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)

Monday, 14 August 2017

Buddies Family Day 2017: My Clients & Their Family Members

We had our annual Family Day yesterday, 13th August. This time we brought our clients and their family members to Taiping Zoo, followed by lunch, lucky draw etc at Legend Inn Hotel, Taiping.

This year, in total we had 111 (including 6 toddlers who weren't charged for tickets) in attendance, including 15 volunteers. Which meant 96 attendees were from among our clients and their family members. I just checked out my list, and guess what, from among my clients alone, we had 48 pax. That's exactly half!

Initially I had 68 pax from 16 families in my list of clients who confirmed with me that they were coming. Of the 16 families, only 10 families turned up. The other 6 families comprising 20 supposedly confirmed number of pax, ended up no show. While I did expect pullouts and while I can accept reasonable excuses given, I just can't comprehend when some of them just texted me last minute saying they weren't joining without even saying why. Worse, when they don't even bother to inform me that they're pulling out. They simply don't turn up because they don't lose anything since they didn't have to pay a single thing.

Among the 6 of my clients who didn't turn up, only 1 had given an excuse that she wasn't well. She and her sons don't usually miss our Family Day.

Another client, had one week earlier informed me that she had to pull out, but a few days later requested that she and her children be included again. And then, at the very last minute, she pulled out again. No reasons given.

2 other clients, who had earlier called me personally to make sure their names were included in the list, simply kept quiet and were no longer contactable after I came back from Kashmir. My calls weren't answered and my messages weren't replied. They simply vanished.

Another client texted me at the very last minute saying she couldn't make it. This is the second time she's doing this, she did the same thing last year. I'm not sure if I should invite her for next year's Family Day.

Another client, texted me on Saturday, asking me what time he and his family of 5 pax should be at the bus pick-up point on Sunday. After I told him they needed to be there by 8 am, he didn't say anything, so I assumed there shouldn't be any problem. On Sunday however, they didn't turn up by 8 am. I called there was no answer. By 8.06 am, I texted to ask if they were coming. By 8.20 am, we made a move. Then at 8.26 am, client texted back, saying he had to take his medication first and asked if we could wait. Duh! I already told them to be there by 8 am, and only at 8.26 am he wanted to negotiate? We weren't going to delay 2 bus-loads just to wait for a family of 5.

However, it was good to meet up with my other clients, some of whom I had not met for quite some time. Fuzi and her family are doing okay. Her eldest daughter who's studying at a local university also joined the Family Day. She'll be home until Uni reopens next month. Fuzi's 2nd daughter, who sat for STPM 2 years ago, is now working in another state. Fuzi's son, who stopped schooling when he was in form 4, and then went on to work in another state (and earns enough to support himself without bothering his mother), is now thinking of sitting for SPM as a private candidate because suddenly he feels like joining the army.

Dahlia came with 5 of her 6 children (the eldest is studying at a polytechnic) and husband. The last time I went to visit them, the children were telling me about their father who disappeared from home after the police came. You see, Dahlia and her hubby had a fight and upon seeing that her father was about to hit her mother, Dahlia's 10 year old girl called the police. When I went to visit them, Dahlia spoke as though there was no way she was giving her hubby another chance. Well, guess what? Yesterday for the Family Day, her hubby tagged along. Somehow, I am not at all surprised...

Then there was Aini, who had to miss our Family Day for the past few years because she had been in and out of the hospital. Even the last time she was able to join us, she needed the aid of a walking stick. This time, she came with her eldest daughter (who is now already working) and Aini walked without the need of a walking stick. Of course her daughter was walking beside her all the way, but still, it was good to see her looking so well.

Laila, the orphan who lost her mother when she was 11 (and her father very much earlier), came with her grandma and aunt. Still looking as petite as ever, the girl will be sitting for her SPM this year. Our education sponsorship will cover for her schooling needs until she completes her SPM, but I do hope to continue overseeing her educational needs after SPM.

The other families too seemed to be doing okay. Unlike my early years as a volunteer when my clients had all sorts of problems, life seemed to have improved for many of them. And the newer clients, although they do have problems, the problems don't seem to be as dramatic as the ones I had to endure earlier.

All in all, it was a successful Family Day. The rangers at the zoo did a good job in making the visit an interesting one. The food at Legend Inn Hotel was yummy. The lucky draw prizes (obtained from various donors) drew smiles especially from the children's faces. And the "mini-freemarket" we had (where the ladies had the chance to pick and choose clothes in good condition, some even new - all given by donors) was also a hit.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

6D/5N Kashmir Great Lakes Trek

Sunday 30th July 2017:
After spending one night at Heaven Breeze Houseboat in Nigeen Lake, Srinagar, this morning we set off with our backpacks, heading to Sonamarg to start our Great Lakes Trekking expedition. Away from the noise of cars honking in Srinagar. No wifi. No mobile data.

Kashmir is so beautiful, we went ooohh... and aaahh... and wow... before even reaching Sonamarg. 

Upon reaching the starting point, our horses and the horsemen were ready waiting for us.

In no time, we were already on our way up to start our expedition.


For most of us, that was our first time riding horses. But with the help of the horsemen, who assisted throughout the journey by guiding us and the horses, we got the hang of it in no time. We all had to get down from our horses upon reaching the security check-point, had our passports checked and photos taken before we were allowed to continue our journey. But let me tell you, even from the security check-point, the view was already so beautiful. Since it was already 12.40 pm by the time we reached the check-point, we had lunch while waiting, and took the opportunity to take more photos, even with the security officers!!


