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)

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

2-in-1 visit

After I called Kak Mimi last week and found out about all the problems she was facing, I figured it’s about time to pay her a visit. And since a long lost client of mine, Rubi, who finally contacted me recently, stays in the same town, I might as well visit her too.

So I decided to visit them both yesterday. I was still at home when Kak Mimi called, confirming if I was coming. She works as a guard at a school and so there was no point of visiting her at home. I told her I’d give her a call when I reach Rubi’s house. You see, both Kak Mimi and Rubi know each other well and Rubi’s house is nearer to where Kak Mimi works.

Off I went, setting my GPS to a school mentioned by Rubi to me earlier (not the same school where Kak Mimi works). Rubi told me to call her when I reach the school, and so that was what I did. I had initially thought Rubi would either come on a motorbike or something to fetch me, or she’d give me further directions to drive to her house. Coincidentally, Rubi so happened to be just nearby when I called her, and so I met her right in front of the school.

I was then asked to park my car by the roadside. Apparently Rubi’s house is on a hill and we had to walk all the way up to reach her house. Oh well, it had been quite some time since I last had any climbing/trekking activities, so I guess my visit yesterday included one. Only this time, we had to trek up carrying some weight as well because I brought along some groceries for Rubi, including a 10kg pack of rice and a 5kg bottle of cooking oil.

When I got to Rubi’s house, I immediately called Kak Mimi. Kak Mimi told me she’d meet me there in a short while. She then asked for a one-hour time-off from her boss. Poor Kak Mimi was almost out of breath by the time she reached Rubi’s house. Kak Mimi used to open up a food stall in front of her old rented house, but due to so many problems, she has stopped doing so. After that she got the job as a guard at the school that I mentioned earlier.

As for Rubi, she has remarried since a year ago. Her husband however, does odd jobs and doesn’t have fixed income. Rubi herself works as a helper at a vegetable farm.

Anyway, knowing that Kak Mimi took time-off from work, I didn’t want to waste too much of her time, so after she caught her breath, we went back down, and she showed me the way to the new house she’s renting. You see, when I called her earlier, she told me not only about the flash flood that damaged quite a number of her belongings at home, but also that she had to look for a new house to rent because the landlord of the old house she had been renting for the past 10 years wanted the house back.

Kak Mimi managed to find a vacant house for her to rent, but her problem is the amount of cash needed to pay for all the deposits. The new landlord however, had already given her the key to the house despite not getting any deposits yet. Kak Mimi is supposed to pay the amount on the 1st of July, when she plans to move into the new house.

The inside of the house had already been cleaned by Kak Mimi and her sons. It was still empty as all Kak Mimi’s things will only be brought in on the 1st. I could see the house wasn’t in the best condition (room door without knobs etc) but it was good enough as shelter. After handing over the groceries that I brought along for Kak Mimi, I also handed over some cash donated by her son’s education sponsor given through me. Kak Mimi felt so thankful she almost cried.

After the short visit to the house, Kak Mimi showed me the way to her workplace. At least during my next visit if I can’t find her at home on a weekday, I know how to find her at work. Once we got to the school, Kak Mimi reported back to work while I turned back to head home.

And oh, while the supply of groceries had already been unloaded from my car, by the time I headed home, it was loaded with fresh vegetables given by both Rubi and Kak Mimi.

A whole load of vegetables in the car! I know I won’t be able to finish them. So guess what? While I actually didn’t have any plans for today, I figured I might as well slot in visits to the homes of 2 more clients in Ipoh, and share some of the vegetables with them.

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Another visit done, another visit planned

I was on clinic duty last Monday. When I was told by the nurses that there was supposed to be one new case to be referred, I waited at the support service room. I waited and waited and waited… and got bored waiting.

So I decided to call an old client of mine, Kak Mimi, whom I had not contacted for a while. I’m so glad I made that call. She has a load of problems on her shoulders but was too shy to seek help. The moment I called to ask how she was doing, only then did she start telling me the problems she was facing.

