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, 30 June 2016

Ramadan 1437

It's already the 25th day of Ramadan this year. It has been quite a month. Home visits, deliveries, distribution of Raya contributions (donated by my wonderful friends), getting new clients, getting news of old clients, clients' children registering at higher learning institutions...

One of my clients, an Orang Asli lady whose story I highlighted here, passed away on the first day of Ramadan. I knew about it a few days later, after I banked in some Ramadan contributions into her bank account. As a matter of fact, by the time I banked in the contributions into her account, she had already passed on. I only knew about her death after I sent a message to a nurse at a nearby Klinik Kesihatan, who is my contact person for the OA lady since the lady didn't have a phone. I sought the nurse's help to inform the OA lady about the amount banked in. It was then that the nurse told me about the OA lady's death.

During my clinic duty last Monday, the nurse referred the case of a guy whose wife passed away last year. Apparently the guy needed help with his child's schooling expenses. He does odd jobs, without fixed income. When the guy came into the support service room, I thought he looked somewhat familiar. The nurse then mentioned the name of his late wife... she was a long lost client of mine! No wonder the guy looked familiar, I had met him once a few years ago, together with his wife, Ani. I lost contact with Ani because she kept on changing her phone number.

During this month, 3 of my client's children who sat for their SPM last year, also registered to further their studies either for diploma or pre-diploma courses. The 2 who registered at polytechnics, one girl and one boy, are both doing engineering courses. Again, my generous friends donated for the registration fees and other expenses needed for the children. I usually try to get help for the children for first time registration as I know that's the time when lots of expenses are incurred. A client of mine almost asked her son to turn down the offer as she couldn't afford the registration fees. I did however remind them that after the first time registration, they'd need to apply for PTPTN or whatever other loans or financial assistance available.

I also got a new client within this month. Although the client is a male, and his wife has been confirmed negative, contacts are basically through the wife, and so I'd be a more suitable buddy for the family. The guy used to be a lorry driver, but due to his health condition, had not been working for the past few months. Since then, they had been surviving on their savings. With 6 children, age ranging from 7 months to 16 years, their savings would certainly deplete quickly, especially since their 5 year old child, who had undergone a heart surgery, still needs to go for follow-up in Penang from time to time. This family certainly deserves assistance from our Children Education Fund.

Other than that, my visits and deliveries of Raya goodies involved my old clients whom I felt still needed assistance.

For those whom I didn't visit, I still did contact them to invite them for the Buddies Annual Family Day, to be held in early August this year. The response from my clients were overwhelming. The regulars confirmed straight away they'd be joining, and I also managed to coax a few newcomers to join as well. In total, 74 people (including 2 toddlers) from 16 different families among my clients alone, will be joining this year's Family Day. Given that usually my clients' families make up at least 50% of the total attendees, we can expect a turnout of over 100 pax again this year.

All that done, I am reserving the last few days of Ramadan for myself...

Saturday, 25 June 2016

Sofie's children

When Sofie's case was first referred to me way back in 2009, her condition was really bad. The first time I went to visit, she was lying on the mattress, too weak to even sit down. Sofie was then staying at her sister's home, together with her 4 children and her sister's family. During that first visit, the sister was there and initially I thought Sofie and her children were doing okay at that house. I brought along some groceries during that visit to help lessen the burden of Sofie's sister. Assessing the situation, I noted that Sofie's children really needed help with their schooling needs. Sofie was too weak to work, while her children were all still schooling, the eldest boy only 15. Sofie's 7 year old daughter, being the only girl, didn't have any pass-it-down uniforms she could get from her older brothers. Sofie ended up buying a poor quality RM8 uniform at a pasar malam, and the girl wore the same pair of uniform every single day to school since she didn't have any extra pairs.

Initially I thought they were doing okay at the sister/aunt's house, but during my second visit, when Sofie had the chance to speak to me in private, I was told that she and her children weren't comfortable there because her sister's daughter made it obvious she didn't like having them there invading her space. Sometimes when her mother wasn't around, she'd even slap Sofie's younger children. Sofie told me she'd like to move to another house nearby. She was planning to get her 15 year old son to work part-time after school hours to help pay for the rental.