Upon clearance, we headed on, passing through hills and valleys, and even stopped for a short break at the homes of one of the gypsy families (during winter the families would have to move elsewhere as the place is not livable in winter). The children seemed excited to see us, and even asked, of all things, for pens. Too bad we didn't know what to expect earlier, otherwise maybe we could have brought along some pencil colours and some other stationeries.

After the short stop, we proceeded with our journey, this time passing through rivers and we started seeing glaciers. 


We finally made it to our campsite around 5.30 pm. While waiting for the horsemen to set up our tents, we took wuduk at the river and did our jamak ta'khir on the grass beside the river. There was a special tent for our meals... we called the tent our "dining hall".


The river water was cold, night time was even colder, so for the most of us (for me at least) cleaning up at the first campsite was by using the wet wipes that we brought along. Oh, for those who may want to know about toilet facility, the toilet was basically set up by digging a hole and popping up a tent on it. The view surrounding our campsite was indeed beautiful.


Monday 31st July 2017:
After packing up our stuff and all tents etc were dismantled, we headed on to our next campsite.

Along the way, we came across even more beautiful sights.




The higher the elevation, the more beautiful the view, but at the same time, the more we started feeling altitude sickness, sometimes feeling short of breath just by walking just a short distance. Walking uphill would be even worse.We finally reached our next campsite slightly after 2 pm.We were to stay at this campsite for 3 consecutive nights with day trips planned for the next 2 days.


Despite the very cold water, some of us decided to have a bath in the river. I even washed my hair while wearing  the hijab! Shivered I did, but it was satisfying to finally have a bath!

Tuesday 1st August 2017:
It was a bright sunny morning (but still cold nonetheless), and what a sight it was seeing rainbow trouts jumping in the river just beside our camp.


Today's activity was to go up to the glaciers. Again, with the help of our trusted horses and horsemen, we trekked across rivers, hills and valleys.

Upon reaching the glacier at around 10.30 am, our photo shoots began. Hey, we were stepping on snow.... in summer!!! While many in my group took photos with the good looking Kashmiri horsemen, I took the opportunity to take a photo with 2 Kashmiri ladies who were observing us nearby.


By the time we made it back to our campsite, it was lunch time. This time, instead of having our lunch inside the dining tent, we had lunch under the sky.


Initially we wanted to go to the lake around 3pm, some planning to wear baju kurung for the next photoshoot, but it was drizzling and so we decided to just stay at our campsite. In the end we had our photoshoot at the river near our campsite. Some with baju kurungs, some with batik sarongs.


Wednesday 2nd August 2017:
The plan was to visit the 2 lakes. It was another cold and rainy day. But we weren't about to be sitting around at the campsite doing nothing, so we proceeded with the plan to visit the 2 lakes. However, it was dangerous to ride horses at certain parts of the terrain, and so we had to get down and walk uphill. Tiring, but worth all the effort once you see the wonderful landscape.







Going down the hill to get back to our campsite at certain parts was again dangerous if we were to ride our horses. It was wet and slippery and we wouldn't want to fall off our horses in such condition. So yes, the only option was to walk down, which still was not so easy given the slippery condition.

Thursday 3rd August 2017:
It was time to start descending and head on to our final campsite. Thank goodness, it was a bright and sunny day.

Again, there were certain parts of the route where we were asked to get down from our horses and walk. As we were descending, I decided to join a few other friends to walk a little farther to enjoy the view and take photos (much easier to take photos while walking), until we reached a river crossing. Since we didn't want to get our feet wet (and in freezing cold water too!), we waited for our horses before continuing our journey.





We finally reached our 3rd and final campsite at a gypsy village slightly after 2 pm. In contrast to our 2 earlier campsites, this time there were no rivers around us. Instead there was just a small spring for our water source. There goes our hope of having a splash in the river we were hoping for! But, the view from the campsite was still beautiful nonetheless. Besides, that was to be our final night in the mountains and we could look forward to having a good bath at our houseboat the very next day.


See the small tent beside the tree? That's our mobile toilet!


Later that evening, we had a campfire, with the horsemen singing and dancing. They did pull in some members of our group to join in their dancing. I however had to retire early as I was down with flu and headache, and really needed to sleep early.

Friday 4th August 2017:
We woke up in the morning to more beautiful views.



It was our final day in the mountains and it was time to head back down. Again, our trusted horses and horsemen made sure our journey was smooth and safe.


We reached the security check-point in no time (where we had our photos taken again) and by the time we reached the start/end point, our mini-busses were already waiting to take us back to our houseboats. After 5 cold nights in the mountains, it was the end of our Great Lakes journey.

It was a tiring journey (especially for a makcik like me), but it was totally WORTH IT! I am so glad I made the trip to this heaven on earth...

Monday, 3 July 2017

Fuzi's family... after 10 years

When Fuzi's case was first assigned to me 10 years ago, I thought it was just another simple case of a HIV+ single mother needing financial assistance for her children. Boy, was I wrong!

Well yes, she did need financial assistance but her problems were nowhere near simple. Fuzi, an Indonesian, married a Malaysian man, in southern Thailand. Fuzi, being naive, totally depended on her husband on matters pertaining to registration of their marriage, and when told that there was no problem whatsoever, she believed him blindly. The fact was, their marriage was never registered in Malaysia, even after 4 children. There wasn't any issue when the husband was still around, but problems started to surface after the husband passed away.

