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)

Friday, 30 November 2007

The Dreaded SMS

Wednesday, 28th November 2007:

I was in my office when an SMS came in from Shila, asking if I was busy. She was at the HIV clinic for her appointment and so happened to bump into her good friend Jah as well. So they thought it would be a good opportunity for them to meet up with me. I promised to pick them up at the hospital and bring them out for lunch.

Apparently it was quite a busy day at the HIV clinic because appointments initially scheduled for 29th November was brought forward to the 28th November as all the staff needed to go to KL the next day to attend the 1st National AIDS Conference beginning friday, in conjunction with World AIDS Day on 1st December. So when I got to the hospital, Shila just came out of the doctor’s room and both Shila and Jah had yet to get their supply of medication. Since there were so many patients waiting for their turn to get their medication, we decided to go for lunch first. Shila’s daughter Laila, also tagged along. After lunch, I had to send them back to the hospital so they could go to the pharmacy.

What’s that? Was that the dreaded SMS? Oh no, no, no… Shila’s SMS was not the dreaded SMS. Buying them lunch was not a problem at all.

Just as I was relaxing at home that evening, I heard the James Bond ring tone on my phone. It was from Yah. She said she needed my help as she was supposed to get her supply of medication on the 29th but she couldn’t find the slip. Just last week she asked me what day was the 29th of November. She must have held the slip in her hands when she asked me that question and then forgot where she kept it. How to remember the medication slip if all she remembered was Mr. Darling??

Anyway, I told her there was nothing I could do if she lost the slip. I’m not a doctor and I cannot write her a new one. And guess what? Yah had actually wanted me to call the staff nurse (SN) to get her a new slip because… ready for this? “Saya takut nanti kena marah!”

Sheeesh! She lost the slip and she’s scared the nurse would scold her?! All the while before this she was willing to face so many things without fear, yet this time she’s afraid the nurse would scold here? It seems she’s beginning to behave like a child ever since the angau bug got to her. I sternly told her she’d have to call SN herself. Besides, I had to attend 2 meetings the next day so I wouldn’t have the time to make all the calls. And knowing SN, even if I did call on Yah’s behalf, SN would probably just tell me to get Yah to call her herself.

Then I told Yah that most likely on Thursday nobody would answer the phone because everybody at the HIV clinic was going to KL. Yah then asked me what she was supposed to do. How on earth would I know what to do? The only option was for Yah to keep on looking for the slip until she finds it!

Thursday, 29th November 2007:

Early morning after my morning gardening routine, there was a text message on my phone. It was from Yah, telling me that she had found the slip and was already on the way to Ipoh. There… all she needed to do was to concentrate harder. She knew she didn’t have any other choice but to find the slip and so she did. Duh!

I had 2 business clients’ board meeting to attend that day so I set my hand phone to silent mode. Although I had already told Yah I had to attend meetings, who knows, she may not have really digested everything that I said and still call me when she gets to Ipoh. I wasn’t about to let the James Bond ring tone disturb the 2 meetings.

No, there were no missed calls. So I thought Yah was doing fine.

Friday, 30th November 2007:

After washing my car this morning, I went into my house and noticed there was a text message on my phone. Yep, this time it was the dreaded SMS. It was the kind I was actually expecting to come but deep down inside me I was hoping I would never get.

The SMS from Yah this morning read:

“Kak, besok hari Sabtu kak ada kerja tak? Saya nak jumpa kak sekejap dalam pukul 3. Saya banyak masalah. Bukan masalah duit. Mungkin kak banyak pengalaman memberi jalan yang terbaik. Akhir sekali saya pohon maaf.”

Ooooooh boy!!! Lots of problems? Not financial problems? Yah did not mention what kind of problems she had but based on our last few conversations; I bet they had something to do with her relationship with Mr. Darling and/or her relationship with her own family due to her relationship with Mr. Darling. Honestly I had expected that coming.

And she mentioned that I may be able to help her out as I had lots of experience… hmmm… I wonder what kind of experience she meant. If she was talking about angauism, I don’t have even the slightest experience!

OK, I shall not jump to conclusions before I manage to talk to Yah. For all I know, it may be a whole different kind of problem. To find out for sure, we will just have to wait.

And oh, if you expect to get some updates this weekend, sorry folks! I told Yah I won’t be able to see her tomorrow. You see, I’ll be in KL this weekend for some family matters so Yah’s matters will just have to wait.

And you too will have to wait for the next episode of Yah’s story…

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Where and when to draw the line...

When many of the comments to my previous posting on Yah and her Mr. Darling, suggested that I should just let them be, my first thought was… aiyah, easy for you people to say lah! You’re not the ones Yah will call every time she lands into trouble! But yeah, I would have probably suggested the same if I didn’t know Yah and more importantly, if I was not Yah’s buddy. When you’re the one she’d end up calling every time, you too would hope she’d think twice before she does anything.

While previously whenever Yah called it’s probably just to tell me about her children’s well-being or any other problems which I could help resolve, of late her calls were more to talk about her own personal feelings. For these ones, I’d probably just listen without offering any solutions. She’d have to decide on her own.

When Fuzi needed a Malaysian citizen’s name to claim the ownership of the land her late husband left behind, she wanted to use my name. She could use her step-daughter’s name, but she trusted me more. But oh, no way was I going to get involved that deep! I don’t mind helping her out with the documentation and all, but to use my name? Sorry!

So, where and when do we draw the line?

Well, my NGO’s main activity is to provide moral and emotional support to people living with HIV/AIDS – not berkorban apa saja for them. We support them so they can become independent. If we help them in every single thing, they will become dependent on us instead, will they not?

