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)

Monday, 31 October 2011

A new beginning?

The last time I went to visit Sofie at her home, I was told about her problem with her son Azman, who was caught by the police for riding a motorbike without road tax, and without license.

Before anybody assumes that Azman is a wild, naughty boy, I can vouch that he is actually quite a polite and obedient boy. It’s just that he doesn’t seem to be interested in school anymore, and ended up befriending the wrong group of friends. Sofie told me that Azman planned to stop schooling after his PMR and look for a job that suits his interest. And his interest? Oh, he loves cooking. Even when Sofie told him about a canteen operator looking for an assistant to help wash the dishes, Azman said he wanted to help out with the cooking so he could learn.

I figured rather than forcing him to go to school for the next 2 years just for the sake of sitting for his SPM, when we know his interest is elsewhere, might as well direct him for vocational training.

Coincidentally recently I was requested to do the cashflow for a newly opened private centre offering a course in Kitchen Practice. Those who completes the course will be given the Sijil Kemahiran Malaysia by Jabatan Pembangunan Kemahiran and so I asked one of the directors about the minimum requirements. Azman seemed to meet the minimum requirements. So I told Sofie to ask Azman if he really was serious about doing a course related to cooking. If he takes this up seriously, the prospects for him are quite good. He can either be a chef, serve in hotels/restaurants or runs his own catering/cafeteria business.

Sofie called me back yesterday saying that Azman was actually excited about the idea and kept on asking her, “Betul ke makcik Afizah boleh dapatkan tempat ni?”

So yes, this morning I called the person in charge at the Centre to ask about the coming intake and how to go about. I was told application for December’s intake is already opened and so I went over to the Centre to get the necessary forms and more detailed info. Just a simple form that needs to be filled to apply for a place, and another form to apply for the Tabung Pendidikan Kemahiran. The students (limited to 25 students per intake) are given an allowance of RM300 per month, and if they need hostel accommodation, RM150 will be deducted from their allowance to cover for the hostel fees.

Later in the afternoon, after buying supplies of groceries for the family, off I went to visit Sofie’s family. I had told Sofie earlier I’d be coming and to be sure Azman would be home as I wanted to speak to him personally to be really sure this was what he wanted.

And yes, Azman was home when I got there. In fact he was eagerly waiting for me to come. I could see he was really excited about taking up this course. Even last week when his mother was sponsored to attend a 5 day course under the e-kasih programme, Azman asked his mother to teach him whatever she learnt. There was no doubt where his interest lies.

But I still gave him a piece of my mind when I met him today. I wanted him to make sure he doesn’t waste this opportunity. Hopefully this will be the start of a better future for him…

Come on boy! I’ve done the ground work to open up the opportunity for you, get in there and prove your worth. Show us what you’re made of!

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Activities for the past 2 days

I spent the whole day Monday at the Dewan Komuniti Taman Meru for the Kempen Kesedaran Pencegahan Penderaan Kanak-kanak & Keganasan Rumahtangga organised by the State Health Department. Other than inviting us to set up a booth, the organisers also sent us a letter asking us to send a few participants to the seminar. I told them that since it was a working day, it was either the booth or the seminar participants for us, not both. Most of our volunteers work in the private sector, so in order for them to attend, they’d need to take leave.

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So yes, we opted for the booth. The booth was after all, inside the hall, and so while manning the booth, I could listen to the talks by the various speakers as well.

Another volunteer promised to join me early morning to help me set up the booth. She didn’t turn up, so I was all alone setting up the Buddies booth. The volunteer only turned up at 12.30 pm, long after the guest-of-honour left. Another volunteer who promised to help out later during the day, never turned up at all. Sigh! Oh well, you get that sometimes when you do voluntary work.

Since I was all alone at the booth when the guest-of-honour, Dato Dr Mah Hang Soon, went round, I sought the help of one of the volunteers at the neighbouring booth to help snap a few pics when the YB stopped at the Buddies booth.

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With 9 speakers talking on various topics – this brain of mine had to absorb so much the whole day. Luckily we had good speakers, so it wasn’t too bad. The downside however was that it was rather… ermm no, it was VERY warm in the hall. This time I was not willing to wear the Buddies vest, except for a short while when Dato Dr Mah went round the booths.