First, an intruder broke into their house, and raped Fuzi. Fuzi got pregnant, and it was during this pregnancy that she found out she had HIV. Initially she thought she got infected when she was raped, but after the children got tested, it turned out her 4th child (the youngest from her marriage) was also infected, which meant Fuzi had been infected earlier when her husband was still around! It was then that Fuzi told me her husband used to frequent southern Thailand although she never really asked why he went there. Her husband probably died not even knowing that he was HIV+.

Thank goodness the hospital accepted her Narathiwat-issued marriage cert, so she didn't have to pay for her HIV treatment, by virtue of being married to a Malaysian. But everything else was so problematic. Her older children, although born to a Malaysian father, had problems when they wanted to get their MyKad done. You see, people don't ask questions if their father took them to Jabatan Pendaftaran, but since their father had died by the time they reached 12 years of age, Fuzi was the one who took them to JPN. And since she's not a Malaysian, her children weren't able to get their MyKad done. Thank goodness, after going in and out of various offices, that matter was finally settled. She somehow managed to legalise her marriage cert and the 4 children from her marriage were able to get their MyKad once they reached 12 years of age. Only thing was, their uncle (their father's brother) had to accompany them to JPN to get their MyKad done, and each time Fuzi had to pay him to do so.

The only problem left was her 5th child who was born without a father. With father's details stated as "unknown" in his birth cert, and his mother an Indonesian, the boy didn't have any citizenship. Neither her nor there. Not accepted as a Malaysian, and not registered as an Indonesian either. Fuzi has tried various methods, asked various people to help out. She tried applying for PR status, so that the boy could at least go to school (albeit paying a higher fee), but every time her application was rejected because by the time she applied, she was already a widow. Now she needs to renew her visa regularly to enable her to stay in Malaysia legally.

A couple offered to legally adopt the boy on paper, with Fuzi still taking care of him, so that they could register him to a school. It was initially approved, but when a nosey neighbour reported the matter to JKM, officers from JKM did a spot-check and found out the allegations to be true, the adoption immediately became void. And with that, the boy still can't go to school.

Someone (from JPN no less) suggested to Fuzi to get her eldest daughter to adopt the boy legally when she (the daughter) turns 21. They tried to submit the application when the girl turned 21 (she's 22 this year) but was then told she'd have to be married before she could do so. Hadoii... how lah?

The boy is 11 this year, and he is still unable to go to school because of all these issues. But that's about the only major problem this family has right now.

Fuzi's eldest daughter is already in university and is expected to graduate next year. I told Fuzi, once her daughter gets a job, get her to apply again for legal guardianship of the boy. Probably her earlier application was rejected because she herself was still studying. At least with a job and a fixed income, her application may be considered.

Although Fuzi's other children aren't academically inclined, the #2 and #3 are now working. The #3 boy used to give all sorts of problems to Fuzi when he was in school, getting in trouble all the time, playing truant, smoking cigarettes, accused of stealing, quit school in form 4, etc. But the moment he got himself a sales related job in another state, away from the friends he had been hanging around with earlier, he became a totally different person. He's a more responsible person now.

Fuzi's #4 child, the one who is HIV+, is in form 3 this year. He is under our sponsorship programme, so his educational needs are covered. Well yes he has HIV, but I know of another child born with HIV who went on to further her studies after SPM, so this boy should be able to do the same if he really wants to.

So yes, overall this family's situation has indeed improved a whole lot. But I do sincerely hope the youngest boy's issues can be resolved soon. The poor boy...


Wednesday, 14 June 2017

My Ramadhan Visits

For the past 10 years or more, Ramadhan had always been my busiest month. Ever since I was confirmed as a Buddies volunteer, most of the cases assigned to me involve poor PLHIV families, mainly involving single mothers. While for some of the hard core poor families, I make it a point to visit every month to deliver groceries, during the month of Ramadhan I usually visit even more families to bring some cheer especially to the children from these poor families.

Imagine their excitement getting pre-loved and/or new clothes and whatever other Raya goodies I could get hold of. Some got excited the moment they knew I'd be visiting. For some, without any kampung to go to for Raya, they'd excitedly be asking when I'd be visiting them for Raya, because they seldom get visitors at their home.

It helps that I tend to get a lot more donations during Ramadhan. My sincere thanks to my old school friends, my blog friends, my FB friends and even some of my blog readers whom I've never even met before. Without the support of these generous donors, I wouldn't be able to give much assistance to the poor PLHIV families I've been assigned to.

I may not be doing as many house visits as I used to do during my early years as a volunteer. Back then, sometimes I'd visit 3 or 4 homes in a day. I remember once I actually went to visit and delivered groceries to 4 different families within half a day. From my home in Ipoh, I headed to Sg Siput, followed by Chemor, then Pusing and last one in Batu Gajah before I headed back home. And yes, during fasting month, my visits cover homes from all over Perak. Tg Piandang, Taiping, Kuala Kangsar, Gerik, Gopeng, Kampar, Parit, Sungkai. And oh, even Cameron Highlands.

Most of the hard core poor families aren't doing too bad now. Some may still need assistance, but not as much as they did back then. A few are totally independent, and no longer need any assistance. For those staying quite far from Ipoh, and still need help, I'd just transfer some cash online from my charity account into their respective bank accounts. That is, of course, after I visit them at least once to assess their situation at home.