Kak Mimi stays about 1 1/2 hour drive from Ipoh, so I can’t simply drop everything and go visit her as and when I like. I need to properly plan my visits. Coincidentally, another client of mine, Rubi, who I had lost contact with for some time, contacted me recently after she got my number from Kak Mimi. You see, they stay in the same town and know each other well. Rubi had lost her handphone earlier and lost my number with it. So she was unable to contact me after she got herself a new phone and number.

During the early stages after I was assigned as Rubi’s buddy, she was still rather shy and didn’t talk much. We only met once at the hospital, and before I managed to gain her full trust, we lost contact. That was until Rubi met Kak Mimi and found out that Kak Mimi too knows me. I guess Rubi had more confidence in me after listening to Kak Mimi’s stories about how Buddies and I have been helping the family. So she got my number from Kak Mimi and finally contacted me via whatsapp. She was pleasantly surprised to find out that I actually still remember her.

Since I am planning to visit Kak Mimi, I might as well visit Rubi during the same trip. Am hoping to visit them by early next week.

Meanwhile yesterday I went to visit Zainab. She stays in Ipoh, and so I didn’t really have to plan ahead to visit her. I just needed to find out when she’d be home during the daytime (she works on shifts at a factory). When I found out she was home yesterday, I immediately went to visit her, with some supply of groceries bought earlier using money donated by some generous friends of mine.

Only Zainab and her older daughter (fondly called kakak) were home. The younger child (Adik) was at school. Kakak goes to school in the afternoon session. Zainab’s husband, Zaki, had to go to the hospital for his routine blood test.

After all these years, Zainab remains the sole bread winner for the family. Zaki did get jobs from time to time, but always ended up quitting with all sorts of excuses… tak laratsusah kerja malampekerja lain semua pekerja asing… and whatever other excuses. In the end, Zainab herself gave up and told him to just stay home and take care of the kids. Zainab herself has hypertension in addition to her HIV, but despite the stress she has to face at work, she never even thought of quitting.

Anyway, Kakak whispered something to Zainab while I was there. I was wondering what it was about. Apparently the girl wanted her mother to ask me about this year’s Family Day. This family is a regular for our Family Day, and the 2 girls always look forward the annual event. I haven’t started inviting my clients yet for this year’s event as the board has not decided on the venue yet. I will have to contact every client on my list once the board has made that decision.

Okay, so one home visit done this week. My next visit will be to the homes of Kak Mimi and Rubi.

Friday, 19 June 2015

Visiting the K’s

It had been quite a while since I last went to visit the K’s at their home. When their case was initially passed to me, I visited them quite often, almost on monthly basis, sending them groceries. With Mr K being unwell and Mrs K the only one working, they were always short of cash. They even took a RM2K loan from a chetty, and the chetty held Mrs K’s bank ATM card. At the end of each month, the chetty will take the interest amount and will only hand over the balance to Mrs K for her own use. The agreement between them was that the chetty will only return the ATM card when Mrs K settled the loan.

A blog reader of mine was kind enough to settle the loan amount for her. I went with Mrs K to the chetty’s house to hand over the cash myself (if I gave the money to Mrs K, she might be tempted to use the money for something else) and to make sure Mrs K got her ATM card back.

I thought things would be better for the family once the loan was settled, but no, they didn’t to know how to manage their finances. The moment Mr K managed to withdraw his EPF under permanent disability, the first thing they did was to install Astro at their home.

It didn’t take long before they finished up Mr K’s EPF money. Every time they were broke, Mrs K would try to ask me to lend her some money, promising me she’d pay me back when she gets her duit kutu or something like that. I never did lend her any money, but that didn’t stop her from trying and trying again whenever she was broke. It only stopped after I started to give her the silent treatment.

Anyway, I usually only send monthly groceries to poor families until a certain period. The idea was to help them out until they’re independent enough. But with the K’s, when you help them once, they expect you to help every time. I started distancing myself, only keeping in touch from time to time especially to see that the children’s educational needs are met. For the past 3 years, I only visit meet them during our year-end back-to-school shopping.

