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. ;)

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

A Fun Day Out

After a few months of planning, the annual Buddies Family Day for this year finally took place on Sunday 7th August 2016 at Refarm Kampar. Somehow our Family Day always seem to clash with the Ipoh International Run... some years back, we organised our Family Day on the first Sunday of July, Ipoh Run too was on the same day, we organised ours in September, Ipoh Run too was on the same day, and this time we chose first Sunday of August, it so happened Ipoh Run was again held on the same day. And since our Buddies Center is in Ipoh Garden area, and the Ipoh Run covers Ipoh Garden area as well, there were a few road closures  leading to our meet-up point near our center.

But things still ran quite smoothly. We set 8 am as the meet-up time, and targetted to make a move by 8.30 am. Despite a few volunteers having to go one whole round to get to our center, we made a move at 8.20 am.

We had arranged for 2 busses. One bus to pick up volunteers and clients/families from Ipoh and another bus to pick up volunteers and clients/families from Taiping. Those staying nearer to or south of Kampar had to arrange for their own transport to get to the place. The Ipoh bus also made 2 stops to pick up 2 families along the way.

The Ipoh bus managed to reach the place at about 9.20 am while the Taiping bus got there about 20 minutes later. I had earlier ordered nasi lemak from a client of mine staying nearby (this clients sells nasi lemak in the mornings as her main source of income) so while waiting for everyone else to get there, and while waiting to arrange for the tickets etc, we gave the families a pack of nasi lemak and a bottle of mineral water each. My fellow volunteers commented that the nasi lemak was really good, and after I managed to sit down and have my breakfast (after settling all other matters), I must say I agree with them.

While we were distributing the entrance tickets to everyone, a client of mine who had gone to the toilet earlier looked worried. She said she hung her handbag at the toilet, and forgot about it when she got out, and later when she went to look for it, it was no longer there. When everyone else had gone in, we were still outside trying to look for her handbag. No luck. All her children's ICs were in her handbag. Finally I told her to just get in with her family members and I told the security about the lady's handbag, and to notify us if anyone handed over the handbag to the office. I knew the lady would no longer be in the mood to enjoy the day, but she came all the way with her 8 children, might as well let her children enjoy themselves at least. Later in the afternoon, the client came to me to inform me that the security called her and told her that someone had handed over her handbag at the office. Thank goodness!

Anyway, we just wanted our clients and their family members to relax and enjoy themselves, so we didn't plan for any games or anything like that, just free and easy. Up to them if they wanted to just play in the pool, or to walk around the place, or just to see the animals. To be sure nobody went home empty handed, we held a lucky draw during lunch. We had more than enough prizes for everybody, courtesy of donors who gave pre-loved toys or even new stuff, and so the lucky draw was just to determine who got what.

In total 131 people attended our Family Day, consisting of 19 volunteers and 112 family members of 21 different clients. 13 of them are my clients but with the exception of 2 clients, I know all the other clients who attended even though they aren't my clients.

The clients, and especially their children, seemed to enjoy themselves. For some of these families, the only time they get to go for outings like this one is during the Buddies Annual Family Day.

It was a fun day out, not only for our clients and their family members, but also for us volunteers.