When we join the Buddies, one of the guidelines given to us was that we must never bring our PLWHA clients to our homes. Imagine if my clients knew where I live, they may just come to my house every time they have a problem. Maria once sent me a text message at 3 am asking if I knew of a place she could go to as she just had a big fight with her husband. What if she knew where I lived and decided to simply come to my house? And then there was Zana who sent me a text message asking me if I knew of any shelter homes she could live in as she had been chased out of her house because of her out-of-wedlock pregnancy. What if she knew where I lived and just appeared in front of my house expecting me to provide her temporary shelter?

Oh no, bahaya ohh

This is, after all, voluntary work. We have our lives to live, and we have our own priorities. Whatever it is, our own families come first. Our cari makan work comes next. I cannot simply leave my office to meet my PLWHA clients whenever any of them call to say they are in Ipoh and need to meet up with me. The least they can do is to inform me before hand so I can make the necessary arrangements.

Then there are those who tend to think we are paid to take care of the PLWHAs. Ifa’s mother, for example, used to tell Ifa to call me every time Ifa needed to go anywhere. Ifa’s mother didn’t really understand when she was told I was just a volunteer. Only when I told her bluntly that I’m not paid for this job did she stop pestering Ifa to call me every time. Oh yes, Ifa would still call me from time to time to seek help, but only when she really needs to.

A fellow volunteer once received a call from her client telling the volunteer to fetch the client at the bus-station. Like it was the volunteer’s job to do so! And worse, the volunteer was at work. She simply told off her client, “Sorry, I’m not your driver!” At least if the client had the courtesy to ask for help instead of simply telling the volunteer to go and fetch her, the volunteer could have been less blunt.

Oh don’t get me wrong, not all PLWHAs are like that. Most of them are okay. But because of the one or two irritating ones, we volunteers have to take the necessary precautions to make sure our clients don’t take advantage of us. We provide our support services to them for free, but we are not their servants!

I guess we just need to know where and when to draw the line. Oh, we’ll learn how to do that somehow…

Friday, 23 November 2007

Oh my darling, oh my darling...

Remember the fellow PLWHA Yah met at the HIV clinic who asked Yah to marry him despite that being the first time they got to know each other? Didn’t read that posting? You can read it here.

Remember how the same guy tried to call Yah in the middle of the night and when Yah didn’t answer, he sent her text messages calling her “darling”? Remember the conversation Yah had with her daughter who disliked the idea of Yah befriending this guy for fear she may end up marrying him? And remember after the Deepa-Raya gathering a male friend fetched Yah, and I somehow suspected that the friend was actually this very same guy? If you missed all these, you can read the posting here.

Guess what? Yah called me this morning.

And guess what? All the things I was afraid might happen… HAPPENED!

Yes, my earlier suspicion that the friend who came to fetch Yah was actually this guy (oh well, let’s just call him Mr. Darling… *chuckle*) was right.

Yah: “Kak, 29hb nanti hari apa kak?”
Me: “Hari Khamis, kenapa?”
Yah: “Saya kena pergi Ipoh ambik ubat. Entahlah kak oi… sekarang ni saya dah tak ingat apa dah. Asyik teringat kat dia je.”
Me: “Teringat kat siapa?”
Yah: “Teringat kat xxx (Mr. Darling’s real name) . Hari tu yang lepas perjumpaan raya tu saya pi keluar dengan dialah. Malam tu saya tak balik pun, takut mak saya marah.”
Me: “Habis tu malam tu tidur kat mana?”
Yah: “Kat rumah mak dia. Balik dari situ lah, saya asyik teringat kat dia aje.”

WHAAAAAT??? She spent the night at his mother’s house instead of going home?!

Whoa… wait a minute! Did I get the wrong script here? Takut mak marah? Tidur kat rumah mak dia? Sounds like orang muda bercinta

I asked if Mr. Darling had kept on bugging her, causing her to lose concentration on other things. She said no, but her problem now is that she herself can’t stop thinking of him ever since their last “date”.

Remember Yah told her daughter that she’s entertaining this guy’s phone calls “saja seronok-seronok” but her daughter said, “Seronok-seronok lepas tu terus suka!” Well, looks like her daughter was proven right. And it didn’t take too long for that to happen.

Hmmm… I’ve heard of quite a number of opportunistic diseases related to HIV – hepatitis, tuberculosis and whatever else. But this time the opportunistic disease is of a different kind. Well, the opportunity arose when they met at the HIV clinic… so it is HIV related. As for the name of this opportunistic disease… I’d simply call it … ANGAU (lovelorn)!

Aduuuh… this was what I was afraid of. I was afraid that if she encountered any problems with regards to this relationship she’d come back to me. I’m not a counselor, but if anyone needs HIV counseling, I’m game. Try my hand at leterology (the art of berleter), I can. But angau-logy is definitely not my area of expertise!

Frankly I’m not sure why Yah told me about this. Maybe she just needed to let it all out. Maybe she just needed someone to listen and that’s it. No problem, I can be the listener. But on the other hand, maybe she wanted to hear me telling her to just marry Mr. Darling. Maybe she wanted me to suggest a way to make her family (particularly her mother and daughter) agree to let her marry this guy. No, Yah didn’t mention anything about marriage, but if she says she can’t stop thinking about him, what do you think is the next possible action? What am I supposed to advise her? See a doctor? Which doctor? Witch doctor? Which witch doctor? Oh never mind…

No, I’m not going to get myself involved in her decision whether to remarry or not to remarry… but if Yah and Mr. Darling does decide to get married, I will still have to advise them on safe sex despite them both being HIV positive. Oh boy…

For the time being, I am not going to crack my head thinking of what she should do.

On another note, and this had nothing to do with Yah’s buayafriend/gilafriend relationship with Mr. Darling, Yah’s 2 daughters – Kak Long and Kak Ngah, said that they want to stay in an Asrama Anak Yatim. Their reasoning? So that they will have a proper time table for their studies… so there will always be someone to help them with their studies…

Yah had told me about this earlier and I told Yah to have a slow talk with them to ask if this was what they really want. Now Yah says the girls insist they really want to go as they don’t want to burden their mother at home. As a matter of fact they had asked their teacher at school to arrange for them to be placed at an Asrama Anak Yatim and the teacher had already made all the arrangements. The girls will be going when school starts next year.