Today being the last Tuesday of October, I was on clinic duty in Taiping. Earlier on Sunday, Sofie called me seeking my help. She said someone from KPW’s e-kasih programme called her up asking her to attend a course at a hotel in Ipoh starting Tuesday (today) but she didn’t know where the hotel was. She asked if I could help send her. I told her I needed to go to Taiping, but when I found out that she had to report before 9 am while I usually only make a move to Taiping at about the same time, I agreed to help her out provided she arrived in Ipoh a bit early. The only problem was, she didn’t get the letter from the organisers, just a phone call, and so the name of the hotel was based on what she heard, or what she thought she heard. She told me it would be at “Hell City”.

Huh? Hell city?! Where the hell is that?!! After a while I managed to figure it out. She must have meant Hillcity Hotel. Duh!

So yes, this morning I went to fetch her at the bus station and sent her to Hillcity Hotel. The moment we got to the hotel I saw a large banner welcoming participants to a Kursus Kemahiran organised by the KPW so I immediately knew I brought Sofie to the right place.

After sending Sofie to the hotel, I stopped by our center for a while to unload the exhibition materials from my car. We finished quite late of Monday and I wanted to rush home for my asar prayer and so when I went home all the materials were still in my car. I didn’t want to bring them all the way to Taiping, and since I was still rather early, there was ample time for me to leave all the stuff at the center before making a move to Taiping for my clinic duty.

My colleague in Taiping was already waiting in the praying room aka our makeshift counselling room when I got there. She had to report for duty at 10 am and was only there to report to me on the status of a 13 year old HIV+ girl who was referred to her by somebody else due to the family’s poor condition. The girl goes to the Taiping paed’s clinic and so the case was never referred to us earlier. The girl’s parents both died of HIV related illnesses and so she and her younger sibling now stay with their grandma. The younger sibling however had been spared from the virus. My guess is when the mother was pregnant with the second child, her HIV was detected and so precautions were taken to avoid transmission to the child.

Anyway, apparently everyone in the neighbourhood and in her school seem to know about this girl’s HIV status, thanks to a newspaper, under the pretext of highlighting her sad story, even published the fact that the girl’s HIV+. The girl has stopped going to school for the past few months. I asked my colleague to arrange for a suitable day for us to go and visit the girl at home. I think I need to speak to the girl myself before I can decide what kind of help we can give her.

My colleague had already gone off by the time the nurse came in to refer one case to us. A young lady then walked in. Unlike in Ipoh hospital where the nurse would usually give me a brief background of the case before referring the patient to us, in Taiping the nurse simply got the patients to go see me in the room without even giving any details except for the name.

This young lady, Nor, found out about her HIV during her pregnancy test. I asked where her husband was; she smiled sheepishly and said, “Tak ada.” I immediately knew this was another unwed pregnancy case. But unlike the other unwed pregnancy cases that I’ve handled so far, this one seems to have the least problem. I don’t have to worry about finding a shelter home for her as her parents do accept her at home despite knowing of her unwed pregnancy and HIV. I asked if her parents did attempt to get her “partner-in-crime” to marry her, but according to Nor, her parents dislike the guy. And when asked if the guy had gone for testing, Nor said she did call him to ask him to go for testing, but he refused. In fact he got mad when the hospital people called him up (number given by Nor) to ask him to go for testing. Ah well…

The next case referred to me was a guy. Not a new case actually, but he was still referred to me as he needed financial help, particularly for his schooling children. He is working but now that he is already on his second line of HAART, he needs to buy one of the antiretroviral drugs. Although the cost is subsidised, he still needs to fork out RM200 a month to pay for it. I told him we can’t help him out with the cost of the drugs, but we can help out with his children’s education.

One more case was referred to me after that. A new case referred to Taiping Hospital, but not someone newly diagnosed. He had been diagnosed HIV+ a few years ago in another state where he was working, but after going for appointments a few times, he gave up. In fact, he admitted that at one time he almost wanted to just end his life, but according to him, somehow, “Saya ingat Tuhan tolong sama saya la.” He moved back to his hometown to stay with this mother, and now no longer has the urge to end his life.

All cases were referred to me quite early this time, so by the time I finished seeing the 3rd case, it wasn’t even 12 pm yet. I even had enough time to get home in time for lunch!