A few weeks ago, Mrs K sent me a message, asking if there’d be any financial assistance for this year’s Ramadhan, as there had been a few years ago. While other clients would be too embarrassed to ask for such things, Mrs K never failed to ask. She said since she works at a canteen and the canteen is closed in the month of Ramadhan, she’s not earning anything during the month.

I didn’t bother to reply her message this time. Silent treatment method in use again. That was until a few days ago, when I decided to send them some groceries, courtesy of donors. When I asked if she’d be home today, she said she was supposed to start work at a supermarket this very day. But later she texted me again, saying she starts work at 6pm, so she should be home in the morning.

And so off I went to visit her this morning. This time to their 5th rented home ever since I took over their case. I had already heard from the nurse at Ipoh ID clinic that Mr and Mrs K were no longer together, so I was not expecting to see Mr K at home. True enough, when I got to their house, there were only Mrs K and her 2 younger daughters at home, her 3rd child now in form one, and her youngest who underwent hole-in-heart surgery when she was younger, is now 8. Her eldest son, who never furthered his studies after form 5 despite me advising him to go for vocational courses, just started work at a factory 2 weeks ago. Previously he was just doing odd jobs here and there, no EPF or Socso.

I told Mrs K to tell the boy to at least stick with the job if he doesn’t want to go for any vocational courses. At least for this job at the factory, they have EPF and Socso contributions, and if he works hard enough and is loyal to the company, he stands a chance for promotion later. With his qualification, jumping from one job to another won’t do him any good. Mrs K told me that was what she advised her son… to work hard and not to depend too much on others. Hmmm… funny coming from someone who never failed to ask for financial assistance.

Her eldest daughter (her 2nd child) actually had a better outcome after her SPM. She managed to get a place at a college in KL and I even managed to get her some financial assistance for registration purposes. I thought she was still studying at the college, but today I was told the girl dropped out after just a few months. According to Mrs K, the girl fainted quite frequently and missed quite a lot of her classes and so she decided to just quit.

Recently the girl was hospitalised for 2 weeks. Tests showed she didn’t have enough red blood cells. She’s on medication and is doing better now but will still have to go for follow up appointments at the hospital. Meanwhile she managed to get herself a job as a clerk at a motorcycle shop nearby.

As for Mrs K herself, when I didn’t reply her message asking if there were any financial assistance for the month of Ramadhan, she started looking around for jobs and ended up getting the part time job at a supermarket, until after Raya when she will go back to her job at the canteen. See? My silent treatment actually works. She actually went out to look for a job, didn’t she?

I didn’t bother to ask about Mr K as I didn’t want her to start saying bad things about her ex-husband. And since she too didn’t get into that topic, it was even better for me.

Hopefully with her 2 older children already working, she will stop asking for money from others. I still wish the children had better education, but there’s not much I can do on my part if they themselves aren’t willing enough.

Monday, 15 June 2015

An update on Fuzi’s family

When Fuzi’s case was first referred to me about 8 or 9 years ago, she had loads of problem. After her husband died, her house was broken into by an intruder who raped her. As a result, she got pregnant, and blood tests showed she was HIV+. Precautions were then taken to reduce the risk of mother-to-child infection.

Fuzi’s case was referred to me after she gave birth to that child. Fuzi has 4 children from her marriage. Although Fuzi believed that her HIV infection was a direct result of the rape incident, all her 4 children were brought for testing as well. To everyone’s surprise, her 4th child, Izam, then only 5 years old, was found to be infected.

So, Fuzi’s HIV infection wasn’t because she was raped! Apparently her late husband used to go to Golok quite frequently with his friends. Ahh… she probably was infected by her late husband, and her husband died without even knowing he was HIV+. Fuzi herself, an Indonesian, married her late husband, a Malaysian, in Narathiwat, Thailand. But her late husband never registered their marriage in Malaysia.

Her problems started to surface after her husband died, and after the rape case.

