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)
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Tuesday, 31 July 2007

The troubles the already troubled have to go through...

Remember I mentioned earlier that Yah wanted to withdraw her EPF to buy a piece of land and a house she can call her own home so that she need not worry about being chased out again by the present landlord?

And in one of my earlier postings titled “When the poor need help”, I also mentioned the kind of troubles the poor need to go through to get help… even in withdrawing their own money?

Let’s see what Yah has to go through in withdrawing her EPF money…

First and foremost, when withdrawing EPF under permanent disability, a medical report needs to be produced. Since Yah’s checkups and follow-ups are all done at the GH, all she needed to do was to get a copy of her medical report from the hospital. Just go to the medical records unit and apply for the report. Within a month, if there are no complications, they will post the report to you.

Sounds easy? Well, for the average person, maybe so. But for the poor where even a single sen matters, it’s not that easy. To get the medical report, a fee of RM40 needs to be paid to get a medical officer signing the report, or RM80 if you want a specialist to sign it. If a report is signed by a specialist, then when the medical report is submitted to the EPF, the applicant need not go to any panel clinics appointed by EPF. Since Yah could not afford to pay RM80, she opted for the report to be signed by an MO – even then the RM40 was already a substantial amount for her.

When I left Yah at the EPF office on the day of my last clinic duty (after she received the medical report from the hospital), I had already briefed her on what to expect. I told her that EPF would request her to go to 2 of EPF’s panel clinic to confirm the medical report that she submitted with her EPF withdrawal application. I advised her to specifically ask the EPF officers to let her do her medical checkup at any panel clinics located in northern Perak so that Yah wouldn’t have to travel so far.

Just about 2 weeks before that, when I brought Ani to EPF office for the same purpose, she was told to go to a private clinic in Ipoh while the other panel clinic was Pusat Kesihatan UTP, within UTP’s compounds. I thought that since Ani stays in a nearby town, that was why she was sent to UTP.

Much to my surprise, when Yah showed me her letters, she was supposed to go to the 2 same panel clinics that Ani was sent to. I asked why she didn’t ask for a nearer clinic. Yah said she already did, but the EPF officer told her they didn’t have any nearer clinic, the 2 clinics were all they could offer.

Seriously, EPF is such a big organization… surely they’d have panel clinics all over the state? The fact that the applicants had to submit medical reports already indicate they have medical problems. To add to that most of these applicants (or at least those whom I’m helping out) are from poor families. Although they don’t have to pay any fee to the panel clinics, traveling still requires money! I can understand EPF’s need to confirm the medical reports submitted by asking the applicants to go to EPF’s appointed panel clinics, but why trouble them by asking them to travel so far to get that done?

Yah was worried even about finding the clinic in Ipoh. The only places she’s familiar with in Ipoh are the bus station and the hospital. But I told her not to worry about the clinic in Ipoh as I knew the place and I’d take her there.

Just to come to Ipoh, Yah needs to take 3 buses at least: One from her kampong to the nearest town… then from that town to a bigger town… and finally from the bigger town to Ipoh. Asking her to go all the way to UTP would mean she’d have to take another bus to a town she was not familiar with. She doesn’t even know what bus to take. Okay, she can ask around, but the bus would stop right outside UTP. We’re talking about a university here… can you imagine how far she’d have to walk in to get to the clinic?

The letters given by EPF indicated that she was supposed to go to the clinics last Thursday. After giving it much consideration, I didn’t have the heart to let her go to UTP on her own. So when she called me saying that she was already at the Ipoh bus station, I immediately called the clinic in UTP to confirm that the doctor was in. Ani had told me earlier that she had to go twice because the first time she went the doctor was not in. The lady who answered the call said the doctor was in.

So after I fetched Yah at the bus station, I immediately drove her to UTP. When we got to the clinic and showed the EPF letter to the reception, we were told they had not received the letter from EPF (EPF is supposed to send letters direct to the clinic where the applicants are sent to) and therefore were unable to confirm her medical report as they had no idea what Yah’s reported ailments were and they were supposed to confirm Yah’s health condition on a specific form provided by EPF. They said maybe the letter from EPF had already reached UTP’s admin, but the letter had not reached the clinic. When the clinic assistants found out that Yah had to come all the way from Northern Perak, they were sympathetic and tried to help. They said they’d try to call their admin office and ask the people there to send the EPF letter (if any) to the clinic, but they didn’t dare confirm that it would be there by afternoon or even the next day. Were we supposed to wait there for something that wasn’t even confirmed?

