I was updating my list of PLHIV clients when I realised that I have not been in touch with quite a number of them for some time already. Frankly, since the Education Sponsorship Program started and became my baby, I had to spend more time on the Sponsorship program to ensure that all the recipients get their monthly sponsorship on time. It's a heavy responsibility handling the money the sponsors had entrusted us with, and I take that responsibility seriously. Takutlah handle duit orang!
Despite the heavy responsibility, I am still getting assigned to new clients. The HIV clinic coordinator started with, "Afizah, I am so sorry but I have no choice but to do this... I can't think of anybody else", then he handed me the contact report of the latest PLHIV I've been assigned to. No choice did he say? There are a few buddies with only 2 or 3 clients each and he said he had no choice but to pass this client to me? Ahh, must be a problematic client, I thought. I was right. Most of the cases handed to me are usually with rather similar backgrounds, with 4 major keywords - "poor", "woman", "children" and "baby".
Indeed, as I had expected, this new case is of a poor woman who has 4 schooling children and an 11 month old baby. The contact report was passed to me during our AGM last week but I haven't had the time to call her until yesterday. But yesterday when I called, there was no answer. So I thought I'd try again later today.
This morning while I was at my office, our hotline phone rang (I'm still holding the phone, will only pass it over to another board member during our meeting tonight). A lady was asking for a colleague of mine. She had tried my colleague's personal number but couldn't get through, so she tried the hotline number she got from our brochure. I asked who she was, and when she mentioned her name, ahhh... I thought... pucuk dicita ulam mendatang. The lady was Murni, the client I was trying to call yesterday. She said she was at the hospital, done with her blood test and took her supply of medication, and she was at the cafeteria. She had promised to pass some documents to my colleague whom she met during the last clinic, and so that was why she was trying to call him.
Since Murni was already in Ipoh, and work at the office is not too hectic (well, no deadlines for this week...), I decided to meet up with her myself. I told her to wait at the cafeteria and I'd be there in about 20 minutes. Off I drove to the hospital. But as always, getting to the hospital isn't so much of a problem, but getting a parking space was tough! I tried calling Murni, hoping to get her to wait for me somewhere that I need not park my car, but my calls didn't get through. Somehow at certain areas at the hospital, it's rather hard to get that particular 01_ line. When Murni called earlier, she called from a public phone, not her hand phone. Like it or not, I had to park my car somewhere. After 3 rounds of going round the hospital compounds, finally I got myself a parking space, albeit a bit far.
But I had another problem. Murni and I have never met each other before. I tried to call my colleague, hoping he'd be able to describe Murni to me, but like Murni, my calls to him too didn't get through. So, how was I supposed to recognise Murni? I was not about to make a scene at the cafeteria shouting out Murni's name...
Based on the contact report, I knew she had an 11 month old baby. Hoping that she'd bring her baby along, I started looking for those with babies around that age. But it's normal for people to bring their babies along to the hospital, and the cafeteria itself is very near the pediatric clinic. Aiyo... so how?
I looked around, and saw one lady holding a baby around that age with a small boy sitting in front of her. Somehow they looked like poor kampong folks and my gut instincts told me they must be the people I was looking for. So I went over to the table and asked, "Puan Murni?" And whaddaya know... my gut instinct was right! My first try and I got the right person. Even Murni was amused how I managed to single her out amongst the many people at the cafeteria.
The boy sitting in front of her was her 13 year old son who missed school today to accompany her to the hospital so that he could take care of the baby when Murni does her tests and all. The baby, a cute little not-much-fuss girl, is Murni's daughter from her second marriage.
Oh yes, Murni married twice. With her first husband, she had 5 children. The eldest who is 21, is married and stays in another state. The other 4, age ranging from 11 to 16, are all schooling. Murni's first husband died about 5 or 6 years ago. Murni didn't know much about what he died of... apparently her late husband's family were very secretive.
Less than 2 years ago, Murni remarried. Then she got pregnant, and that was when she found out about her HIV infection. Her present husband has been tested twice, both tests negative. Murni must have got the virus from her first husband.
Murni's present husband does odd jobs to make a living, earning between RM300 to RM400 a month. Even that is not fixed. It's more of an "ada kerja ada gaji" kinda job. No job means no pay. And with 4 schooling children plus a baby who cannot be breastfed by the mother, it's even tougher. Any money that comes in needs to be used to buy milk for the baby and food for the family. And not forgetting, to pay for their house rental of RM150 a month. I asked if the children's schooling needs had been settled. According to Murni, only the basics. Only the exercise books and whatever stationery needed for school. School uniforms, shoes and bags? Use the old ones. Fees or whatever payment they call it at the schools? They haven't paid a single sen. Yes, the school teachers had already asked for whatever payment, but at least they did not pester the kids for it.
Looks like another case to be considered for our Children Education Fund, and probably also for the Sponsorship program. I hope I can find more sponsors. Whatever it is, I will need to visit Murni at home and assess for myself her situation at home.
What about my other clients whom I had not contacted for some time? Well, I'd better contact them soon to find out how they're doing. And maybe it's time that a few of the less problematic ones be handed over to other volunteers as I may not be able to cope with too many of them under me now.