Likewise, for this year's Ramadhan/Raya contributions, for those staying quite far from Ipoh, I'd just do online cash transfers. Quite far means more than an hour drive from Ipoh. The ones I still visit are usually the ones with young children. Less visits to the homes of those with grown up children, unless there are specific matters they need to discuss, especially pertaining to education.

I have no choice but to choose who I need to visit. After over 10 years with Buddies, I've been assigned to close to 80 clients. Imagine if I have to visit each and every single one of them during Ramadhan... banyak letih lor!!!


Friday, 2 June 2017

All in a day's voluntary work

Whenever I'm on voluntary duty at Taiping Hospital ID clinic, I'd usually make it a point to at least visit any clients staying around the area. Yesterday was no exception. In fact, yesterday I covered more than I usually did.

A client, Nor, who had received assistance from us for a pair of glasses, had texted me earlier if I could help get orders for kuih siput which she's making for Raya. I told her since I was going to Taiping yesterday, I'd like to get a kilogram first for myself, since I'd like to taste them first before I can recommend to anyone. So, we promised to meet up at Simpang area, before I proceeded to Taiping town. My intention was to pay her for the kuih siput, but when I wanted to give her the money, she told me it wasn't necessary. She wanted me to taste them first so I could start taking orders from others, if I could get any.

That done, I headed on to Taiping Hospital. It was quite a busy day yesterday during my clinic duty, although of late we haven't had too many cases referred to us. Sometimes we go to Taiping without even a single case referred. Sometimes it's because the new case never turned up at the hospital, while sometimes they felt they didn't need any help and so it wasn't necessary to see us. Usually the nurse would only refer cases which she felt needed help, and even so, she'd ask them first if they agree to see us.

The first case referred yesterday was a guy in his 50's, who came with his wife. The wife has been confirmed negative, but when the nurse mentioned about Buddies, she thought her husband could use the help. The guy had not been working for the past 5 years because of illnesses and since he's feeling better now, he plans to start looking for a job. But getting a job when you're above 50 is not easy. When he found out that Buddies is a support group, he felt uncomfortable and said he didn't need any help. I'm not sure what he said to his wife after that (they spoke in Chinese), but it sounded like he was scolding his wife for agreeing to see Buddies. Ah well, never mind. I just gave his wife our brochure, just in case some time in future they need our help, at least they have a number to call.

The next case was a young lady who gave birth 5 months ago. Apparently when she was pregnant she was not detected for HIV. So no precautions were taken during her pregnancy and delivery. As such, her baby needs to be tested from time to time. So far so good, but the baby still needs to go for follow up until he/she (I forgot to ask about the baby's gender) is confirmed not infected. Again, this lady said she didn't need help, and so I didn't assign any buddies to her.

I thought I was done with the 2 cases, but then the staff nurse told me that another PLHIV wanted to see me, because he was interested to become a volunteer. Since I was already at the hospital, I might as well interview him there and then. Another client, Dahlia, who was also there for her appointment, wanted to hitch a ride home in my car since I was going to visit her family anyway, so she had no choice but to wait.

Back to the guy, he was first diagnosed after a blood donation drive. He was so depressed he didn't even go to get any treatment. All he wanted to do back then was to commit suicide. He thought of jumping down from a tall building, but then he thought, that would embarrass his family. After some time his condition worsened, and he went back to his hometown to stay with his family. To this day, none of his family members are aware of his HIV. They only know of his hepatitis. He kept everything to himself and didn't have anyone to talk to about how he felt. One day he collapsed, and by then he had no choice but to be hospitalised and get treatment.

Now that he's feeling a lot better, the moment he heard about Buddies from the staff nurse, he wants to become a volunteer. Which was why he requested to see me. After all that he had gone through, I think he'd make a good volunteer. The only problem is, since he doesn't stay anywhere near Ipoh, it will be difficult to train him. New volunteers are taken in as trainees first, and will only be confirmed later after following the senior volunteers around either during home visits or clinic duties. I hope we can somehow arrange for some sort of training for this guy... that is if the Board agrees to take him in as a trainee. For that, he will have to wait until our next Board meeting.

Done chatting with the volunteer-wannabe, I headed over to Dahlia's house. Dahlia was done with her appointment earlier, but had to wait for me for that ride home. Her daughter Dilla, the young mom, has been offered a place at a polytechnic, and so I brought along some stuff for her including a luggage bag. I also brought along some baju kurungs I managed to collect from donors. I was hoping she'd be home, but although her last day of work at a nearby hotel was on the 31st, she continued working for a friend, helping out to cook and sell at a bazaar Ramadhan. She wanted to earn as much as she could before she furthers her studies, because she wanted to leave as much money as she could for her 2 1/2 year old daughter.

Truly, I am impressed. Despite the fact that the little girl was a result of a rape case (when she was just at a tender age of 15), and despite quitting school after that, Dilla has proven to be a mature and responsible mother. Instead of passing the whole responsibilily of taking care of the little girl to her mother (the little girl's grandma), Dilla wants to make sure she's doing as much as she can for her daughter. And she's only 18! Oh, by the way, I did leave her some cash for her to use later on after she registers. I am sure there are other stuff she may need to pay for later.

Anyway, other than stuff for Dilla, among the things I managed to collect from donors were some new (old stock) children clothings. So there were stuff for Dilla's younger siblings and of course her daughter too. I loved seeing the excited children trying out the clothes. And oh, since I had earlier on delivered an oven and a mixer (donated by my family/friends) for Dahlia and Dilla to start baking at home to earn an income, I was also given 2 types of cookies they had baked (yes, using the donated oven and mixer).