I decided not to wait. Yah had another clinic to go to so I drove her back to Ipoh to send her to the other panel clinic. Not much problem at this clinic. Everything was done fast. I then took Yah for lunch before sending her to the bus station. She asked if she should come back on Monday, but I told her to wait for my call. I will have to call the clinic first, ask them if the letter is ready AND ask them if the doctor would be in. Then only I’ll tell Yah to come.

Came Monday, I called the UTP clinic, and again I was told they have not received the letter from EPF. No point asking Yah to come. It will be a waste of time, money and energy. The girl at the clinic took down my number and promised to call me once she gets any news. This morning the girl from the clinic called me. She told me that even UTP admin confirmed that they HAD NOT received any letters from EPF on Yah’s matter and therefore even if I brought Yah there today, they would still not be able to help. Yah will have no choice but to go back to EPF.

So I called Yah, told her to go to EPF and explain the whole matter to them and if possible, to appeal to them to let her go to another panel clinic in Ipoh so that she wouldn’t have to go all the way back to UTP.

I still don’t understand why the EPF officer decided to send Yah all the way to UTP to do her checkup. Was it really necessary to get Yah to travel more than 150 kms away from her house to confirm her medical report when there are so many other clinics to choose from?

I feel like asking the officers for the reasons behind their decision but I can already imagine their reaction, “Awak ni siapa?” (Oh yes, I’ve received that kind of reaction before! Probably some people think I’m one of those scumbags who take advantage of unsuspecting poor victims.) And chances are they’d give the same answer given to Yah… that there is no nearer clinic. They can fool Yah but please… EPF can only offer 2 panel clinics in the whole of Perak? I know for a fact there are other panel clinics in Ipoh. The least they could have done was to get Yah to do both her checkups in Ipoh… at least she didn’t have to travel from one town to another town. And in this case, due to the inefficiency, not only did she have to travel so far; she traveled so far for nothing. She could have used the money to buy food and other household necessities.

As I mentioned earlier, all Yah wants to do is withdraw HER OWN MONEY so she can buy a small piece of land and an old house she can call her own. She doesn’t want to worry about the prospect of being chased out by the present landlord again…

An aunt of Yah’s has indicated that she wants to sell off her piece of land (with an old house already built on it) within the same kampong that Yah is staying in now. Yah had indicated to her aunt that she wants to buy it from her once she gets her EPF money. Hopefully Yah can get her money before the aunt decides to sell to someone else. At least if she can stay in the same kampong she doesn’t have to worry about transferring her children to another school.

On a lighter note, the doctor at the panel clinic in Ipoh (the one Yah had already gone to) told Yah that there should be no problem getting her application approved. The only hiccup now is to get over one more panel clinic. Hopefully the next time Yah comes down everything will be settled. I dread the possibility of the poor woman having to travel up and down a few more times without getting any conclusive results...

Update 1st August 2007:
Yah went to the EPF office today and did as I told her to do - explain about the problem at UTP clinic and to appeal for the 2nd panel clinic to be in Ipoh. The EPF officer actually had a few options and finally told her to go to panel clinic in Ipoh town. I took her there this afternoon and everything is now settled. If only they had given her that clinic or any other Ipoh clinic in the first place things would have been much easier for Yah...

Saturday, 28 July 2007

The excitement continues

Just another week to go to our Family Day outing and for the past week I had to make quite a number of phone calls. There will be 23 adults and 35 children (age ranging from 6 months to 16 years) from the PLWHA families joining us and out of these, 10 of the adults and 22 of the children are from the families under my care. Naturally I had to make the most phone calls!

Although they had informed us earlier that they’d be joining, we had to confirm again as there may be some cancellations due to whatever reasons. From our past experiences in handling the Family Day outings, there are bound to be those who cancel but never bother to tell us - which is fine if we don’t have to pay first. For this year’s outing, we are going under group package to cut down on cost, and so we have to pay in full at least 7 days before the date of the event.

When I called my PLWHA clients who are coming, they told me their children are already all excited. They have already decided on what to wear and all those stuff. I am not surprised if they have already packed their things in their bags.