If that is really what the girls want, I guess there is no point stopping them. But I will try to visit them before the end of the year to talk to the girls myself to find out what’s really in their minds.

And what is Yah’s reaction to this? Well, she said, “Takpe lah kak, kurang sikit masalah saya kat rumah… dengan mak saya sakit… dengan Abang Chik lagi nakal…”

Yeah, I understand, she has lots of problems at home. But hey! What about Mr. Darling? Isn’t he going to be a problem too?

What do you think?

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Scared of unknowingly getting infected?

“A 10 year old boy, had eaten pineapple about 15 days back, and fell sick, from the day he had eaten. Later when he had his health check done... doctors diagnosed that he had AIDS. His parents couldn't believe it... Then the entire family underwent a check-up... none of them suffered from Aids. So the doctors checked again with the boy if he had eaten out...The boy said "yes". He had pineapple that evening. Immediately a group from Malaya Hospital went to the pineapple vendor to check. They found the pineapple seller had a cut on his finger while cutting the pineapple, his blood had spread into the fruit. When they had his blood checked...the guy was suffering from AIDS..... but he himself was NOT aware. Unfortunately the boy is suffering from it now. Please take care while you eat on the road side. Please forward this mail to your dear one.”

Have you ever received forwarded emails with contents of the above nature? If you have received such emails, have you ever forwarded them to anyone else?

Actually I saw the above posted in a blog, and this morning a blog reader forwarded the email to me. She suspected it was a hoax, but was not confident enough to reply to the forwarded email to say that it was indeed a hoax. So she sought my clarification before she dared reply to the sender and everyone else on the recipient’s list.

The above forwarded email has been in circulation for quite some time. And people kept on forwarding to all and sundry without checking its authenticity. Better to be safe than sorry, they say. I wonder… how come nobody asked about “Malaya Hospital”? Can anybody tell me where that is?

Other than this pineapple story, there is also another email about HIV infected needles being left on cinema seats on purpose so that those who sit on them will get infected. And oh… in vending machine coin returns too…

I usually concentrate on stories of HIV infected persons in this blog, touching more on the human aspect of it. My blog don’t usually touch detailed HIV facts. I don’t make it a habit to touch on the technical or medical aspects for fear of boring my readers to tears. Let the experts do that. Uh… no, I didn’t mean let the experts bore you to tears… I meant let them explain on the technical/medical aspect lah :)

I would like to make it an exception this time. While I’m still not going into too much detail, I would just like to touch a bit on the topic of HIV myths, which indirectly means I may have to include some facts as well. Well yeah, I can simply put the link here for you all to read for yourselves, but chances are many of you won’t do that. So let me just share with you some of the facts I got from the Malaysian AIDS Council website.

First, on the topic of getting infected through food, including pineapples, prepared or cut by infected persons.
If you have the slightest fear that the virus can spread this way, then your safest bet will be to not eat outside food. After all, how can you be so sure that the food you bought was not prepared by an infected person, huh?

The fact is - HIV is unable to survive outside its living host – humans. It does not spread or maintain its infectiousness outside its host. So, whether it is mixed in sauce or ketchup or pineapples, the virus will die. DON’T WORRY!

Next, on the topic of HIV spreading through needles being left on cinema seats or vending machine coin returns.

Think about it. How small is a needle head? And how much blood can be found on a needle head? The logic (and fact) behind infection through needles is when it is used together with a syringe. When you inject drugs or tattoo or pierce, some of your blood gets drawn into the syringe. And when another person reuses the same syringe and needle, the contaminated blood gets straight into this other person’s blood stream.

For HIV infection to occur, a great amount of HIV concentration needs to be directly allowed access into your body. When exposed to air, the virus weakens and dies – all within a time frame of 2 minutes!

Some of you may ask: what about mosquito bites?
Whoa… if HIV could spread through mosquito bites, imagine how many more people would be infected by now!

When an insect bites a person, it does not inject its own or a previous victim's blood into the new victim. Rather, it injects saliva. Such diseases as yellow fever and malaria are transmitted through the saliva of specific species of mosquitoes. However, unlike organisms that are transmitted via insect bites, HIV does not reproduce (and, therefore, cannot survive) in insects. Thus, even if the virus enters a mosquito or another sucking or biting insect, the insect does not become infected and cannot transmit HIV to the next human it feeds on or bites. There is also no reason to fear that a biting or blood-sucking insect, such as a mosquito, could transmit HIV from one person to another through HIV-infected blood left on its mouth parts. Two factors combine to make infection by this route extremely unlikely -- first, infected people do not have constant, high levels of HIV in their bloodstreams and, second, insect mouth parts do not retain large amounts of blood on their surfaces

Just remember, for infection to occur, three things must happen:

1.You must be exposed to pre-cum, semen, vaginal secretions, blood or breast milk
2.The virus must get directly into your bloodstream through some fresh cut, open sore, abrasion etc.
3.Transmission must occur, directly from one person to the other, very quickly (the virus does not survive more than a few minutes outside the body).

So the next time you get a forwarded email which says HIV spreads through ways and means which doesn’t involve the above 3 things mentioned, please do not simply forward it to all your acquaintances.

What’s that? No harm done you say? Well, no harm to you maybe if you keep on forwarding the myths. But imagine if everybody believed the myths, people will be afraid to come anywhere near an HIV positive person! How on earth then, are they supposed to make a living? All the stigma and discrimination will never end if we keep on spreading these myths.

