH). Mr. K was supposed to come to Ipoh GH this very day for an appointment at the TB Clinic so Mrs. K was wondering if she should bring him direct to Ipoh GH. Told her to just go to the nearest hospital and inform the people there. If there was a need, then those at the nearest hospital would bring him to Ipoh GH in their ambulance.

10.30am: Tried to call Makcik Minah at home again. And again, nobody answered. I started wondering if Makcik Minah was still in the ward. So I decided to call SN to ask. I was told by SN that Makcik was discharged more than a week ago and should be back home. Since she’s supposed to come on Friday, I told SN I’d try to come on Friday to meet her. SN advised that I should call the clinic first on Friday just to be sure Makcik comes for her appointment. Otherwise I’d just be wasting my time at the hospital… and torture myself for another round of finding a parking space... all for nothing.

10.55am: Received SMS from Mrs. K’s son telling me that Mr. K was okay and that he was already at Ipoh GH for his TB clinic appointment. Mrs. K also sent her apologies for calling me at 4.30 am… she said she panicked and didn’t know what else to do or who else to call.

1.08pm: Mrs.X called. She said Mr.X did another blood test recently and was told that “Ada bakteria dalam darah”. Mr. and Mrs. X were wondering if the bacteria were caused by HIV. I asked what was written at the HIV section of the blood test results. Mrs.X said it was written as non-reactive. I told her that the results would say reactive if there were any signs of HIV infection. I asked how Mr.X was doing. According to Mrs. X, although her husband is no longer attempting suicide, he is still talking all sorts of nonsense – no matter what people say he still thinks he has been infected. Oh dear…

4.00pm: Called Ani to ask if she has got her medical report for EPF withdrawal purposes. The people at the hospital records department promised it should be ready within 2 months, which they will send by post. It is now more than 2 months. Ani was not around when I called but her husband answered the phone and told me they have not received anything. Since they have to come to Ipoh GH on 20th June for their next appointment, they thought they’d call me then so we could go check on the matter together.

Friday, 8th June 2007:
9.30am: Called SN to ask if Makcik Minah had arrived at the HIV clinic. SN said there was no sign of her yet and told me to try again later.

9.40am: Decided to call Nuri. I haven’t heard from her for quite some time. Nuri and her daughter Farah seem to be doing fine. Since it is still school holidays, she doesn’t operate her food stall this week, but should start operating again next week.

11.30am: Tried calling SN again. Her assistant answered. I was told there was still no sign of Makcik Minah. Today’s Friday and clinic time is only until 12 noon. If Makcik Minah was still not there, chances were she wouldn’t show up for her appointment. Mana pulak pergi Makcik Minah ni…

11.40am: Suddenly I remembered Lily’s children. I have not heard anything since Lily’s funeral, so I decided to call Roy, her possessive friend. He’s my only means of contact with the children for the time being. Roy said the children are now staying with their uncle (Lily’s brother) not far from their old home. So, they don’t have to change to a new school. Roy acted as though he had the authority – he said we’ll see first for 2 months how this uncle treat the children to really decide if the children should continue staying there. I told Roy I’d need the new guardian’s photocopy of IC and bank account number so I can submit it for MAC’s Pediatric Aids Funds. The one submitted earlier was under Lily’s name and using Lily’s bank account number. Roy had the cheek to ask if we could give his IC and account number instead. I politely told him that the person has to be a family member. I asked Roy to get the uncle to call me. Roy instead told me that he will call me back after he gets hold of the uncle. Looks like Roy doesn’t want me to have direct contact with the new guardian. He wants to know every detail of what goes on. Let’s just see… I hope the address on the uncle’s IC will show his present address. Then once I get the photocopy of his IC, I can go visit them direct without Roy interfering…

1.05pm: On my way home from my office, I decided to drop by Zainab’s house. Her house is quite near my office. I’ve been trying to call her for some time but couldn’t get through. The last time I went to visit, nobody was home. I thought I’d just give it another try this time… and yes, was lucky. The door was open so Zainab must be at home. Found out that I couldn’t call her as her handphone was no longer usable. Also found out that Zaki is no longer working. Oh dear, that means they’re back to square one… meaning Zainab has to support the whole family. Not enough money, yet Zaki was still smoking when I visited them.