Yah had already arranged for her neighbor to send her and the children to the bus station. It’s not easy getting a bus from her kampong early in the morning and if she is to wait for a bus from her place, she’d probably reach Ipoh late. Yah also told me that her younger sister, who was happy that Yah’s children are getting the chance to go for such an outing, actually bought some new clothes for the children to wear. She may not earn much herself, but she was so happy for them, she thought it was the least she could do.

When I called Zainab, although she was excited at the prospect of bringing her children for the Family Day, she had her concerns. She asked if she had to bring any money to buy food. She usually gets her pay in the middle of the month and since our Family Day is on the 5th, she’s usually broke at that time and may not be able to afford buying food at the park. Only when I assured her that everything is provided for and that she didn’t have to bring any money did she finally give an affirmative YES.

Out of all those I called, only Sha had to cancel as she and her family was moving to another house that week. Maybe she can join us during some other outings. Bashar (brother to the late Lily and the new guardian of Lily’s children) also assured me that he will bring all of Lily’s children to join the fun. Meanwhile Fuzi said she’d be taking a “teksi sapu” as there is no public transportation from her place.

Anyway, other than confirming their attendance, our calls to our clients are also to inform them of all the arrangements – where to meet and what time… what to bring… what not to bring… who’s fetching who… and all those stuff.

4 volunteers will be waiting at the bus station to fetch those from outstation who are taking the bus to come to Ipoh. Most of those who need a lift from the bus station are my clients. They know me, but they don’t know the rest of the volunteers waiting there so I will have to coordinate things there and I too will have to be the last to leave the bus station to go to the park.

Since the theme park does not allow outside food to be brought in, we had to remind the families not to bring any. They have never been to such a place before and if we don’t remind them not bring any food or drinks; they may just think it’s best to bring some of their own. And who knows, it is now rambutan and durian season…. you know…

Other than that, the theme park also has dress codes for those who intend to get themselves wet either in the pool or at the water slides. No this no that… actually in the dress code posted outside, even track bottoms are not allowed, but the nice gentleman who’s handling our package told us they are rather flexible on that. So we just told our PLWHA clients to wear something suitable. As long as they don’t jump into the pool in a sarong, it’s quite okay. They can bring in t-shirts, shorts, swim suits…bikinis…or trikinis… as long as they don’t bring zucchinis! Outside food not allowed, remember? :) And speaking of which… if I wear a track bottom, long sleeved t-shirt and a headscarf; will that be considered a trikini too? Three piece whaaat… But anyway, if they don’t intend to get wet, then they can wear whatever they want.

All the above guidelines may be something we take for granted but not for these families. Many of them never had to chance to visit such places and so if we don’t forewarn them on the do’s and don’ts, they may just be like the “rusa masuk kampong” kind… or in this case, the “ayam kampong masuk bandar” kind… (Unlike the volunteers who are more of the “ayam baru bertelur” kind – so kaypoh…)

I just hope everything will run smoothly… and most importantly, that the weather will be fine…

Tuesday, 24 July 2007

Shah's teenage life vs my teenage life

I visited Mr. & Mrs. K’s family last Saturday morning after my usual Pasar Tani shopping. When I got there, the couple’s 5 year old girl opened the door for me. I’m already a regular by now, so she’d open the door for me even if her parents are not around. Mrs. K just got back from work (she was on night shift) while Mr. K was helping to clear the mess at their home (I didn’t tell them I was coming!).

I noticed their 2 older children were not around. Apparently their 12 year old daughter was at school for extra classes while their eldest son, 16 year old Shah was out doing odd jobs to earn extra income for the family. That’s his normal routine on weekends.

I pity Shah. He doesn’t seem to enjoy his teenage life. While other teenagers his age tend to either relax at home or go out to enjoy themselves on weekends, he instead had to work to help his family. No, his parents did not force him. He himself couldn’t bear to see his mother being the family’s sole breadwinner. Mr. K is no longer in a position to work. Looking at his supply of medication (for TB, hepatitis and HIV), if I were him I think I may need a HUGE mug of water (just slightly smaller than a jug I think) to get all the pills in without getting stuck in my throat!! BURP!!!

What kind of odd jobs has Shah been doing? Most of the time helping out food caterers; and if the catering job is for a night function on a Sunday, he’d usually come home very late and miss school on Monday. That’s normal for him.