Since her marriage wasn’t registered in Malaysia, her first 2 children, despite their birth certs indicating they’re Malaysians by virtue of having a Malaysian father, had problems getting their identity cards done. All because their father is no longer around, and the mother is not a citizen. Thank goodness, after a rather long and difficult process (with strings pulled here and there), she managed to get her sijil nikah certified and legalised, and her children managed to get their ICs done. Once that matter was settled, the following 2 children didn’t have any problems getting their ICs when they turned 12.

Her youngest, Iwan, being born without a father, cannot be considered a Malaysian citizen as he has to follow his mother’s status. With Fuzi having to renew her visa on yearly basis to stay here with her Malaysian children, Iwan remains a non-citizen. By right he should be holding an Indonesian passport to remain here, but that’s another problem. To get that passport, Fuzi will have to bring him back to Indonesia to get an Indonesian ID first. The thing is, according to Fuzi, in Indonesia, she’d have to furnish them with a legal sijil nikah for Iwan to get that ID card. With him being born out of wedlock, someone will have to legally adopt the child first. Fuzi had been trying to apply for PR status so that Iwan can go to school in Malaysia, but to date, all her applications were rejected. But she was told she’d stand a good chance when her eldest daughter turns 21 so the daughter can be the “guarantor” for Fuzi’s application.

The family used to get monthly welfare aid. Fuzi personally doesn’t qualify as she’s not a Malaysian citizen, but her 4 children qualify. However the assistance was given under the name of the children’s uncle, who used to stay nearby. Now that the uncle has moved elsewhere, they are no longer getting the monthly welfare aid. Fuzi’s only source of income for the moment (other than education sponsorship the children are getting from us) is a fixed monthly amount banked in by a generous blog reader.

As for her children, other than the youngest who can’t go to school because of the uncertainty of his citizenship status, the other 4 were/are all covered by our sponsorship program. The eldest is already doing a degree course at a local university. A very responsible girl, from time to time, she gives a small amount of her scholarship money to her mother.

Fuzi’s 2nd, also a daughter, is now in form 6. Despite not doing too well in her studies previously, she did considerably okay in her SPM but failed her English. Seeing her older sister doing quite well, she too seems to be more motivated to do well in her studies. According to Fuzi, the girl has improved in her studies, including her English.

The problem is with Fuzi’s 3rd child, her first son. The boy always ended up in some sort of trouble in school. Fuzi tried to transfer him to another school. After his PMR in which he didn’t do too well, Fuzi enrolled him in a vocational school where he had to stay at the school hostel. The boy ended up running away from school. In the end he just decided to drop out of school. I had no chance to talk to him as he was never home when I went to visit. Furthermore, since last year he has been staying at a friend’s house. I suggested to Fuzi to enrol him in a short vocational course somewhere like Giat Mara, but according to Fuzi, it is very difficult to get him to agree. The boy, now 17, is currently working at a factory. When he gets his monthly pay, he spends his whole salary for himself and his friends. Not a single sen has been given to his mother. As a matter of fact, sometimes when he ran out of money, he’d ask his mother for some cash. But his 2 sisters always scolded him and wouldn’t let their mother give him any cash.

Fuzi’s 4th, the HIV+ boy, is now in form one and had always been an average student. He has however, showed some improvement in his studies after he joined his siblings in teaching their youngest brother who doesn’t have the opportunity to go to school. Teaching his brother turned out to be good for him too.

The youngest boy may not be able to go school yet even though he is already 9 this year, but his older siblings do teach him whatever they can at home. And in the afternoon, he goes to a Sekolah Agama Rakyat nearby. In other words, his mother and siblings are making sure the boy doesn’t simply waste his time at home.

So despite everything the family has to go through, they are coping quite well under the circumstances. There are still problems that need to be resolved, but hopefully, with their perseverance, things will eventually end up well.

Saturday, 13 June 2015

The visits begin…

Having received cash contributions from friends and strangers (either blog readers or friends/relatives of friends) to be used for the benefit of the needy, I figured I might as well start my home visits before Ramadhan begins.

So after buying supplies of groceries for 2 families, plus some infant formula and baby food, I started off my grocery deliveries for 2 families first.