Thursday, 20 October 2011

The week that was…

While attending the launch of the Karnival Usahawan Wanita & S.H.E. Expo at Stadium Indera Mulia in Ipoh last Friday, I finally decided to confirm with a friend from another NGO, Perak Women for Women, to attend a talk they were organising the next day. It was rather short notice, I only got to know about the talk via SMS in the morning, and I had initially planned to use the weekend to have a good rest at home, but I figured the topic of the talk could be useful to me in carrying out my own voluntary work. The topic was “Parenting Teens on Sex : When to Start & What to Say”.

I may not be a parent myself, but I do deal with so many teenagers who are children of my clients. In addition, I have been assigned to handle a few unwed pregnancy cases as well. So yes, the topic was somewhat relevant.

And so on Saturday I did attend the talk. The turnout wasn’t too impressive initially, but slowly participants started trickling in. The speaker was Puan Jamilah Samian, (author of the book “Cool Moms, Super Dads”) and she was backed up by her husband, Encik Ahmad Fakhri. And yes, I probably could use some of the tips in my own approach to the teenagers I have to deal with even though they aren’t my own kids.

Monday morning… off I went to the hospital. No, I wasn’t on clinic duty; our clinic duties at Hospital Raja Permaisuri Bainun are on Wednesdays. I had been invited to give a talk introducing Buddies to some staff of Health Clinics in Kinta district on Tuesday 18/10, and the letter for me was sent to the HIV clinic at HRPB. So I went to get the letter to find out the full details of the “Kursus Pengurusan HIV” organised by the State Health Department. At the same time, I was hoping to meet up with Hasnah, a client from outstation who was supposed to come for her appointment on Monday. I wanted to help her apply for some financial assistance and there were some forms that needed to be signed.

But by the time I got to the HIV clinic, it was already 10.30 am, yet according to the nurse, Hasnah was nowhere to be seen. I tried calling, there was no answer. I sent a text message, there was no reply. At that moment, I thought she may have defaulted her appointment again, as she did once before.

Not wanting to waste time waiting for nothing, I decided to go home. At least I could get some work done on my computer. It was already 11.45 am when Hasnah finally called back to inform me that she had just reached the hospital. Apparently she couldn’t call me back earlier as her phone ran out of credit.

Off I headed to the hospital again, met up with Hasnah at the HIV clinic and got her to sign the necessary. She had not photostated the necessary documents yet though, thinking of getting them done at the hospital. But I needed a copy of her husband’s IC as well and he wasn’t around, so Hasnah promised to post the supporting documents to me later.

After lunch & zohor at home, off I went again… this time heading to Taman Meru, Jelapang. There is supposed to be an awareness programme there next week and Buddies will be setting up a booth, and the organisers, the State Health Department, called for a final meeting at the event venue. The event is actually a seminar on Kesedaran Pencegahan Penderaan Kanak-kanak & Keganasan Rumahtangga. Our booths will be in the hall where the seminar will be held, so yep, while manning the booth, I’d get to listen to the seminar as well.

The meeting ended at almost 4.30 pm. The next day I was to be one of the speakers for  the other event organised by the State Health Department (different unit though), but since my slot was supposed to be from 12.45 – 1.15 pm, I only went after 11 am. Well, the talks before mine ran late due to a longer than anticipated opening ceremony, and so by the time I got to talk, it was already 1 pm. That too because they decided to postpone the slot for the speaker before me to after lunch. I was the only non-MOH staff amongst the lot and they decided to let me speak first so as not to waste my time.

Anyway, all I had to do was introduce Buddies to them. Knowing the participants were probably already hungry and noting the fact that during one of the forums during the National Aids Conference in Penang recently, each speaker at that forum were only given 10 minutes each to talk about their organisations, I only took about 15 minutes to complete my talk. So lunch was still on schedule.

Got home by about 2.15, and after a short rest, I had to prepare my notes for our board meeting later at 7.45 pm. Our board meetings are usually held on the last Tuesday of each month, but since this time the last Tuesday falls on Deepavali eve, we decided to have the meeting a week earlier.