Next up, I headed over to a nearby supermarket to meet up with another client, Maya. She stays a bit further up north, but Maya agreed to meet me in Taiping. Maya's daughters had been performing quite well in their studies, and this time her 2nd daughter had been offered a place for Asasi. I had another luggage bag in my car meant for this girl. And since I've been told she may need to buy some books and lab kits later, I told her I had already banked in some cash into her account for her to use when the need arises.

I wish these girls success. Hopefully one day they will become successful women, and they will be able to help others as well, especially their own family.




Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Helping them get started

While the main objective of Buddies is to provide moral support to people living with HIV/AIDS (PLHIV), from time to time and on a case to case basis, we do try to source for funds to help the needy PLHIV families with financial assistance. The financial assistance is however, rather limited, mainly for their children's education, and once in a while, we also approve assistance from our Client's Welfare Fund for hospital transportation to hospital, or for tests not available at government hospitals but still needed to be done.

Our support is basically to help these PLHIV become independent, not dependent on us. Which is why I love it when any of my clients come up with plans to carry out small businesses as their source of income. But a major factor in carrying out your own business is the need for at least a minimal amount to get started. Buddies however, do not have specific funds for this purpose. So how do I help them? By getting funds from other sources, namely, the social media.

For the most recent case, when Dahlia mentioned to me that she (together with her daughter, Dilla, the young mother of a 2+ year old girl) plans to start baking at home as their source of income, I was happy about their plan. Dilla had after all completed level 2 of her culinary course and in addition to her interests in pastries, she's also very business-minded. And while she does plan to further her studies, starting the baking business at home will enable her mother, Dahlia, to continue with the business even if Dilla furthers her studies later. With the flexibility of working at home, Dahlia doesn't have to worry about sending her younger children elsewhere while she works.

But they can't start without some basic needs. An oven, a mixer and other kitchen utensils are needed to get started. I mentioned their plight on my FB page, and within hours, I had more than enough contributions to buy the necessities. Yesterday, I went out to buy a big enough oven, and a sturdy mixer, and this morning I went to deliver the items to Dahlia and Dilla. I also gave them some cash for them to buy some other baking utensils and the raw materials to get started. At least they have some time to bake some samples before Ramadhan begins before taking orders for whatever they're baking. I even ordered for myself one of each type, which I hope to get during my next clinic duty in Taiping in early June. If they're good, I may even recommend to others.

So far, the other families who got similar assistance are doing okay. 2 clients opted to sell roti canai and were given some minimal cash capital to get started. Both are still selling roti canai. 4 others who could sew, were given sewing machines. All of them are still actively using their sewing machines as their source of income.

While they may not be rich (yet), at least they are independent enough to have a source of income instead of depending totally on welfare assistance. Hopefully one day their business will grow, and who knows, they may even help others get started...

Saturday, 15 April 2017

After 13 years

I can't remember the exact date I joined Buddies as a volunteer, but I know it was circa April 2004, roughly about the same time as the registration of The Buddies Society of Ipoh Perak. Prior to that Buddies of Ipoh was a unit under Perak Family Planning (now Perak Family Health) Association.

That means it has been 13 long years. Many things may have changed. If back then, about 70% of new infections were among injecting drug users, and less than 30% were sex-transmitted, nowadays it's the other way round. There has also been a drop in new reported cases. Back then, when our volunteers went to the hospital for clinic duty, we'd be kept busy with the new cases referred to us, sometimes 4 to 5 cases each clinic. Of late, we've had very few cases referred during clinic. Sometimes just one. Sometimes none at all. Very rare we'd have more than one. Which is of course a good thing, unless the "no case referred" was due to no-show by the newly diagnosed case.

Like any other new volunteers, I too, when I first joined, had to be a trainee under the supervision of a senior volunteer before they could confirm me. And once I was confirmed, one by one, I started getting new cases assigned to me. Being the only female Malay volunteer then (before me there was none), and with so many cases of HIV+ Malay ladies needing help, it was a no-brainer for the volunteers on clinic duty to assign me to cases involving Malay ladies, especially those staying in kampong areas.

I used to do a lot of home visits back then. For a few of the poor families, I went to visit them monthly without fail, as I knew they needed all the support they could get. Dealing with calls and messages from clients was almost a daily thing. Due to the long list of active clients that I had, I used to have a log book to note down all the calls and visits, so I could have a record to refer to.

But things have changed of late. I don't visit as frequent as I used to. Initially I wasn't too sure of the reason... maybe I was too busy with admin matters ever since I became the chairman... maybe the families I used to visit are already independent enough and no longer need as much attention... maybe it was because we've had a few more Malay ladies as volunteers to share the burden.

I do notice however, that the other volunteers in Buddies are also facing the same thing. They are no longer as busy with their HIV clients as they used to be. At least in my case, since I have a long list of clients, and I am also in charge of our Education Sponsorship for Children program, I still keep in touch with some of my clients, and I still do visit a few families from time to time.

Providing moral and emotional support to People Living with HIV and their families had always been the main objective of Buddies. It is still our main objective, but with lesser new cases referred, maybe we need to consider other objectives as well. We don't want our volunteers to get bored. We're planning to have a volunteer retreat this year, during which we hope to have a brainstorming session to discuss our past achievements and our plans for the future, in order to stay relevant.