First up, a visit to Dahlia’s home. With 6 children and 1 grandchild to feed, to me Dahlia needs more ration than any of my other clients. All but one of them were home. Dahlia’s second child, a 14 year old boy, was attending a hafaz Quran class. Would you believe it, I’ve never had a chance to meet this boy, because being very active in all sorts of activities inside and outside of school, he always had some kind of activity to attend whenever I went to visit. Even when I brought them for their back-to-school shopping, he wasn’t able to join because of his activities. His mother had to choose the uniforms/shoes etc for him based on his size.

It is good to know that Dahlia’s children are doing considerably well in school, especially the 14 year old boy. Even her eldest daughter, Dilla, the young mother to Dahlia’s grandchild, is coping very well in the culinary college and being a teenage mother at the same time. Her little baby looks healthy too, despite the fact that her growth seems to be somewhat slow. The little girl has been given an appointment to see a specialist at the general hospital, just in case her slow growth is due to some other problems. Hopefully the girl is just fine.

Anyway, Dahlia was actually cooking for her kids when I arrived. Dilla took over to finish off the cooking. When I brought in the box consisting of all sorts of goodies including rice, milk, canned food, biscuits, infant formula, baby food etc, and placed the box on the table at their dining area, Dahlia’s 3 year old son kept climbing up the chair to see what was inside the box.

I will probably visit this family again next month before Raya.

My next destination was to a nearby town to meet up with a new client, Nur, assigned to me just recently. She’s working, so visiting at home was out of the question. But she agreed to meet up with me during lunch break and so I asked her to suggest me a place where we could have lunch together.

Nur was already waiting inside the restaurant when I arrived. A single mother of 2 young boys, Nur started working after her divorce, which took place just after her confinement. The younger son is already 4 years old now. Never having any work experience before, Nur was lucky when a friend told her about some vacancies at a particular company. She went for the interview and the very next week she started working with the company. While she’s at work, her children are taken care by the children’s grandmother at home.

Nur may still need help with her children’s education when they start going to school, but at least her situation is not as bad as some other families I know. I told Nur about the situation of a few of  my other clients (including Dahlia who I just visited earlier in the day), and Nur is well aware that she is one of the lucky ones to still have the support of her family.

I did ask Nur if she’d be interested to become a volunteer. She said she’s not too confident of the things she should say and do, but when I told her that during the early stages she’d just need to follow a senior volunteer around to observe and learn, she seemed quite receptive to the idea. I told her to join us first for this year’s Family Day so I could introduce her to the other volunteers and clients, and from there on we’ll see how it goes.

Despite it being our first meet, Nur seemed quite comfortable. I could already joke with her. Maybe one of these days I will try to visit her at home when she’s not at work. I’d love to meet her children.

I’m planning to visit at least one more family before fasting month begins, and continue my visits during the month of Ramadhan, hopefully to give the poor families, especially the children, some cheer before Raya.

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

All in a week’s (voluntary) work

While I was at the highway heading to Kedah last Thursday for the humanitarian mission for Rohingya refugees, a fellow volunteer sent me a message, asking for my opinion on who to assign as the buddy for a new case. He forwarded a copy of the particulars for the new case, but it was rather difficult for me to read all the details in the car, on my handphone, although I wasn’t the one driving. So I told my colleague I’d get back to him the next day.

Then while I was at the immigration depot, a call came in from a nurse at Taiping Hospital, asking if I could assist with another case. It wasn’t convenient to talk at that time, so I just told her to send me the guy’s details via sms, so I could follow up on the case later.

On Friday, I managed to get a good look at the first contact details forwarded to me by my fellow volunteer, and seeing that the lady stays in a town where I already have a few clients, I figured I might as well take up the case.

On Monday I was on clinic duty. For the past few clinic duties I attended, there were no new cases referred to me. I figured even if there were to be no new cases that day, I’d still need to go to the hospital because an old client of mine had texted me earlier, asking to meet up as she said she needed to have a chat with me.

