When I brought the second Ipoh group for their back-to-school-shopping less than a month ago, among the families involved were Helena’s. She looked so skinny and frail then, I almost did not recognise her. Although she had 4 children, all boys, only of 2 came with her to shop for their schooling needs. They had to just get schooling items for the other 2 based on their sizes without trying them on.
When I saw Helena’s condition, I thought they either came by taxi or someone sent them to the shopping complex. I was surprised when Helena told me they came by bus. I didn’t have the heart to let them go back by bus, what with all the stuff the 2 boys had to carry, and in addition they’d have to help their mother as well. So before they went home, I gave Helena some cash and told her to take a cab.
About 2 weeks later, while I was on clinic duty at Hospital Raja Permaisuri Bainun in Ipoh, a call came in from an unfamiliar number…
“Hello? Ini puan Afiza ka?”
“Ya, saya. Siapa ni?”
“Ini Helena punya emak. Helena sudah meninggal la puan.”
Then she started crying, making it difficult for me to understand whatever else she was saying. I told her I’d call her back one of these days.
So after my own year-end holiday in Penang, I called Helena’s mother on the first day of 2016. I was planning to visit her this week, and I wanted to be sure she’d be home. I was told she’d still be home for the whole week as they have this 16 days mourning period, which only ends at the end of this week.
This morning I finally went to visit this family. Another volunteer I assigned to follow up on this case came along. Although Helena is no longer around, Helena’s eldest son, Bala, 14 years, is also HIV+, infected since birth. We need to make sure Bala continues going for his hospital appointments and adheres to his anti-retroviral treatment.
Helena’s mother is already 65 years old, but she still needs to work to support herself and her grandchildren. She works at an Old Folks Home, getting a pay of RM25 a day, with no pay on off days. In other words, no income whatsoever for her during the 16 days mourning period.
According to the grandma, Bala is doing well in school, usually getting top 3 in class for his school exams. However his 3 younger siblings aren’t doing too well academically.
Whatever it is, we want them to continue going to school. The 2 in primary school boys go to school in a neighbour’s car, at RM50 per month. For the 2 older boys in secondary school, their school is a bit further and they have to take a school bus at RM60 each per month. In total RM170 per month just for transport to school. I am hoping to get education sponsors for the children, or at least donors to pay for their monthly transport fares.
I also told the grandma to go to the Welfare Dept and apply for financial assistance. When Helena was alive, she used to get a certain amount of welfare aid every month. I honestly think this family deserves to get continuous aid, especially now that the boys are under the care of their 65 year old grandma.
Whatever it is, I told the newly assigned buddy to follow up on this case and see how else we can help out. And before we left, I gave her some cash to help them out especially since she’s not earning any income for 16 days.