From my postings, you would have noticed that I have confidently eaten food prepared by HIV infected persons, I have touched them, hugged them, even carried them in my car. If I had the slightest fear that the forwarded emails were in any way true, I wouldn’t have dared do any of those.

And while I previously used to get fever or at least some sort of flu almost every month, believe me, ever since I got myself involved in this HIV voluntary work, I seldom get sick. Honest! Somehow God has given me extra energy to carry out my voluntary work.

Maybe it’s because I enjoy what I do (it’s hard to enjoy my office work!). Or maybe it’s the prayer from all the PLWHAs whom I have helped. Or maybe it’s a combination of everything.

Just give the PLWHAs a break, will you? Please?

Now if you don’t mind, I wanna go google for “Malaya Hospital”… I need to find out where that is… ;)

Monday, 19 November 2007

The house visit, and the book sale!

Last Saturday I went to visit Mrs. K’s family. Their application to rent a DBI flat in Ipoh has not been approved yet and so for the time being they are still staying in the same house and Mrs. K is still working at the same place. Hopefully things will go according to plans and they will be able to move into the cheaper flat by the end of the year.

Anyway, when I got to their house, only Mr. K, Mrs. K and Tasya, their 10 month old daughter were home. Shah, the eldest boy, was in Ipoh for a football match while the other 2 girls were at the nearby Tadika helping out the teacher there tidy up the place. But all Mrs. K had to do was just stand at the front door and waved at them asking them to come home and within minutes, they were both home.

Tasya, despite usually being afraid of strangers, welcomed me with a smile… showing me her two teeth. She’s the direct opposite of Iwan, Fuzi’s 1 ½ year old boy who’s usually not that scared of strangers but would cry if any of his siblings purposely put him beside me. Do I look fierce? Or is it my dressing? I don’t know…

Tasya on the other hand would willingly let me carry her in my arms; even straight into my car without even worrying if her mother was tagging along. Waaaah… easy to kidnap lah like this! But no, according to Mrs. K, Tasya would usually shy away from outsiders. I was an exception probably because she sees me every month. (But then again, Iwan also sees me every month and yet he’s afraid of me!)

Nor, their 12 year old daughter, showed me the application form for form one intake to a residential Agama school in Perak. She asked my advice if she should submit the form. She has been hearing stories from God knows who about ghosts in residential schools and was afraid she may have personal encounters with ghosts if she enters a residential school! Duh! I told her I spent 7 years of my schooling life in a residential school and never once did I ever have any close encounters with ghosts. (Oh OK, maybe I was quite a “hantu” myself… but I didn’t tell Nor that part lah…)

So, yes, Nor will submit the application form. Whether or not she gets a place in that school, that’s a different story.

Today I decided to go scout for books to be given as gifts to "my girls" – Wina, Fuzi’s daughter and Nor, Mrs. K’s daughter for their commendable results in their UPSR; also Kak Long and Kak Ngah, Yah’s daughters who got 2nd and 1st in class respectively for their school’s year-end exams.

Off I went to Kinta City Shopping Complex, with the intention of heading to MPH there. But just as I entered the lobby of the complex, I found out there was a book sale there! Discounts, discounts and discounts… I so love them (the discounts…)! There were so many books to choose from I didn’t know what to choose. Just as I thought I found a suitable book and held it in my hand, I went over to another section and found another book which I thought was also suitable. Aiyoooh… this woman sooo fickle-minded lah!! I bet if I had brought the girls along they too would have had a tough time choosing.

But I had to decide and so I ended up with 2 books for the younger girls, 2 books for the older girls and 2 more books for the oldest girl of ‘em all. The 2 younger girls? Kak Long and Kak Ngah. The 2 older girls? Wina and Nor. The oldest girl of ‘em all? Who else but the one who bought the books… myself lah!

Oh, I just got some light reading materials for myself. I already face heavy drama stuff in my voluntary work so I was not about to go into heavy reading materials…

Friday, 16 November 2007

The children's exam results...

School holidays are here…

For the past 2 days I’ve been getting calls from a few of my PLWHA clients telling me of their children’s academic performance. I also need to start filling in the necessary forms to arrange for financial assistance for these children for next year’s schooling.

Yah was the first to call. She seems a bit more independent now financially and called me to say that she has bought milk powder for her youngest child. She was concerned that it may be rather troublesome for me to go all the way to her place to send her the usual household needs. At the same time her daughter had been nagging her to call me and tell me about the results of her year-end school exams. In the mid-year exams, both Kak Long and Kak Ngah got second in class. This time around, Kak Long maintained her second position while Kak Ngah… oh well… she was top in class!! Way to go Kak Ngah and Kak Long!! I must think of some sort of motivation for them. What shall I give them ya??

Fuzi’s eldest daughter, Wina, just got her UPSR results yesterday. She got 3A’s and 2B’s; the B’s were for English and Science. With most of the students in her school getting mostly 1 or 2 A’s, Wina was one of the better students. I am happy for her.

Mrs. K too has a daughter who took UPSR this year. The girl managed 2A’s and 3B’s. For someone who had to miss school quite often this year to take care of her younger siblings whenever her father had to be hospitalised, that was quite an achievement. And her teacher told her to fill in the form for application to one of the SMKA boarding schools in Perak. (The minimum qualification for SMKA’s is 2A’s 3B’s) When I heard that, I immediately thought of getting Wina to apply for the same as she wants so much to go to a boarding school, but then I remembered Wina is still having problems with her citizenship status (due to Fuzi’s marriage cert problem). Oh well, maybe she can try later for form 4 intake when Fuzi has settled that problem.

Hana’s 8 year old daughter (the one who had to walk to school) as mentioned in my previous posting, got 2nd in class. I am quite concerned that of late she had been quite reluctant to go to school.

These children seem to be doing quite well in school despite the non-conducive environment they stay in. If only they get the chance, I believe they can perform even better.