Shah is also usually my contact person with the family. He’d be the one calling me or sending me messages when the family needs anything. When his mother gave birth to the youngest child in January this year, Shah came down and waited for me downstairs to make sure I didn’t have any trouble looking for the room where his mother was warded. That week he and his sister missed school the whole week. While Mrs. K was at the maternity ward, Mr. K too was warded at the men’s medical ward. So Shah spent the week at the hospital, day time accompanying his mother and night time sleeping on a chair besides his father’s bed in the men’s ward.

His 12 year old sister had to stay home to look after the 5 year old girl – just the 2 of them at home. Thank goodness a kind neighbor dropped by from time to time to send them some food to eat. Otherwise, the 12 year old would just cook some rice and fry some eggs, or they’d just eat instant noodles.

Things seem better now. Although at times they still run short of money to buy food and household necessities, at least things weren’t as bad as when they were almost chased out of the house for not paying their house rental. Shah’s income from the odd jobs he’s been doing is usually used to buy foodstuff or any schooling needs. I don’t know, somehow some school teachers like to force them to buy all sorts of additional books without taking into consideration that some of the students may not be able to afford it. Some of the books listed under the school’s list of compulsory workbooks bought at the beginning of the year are not even used, and yet additional books are to be bought at the decision of the individual teachers. Can’t they just use the books which were listed by the school?

There was once when Shah didn’t buy a particular book which his teacher had been telling him to buy. He didn’t tell his parents about it as he knew they were broke. He didn’t tell me either as he thought I had already helped too much. All his other classmates had bought the book by then. As a result, Shah got a spanking from his teacher, right in front of his other classmates. And we're talking about 16 year olds here... what kind of psychological effect do you think it would have on Shah? Being penalized for not being able to afford the book is simply unacceptable (to me at least!). If they had included the book in the booklist the school provided earlier then it would have already been covered by my NGO’s CEF!

I can really understand why Shah is reluctant to go to school but I must make him understand the importance of education. But his teachers are not helping at all…

Thinking about it, I had such a blessed teenage life. Oh yes, I complained about a lot of things, but back then I never had the opportunity to see the sufferings of the unfortunates. I never had to work when I was a teenager. I never got a spanking for not buying books and other schooling necessities. I forgot to be thankful for all the things I had. I took them all for granted. My parents may not be rich but they could still buy whatever necessities for their children, albeit on a tight budget.

But Shah’s family doesn’t even have a proper budget to start with.

If I had to go through a teenage life such as Shah’s, I don’t know what would become of me by now. But I didn’t have to go through all that. And for that I’m so thankful!

To show my gratitude, I must now try my best to make sure that these unfortunate children be given the necessary assistance to make up for all the things that had been lacking in their childhood and teenage life.

Care to join me anyone?

Saturday, 21 July 2007

Communication problems

The other day one of my staff had some queries about the accounting work she was doing for a business client…

Staff: “Tahun ni tak payah masuk kut ren ke? Tahun lepas ada.”
Me: “Ha? Tak payah masuk apa?” *confused*
Staff: “Kut ren.”
Me: “HAA??! Apa benda?” *even more confused*
Staff: “Kut ren.”
Me: “Apa benda engko cakap ni. Tengok jap file tu!” *couldn't bear it any longer*

Took the file, looked at the P&L, and finally I figured it out, “Ohh, QUIT RENT!!”

Not only her English pronunciation was bad, she also tends to swallow her words; making it even more difficult to understand when she speaks, especially in English. Which is why I usually don’t dare give her answers when she consults me on the phone as I can’t be too sure what she really is talking about unless and until I see for myself the documents she’s referring to. Otherwise there tend to be miscommunication, she’d end up doing things wrongly and at the end of it she’d just say that I was the one who told her so… (Yeah, sure!)

Miscommunication can also occur when dealing with my PLWHA clients. A few weeks ago Yah needed to come to Ipoh GH to see the doctor and to get her supply of medication. However on the day of her appointment, the bus drivers at the small town where she stays went on strike and she couldn’t get a bus to come to Ipoh. So she called me to say that she had to take a taxi “sampai bus station” and asked if I could fetch her at the bus station as she was already late for her appointment. I just said OK as she must not miss her medication. She didn’t specify which bus station she meant, and not expecting her to ask me to wait for her at town B (usually she’d have to take 2 buses to come to Ipoh from her place), I went to wait for her at the Ipoh bus station. It didn’t occur to me then that if she had taken a taxi to Ipoh, might as well the taxi driver send her direct to the hospital. So there we were, the 2 dimwits - I was waiting in Ipoh while Yah was waiting in town B.