I wasn't about to let a 15 year old boy work to support his family. I told Sofie I'd try to get help. I did get tremendous response from friends and blog readers when I updated their story on my blog (I wasn't on FB yet then). There were people who committed to pay her house rental for the next 6 months, or at least until Sofie got better. And so yes, they did move to a place they could call home. The condition of the house may not be as good as the sister's house, but the moment I went to visit them at their new home, I could tell Sofie and her children felt comfortable. It was only then I found out that Sofie's 2 younger children were actually chatter-boxes! They had been quiet at their aunt's house because they were scared to speak up.

To cut a long story short, Sofie did get better after she started taking her HIV medication. Still weak, but at least she wasn't just lying on the mattress as she did during my first few visits. Not being the type to totally depend on others, the moment she felt just slightly better, she'd find ways and means to earn an income for herself, although in her condition, she should still be resting. She'd find jobs as assistant at food stalls, or she'd cook various types kuih and sell them at canteens etc. After a while, she'd fall sick again. And the cycle continued.

I tried my best to make sure the children continued with their basic education at least. When the second boy, Azman, didn't want to continue schooling after PMR, saying he wanted to work, I tried to find out what his interests were. He loved cooking and he planned to work at food stalls (which he had already been doing during weekends and school holidays). So, with Sofie's permission, I offered to send him to a culinary school. He wanted to cook as his career, so get the proper qualification for it!

But although he enjoyed being at the culinary school, he wasn't so disciplined when it came to spending money. Despite getting financial assistance from Tabung Kemahiran, he still asked for his mother's hard earned money. He started to become somewhat big-headed, thinking he'd turn out to be the most successful among his siblings.

Sofie's eldest son, Azlan, too wanted to work immediately after his SPM. He said he wanted to help his mother. While I knew he was weak academically, surely he had an interest in something. The moment I found out he was interested in anything automotive/mechanical, I suggested to him to apply for vocational training. Sofie did express her worries that she couldn't afford the expenses to send him for further studies, but I assured her that I'd try my very best to find financial help for him. Azlan finally agreed, but by then he was already working day and night to earn some income for the family, he simply didn't have the time to submit the necessary applications. So I got all the necessary documents from Sofie, and I personally did the online application for him.

But Sofie died before even finding out if Azlan was successful in his application. Having promised Sofie that I'd help, the moment Azlan was offered a place in IKM, I liaised with the children's aunt (the children's new guardian after Sofie died) to make sure Azlan went ahead to register for a 2 year course. Azlan loved the course so much, even during the first semester, he was already thinking of continuing up to diploma level.

Although the aunt was a responsible guardian, things didn't go too well for the children after Sofie's death. Azman became even more big-headed and egoistic. He didn't even bother to go back to his aunt's house to meet his siblings. Sofie's 3rd son, Saiful, then in form 3, starting playing truant in school. When the aunt found out, she scolded Saiful. As a result, Saiful ran away from home. The aunt and her husband had to take emergency leaves from time to time to try look for Saiful. They couldn't find Saiful and because of the many emergency leaves they took, they got fired by their employers.

In the end, the aunt and her husband moved back to their home state, taking along only Sofie's eldest and youngest with them. After a while I lost contact with them. That was the last I heard of any of them.

While I was updating the list of children under our Education Sponsorship Program recently, looking at the names of previous years' recipients, I started wondering whatever happened to Sofie's children. So this morning I simply tried searching for them on facebook. Lo and behold... I found Azman's FB page! One look at his profile picture and I knew I had the right person. And since he set his postings to public, I managed to read his status updates. Azman (the one who studied at the culinary school) now works as a cook at a cafe. From some of the updates and comments I read, I knew he was in touch with his younger siblings. Although apparently he has yet to go back to meet them, at least he calls them from time to time.

From Azman's friends list, I managed to track down his younger brother Saiful (the one who ran from home and who never even sat for his PMR) and the youngest girl, Ika. I also noticed that the aunt was also on his friends list. Which means they are all in touch with each other and at least they know of each other's developments.