Amongst others, the Board approved the purchase of exhibition display boards so at least we’d have a proper display for our posters during exhibitions especially when the organisers do not provide display boards. I had earlier enquired from a supplier in KL and was told that they’d charge an additional RM80 for delivery to Ipoh. Still cheaper than the one I checked out in Ipoh, so might as well order from this KL supplier. But after I confirmed the order, the invoice came… and it was mentioned in the invoice that delivery is FOC for community service. Yayyy!!

Another good news is we have also been chosen as a recipient of a project called the Little Christmas Hat Project where a certain amount of the proceeds from the sales of the hats will be channelled to our Education Fund. And we don’t even have to help out with the sales of those hats.

I think this year so far had been quite a good year for Buddies…

Friday, 14 October 2011

And the virus keeps being passed on… and on…

3 new cases were referred to me during my recent clinic duty – 1 divorced lady with 3 children, and the other 2 were a couple.

The first case referred was that of the divorced lady – small framed but she looked quite healthy really. I was quite surprised when upon browsing through her medical file, I noted that her CD4 was already below 50. And she had just been diagnosed only recently.

Rita, divorced just about 5 years ago, had not been in any sort of contact with her ex-husband since the divorce was finalised. Yes, she has 3 young children, aged 9 and below, but never once did the ex-husband even bother to find out how they are doing. Forget alimony.

So when Rita was tested positive, her ex-husband could not be contacted to check if he had been tested or if he was already seeking treatment elsewhere. Rita only mentioned that the last she heard, her ex had remarried.

Oh dear, that means very likely he had passed on the virus to somebody else as well… sigh…

Which comes to the question… aren’t all Muslims in Malaysia required to do the mandatory HIV test before they get married? Well, yes. So was he tested positive but the wife still agreed to proceed with the marriage? Or was it undetected during the test? Or did he find ways and means to either avoid the test (by marrying outside Malaysia) or to get a HIV –ve clearance without even doing the test? God knows…

Anyway, with a CD4 of less than 50, Rita will definitely have to start her ARV immediately. Being an educated person, it wasn’t too difficult explaining the implications to her and so I think she should be ready to adhere to her ARV treatment.

Next up was the couple. They came in with a young boy, about 1 year +. The nurse passed me 2 medical files – so I knew straightaway that both of them were HIV+.

Based on their story, they only found out that the wife was HIV+ only after she had to go through her c-sect when delivering the boy. All pregnancy cases would have been tested for HIV but apparently, for this lady, it was not detected during the initial test.

I was quite surprised when the husband said he just got tested and didn’t know his results yet. He wanted to know if he had been infected as well. Apparently this was the lady’s second marriage and she assumed she probably got infected by her late husband. She has 4 grown up children from her first marriage – one of them already working.

I told the guy that the fact that a file was already opened for him meant he was confirmed +ve as well. He seemed calm, either already expecting it, or he pretended he was unaware in the first place I don’t know.

After they left the room, I studied their files. The husband was tested immediately after the wife delivered their child, at a hospital in another state, and the result was +ve. They would have been told about the results then. So how come he was still asking about his test results? Did they not understand the first time around?

After reading their files further, I found out that they had defaulted follow-up appointments in that hospital after they moved to Perak. They never bothered to get referral letters and they never brought their child for follow-up after the child was diagnosed as negative. Or so they claimed. They sure seemed like one confused couple.

They finally went back to the hospital when they needed to seek treatment for their child who was down for some other ailment and that was when they got the referral letters to continue their follow up appointments in Ipoh.

It will be rather difficult to follow up on this case especially if they default any other appointments. With no phone numbers to contact, any follow ups on our part would have to be by way of house visits. Then again, without informing before hand, they may not be home when we visit. And based on what they said to me, they may be looking for another house soon.

I just hope they fully understood my explanation to them on the importance of adherence to all their treatments and appointments. They promised to inform me if they ever move to another house.

Guess I will just have to wait and see…

Friday, 7 October 2011

The Problematic Young Woman

Those of you who had been following my blog from the beginning may remember the story of Zana, the first unwed pregnancy case I had to send to a shelter home. You can read her stories here… Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.