The client, Imah, came with her 5 year old son. “Apa cerita?”, I asked. “Tak ada apa, saja dah lama tak sembang dengan akak,” came the reply. I knew it had to be more than just to have a chat, and true enough, I was right. She had been having some problems with her husband lately and all she wanted was someone to talk it out to. You see, the present husband is confirmed hiv negative. Imah was infected by her first husband. When Imah married her present husband, both of them already had grown-up children of their own. But her husband’s children didn’t know of her HIV status. Her husband told her that there was no need for him to tell his children.

After a while, the husband did end up telling his children about Imah’s HIV status. Since then, his children started to say all sorts of bad things about Imah, causing the pair to argue a lot. It came to a point when Imah thought their marriage was about to end, that was when she contacted me asking if we could meet up.

However, by the time Imah came to see me on Monday, the pair was already back on good terms with each other. But after all that she went through, this time Imah wanted to be more prepared. She wants to be more financially independent, and so she sought my advice on how to do just that.

Anyway, back to my clinic duty, I was told there were 2 new cases to be referred to me that day, so while waiting for the cases, I decided to call the guy who was referred to me by the nurse from Taiping Hospital, just to get some basic info about his problems. Single, not working, stays with younger brother who’s also not working. Hmmm… he can’t expect us to give him cash, especially since the younger brother is healthy and able to work (he claims he himself is too weak to work any longer). I decided to pass the case to a male volunteer so he could maybe arrange to meet up with the guy and assess the case.

As for the 2 new cases, both involved pregnant ladies. For the first case, a young couple came in together with their 2 young kids. The lady is already in her final trimester of her pregnancy, but somehow was not detected HIV+ during earlier blood tests. Recently, when her husband was hospitalised and was found to be HIV+, another blood test was done on the lady, and only then it was found that she too was infected. I decided to pass the case to another volunteer who stays in the same town as the couple.

Then came in the second case. After being involved in this voluntary work for over 10 years now, I thought I had seen them all. But my jaw dropped when I was told the details of this case. A 28 year old female, never married, 6 children from 6 earlier pregnancies, and now pregnant with her 7th. Wow!!! 5 of her children had been given up for adoption. She’s only taking care of her 4th child, who is 6 years old this year. Which means she gave birth to her 4th child at the age of 22, and so her 3 older children were born when she was even younger. Her own family, staying in another state, do not know about all her unwed pregnancies except one… the one child that she’s taking care of now. She now stays with someone she calls her mak angkat who is aware of her unwed pregnancies but doesn’t know about her HIV status.

Wow, this lady sure knows how to keep secrets, doesn’t she? Anyway, she plans to keep the baby she’s due to deliver in a few week’s time and was seeking my advice on how to make a living while taking care of the 2 children at the same time. She can’t be too dependent on her mak angkat she said. Told her to concentrate on the soon-to-be-born baby first, then we’ll think of something later.

Yesterday, I tried to call the new client assigned to me (the one my colleague texted me about while I was on my way to Kedah last week). She didn’t answer the call. I then sent her a message, explaining to her who I was, and that I’d wait for her reply before I proceed further. There was no reply either. I figured either she wasn’t too keen on having a buddy, or she wasn’t ready. I decided to just let it be and give her some space.

While I was out shopping for some necessities yesterday, a call came in from a lady, seeking help for her 20 year old HIV+ sis-in-law (infected since birth). She had already called me much earlier to seek advice, and she said she’d call me back soon. But she never called back, and so I thought she managed to settle the concerns she had with her SIL. Yesterday she called asking if we could meet up and discuss the matter. “I ingat I boleh handle tapi tak boleh la!”

We decided to meet up today. She brought along her SIL’s first child (unwed pregnancy) whom she has officially adopted. There wasn’t much she could do about the SIL’s second unwed pregnancy as none of the family members were even aware about it. They only knew about it a few weeks ago, months after the baby was given up for adoption to total strangers. Anyway, I salute this lady for not giving up on her SIL. She wants her to be empowered, but for the moment she’s worried that her SIL doesn’t seem to care about her future… going out every night with a new boyfriend and coming back late at night. She tried to get the SIL involved in a new business (the lady runs her own business) but to no avail. The SIL goes to work just to get the income, so she had money to spend when she goes out at night. To her, being HIV+, she wants to enjoy life while she can. But having been taking HAART all her life, her CD4 is high and viral load undetectable. God willing, she still has a long life ahead of her.