2.40pm: Decided to give Maria a call. She’s another one I have not contacted for some time. Maria and baby seemed to be doing fine. I told her about our planned Family Day in August. Maria sounded very much interested. I promised to call her again once the venue is confirmed.

3.00pm: Still thinking about Makcik Minah. Why didn’t she turn up for her appointment? As I was writing up this post, I decided to give her another call. And again, nobody answered. This old lady stays alone. What may have happened to her? Before anyone starts thinking that her one and only son is neglecting his mother, bear in mind the son had actually asked his mother to stay with him in KL where he works, but Makcik Minah herself refused because of the usual ayam itik excuse. Ayam itik excuse?? Well, you know… “Kalau mak ikut pergi sana nanti ayam itik kat kampong siapa nak bagi makan?”

Since Makcik Minah was hospitalized recently, my hope now is that Makcik Minah’s son from KL came to fetch her and brought her back to KL with him. But I can’t be too sure unless I can get hold of them.

Makcik oh makcik… where art thou?

Wednesday, 6 June 2007

Another day at the clinic

I was on clinic duty again today.

The part I hate most when I’m on clinic duty? Finding a parking space!!! Aargh!! Even the not so popular spots were already taken up! After a few rounds around the hospital, I finally found one parking spot quite far from the specialist clinic but I took it anyway. Got down from my car… and saw the notice:

UNTUK KAKITANGAN HOSPITAL SAHAJA.

Oh whaddaheck… I was there to help out with the counseling at the HIV clinic, so I’d just consider myself as kakitangan (plus kepala & badan) hospital just for the day, albeit unpaid.

I was the earliest to arrive, so I just looked out the door to see if there were any familiar faces… none. Otherwise I could have taken the opportunity to chat with any of my old PLWHA clients while waiting for new cases to be sent in.

My fellow volunteer got there right on time before the staff nurse (SN) sent in our first case for the day – a Chinese guy in his 50s. According to SN there’d be only 2 new cases today, so there should be just one more after this one. Since this one was a Chinese-speaking guy, I let my fellow volunteer do all the talking and I sat there jotting down all the necessary info I could get from his medical file passed to us earlier by SN.

This particular guy is unmarried, unemployed and totally broke. He stays with his brother and they don’t get along well. I suppose the brother felt as though this guy is a burden. He used to be a construction worker but is too weak to work now.

But despite all that, he didn’t want a buddy. Why? Because the only number he has is the brother’s house number and any calls from us may result in his brother questioning him with all sorts of questions. Nevertheless, we gave him our brochure, so he could call us whenever he needed to.

Just as this guy was about to leave the room, Jah peeped in. Remember Jah… the one who joined me for the International Aids Memorial Day? Jah was as jovial as ever. She had already seen the doctor by then and just needed to go down to get her supply of antiretroviral drugs and to do some blood tests. I told her to go and do whatever necessary first and once she’s done and my clinic duty is over, I’d take her out for lunch before sending her to the bus station. She jumped for joy upon hearing that I’d be buying her lunch! One of her favourite things… FOOD (especially when free!).

By the time SN wanted to send in the other guy, also a Chinese guy, he had disappeared to God knows where. SN simply could not locate him. So no, we didn’t get to see this other guy.

But SN asked me if I had been in contact with Makcik Minah, the 74 year old grandma who was just diagnosed HIV positive a few weeks back. SN is quite concerned because Makcik Minah is an elderly person staying alone, and she needs to start on medication soon as her CD4 is only 11! Yes, THAT low. SN’s main concern is that this elderly lady may not be too compliant in taking her medication. I can understand SN’s concern. I have a mother of the same age, and while I do leave my mother alone at home during the daytime when I need to go to work, I never leave her alone overnight.

I had actually tried to call Makcik Minah twice, but nobody answered the phone. Since Makcik Minah has a son (the one and only son) staying and working in KL, I thought maybe she was with her son and her grandchildren during the school holidays. So I thought maybe I should try calling again after the school holidays.

Only today I found out that Makcik Minah had to be hospitalized. No wonder nobody answered the phone! But anyway, according to SN, Makcik Minah will be coming to the HIV clinic this Friday morning, so I will try to make it a point to meet her then. SN really felt that I should talk to Makcik Minah as her son still doesn’t know that his mom has HIV. If anything happens to her at least her son should know what to do or who to call! Probably Makcik Minah doesn’t even know how to start telling him.