So yes, I must be very persistent in getting the necessary financial assistance for the children’s education! Aaargh… am trying to finalize the list of needy children as soon as possible but can’t seem to find enough time to do all the house visits for assessment purposes…

One family at a time Pi… one family at a time…

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

I am a Buddy Bear



Hello… I am a Buddy Bear.

Oh, please excuse my picture. The owner of this blog didn’t bother to bring me to a proper photo studio to get my picture taken. She simply placed me against the wall at her NGO centre and took my picture using her camera phone. She didn’t even give me the chance to put on some make up!!!

I am just a plain bear. There’s nothing fancy about me… and I am very unlike those big branded fluffy teddy bears. No, my friends and I are not even for sale.

You see, we were made with a mission. Our mission is to bring some cheer to HIV infected kids. That is why we are not for sale. My friends and I are given free to HIV infected kids around Malaysia and even overseas! Some of my fellow buddy bears have gone to China, Thailand, Cambodia and wherever else around the world where we are requested to go.

How are we produced? Well, the Buddies Society of Ipoh would buy the necessary materials and send the materials to a group of senior citizens in Ipoh who would then sew us into what you see in my picture above (and we come in various colours). And these senior citizens provide their services for free! They too want to play a role in giving some cheer to unfortunate kids.

I guess you can say I am an “olijinal Ipoh Mali tatak sombong” Buddy Bear!! (The owner of this blog oso Ipoh mali you know… but she’s not a bear lah!)

So, if you know of any HIV infected child or a group of HIV infected children who may need some cheering up from me or my friends, please do contact The Buddies Society of Ipoh. Their fax number and email address are provided at the side-bar of this blog.

But I’d like to repeat myself that we are only given to HIV infected kids and we are NOT for sale. We don’t mind going anywhere around the world… but again still subject to availability of cheap transportation. The Buddies Society of Ipoh depends on public funding so they can’t afford to provide business class transportation for me and my friends. Usually when we need to go overseas, we are sent through friends of Buddies who so happen to be heading the same way. Yes, extra baggage for them… but not to worry… we ain’t heavy, we’re buddy bears…

Hmmm… if only any of the courier services wouldn’t mind doing some charity and provide free or discounted transportation for me and my friends to cheer the unfortunate HIV infected kids…

Okay then, I’d better go now. I don’t want to take up so much space here. The blog owner may end up smuggling me into a Soyuz and send me to outer space…

Sunday, 11 November 2007

The Deepa-Raya Do

I was on my way to my NGO centre at 10 am to prepare for the Deepa-raya do for the female PLWHA clients when my phone rang. The call came from Yah.

I had actually informed Yah earlier that I’d fetch her at the bus-station at 11 am as I had promised another PLWHA, Kamala, around the same time. But Yah, as always, never seem to understand instructions. Not wanting her to wait at the bus-station for too long, I decided to go fetch her first and bring her along with me to the centre. So I told her to wait at the “usual” place.

When I got to the bus-station, I couldn’t find her. I called her to ask where she was and she said she was already at the bus-station. Again, I told her to come to the place where I usually pick her up and again she said OK. After 5 minutes, still no sign of her. I called again, and this time she said, “Saya kat bangunan DPMM ni kak. Tak apalah, nanti saya jalan sikit gi stesen bas.” Aaargh!! Yah… Yah…

Anyway, on the way to the centre, we had a chat about the PLWHA guy who had earlier proposed to her. Yah told me about how he tried to call her between 1 am to 3 am. When she didn’t answer, he sent her text messages. I burst out laughing when Yah told me the contents of the SMS, “Kenapa semalam tak jawab talipon? Darling pergi mana?” Oh my, DARLING??! He met her just once, proposed to her and now calls her darling?!

Yah then even told me about the conversation she had with her eldest daughter.

Daughter: “Kakak tak suka mak kawin lagi.”
Yah: “Bukannya mak nak kawin dengan dia. Mak saja seronok-seronok je.”
Daughter: “Seronok-seronok lepas tu terus suka!”

Hmmm… by the sound of it I think Yah is enjoying it, although frankly speaking, this guy gives me the creeps!! I just hope she won’t get into trouble with this guy…

At my NGO centre, since nobody else was around yet, Yah just had to wait while I set up the place for the function. Got all the lemang, ketupat, rendang daging, rendang ayam, fried mee, fried kueteow, and whatever kuih set on the table… arranged the chairs etc and then my phone rang again. This time it was Fuzi who called to say she was already at the bus-stop where I promised to pick her up. It was already 11 am and my colleague who was supposed to be at the centre by then was not there yet. I couldn’t leave Yah alone at the centre. I called my colleague and she said she was on the way and would be there in 3 minutes.

I left Yah with my colleague and immediately went to fetch Fuzi and her kids. Fuzi’s kids were already excited about the function weeks before. They don’t get to go for functions often and even a small do like this one makes them excited. On the way back to the centre, there was a police road block and right after we passed the road block, I jokingly said in Indonesian accent, “Pak, enggak ada permit, pak!” (In case, you haven’t been following her stories, Fuzi is an Indonesian). Fuzi’s son, who sat in front, just looked at me with that strange “why are you saying that” look while Fuzi and her 2 daughters were giggling at the back. Her 2 younger boys, Ijam and Iwan, didn’t even understand what was going on.

This time I really felt so sad when I saw Ijam’s face – that was the first time I saw him ever since he was confirmed HIV positive. But Ijam himself still doesn’t know heads or tails about his illness and so he was just as happy as always, with that cute little smile on his face.

Kamala then called to inform me she couldn’t make it as her mother came to visit her. OK, so I don’t have to rush to the bus-station so soon. After sending Fuzi and her children to the centre, I immediately went out again to buy KFC for the kids. Raya or Deepavali, I know the kids love KFC – something which to these kids is a luxury. Although there was a spread of food already on the table, they still love KFC, so KFC it is.