Saiful is now doing skills training at Giat MARA (I don't know what course he's taking but I do know he had always been interested in anything automotive/mechanical, just like his eldest brother) while Ika is still in school. I couldn't find anything on the eldest brother though, but probably that's because he may not be using his real name on FB. I sure hope he did continue up to diploma level like he was planning to. Whatever it is, he should already be working by now. Hopefully he has a good job he enjoys doing.

I'm not going to request to be their friends on FB. I only did a little bit of investigating (albeit on FB) just to find out how they're doing. They seem to be doing fine and that's all I need to know. At the same time, I hope and I pray that one day soon, they will unite as a happy loving family, just like old times when their mother was still around.


Thursday, 16 June 2016

The Sponsored Children: What Happens after SPM/STPM?

It has been 8 years since we started the Education Sponsorship for Children program, meant for the children of our PLHIV clients needing more than just the yearly back-to-school expenses. I was pulled into the committee to discuss the setting up of the fund, not knowing back then that I'd end up as the one having to handle the program under my wing.

Looking back, we started off with 9 children being sponsored under this program. The number increased to 16 in 2009, 23 in 2010, 31 in 2011, 33 in 2012 & 2013, 38 in 2014 & 2015, and this year, despite having 4 additional children in our list, we're down to 32. That's because quite a number of the sponsored children had completed their SPM or STPM. All in all, 60 different children had been sponsored so far.

So what happens after their SPM/STPM? Our Sponsorship program only covers their schooling expenses up to form 5 or form 6. Our funds do not cover expenses incurred if they further their studies in higher learning institutions or if they go for vocational training.

Surely they can apply for PTPTN, Tabung Kemahiran and the likes, right? True, but that may take time and the toughest part for them (particularly their guardians) is to come up with the payments that need to be made during the initial registration, which may range from between RM800 to RM1.5K. For some people, that amount may be considered affordable, but bear in mind, the recipients of our Education Sponsorship program are the poor PLHIV families. We wouldn't have arranged for sponsors if they weren't poor in the first place.

Without assistance, some of these families may consider turning down the offers from higher learning institutions because they can't afford to come up with the RM800 to RM1.5K. No doubt people can tell them that they can apply for PTPTN and all, but when you're poor, and you read the offer letter saying that a certain amount needs to be paid during registration, the first question that will probably come up in your mind is, "where on earth am I going to get that amount of money?"

Which is why, although Buddies do not cover for educational expenses after the children complete their SPM or STPM, I personally do make an effort to get help for them if the need arises. What a pity it would be if these children turn down offers to further their education or to get vocational training simply because they couldn't afford the initial expenses.

So how do I get help for them? Use the social media. In my case, I'd just update my FB status that so and so needs help for his/her education, and so far, my friends never fail me. In fact, the original sponsors of the children (from the education sponsorship program) are usually more than willing to help especially if the child in need is their sponsored child. I've even had sponsors paying for brand new laptops for the child to use in higher learning institutions.

We already have quite a number of these sponsored children in universities, polytechnics or private colleges. In fact, a few who did diploma courses or vocational training, are already working, and in the process, helping their families lead a better life.

To me personally, the satisfaction of seeing these children succeed in life is priceless. Despite the few dropouts, I'm still nonetheless happy with the success stories. Every time any of my clients tell me their sons/daughters got offers from any colleges or universities, I'd get excited for them. We already have certificate and diploma holders among the children. I am so looking forward to hearing the news of the first of the sponsored children to obtain a university degree (for the moment we already have 2 in local universities, and 4 more currently waiting for the results of their UPU application). Hopefully I will still be around then.

Thursday, 2 June 2016

A busy day in Taiping

I was on clinic duty in Taiping today. Usually whenever I'm on duty in Taiping, I make it a point to visit Dahlia and her children. And since Ramadhan is coming soon, I loaded my car with groceries bought yesterday using cash contributed by friends. I also brought along some clothes/shoes for the children, given by various donors.

Upon reaching the Taiping Hospital, I immediately headed over to the ID clinic to check if there were any new cases to be referred. I was told by the nurse there was one. So I waited outside the doctor's room. While waiting, I had a chat with a representative of a pharmaceutical company. She who was there to meet up with a doctor. When she saw my volunteer tag, printed "Buddies of Ipoh", she mentioned that she had an aunt in Ipoh who's also a volunteer of Buddies. What a small world. The moment she mentioned the name, I immediately knew. Auntie Pik Kee, 75, is our oldest volunteer. Understandably, she has slowed down with her volunteer works, but she still joins us for our year-end appreciation dinner.