Hopefully I will be able to meet up with Makcik Minah this Friday. Then I may come up with a new story to post…

Anyway, since there were not many new cases, I finished my clinic duty by noon and took Jah out for lunch. If you see the happy go lucky Jah, you wouldn’t for the life of you believe that some time ago she had lost both her husband and only son within a short time span. It was just a few days before Hari Raya Puasa her son died of dengue and then a few days before Hari Raya Haji the same year, her husband died of AIDS-related illnesses. Many would have gone nuts if they had to go through the same, but Jah held on.

Many of my other clients whom I had introduced to Jah simply loved being with her. She’s the very chatty type and loves to laugh. And her positive attitude obviously helped in improving her immune system. At one time her CD4 was already below 200 and she had to start on medication. Now her CD4 is up to 500+! She even got a pat on the back from the doctor today! Yep, that’s the kind of positive attitude we’d want our other clients to have.

But then again, unlike my other women PLWHAs, Jah doesn’t have any children’s future to worry about… and her family supports her wholeheartedly. The wholehearted family support she gets makes a B I I I I G difference…

Monday, 4 June 2007

Family support

On my NGO’s name card and letterhead, it’s written there “For the Support of People Living with HIV/AIDS, Their Partners, Families and Friends.”

So our job scope not only covers support for the PLWHAs themselves, but also all those mentioned above. It’s not really much of a problem if the family members already know and are supportive. They are usually very cooperative and would welcome our visits anytime and we’d be very free to talk about HIV in their homes.

But when the family members are not so supportive, and the PLWHAs need our help to explain about HIV to them, it may be quite difficult especially when they don’t even attempt to listen. We’ve had fathers making their HIV infected daughters feel unwanted. We’ve had siblings making sure they have different sets of household utensils so they would not have to share with the infected sibling. We’ve had stepmothers separating the clothes of the infected step-sons/daughters for fear they may get infected if they wash the clothes together.

How to explain to them when they are not even willing to listen? Like in the case of Ifa’s father who’d disappear every time he knew someone would be coming to visit Ifa at home. The only time I met him was when I went to seek his permission to bring along Ifa to our family day trip last year. And even then, it was not at their home and we talked for less than a minute as he was purportedly in a hurry and all I wanted at that time was his OK for Ifa to join us. I didn’t want to discuss too many things at one go…

Of course, when the PLWHAs themselves don’t want their family members to know, we would not talk about HIV to their family members. Even if we visit, we’d just visit as friends, or when any form of help is given, it’d be under the pretext of helping single mothers or anything of that sort.

But while other family members do not know, spouses would be called to the HIV clinic for tests. However, some husbands simply refused to get tested. They’re just not bothered. To some, it’s better not to know than to find out they’re infected. Sometimes I’d talk to the husbands advising them to practice safe sex etc, they’d nod and nod as though they understood. Later I’d find out from their wives they still had unprotected sex. Hmmm… maybe the husbands nodded earlier because they were sleepy and not because they understood… oh boy…

Sometimes I do get calls from family members of PLWHAs who are not our clients. Somehow they’d get my number from our brochures or from MAC, and they start asking me all sorts of questions.

Once a lady staying in Ipoh called me to ask how she’d know if she had been infected. Initially I thought her husband was already infected. Then I found out that it was her husband’s 8 year old niece (who stayed in another state) who was just found to be infected and so this lady was afraid her husband may have been infected too because he was part of the family and he may have then passed the virus to her! Obviously she didn’t really know how HIV spreads. Or maybe she knew but she was just being paranoid because of her fear of HIV. There are other diseases which are more easily spread but it is HIV they fear more.

Then there was another lady who had a sister-in-law who was found to be HIV positive. This lady and her family planned to balik kampong to her husband’s family home where the sister-in-law was staying. The house was small and so when everybody balik kampong they would have to share the living room to sleep in. And so this lady’s family was afraid if her children especially would get infected. She didn’t want to stay at a hotel to “jaga hati” the family of her in-laws. So I was asked about the safety precautions she should take. To me the answer’s simple: just do whatever things they usually do without any fear of getting infected… unless of course they plan to have sex with the infected person… or plan to inject something into their own bloodstream using a needle shared with the infected person… or they plan to purposely cut themselves and then rub their wound against the infected person’s wound.