Just as I was waiting for my takeaway order at KFC, Shila SMSed to tell me she had arrived at the bus-station. I told her I’d fetch her in a while. So, right after I got my order of the family feast combo meal, I sent all the foodstuff to the centre (the KFC outlet is quite near the centre) and immediately headed out again to fetch Shila and her daughter Laila.

Yeah, lots of runaround to do…

By the time we got back to the centre, another PLWHA, Pushpa, and her daughter, Kavita, were already there. They came together with another colleague of mine. One more PLWHA, Miera, was also supposed to attend the function, but she never made it there.

Anyway, it was just an informal get-together for them to meet up, celebrate Raya and Deepavali and chat with each other. It was quite a small group but the noise made was as though there were so many of us there!

When they finished eating, I took out some toys (donated by a blog reader) and told the kids to choose and take all they wanted. They had a helluva time choosing! Even Iwan, Fuzi’s 1 ½ year old boy, chose a bagful of toys!

Another colleague of mine got to the centre around 12.30 (she couldn’t come earlier as she had to work) and had all of us burst out laughing when she asked for the “kuih bulu” (she meant bahulu).

It was good seeing them all mix around. PLWHAs… volunteers… Malays… Chinese… Indians… Since it was a closed function, the PLWHAs could talk about their HIV problems with each other without the fear of any eavesdropping ears around. The function ended at about 2 pm with everyone of the adult PLWHAs “tapau”ing some food back while the children had their hands full with toys and more toys.

Fuzi’s 2 daughters (12 and 11 years old) even helped to wash the plates without anyone telling them to do so. These girls are used to doing household chores, to them it was simply the right thing to do. My colleagues were impressed with their sense of responsibility.

By around 1.30 pm, a friend of Yah’s came to pick her up nearby (overheard the voice of the friend on Yah’s phone… sounded like a male… I wonder if it was the guy who proposed to her. Her boyfriend or her buayafriend, huh?)

My colleague sent Shila and Laila to the bus-station while I decided to send Fuzi and her children right to their doorsteps. With 5 children tagging along and each one of them with a plastic bag full of toys each, I thought I might as well send them home. I didn’t have to rush anywhere after that and their house is just about 20 minutes drive from Ipoh anyway. Within 5 minutes tired little Iwan was already sleeping on his mother’s lap.

Stopped at a petrol station on the way and filled up RM40 worth of petrol. Fuzi asked, "RM40 tahan sebulan tak kak?" Hmmm... I wish...

I didn’t stay long at their house. Fuzi seemed strong enough to cope with Ijam’s HIV status while her 2 daughters kept thanking me for the good time they had.

Hopefully next time, more PLWHAs will turn up.

Thursday, 8 November 2007

Sigh... another innocent child!

When Fuzi first found out she had HIV, she was confident she got infected because she was raped. The double trouble news was devastating. First, knowing the fact that she got pregnant as a result of being raped (her husband had died more than a year before she was raped), and second, that she was infected with the much dreaded HIV. Living in a shame-driven community, she had to endure double the shame – carrying HIV and carrying an illegitimate child.

Anyway, immediately after knowing she was HIV positive, she immediately brought her 4 children for tests. The first 3 children were confirmed negative, while the result for her 4th child, Ijam, was not conclusive. Fuzi was told by the doctor to bring Ijam for another test. Fuzi got worried, because she was still breastfeeding Ijam before she found out about her HIV and 5th pregnancy.

But bringing Ijam to the hospital was not an easy task. The boy was afraid of hospitals… and worse still, of those scary looking needles. Every time Fuzi planned to bring him along to Ipoh for her own appointments, Ijam would make a disappearing act. This went on for a few months until finally the doctor reminded Fuzi to bring Ijam for tests.

So finally, after much coaxing, AND bribery (“if-you-come-with-me-I-buy-you-toy” kind of bribery), Fuzi managed to bring Ijam for another blood test about a month ago. And yesterday the results came. Ijam was confirmed… HIV POSITIVE.

Aaaaargh!!! I can imagine how Fuzi feels right now. She called me this morning to convey the sad news to me.

It is possible that the boy was infected when Fuzi breastfed him. But the chances of infection from mother to child are greater during delivery, and Fuzi did deliver Ijam through normal delivery. The doctor was quite confident that Fuzi was unknowingly infected much earlier, by her late husband. Although the blood tests done during her pregnancy with Ijam showed negative results for HIV, chances were that the tests were done during the window period whereby the virus could not be detected although already there.

After thinking it over, Fuzi remembered that her late husband used to go to Southern Thailand quite frequently after his first wife died, before he married Fuzi. The rapist may not be the HIV culprit after all!

Now Fuzi even has more worries in her mind. The youngest boy, Iwan, has been confirmed negative (all necessary precautions were taken before Iwan was delivered to minimize the chances of infection), but will have to live with a birth certificate which says “Maklumat bapa: Tidak diketahui.” And while Ijam doesn’t have such problem in his birth certificate, he will now have to live with HIV all his life. The news was so devastating I forgot to ask Fuzi if her children’s citizenship problem has been settled.

I’m organizing a Deepa-Raya do for the female PLWHAs and their children this Saturday, and I promised Fuzi she could talk to me then. I know she needs to talk to someone right now.

Oh, poor Ijam!

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

The innocent children...

Thank you so much to all those who wrote in indicating their interest to sponsor a child. We will forward the list of needy children once we have finalized the list, detailing the background info of each child. With your help, we hope there will be a better future for these children.

Anyway, this morning I got a call from Zali. Remember Zali, the dude whose story I posted here and here? Yeah, his wife left him and the kids in June this year. With Zali's drug addiction, I can understand the part why she left him… but what I don’t understand is why she left the children with him without even considering their well being!! Initially, I thought in time she may miss the children and come back for them. But it has been more than 4 months now and yet there has been no attempts whatsoever from Zali’s wife to get her children or even to find out how they are doing. I DON’T UNDERSTAND!! What wrong did the children do to deserve being deserted by their own mother?