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Thank you donors!

For the past month or so, many of my friends have been very generous with their donations for the families I'm dealing with in my voluntary work with Buddies. The funds under Buddies are rather limited, so the financial assistance under Buddies are mainly restricted to children's education (only for school-going children of our poor clients) and clients' welfare (approval given by discretion of the Board on a case to case basis).

Whenever any of my clients and/or their families need any additional help, I usually resort to outside sources. Like for example, remember the girl who was raped at 15 and stopped schooling after her PMR? The girl was previously under our Education Sponsorship Program, but she no longer qualified after she stopped going to school and went to a culinary college instead. But given her situation, her sponsor agreed to still help her out directly through me, not only for her further studies, but also additional expenses for her baby's needs. And when, against all odds, she scored excellent results in her SPM despite having to study on her own as a private candidate, quite a few joined in to share a reward for her as acknowledgment & encouragement. (I bought her a laptop for her to use for further studies.)

Likewise, when many of the other children, upon completion of their SPM, further their studies at higher learning institutions or vocational colleges, since expenses are no longer covered by the Buddies Children Education Fund or Sponsorship Program, many of my friends had been more than willing to help out, particularly for whatever amount needed during the initial registration.

Sometimes, there were clients who wanted to start small businesses as their source of income, but their main problem had always been the money required as initial capital, which they didn't have. Again, I usually resort to my friends (mainly via FB) for help (after my own assessment of the clients of course, I don't simply help them out without any kind of assessments). Today, for example, I went to send a brand new sewing machine (money from donors) to a client who badly needed it to continue sewing curtains as her source of income. All these while, she had been using an old mechanical sewing machine which she inherited from her late mother.

Knowing that my dealings with needy clients are always on-going, some friends donate from time to time without me having to ask for it. I usually use their donations for any immediate needs of the poor families I come across.

Oh, I must also specifically mention that I even have blog readers who had never even met me before, who had been donating without questions asked.

I don't even have to prepare pages and pages of reports to be given to these donors. For donors among my FB friends, they get their reports from my FB updates. For donors among blog readers, they get their reports from my blog postings (which makes me feel a bit guilty because I no longer update my blog as often as I used to, sorry!).

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all you donors out there for making my voluntary work easier. I'm so lucky to somehow be connected to so many generous people.

THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU!



Monday, 20 March 2017

What now after SPM?

Every year, whenever the SPM results are announced, I'd be eagerly waiting to find out the results of the children under the Buddies Sponsorship Program. 5 of our sponsored children sat for their SPM in 2016 : 3 girls and 2 boys. For the 2 boys, it had been obvious from day 1 that they had never been academically inclined. So my target is for them to go for vocational training.

As for the girls, I was so happy when my client texted me on Thursday to inform me that her daughter managed to score straight A's. But I was even more elated the next day when I found out that another girl scored 5A, 2B and 2C.

Why was I more excited for the one who scored 5A's compared to the one who scored 9A's? Because the girl who scored straight A's, although she too comes from a poor family and received financial support from our sponsorship program, faced her exams in a more conducive environment. She went to a fully residential school since form one. Although the girl still did exceptionally well, the straight A's didn't really come as a surprise.

The second girl, in contrast, had to struggle. At 15, she was raped. When she sat for her PMR, she was pregnant. By the end of the same year, she gave birth to a cute little baby girl. And guess what? Although the baby was born from a rape case, she didn't want to give the baby away because she loves kids. She stopped going to school despite scoring 6A 2B for her PMR, and instead registered to study for a 2 year culinary course at a private college. At 17, while she was still studying culinary, she registered to sit for SPM as a private candidate. I was already impressed back then. Her determination was admirable. I don't know if I can do well studying on my own for a single subject without the help of a teacher or tutor, she registered for 9! The moment her mother told me that this girl was embarrassed to tell me her SPM results, I thought she didn't do too well. I'd still be proud of her, no matter what her results show. Her determination alone impressed me.

So when the mother said the girl scored 5A, 2B and 2C (the A's include Maths, Accounting and Economics), I was elated! I immediately told the mother to make it clear to her daughter that I was PROUD of her.

Tomorrow I plan to visit the girl. I want to tell her straight in her face how proud I am of her. I also want to discuss her options. I do know she wants to further her studies, hopefully I can give her some advice based on her strength and interest. She has gone through so much in her young life, she certainly deserves all the support she can get.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Cuti-cuti Sabah 11-13 Feb 2017

I've been to Sabah before in 2012 to climb Mount Kinabalu. Didn't really have time to jalan-jalan back then as our time was spent more on Mount Kinabalu, and the day after the climb, we went water rafting in Padas. Recently, after looking at photos of family and friends at Desa Cattle Farm in Kundasang, I was tempted to go. A "jom gi Kundasang" invite to my eldest sis came back with a quick "JOM!", and after asking friends from my all female adventure-loving group, we finally ended up with 11 all-female tour group, although I initially set the limit to 10 pax (to make it easier for me to book for accommodation and transportation). Note that I personally arranged all the itinerary in this 3D/2N tour, without using any tour agents. Just use the internet to google for suitable accommodation, transportation and activities. And since it was to be a very tight schedule to cover as many places during the short visit, I made use of google maps to estimate the time to go from one place to another. The choice of activities and accommodation were made to minimise the time of travel from one place to another.

