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)

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Financial assistance: Where and when to draw the line

Having been a volunteer with The Buddies Society of Ipoh for about 12 years now, and having been assigned to over 70 clients throughout those years (including those who have now passed away and those who I'm no longer in touch with), I've had to deal with all kinds of clients' attitude. There are those who really put to good use all the assistance they're getting, there are those who think that helping them is what we're paid to do so we must help them each and every time no matter what their problems are, there are those who misuse the financial assistance they're getting without feeling any guilt even after we find out about them.

For the record, the main objective of The Buddies Society of Ipoh is to provide moral support to people living with HIV and their families. Financial assistance was out of the question back then as we ourselves had to depend on fundings from the public. However, as time went by, and as we found out some cases of our clients in desperate need of financial help, we passed the hat around to collect donations on a case to case basis.

When fundings became more stable, and realising the importance of education, we decided that our financial assistance would be more in the form of supporting the children of identified PLHIV families for their basic schooling needs. That was when we set up the Children Education Fund (CEF). The fund is used to cover basic schooling needs, mainly the annual back-to-school expenses. Later, we came up with the Education Sponsorship for Children program, to help children of families needing monthly help.

So yes, financially, our help is more to see that these children are not deprived of education. So far, I'm satisfied with the results. Although we had a few school dropouts despite the help they're getting, seeing quite a number of these children continue their studies to higher learning institutions or at least to go for skill training courses, made all the effort worth it. And oh, I must say how happy I am that out of the 4 who either sat for their STPM or did their matriculation last year, 3 of them (2 boys and 1 girl) have been offered places at local universities. And the best part is that their respective sponsors agreed to help out with the initial registration fees and expenses.

Despite making it clear that our financial assistance is basically for their children's educational needs, there tend to be clients who'd try to take advantage of us. We give them money to pay for whatever payments necessary to the respective schools, they misuse the money for their personal needs (or sometimes not even their needs, but instead their wants). There was one particular case where the client asked for money to buy a handphone for her daughter, another asking us to pay for their electricity bills, and another client, when asked to list down her children's schooling needs, wrote down "motosikal RM2000" in the list. I wonder what they'd ask for next, if we gave what they asked for.

For the family misusing the school fees we gave them (the same family asked for handphone), we had no choice but to take them out of the sponsorship program. For those who asked for more than educational assistance, we just had to be firm and told them that our help is only for educational purposes. Of course from time to time, when there are cases of clients desperately needing financial help, we'd try to source for fundings for them (after proper assessment is done) either by getting donations or by channelling them to the rightful departments or relevant organisations. The money will not come from our own funds.

We now do have what we call a Clients' Welfare Fund, but that is only to cover for clients' hospital needs. Not to pay for their house rent, not to pay for their utility bills, not to pay for other needs.

We have our limits, and sometimes even when we make that clear to our clients, they either don't understand (or pretend not to understand) and still try their luck to ask for all sorts of things. That is why I always tell my volunteers to never lend them money because once you do, chances are they'd be asking for money again and again.

Having said that, I must mention that most of our clients do not take advantage of us. Only a few of them do, but the ones who do, can really piss you off. Thank goodness the success stories managed to outweigh the frustrating ones. Otherwise I'd probably no longer be in this voluntary work.

With a few families already financially independent, and a few more anticipated to be on the road to success in a few years time, I am satisfied with what I see so far. And I will stick to the lines already drawn as to the limit of financial assistance we should give.

Being compassionate doesn't mean we shouldn't be firm. And being firm is something I can be. Don't believe me? Ask my school juniors. ;)

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