Anyway, Zana gave birth to a pair of twins, both boys, but one of them died after a few months, exactly a week after I visited them – initially to bring Zana & her boys back home to her parent’s place, but ended up not doing so when Zana’s mother told her not to because apparently her father was fuming mad when he heard about Zana’s out-of-wedlock pregnancy for a second time (they were already taking care of Zana’s older daughter, also a result of out-of-wedlock pregnancy).

Zana always had problems with the other occupants at the shelter home. She finally left the home, initially with her son, but later the people at the shelter home took the boy back under their care due to Zana’s unstable financial position. Zana herself told them that she’d fetch the boy once she gets married.

Zana then went back to her wild old ways. She never went for her follow-up appointments at the hospital.

The latest update I got was that Zana, whose condition seemed to have reached full blown AIDS, went to the shelter home, wanting to take her son with her to her parent’s home. She felt she did not have much time to live and so wanted to spend more time with her son and her family. To be doubly sure that she indeed was going back to her parent’s place, the people at the shelter home called up Zana’s mother and the mother confirmed that they were willing to have both Zana and the boy at their home. And so the boy followed his mother (after much coaxing by the caregivers at the shelter home).

Apparently, after going back to her parent’s home for a while, Zana still went back to her old ways. She left the home and her son there as well. The boy had to stay with people who was not familiar to him at all, despite being his close family members.

Recently Zana called up the people at their shelter home, seeking their help to get the boy back from her parent’s home. According to her, the boy is being abused at home by her other family members.

Hmmm… knowing Zana, we don’t really know if she really was telling the truth. But come to think of it, it could still be true. Zana’s father had always been the overly strict type and had even disowned Zana once. The boy, so used to the people at the shelter home, may have missed his caregivers and would have probably thrown tantrums from time to time, wanting to go back to the only “family” he ever knew. His real family could have got fed-up with his antics and beat him up instead, wanting him to keep quiet.

I don’t know. I am no longer handling this case. The people from the shelter home can’t simply go to the home of Zana’s parents to take the boy away from there. They tried calling Zana’s mother to discuss matters, but she never answered the phone. From what I heard, they may seek the help of the welfare department.

Whatever it is, I do hope the boy will end up with the best option available. It sure wouldn’t be fair for him to inherit a problematic life due to the mistakes of his own mother and other family members.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

First the exhibition, then the conference…

Been busy for the past five days. Over the weekend there was the awareness campaign in Kg Ulu Geroh, an Orang Asli village in Gopeng. It was in conjunction with the National Law Awareness Week, organised by the Perak Bar Committee.

I had to go there on Saturday, to set up our booth, and then again on Sunday, for the campaign itself. Although Gopeng itself is not that far from Ipoh (usually just about 20 minutes drive to Gopeng toll), we had to take another 40 minutes or so from Gopeng town to the kampong itself although it was less than 10 kilometres in. And although we did see a few cars going in and out of the place, it was more advisable to use 4 wheel drives.

We Buddies had always depended on the personal vehicles of the volunteers to go anywhere. But none of us had any 4 wheel drives. However, lucky for us, we were sharing a booth with the Perak Family Health Association, and they had a Pajero! The lady who was to represent PFHA at the booth, is only used to drive the Pajero in town, didn’t dare drive on the terrain heading to Kg Ulu Geroh, and she needed someone else to drive the Pajero for her. So it was a fair deal. PFHA provided the 4WD, and Buddies provided the driver! Yours truly had actually never driven a Pajero before, whether on smooth tarred roads or on uneven grounds, but being some sort of a daredevil, volunteered to drive anyway. And made it we did!

UG6

3 Orang Asli “Cetak Rompak”

Early Monday morning, I was again out of the house when it was still dark. This time to drive (back in my auto Kenari) to Penang for the 2nd National Aids Conference in Equatorial Hotel, Penang. It rained all the way, but although it was a rather smooth drive from Ipoh to Juru toll, the jam started as we were about to get onto the Penang bridge.

Anyway, I learnt a lot during the 3 day conference, particularly on the latest updates related to HIV/AIDS, and I am hoping to organise one session for my fellow volunteers to update them with the knowledge I gained during the conference. I think many of my volunteers are quite “outdated” in a way… they’d better equip themselves with more knowledge to enable them to carry out their work as a buddy more effectively. So many things have changed since the last training session was held for them.

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One of the sessions held during the conference.