Understandably, the children are attached to the father as he’s the one who had always been staying home while the wife goes out to work. But now that the wife had left them, the children are not getting enough to eat.

From time to time, Zali had been borrowing from his mom who nags every time and but still gave him money anyway (probably thinking of her grandchildren). But I guess she’s no longer willing to lend him money which she knows she will never get back. Zali got so desperate looking for food to feed his two girls, and he didn’t know where else to seek help. Get a job? That won’t be easy. Even for ex-drug addicts it’s not easy to get a job – what more someone who’s still on methadone treatment like Zali. Zali needs to go to the hospital EVERY day for his methadone.

Apparently before Raya recently, Zali managed to get a referral letter from the HIV clinic to seek some assistance from Baitulmal, but when he went there, he was pushed around from one person to another… and ended up empty handed. My guess is that they thought Zali should work to earn a living… but the problem is… who’s willing to employ Zali and give him time off every morning for him to go to the hospital? Besides, in the referral letter it was clearly stated that Zali has HIV, and THAT was probably one of the reasons why he was pushed from one person to another.

When Zali called me this morning, he asked where else he could get help to feed his children. “Tolonglah puan, beras tak ada, susu tak ada… saya dah mati akal dah tak tau mana lagi saya nak cari!” I asked if he could wait until tomorrow so I can send him some groceries. He sounded disappointed at the thought of having to wait another day. His kids haven’t had anything to eat yet for the day and I’m not even sure if they had anything proper yesterday. I couldn’t stand the thought of the two young girls (5 years & +- 2 years old) going hungry without food. Their father may have done a HUGE mistake but they shouldn’t be the ones suffering.

I don’t like what Zali had done in his past, but at least he is trying his best to feed his children, even if he has to beg. His estranged wife on the other hand is working and has a fixed income - the least she can do is to make sure her children gets some food to eat! She has every reason to bring the children to stay with her, but she's not even attempting it. I’m going to say this again… I DON’T UNDERSTAND!!

Anyway, I managed to get some rice, milk, bread, biscuits, sugar, canned food, and some other foodstuff for the kids and promised to meet up with Zali near my NGO center. Zali came with his younger daughter on an old motorbike. I asked where his other daughter was. He said she was at home. That got me worried. A 5 year old girl left alone by herself at home. Oh dear…

When Zali saw all the foodstuff, he was so thankful, he cried. He even said to his daughter, “Hari ni kita boleh makan, adik!” Unlike some who preferred to ask for money, Zali on the other hand was glad his children got something to eat.

Zali really needs to get himself a job. But who’s willing to offer him one? Hmmm… maybe I should try to link him to Bakti Kasih… they are better trained to deal with drug addicts.

On another note, remember my earlier posting here about the male PLWHA who asked Yah to marry him despite not even knowing her full name? And how Yah gave her phone number when he asked for it?

Well, just as I had expected, he had been trying to call Yah at ungodly hours. Yah called me a few days ago saying that the guy had been trying to call her between 1 am to 3 am. (I guess that’s when he feels most lonely?!). When Yah didn’t answer the call, he sent her text messages. I wanted to say padan muka to Yah… but no, I didn’t. Instead I told her, “Itulah, yang gatal gi bagi phone number hari tu siapa suruh?” Hehehe…

Oh don’t worry, I didn’t scold Yah. We ended up giggling on the phone…

Monday, 5 November 2007

Sponsor a child, anyone?

It has been 8 months since I started this blog. I’ve done more than 100 postings (this one’s the 108th), the bulk of which were true stories about HIV infected people and their families whom I’ve been dealing with in my voluntary work.

If you have been following the stories, you would have noticed that many of the families under my charge are poor families, mostly single mothers who had to take over the responsibility as breadwinners for their families; and not earning enough to cover all their needs.

You may have read about:

  • The children who were reluctant to go to school because they were pressured by their teachers to pay for the various fees.
  • The children who were told to buy additional books which were not even listed in the list given earlier by the school. And then get scolded when they don’t buy the books without even the teacher asking why he/she didn’t buy the book.
  • The children who were told to join uniformed co-curriculum activities in school but can’t afford to pay for the uniforms?
  • The small children who had to walk to school, exposing themselves to dangers lurking around.
  • The children who were pressured by their van/bus drivers to pay up the monthly van/bus fares.
  • The children who had to actually miss school because they had no transport to go to school and would only go to school if there was anybody they could hitch a hike from.
  • The children who needed tuition but whose parents can’t afford to pay for the tuition fees.

And God knows what other difficulties they face…

Education is a must for these children. It is a BASIC necessity for them. No matter what their parents had done, no matter what their background is, these children still deserve the chance to get at least basic education without getting unnecessary pressure… without exposing themselves to danger (by having to walk alone to school because parents can’t afford transport fares)

If you can afford to help these children, will you?

My NGO has just finalized the guidelines for our Education Sponsorship for Children, where we hope to get individual sponsors for each individual child to sponsor their school needs until these children finish schooling. Amongst the expenses to be covered include the various fees that need to be paid to the school (there may be no more school fees and exam fees but I believe there are still lots of other fees – co-op, computer, co-curriculum etc), exercise books, workbooks, uniforms, shoes, bags, stationeries, van/bus fares or other means of transportation, tuition fees, pocket money and whatever other necessities.

Interested to sponsor a child? Or you have some queries on this?

Please email hivbuddiesipoh@yahoo.com .

More details will be given to those who indicate their interest to the above email address.