DAY 1: 11th February 2017
Since we booked the 7 am Malindo flight from KLIA, my sister and I decided to take the 1 am direct Ipoh-KLIA bus, expected to arrive KLIA at 4.30 am. We left home at midnight (meaning we had our "morning bath" before midnight), heading to the Aman Jaya bus terminal in Ipoh. The bus ride was smooth, and we actually reached KLIA before 4.10 am, giving us more than ample time to drop off our luggage, and then waited at the prayer room at the departure hall for our Subuh prayer.

Our flight was however delayed by about half an hour, and by the time we landed at Kota Kinabalu airport, the moment I switched on my phone, the guy from whom I booked the van from had already texted, asking if we had landed. Apparently the van was already waiting for us, but since we were late, they had to move away from the passenger pick-up area. Although I booked a 14 seater van (the extra seats to put 11 people's luggage), the van which fetched us was an 11 seater van. It was however a relief when the driver told us that there was another car there to pick our luggage, and that he would be getting a 14 seater van later.

As planned, from the airport we went straight to Jesselton Point, to get a boat to Pulau Sapi. The van guy even helped to book a boat for us. The boat ride to a single island cost RM23 per pax, but since there were 11 of us, we chartered a boat for RM250. In addition, we also had to pay for terminal fee (roughly about RM7 each inclusive of GST), and once we got to Pulau Sapi, there was also a conservation fee of RM3 each.

Why did we chose Pulau Sapi you may ask? Because our main target was to do the Coral Flyer Zipline from Pulau Gaya to Pulau Sapi. This activity is only available if you go to Pulau Sapi. But seriously, even without the zipline, and you have limited time and can only go to one island, I'd still suggest Pulau Sapi because of its crystal clear waters.

At Pulau Sapi jetty

It was around 11.30 am when we reached Pulau Sapi, and when I asked the girl at the zipline counter, she said that since we were quite a big group and the zipline guys usually take their lunch break at noon, she suggested we come back at 1 pm for the activity. So we decided to find a spot for lunch (which we had bought earlier at Jesselton jetty). It was during this time that I was looking high and low for my phone. My sister and friends did try calling my number, but while the phone was indeed ringing (based on the ringing tone they heard on their phones), we couldn't hear any phones ringing around us. Wherever the phone was, it was definitely nowhere near us. Tried calling the boat guy to ask if he found any phone in the boat, but by the time we called him, he had already made another trip with other passengers, and so it was difficult for him to say if I did drop my phone in the boat. By then I was resigned to the fact that the chances of getting back my phone was slim, and that I was going to get a few days of no calls and no whatsapp holiday (always think of the brighter side of things). The only problem was, since I was the one doing all the bookings, all contact details (for van, accommodation and other activities) were on my phone. However, since I got all the info online, I resorted to using my sister's phone to google for the contact numbers again. Thank goodness I managed to get them all, except for the van guy's number. But we did tell the van driver to pick us up around 3 pm at Jesselton Point, so we figured it shouldn't be much of a problem.

Anyway, lost handphone aside, the show must go on. While waiting for the zipline at 1 pm, a few of us did go snorkeling.
How much clearer can the water be?

By 1pm, we were already back at the zipline counter, eager to go "flying" across Pulau Gaya to Pulau Sapi. We were taken by boat to Pulau Gaya, together with another group of 5 girls. After getting us into all the safety gear (harnesses, helmets etc), we had to hike up to the starting point. The group in front of us had already started, one pair at a time. From my group, I decided to go first so I could take photos of other members in my group doing the zipline. No point sharing all of them here, they all look just about the same, especially from far.

Weeeeeee!!!!
Group photo at the landing point.

We then trekked back to our earlier "picnic" point, and on the way we bumped into a few monitor lizards roaming freely on the island.


Done with our main activity for the day, we packed up to leave the island and head back to Jesselton Point to meet up with our van driver and head to our accommodation in KK to check in. Only problem was, the driver by then was waiting in a 14 seater van, totally different than the van he drove earlier when he fetched us at the airport. Unable to call (since I lost the guy's number when I lost my phone), I was hanging around there, feeling rather helpless. After some time, the driver saw me, and only then did he start winding down the van windows. Apparently he had been waiting for quite a while, but I couldn't see him with the van windows up. I think we wasted about half an hour waiting (despite both parties getting there on time). Never mind, we just went straight to our apartment at Tower A, One Borneo to check in and to perform our zohor/asar prayer. I made sure the girls didn't waste too much time at the apartment after checking in, since we had a sunset cruise to catch, and what's the point of a sunset cruise if we missed the sunset, right?

Getting to Gayang Village Explorer for the cruise was another story. Based on the map given, the driver managed to get to a nearby school, but couldn't find the location for the cruise. When he asked a passer-by, he was told to go to another end. And so, despite almost reaching the correct place the first time, we ended up going further away before finally reaching the place after a few more calls to the operator of the cruise. Thank goodness we still made it on time to watch the sunset. 

We watched the sun set from Pantai Dalit, and I have to say it was the most beautiful sunset I had ever seen in my entire 54 years of life.

We then left Pantai Dalit and headed to see the fireflies.

Sorry, but while we did see the fireflies, I didn't manage to catch them on camera. Did attempt to take a few photos, but all I saw on the photos were total darkness. I guess I shall just store the beautiful sceneres in my own memory bank rather than in photographs.

Done with the cruise, we headed to Gayang Seafood Restaurant for dinner. Apparently it was quite a popular place. We did have to wait quite a while for our food to arrive, but the food was totally worth the wait.