The new case was finally referred to me after 11 am. The guy, in his mid-forties, needed a walking stick to move around. He used to work as a lorry driver, but had not been earning any income for the past few months, ever since he became medically unfit to work. His wife, who was also at the hospital with him, had never worked before. She had been tested negative, but to go out and work to earn an income will not be easy as the couple also has a 7 month old baby needing attention. They have 5 other children, all still schooling. For the past few months, they had been surviving on their savings, which is depleting fast. I sought their permission to visit them at home within the next week or so to enable me to assess their situation better.

I was told that was the only new case today, and so after talking to the guy and his wife, I left the hospital and headed over to Dahlia's house. I had already informed her that I'd be visiting after my clinic duty, and so she was expecting me. Since it is the school holidays, all her children were home. Her eldest daughter, Adila, who was raped 2 years ago, came out to help me unload stuff from my car. Smiling, and looking as sweet as ever, one wouldn't be able to tell what she had to go through for the past 2 years. I was told by Dahlia that the rape case will finally go to court soon. Hopefully justice will finally be served.

I asked Adila about her studies. She's expected to complete her culinary course in January next year and get her Sijil Kemahiran Tahap 2. At the same time, she's also studying for her SPM as a private candidate, where she has registered to sit for 10 subjects despite having to study on her own. I asked if there was any subjects she had any problems with, and she told me she finds Accounting a bit difficult. Hmmm... if only they stay nearby, I wouldn't mind giving her free tuition on the subject. Maybe I need to arrange for one or two intensive tuition sessions with her before her SPM.

Anyway, other than groceries, today I also brought along some clothes/shoes for Dahlia's children. A friend contributed some baju kurung, tshirts and shoes for children their age, and it was good to see that all the clothes/shoes I brought today, fitted them well. So Adila got herself new pairs of baju kurung and headscarves, while the younger kids got themselves baju Melayu, t-shirts and shoes. The younger boy was so excited he insisted on wearing the new t-shirt immediately.

While I was at Dahlia's house, the staff nurse from Taiping Hospital ID clinic called, asking if I was still in Taiping. The doctor wanted to refer another case to me. Although it wasn't a newly diagnosed case, the lady had some problems she needed to talk someone about. I told the nurse I'd head back to the hospital once I was done at Dahlia's house.

Done with matters at Dahlia's house, I headed back to the hospital. The case they wanted to refer to me involved a Thai lady married to a Malaysian. She could speak Malay, with a Siamese/Chinese slang, but although I could understand her story, sometimes when I ask her something, her answer had nothing to do with my question. What I did understand was that, although she still stays at the same house as her husband and her father-in-law, she is somehow totally ignored at her home. They quarrel a lot, and sometimes her husband would tell her to go back to Thailand, but how on earth is she supposed to go back without money? Besides, they have a 7 year old son, who is very close to the mother, but is a Malaysian by virtue of being born in Malaysia to a Malaysian father. If she is to bring him with her to her homeland, she'd have to get some documentations done. I told her I'd get a Chinese-speaking volunteer to contact her so they can understand each other better, and hopefully, we'd be able to give her better advice. I was more of just a listener today, but by the end of the session, she gave me a hug. I guess it was a big relief on her part having been able to finally talk to someone about her problems.

As I was speaking to the Thai lady, the doctor from Ipoh GH called, seeking my favour to follow-up on a newly diagnosed case of a 16 year old boy, suspected to have been infected since birth. Apparently, the boy had been adopted by a childless couple since he was a baby, but since they never knew and never expected that he was in any way exposed to HIV, they never got him tested, until recently when his health deteriorated. For the record, the couple has 3 other adopted children, and the 16 year old boy is the youngest. According to the doc, the mother may need support from Buddies and in fact agreed when the doc suggested to her to get me to call her. The boy is not expected to be discharged from the hospital anytime soon, and so if I call the adoptive mother tomorrow, I should be able to visit them at the hospital.