After a while she called me (I couldn’t call her as she didn’t have a hand phone) and then only we found out that we were actually miles apart! Finally she took the express bus from town B to Ipoh (the bus drivers in town B were not on strike); she didn’t have much money left after having to pay for the taxi earlier. She made it just in time before HIV clinic closed.

Yah had earlier misunderstood SN’s instructions on how to take her HIV medication. SN had actually given clear instructions… she even drew a table on how and when to take the medication – just to make sure Yah understood. Yah looked so confident after SN’s explanation. But 2 weeks later SN found out that Yah got it all wrong! I can understand the stress SN has to go through trying to explain things to patients. At the same time I also understand that it may not be easy for the uneducated poor people to comprehend whatever that was explained to them.

It gets even harder when there is no communication at all. Like Zainab for example who couldn’t come for her appointment because she was on morning shift at her workplace and she couldn’t afford to take leave. Well, I can understand that she can’t afford to apply for unpaid leave, but the least she could have done was to call SN and inform her about it so SN could fix another appointment.

And then there was Rashid… the wife once called me asking for help to get her bed-ridden husband to be warded at the hospital. I did help her out by getting all the referral letters etc but apparently after her husband was admitted, she never visited. The nurses at the ward needed a family member to sign some consent forms but nobody visited Rashid. The wife didn’t leave her phone number either so the nurses couldn’t communicate with her at all. Gosh, I wonder what’s in the wife’s mind right now. Is she abandoning the husband for good or what?

We Buddies too sometimes have problems communicating with our PLWHA clients. Some of these clients tend to change their mobile phone numbers without informing their assigned buddies or even SN at the HIV clinic. After some time if we are still not able to contact any of our clients, we’d usually reclassify them as “inactive” clients. We’ve got quite a number of those by now… especially the guys who needed us earlier to help them apply for their EPF withdrawal. After they got their EPF drawings, they went missing in action. It's like… “Hey, I’ve got money now so I don’t need you any more.” Their money usually don’t last that long… one of the PLWHAs under this category was later found to be homeless and sleeping under one of the staircases at the hospital. Now we don’t even know where he has gone to as he is no longer found under the staircases and he has also missed his hospital appointments.

Then there are those who don't have telephones - whether fixed land line or mobile. For these category of clients, we have no choice but to wait for them to call us when they need us. Oh yes, we do try to visit from time to time, but sometimes because we can't call them first to tell we're coming, they're not home when we visit.

As far as possible, I always make it a point to call or visit my clients at least once every 2 or 3 months for the non-problematic clients and more often for the problematic ones of course. Once I lose touch with them, it won’t be easy to get hold of them again…

Thursday, 19 July 2007

Another day at the clinic #2 and another house visit

Yesterday morning I was lucky. Very lucky indeed. As I was passing the specialist clinic building heading towards the open parking space at the padang behind, I saw ONE parking spot right beside the building. Yaayyy!!! No need to go around the hospital a few times… and better still the parking space I got couldn’t be any nearer to the HIV clinic! Needless to say, I got there early. Usually it would take me 20 minutes at least to find a parking space. Yesterday I got it in less than a minute after entering the hospital compounds.

Since I got there early, I had all the time to call the person from the theme park handling the booking of my NGO’s family day, and after confirming with him certain things, arranged to pay 50% deposit via internet banking; then sent him an email confirming the details of our booking. OK, so that’s settled.

When SN came over to the room, she said there was supposed to be a few new cases referred to Buddies yesterday, but most of them did not turn up. SN had purposely set the appointments for the problematic people to be during our clinic duty – but as always, they tend to miss their appointments. That was why in the first place they were classified as “problematic”…

The first case referred to us yesterday was a young Chinese lady. I was quite surprised when I was told she was 5 months pregnant. She didn’t look pregnant at all! SN had earlier told me that she was still single but when asked, she said she came with her “husband”. Not much problem with this young lady. Her “husband” who is also HIV+ is taking full responsibility and they seemed to be very supportive of each other.

After this Chinese lady left the room, SN requested me to see Zali again. Remember Zali? The guy whose wife left him and the 2 kids? Well, Zali isn’t working and SN was very concerned about his children’s well-being. So, she asked him to see me again for follow up. This time he brought along photocopies of his IC, children’s birth cert and bank book. We’ll see what we can do to apply for whatever available funds, particularly for the children. Zali’s problem is that his children are TOO attached to him. I asked if the children’s grandma (Zali’s mom) was willing to take care of the children so that Zali can find himself a job. According to Zali, while his mother was willing, his children were not. Zali’s mother stays in another town while Zali has to be in Ipoh for his daily methadone treatment. So if his mother is to take care of the children, Zali will not be able to see them every day. I have a feeling Zali himself is not willing to depart with the children; that’s why he was not even willing to try letting the children stay with their grandma.