There’s not really much I can do if the girl herself isn’t too keen to change for her own good. But I told the lady to find out what her SIL’s true interests are. We need to get her to do something she’s passionate about. Unless and until we can get her to do so, it will be difficult to get her to change. So our next mission is to try and find out where her true interests lie.

Oh, remember the new client who didn’t answer my call and didn’t reply my message yesterday? She finally replied my message today and agreed to meet up this Friday.

And so another outstation trip is scheduled this Friday. Will also be sending some groceries to this single mother of 2 young children. While there, I might as well send some groceries to another client as well.

A busy week it has been, and a busy week ahead is foreseen.

Friday, 5 June 2015

Day-trip to Kedah: Humanitarian Mission For Rohingya Refugees

It’s really heart-breaking when we hear about the plight of the Rohingya refugees stranded at sea. Sometimes we feel helpless. We want to help, but we don’t know how, especially those still stranded at sea.

But hey, we can still help those who made it to Langkawi recently, right? They came with nothing but whatever they were wearing. Stranded at sea with nothing to drink and eat, you can just imagine their condition when they first arrived in Langkawi. Many of them were women and children.

So a group of women volunteers in Perak decided we needed to do something to help. We’re not from any particular NGO, just calling ourselves Sukarelawan Wanita Prihatin Perak. We started asking around for donations, be they in cash or in kind. And since a private college in Ipoh, HAAZA Centre for Excellence, also organised their own humanitarian mission to collect contributions for the Rohingya refugees, we decided to work together with them. The college became the collection centre, and their students helped out especially with the packing and sorting out of the items collected.


Thursday, 4th June 2015: The day to deliver all our contributions to Kedah. Basically all contributions are to be sent to the collection centre at the Alor Star immigrations Office.
Initially we intended to send the contributions in 2 vans, but we ended up with so many boxes of goods to be delivered and had to hire a lorry instead.

Staff & students of HAAZA helping to load the boxes into the lorry.

Group photo before flag off. Sukarelawan Wanita Prihatin Perak together with staff & students of HAAZA.

Flag-off.

We went off in 3 different vehicles: One lorry carrying the bulk of the contributions, one van carrying 2 of our women volunteers together with 5 male students and 1 male tutor from HAAZA, while 2 more women (including myself) were in another car, carrying 3 air purifiers.

Those who want to send their contributions, are to send them to the collection centre at Alor Star Immigrations Office. We aren’t allowed to visit the refugees at the Belantik Immigration Detention Depot where the refugees had been sent to. However, among the items identified as urgently needed were air purifiers. Since I managed to collect enough cash from friends to buy 3 air purifiers, we were asked to send them direct to the detention depot in Belantik.

And so our convoy separated at the Gurun exit. The lorry and the van went straight to the Alor Star immigrations office, while the 2 of us in the car exited Gurun and drove on to Belantik, further up than Sik. Quite a remote area I must say, but certainly beautiful sceneries along the way.

When we arrived at Sik town and called Tuan Amir, the immigration officer we were liaising with, we were told we had about another 30km or so to go before reaching their detention depot. We were also told they’d be serving us lunch, and so there was no need for us to have lunch first. The road leading to Belantik from Sik was even more remote. I wouldn’t want to drive there alone, and I definitely wouldn’t want to drive there at night.

We finally made it to the Belantik Immigration Detention Depot at about 2 pm.
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Tuan Amir came to greet us before informing his superiors about our arrival with the 3 air purifiers. Our arrival was at the perfect time. They were just done with a meeting and so immediately we officially handed over the air purifiers to their Tuan Pengarah.

Tuan Amir was so nice to get permission from his boss to allow us to visit the detention cells as well. Seeing that there were only 2 of us instead of a big group (and we were very well behaved too, hehehe…), Tuan Pengarah gave us the go-ahead, provided of course that we are not allowed to take photos beyond the green gate separating the other buildings and the detention cells.