Now, what are the chances of those things to happen when you go back to your in-law’s house? Whatever your answer is, that's the chance of you getting infected.

Friday, 1 June 2007

Yah's story: Part 3

I had actually expected to meet up with Yah next week. But as I was driving home from work yesterday afternoon, I received a call from Yah. She was already at the hospital and asked if she could meet me.

Her appointment was supposed to be on Thursday next week, but since the doctor will not be around then, the staff nurse (SN) called her and told her to come yesterday afternoon instead.

So I went home, had my lunch and then immediately after my zuhr prayer, went straight to the hospital. I headed straight to the ID clinic and yes, saw Yah and her son there. When SN saw me, she was surprised.

“Mana tau appointment Yah hari ni?” she asked. I explained to her Yah just called me, to which she teased Yah, “Amboi, dah pandai main talipon sekarang ya?” SN was the one who had initially encouraged Yah to call me, back then when Yah and her husband needed help.

Yah had not seen the doctor yet when I got there. A few others were waiting outside, all solemn and quiet… except Yah’s standard one son, Abang Chik who is the playful type. In fact, I think he is the hyperactive type. Initially in school, he was placed in the same class as his sister, Kak Ngah, but since Kak Ngah performed quite well in school, she was transferred to another class for better students. Abang Chik, on the other hand, loves to just play around in class. He never pays attention. The teacher did call Yah to discuss about Abang Chik, and they both agreed to put Abang Chik in some sort of “kelas pemulihan”, together with a few other students.

When Yah was called in to see the doctor, I just waited outside observing the people around me. That’s what I always do… observing. Somebody else may be observing me, I don’t know…

Anyway, Yah needs to start on medication this time around. Her CD4 count has gone down. And since she’s just about to start her medication, she will need to come back for another appointment in 2 weeks time. That means more traveling. She has lost some weight. With all her problems, I’m not at all surprised. Her elderly mother has not been well for the past few days but simply refused to go to any clinic. “Demam biasa…”, so she said.

After giving Yah her medication slip and appointment card, SN called me. She told me there may be a new case she wanted to refer to me - a young woman who just gave birth to another out-of-wedlock baby. SN said she just went to visit the maternity ward last week right after this woman gave birth.

SN needed my help to talk to this woman when she comes for her appointment at the HIV clinic. There were many patients waiting at the clinic while we talked, and this being a sensitive matter, SN and I had to whisper to each other.

Me: “Mak bapak dia kat mana?”
SN: “Negri Sembilan.”
Me: “Habis, apa dia buat kat Ipoh? Kerja ke?”
SN: “Tak, kena buang daerah!”

Alamak… not another one of those problematic cases. A few more cases like these and soon I will have more grey hair covering my grey matter!! (Oh well, at least I’ll have an excuse for the grey hair instead of having to blame it on old age… haha!)

But that’s another story. Let’s get back to Yah.

First, some good news. Yah has finally got her welfare aid of RM400 a month. Yayyy!! Although the first payment was only made in May, the approval was in April so when she got her payment recently, she was given 2 months financial aid. Yah is putting aside some it for her frequent traveling to Ipoh.

Now, about the house they’re staying at now. That house was built by Yah’s grandfather many years ago. The family not only rented the land for the house, but also another piece of land, a paddy field from which Yah’s father got his income from. Same owner. Now that the landlord’s son is grown up and getting to be more and more business minded, he (the son) wanted to take back most of the land leased out so he could make more money. A few other families have already moved out. The landlord is no longer letting Yah’s father work the paddy field. So, it’s no longer a source of income for Yah’s father. How on earth was he supposed to pay for rental for the piece of land he’s staying on?

For the time being, the landlord is still letting Yah’s family stay at the house, provided Yah’s father helps out with the landlord’s orchard. But Yah is not too confident. Yeah, the old man may allow them to stay on, but at any time his business-minded son may take over and decides to chase them out. Yah is not willing to wait until then to decide what to do next. That’s why she wants to withdraw her EPF, she wants to use it to buy a small piece of land they can call their own so nobody will chase them out.

But Yah doesn’t know what the procedures are and needs my help. Since she’s coming back to Ipoh in 2 weeks time, I promised to bring her around to get the necessary reports.

Meanwhile she can still stay at the present house. No urgency. What a relief…

Hopefully the landlord’s son will not overrule his father’s decision. Not just yet. Please…