After dinner, we headed back to our apartment in KK. (I so needed a bath by then!) And that ended our tour for day 1.

DAY 2: 12th February 2017
Planning to check out early before 7 am, we got up early to ensure there was enough time for all 11 of us to use the 2 available bathrooms.
 View from our 24th floor (level 23A) apartment on the morning of day 2.

This morning we had a new driver fetching (using the same van since they're from the same company). We had just started the journey when someone reminded me that there were some hungry girls at the back (I sat at the front passenger seat). I told them to endure another hour or so because I had actually already planned to stop at Pekan Nabalu for a 4-in-1 purpose... i) photo shoot with Mount Kinabalu in background  ii) breakfast  iii) toilet break   iv) shopping for souvenir items.




Unlike my previous trip to Sabah when the mountain was covered by clouds during our stop at Pekan Nabalu, this time we were lucky because the peak of Mount Kinabalu was clearly visible. After slightly more than an hour at Pekan Nabalu, we continued our journey to Poring Hot Springs in Ranau and managed to get there at about 10.30 am. The sound of the waterfall as we entered the park was oh so soothing and soooo inviting (I felt like jumping into the river despite not knowing how to swim!). 


Our main target however was to go for the canopy walk, and so with the exception of 2 group members who decided to opt out of the hike to the starting point of the canopy, the rest went straight ahead to the canopy walk counter. The walk uphill to the start of the canopy walk can be tiring especially if you're not fit, but to me it was worth the sweat. Actually it rained during our canopy walk, but since we were after all under the canopy, we didn't really get that wet.





 After completing the canopy walk, we headed for lunch at the restaurant within the park, followed by solat qasar zohor/asar at the park's surau, before moving on to our next destination.

Our next destination? Tagal Sg Morali Fish Spa. It was a Sunday and so there were quite a number of visitors and so each group was given a limited time to get in the river and have the fish surround our feet. Fish food were sold at the counter for us to feed the fish and while a number of people just threw the fish food into the river near their feet, I decided to feed them by hand. Seriously, they don't bite. No worries there. However, if you were there listening to a few of my group members screaming away, you would have thought they were bitten by piranhas!



After the short stint at Tagal Sg Morali, we moved on to the nearby Sabah Tea Garden, enjoying not only the beautiful view, but also also delicious tea and scones.




After tea, we headed back to Kundasang, and got there just in time to visit the Kundasang War Memorial which closes at 6 pm.





After the visit, we went to the nearby shops to buy some necessities, including to tapau some dinner before checking in to our accommodation for the night, and also to buy bread and eggs for our breakfast the next morning. It was already very foggy by the time we made a move from Kundasang town heading over to our homestay in Kg Mesilou nearby. While the driver had no problem getting us to the kampong, it was a good thing I managed to recognise the homestay from the photos I had seen earlier online. The most prominent landmark was their gazebo.

We were lucky I managed to get a homestay with 3 bathrooms (one in each bedroom) plus another additional toilet in the kitchen area. Most of the homestays there usually only have 1 bathroom, which would have been a problem for a big group like ours. The kampong, located at the foot of Mount Kinabalu, had "natural" aircond, there was no need for any of the houses there to install aircond. In fact, if not for the heaters installed in the bathrooms, we would have to bathe using icy cold water.

DAY 3: 13th February 2017
Not wanting to miss a clear view of Mount Kinabalu from our homestay, I went out for a short walk (together with my sister and another member of our group) as early as 6.30 am around the kampong. It was already bright by then. We passed by quite a number of homestays during the short walk. Anyway, the view of the mountain was magnificient!

 View of Mount Kinabalu from Cinta Villa Homestay, our accommodation in Mesilau.



The effects of the earthquake a few years ago can be obviously seen from far below.

We checked out around 8.15 am, but of course not without a group photo at the gazebo in front of our homestay.


Our first destination for the day was one of the main itinerary for the whole trip (other than the zipline at Pulau Sapi on day 1), the Desa Cattle Farm. Since we were there early morning as soon as it opened, it was really foggy and cold. The atmostphere makes you feel like you're overseas, although in our case, we only travelled over South China Sea. Certainly a recommended go-to spot if you're in Sabah, especially Kundasang.













From Desa Cattle Farm, we headed on to the foot of Kinabalu Park, just for a short photo stop. 



Since we wanted to make sure we had enough time to stop for a last minute shopping spree at Filipino Market in KK before going home, we decided to not get into the park as it would be time consuming. We needed to be at the airport before 4 pm, and so it would be safer to be in KK by 1 pm. We had ample time to shop at Filipino Market, followed by lunch before the driver sent us off to the airport. It was good that we reached the airport early to enable us to repack our things, especially the stuff bought at Filipino Market.

All in all, I had a good time, and I hope the others in my group did too, despite some minor setbacks especially on day 1. Since I arranged everything myself, the ground expenses (van rental + driver for 3 days, 1 night accommodation in KK, 1 night accommodation in Kundasang, activities and entrance fees to various attractions, but NOT inclusive of food and flight) came up to just RM370 each. If you don't intend to do zipline and sunset cruise, you can deduct another RM139 from that total. For accommodation in KK, if your group is smaller, say 8 pax, you can get slightly cheaper apartments, because most of the apartments I saw online, catered for a maximum of 8 pax. But I would suggest you spend at least one night in Kundasang, particularly in Kg Mesilou. Totally worth it.