Tuan Amir then accompanied us, first to the cell where the clinic is. The same building was also used to temporarily place those selected by UNHCR to be taken elsewhere. The moment we got inside, still at the door, we were given masks to be worn, not only because of the smell, but also for health reasons. The place was so cramped, the air definitely didn’t feel healthy, thus the reason the air purifiers were needed.

In the first cell we met 3 ladies, 2 of them with babies, and the other lady was pregnant, due to deliver any time. Cute little babies I must say, one in the mother’s arms, while the other, just about 2 months old I think, was lying on a piece of towel on the floor. They were among those identified by the UNHCR to be taken elsewhere. We then walked on past a few more cells with adult immigrants also already selected by the UNHCR. The UNHCR was supposed to send busses to pick them up that day, but there were still no signs of the busses when we were there.

We were then shown where the clinic was, and that was where one of the air purifiers were placed. Health personnel from nearby health clinics and hospital come to the clinic 3 times a week to treat the immigrants for whatever ailments they may have.
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Leaving that building, we then went on to another cell, placing the refugees who arrived recently in Langkawi. The smell there was even worse. Tuan Amir related to us about one of the Rohingya women they met, they noticed that her blouse was wet near her breasts, and they figured that it was due to her breast milk. She must have a baby then, right? They asked her where her baby was, and it was so heart-breaking to find out that the baby had been thrown into the sea earlier because while they were still at sea, the lady ran out of breast milk to feed the little baby (she herself didn’t have anything to drink or eat…) and so the baby died of hunger.

There were many other sad stories of course, and according to Tuan Amir, hysteria was quite a norm among some of the women. They must have had such a traumatic experience, not only at sea, but also earlier on at home.

After visiting the cells, we identified a few more areas help may be needed. If any of you out there are thinking of helping, here are a few you may want to consider

They do have this water filter system at one of the cells. This is very much needed to enable them to drink right from the tap without having to boil the water first. It would be good if the other building is also equipped with this water filter (with a more hygiene water tank).
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The refugees stay in cells where they don’t have anything to look at but themselves and the walls. Outside activities for the moment are not advisable… anything can happen because there are too many of them there and there aren’t enough immigration officers to supervise all of them. Seriously, I think I can go nuts if I stay in the cell doing nothing but stare at each other and the wall (and in a very warm environment). But for these refugees, they were happy enough to be safe at land, with food and drink available for them. They were already thankful as it was.

For the 2 of us who went to visit, our main concern are the children and the teenagers. To change their future, education is of utmost importance. Even during our short visit, when Tuan Amir just spontaneously taught a boy sitting near the closed grill door how to count from one to five, the boy followed after him, one, two, three, four, five. It would be good if we can have volunteers going there on a regular basis to teach the children how to read and count. At least just the basics. Tuan Amir said something can be arranged if there are any volunteers willing to do that. Anyone in Kedah want to take up the challenge? Or any universities want to take that up as a project?

The visit was definitely an eye-opener for me. Thank goodness we managed to get enough funding to buy the purifiers to get the permission to go direct to the detention depot. Otherwise, we would just deliver the goods to the collection centre at the Alor Star immigration office, and that was it. I wouldn’t be seeing for myself the condition of the refugees, and I wouldn’t be able to assess the situation myself.

More needs to be done. We can’t simply close our eyes and mind our own business. This is fardu kifayah.

“Ya Allah, tabahkanlah mereka di dalam menghadapi dugaan demi dugaan. Semoga dugaan yang mereka hadapi akan menjadikan mereka insan-insan lebih berjaya di masa hadapan.
Ya Allah, jadikan kami rakyat Malaysia insan-insan yang lebih prihatin. Jadikanlah insiden yang berlaku di tanahair kami ini sebagai iktibar kepada kami. Jadikanlah kami insan-insan yang lebih bersyukur dengan segala nikmat yang telah Engkau berikan kepada kami selama ini.”