Saturday, 3 November 2007

A visit to Hana's house

When Pat, a colleague of mine who was assigned as Hana’s main buddy, told me that Hana was still in denial, a few things came to my mind. Hana didn’t look to me like the kind who wouldn’t accept fate. You see, before this when Hana’s late husband Rashid was still alive, I was the one Hana used to call to seek help from as they had to be in Ipoh quite often. Later when Rashid was transferred back to the hospital at the town they live in, we assigned Pat as Hana’s main buddy as she stays in the same town. And she has been doing a good job visiting Hana at home whenever she had the opportunity.

When Pat told me that Hana denied she was HIV positive, I was thinking that either there was somebody else listening to their conversation (like Hana’s mother or children); or Hana didn’t quite understand what was told to her by the doctor/nurse. She did seem to be quite slow in understanding whatever that was said to her.

So I thought I must visit Hana at home. Being a typical kampong girl that she is, maybe she’d feel more comfortable talking to a fellow Malay lady, I thought. I called her up on Wednesday just to be sure if she’s home today and yesterday I called SN at the HIV clinic to make sure of Hana’s HIV status before I talk to Hana today.

I promised Pat I’d give her a call when I reach the town. Besides visiting Hana and bringing her some groceries, I also brought along with me 2 other boxes of groceries to be given to 2 other PLWHAs who are Pat’s clients.

Pat was busy doing something at home this morning when I called her, but she offered to show me the way to Hana’s house anyway. Pat changed cars with her husband first as she was not confident driving the big car into Hana’s kampong. We went in 2 cars as Pat needed to go back early. Although I know how to get to Hana’s kampong, apparently finding her house in the kampong was not easy at all. Thank goodness Pat offered to show the way. Such a narrow road… turn left, turn right, turn left and a few more sharp turns here and there… we finally parked our cars under a tree. There was one house on our right, locked with a padlock. I thought that was Hana’s house… it didn’t look like anybody was home.

When I asked Pat if that was the house, she said, “No! We got to climb up there!”

Hana’s house is perched on a hilly area. So there I was, with a 10 kg bag of rice in one hand and a heavy bag of other goodies in the other, climbing up to Hana’s house which is not reachable by car, in fact not even by bicycle. If you go by bicycle, you’d either have to carry your bicycle up or leave your bicycle down. And I wasn’t about to carry my car up there… ;)

If Pat didn’t come along I would probably have to go down another trip to get the other things… other than rice, I brought along cooking oil (5kg bottle), milo, flour, sugar, biscuits, noodles, margarine, etc. Although Pat had to leave early, I was really thankful she came along. I would have had a tough time without her.

When we got there, Hana’s 13 year old daughter just showed her face for a while and then went upstairs. She seemed a bit shy. But Hana’s 8 year old girl was very very chatty… always trying to grab our attention by interrupting our conversation. Hana’s 3rd child, a 4 year old boy, woke up while we were chatting and immediately came down to play with a cat they call Taman.

“Taman?” I asked. That’s a weird name for a cat, I thought. “Jumpa dia kat taman jadi panggil dia Taman lah,” answered the 8 year old girl. Oh well…

Anyway can you imagine… this 8 year old girl has to walk to school everyday. And it takes about 20 minutes to walk to her school… using shortcuts. If Hana works day shift (7 am to 7 pm), she will walk the girl to school. But if Hana works night shift, the little girl walks to school ALONE. And using shortcuts only means that the path the girl follows is a quiet, lonely road. Anything can happen during her 20 minute walk. I was somehow immediately reminded of Nurin Jazlin. But despite all the publicity on children’s safety, we can’t blame Hana for exposing the girl to danger, can we? The only school van available at her area charges around RM50 to RM60 per month and Hana simply could not afford it. Definitely we need to consider her for some sort of education sponsorship.

Hana, who stays with her mother, does not earn enough to be able to afford to pay for her daughter’s school van fare. Hana’s mother, in her 50’s, has to work too to make ends meet. Worse still, her mother’s bloodsucking employer doesn’t even provide annual leave for his workers. And they work 7 days a week. He gave 2 days unpaid leave for Raya, but if the workers wish to take leave on other days, he’d cut off 2 days pay for each day of leave! You may wonder why he had not been reported to the labour office. Well, none of the workers dare do that for fear they may end up being out of job when they desperately need money. I guess the employer knows that too… that’s why he’s really taking full advantage of them. LEECH!!

We were also told that of late, since Rashid passed away, Hana’s little girl seemed a bit reluctant to go to school. I asked the girl why. She said some friends like to push her around and kept teasing her because she no longer has a father. Hmmm… either that, or, being the small town that it is, some people must have heard that her father had AIDS.

Back to Hana’s so called denial; I found out that my suspicion was true after all. Hana didn’t quite understand what the doctor told her. Actually she is confirmed positive, but her CD4 count is still OK and she does not have any symptoms of HIV related illnesses as yet. Hana thought OK meant she was negative. And when the doctor told her to go for another blood test just to be sure of her CD4 count, Hana thought the test was to be doubly sure if she was indeed negative. So, when Hana asked me about the results of the latest blood test, I just had to tell her the whole story in plain direct language to make sure she understood.

Hana seemed a bit distraught when I told her. Looking at her, I was quite sure by then she fully understood she was positive. She began to worry about her children’s future… she began to worry about who would take care of them… she began to worry about the side effects of the HIV medication (as she had seen on Rashid when he started taking the antiretroviral drugs)… she began to worry about “what if people found out”.

I told her she shouldn’t be worrying too much and that she has to be strong for the sake of her children. I gave her examples of the other PLWHAs like Jah and Shila. Easier said than done I know, but what else was I to tell her?! I know having a positive attitude helps a lot for these PLWHAs, but looking at the kind of poverty Hana lives in, even without HIV she already has a lot of things to worry about.

All I can do now is to make sure Hana gets enough assistance especially in her children’s education. She can always call me or Pat when she needs to talk, and hopefully in time, she will be able to live with HIV, positively.