What I don’t understand is how the children’s mother could leave the children a month ago and still has not even attempted to meet or call them. Doesn’t she miss the kids at all? Sigh…

After Zali left the room, Yah and her son came in. I told her to look for me at the hospital yesterday as I promised her I’d accompany her to the EPF office nearby. After filling up the necessary form and attaching the necessary supporting documents, I brought her to the EPF office, taught her where to go and who to see and then I left her there so I could go back to the clinic as there were supposed to be a few more cases. Besides, I don’t want to be seen to be lurking around the EPF office too often lest I be pulled aside for interrogation by the EPF officers! Just recently I brought Ani there for the same purpose; this time with a different person…

You see, a fellow volunteer told me that he was recently asked by EPF officers why he was bringing different people to EPF to submit their EPF withdrawal forms. Some people don’t seem to believe that we’re doing all these without getting paid. Apparently there had been cases where some unscrupulous people offered assistance to unsuspecting victims by saying they can help in the application with a fee of RM300 to RM500 for each successful application. The victims were made to believe that it was the standard fee and that without their service it won’t be easy to get the approval.

So, before I got into the EPF officers’ suspicious list, I left Yah there. She seemed confident enough on her own.

When I got back to the clinic, I took a peek outside and saw Asiah. Asiah was assigned to another volunteer, but we’ve met each other before and so I went over to sit beside her to have a chat. This time she introduced me to her husband. Asiah is a very beautiful woman and was actually infected by her first husband. After her first husband died and she was left with 4 kids to feed, she started to work as a shop assistant. Then she got to know a married man, quite elderly and they decided to get married. They were already planning to get married when Asiah found out she was positive. But she didn’t tell her then husband-to-be. They went ahead, got married, and finally Asiah told her husband about her HIV, but not the whole truth. She told him she only knew about it AFTER they got married. Oh dear… but no, we’re not going to get involved in their internal affairs… that’s between her and hubby.

One more case was referred to us later in the afternoon. This guy knew about his HIV earlier on when he was still in prison where he was given all the necessary counseling, so no, we didn’t have any problems explaining things to the guy.

By this time Yah was done with her EPF interview etc and was already back at the hospital. I told her to come back looking for me once she was done at EPF as I had some things to be passed to her. I took Yah and son for lunch first and then sent them to the bus station. I also handed over some milk powder for her baby and some presents to be given to her 2 daughters for getting 2nd in class recently.

Anyway, the day before I went to visit Fuzi to send over supplies of milk powder and groceries for the family. I was told that Wina, Fuzi’s eldest daughter will not be joining us for the family day as she’ll be joining a 3D/2N trip to KL that weekend. You see, she took part in an English essay competition and from that competition a few students from each school were selected to go for an educational trip to KL. Wina was one of those selected. I’m happy for her.

However, the other news did not please me at all. Fuzi’s welfare aid has not been coming in since May. According to Fuzi she called the welfare officer to enquire and was given all sorts of excuses.

Welfare officer: Nanti kami hantar surat, sekian sekian haribulan awak pergi ambil di xxxxxx. (Note: earlier on they were the ones who asked Fuzi to open up a separate bank account so the money could easily be banked in)
Fuzi: Tempat saya tu kadang-kadang surat tak sampai puan. Kadang-kadang sampai lambat, bila surat sampai tarikhnya dah lepas. Boleh tak kalau talipon saja?
Officer: Ada talipon?
Fuzi: Ada nombor talipon tangan.
Officer: Oh, kalau macam tu saya kena semak baliklah kes awak ni. Tak perlu bantuan dah kalau dah boleh pakai talipon tangan.
Fuzi: Aduh puan, talipon tangan tu pekerja sukarela hospital yang bagi agar mudah dia nak hubungi saya bila perlu! (I gave her an old phone I managed to get from a friend who was no longer using it. Yes, the whole purpose was to make it easier for me to contact Fuzi.)
Officer: Tengoklah nanti macam mana…

All the above hassle Fuzi had to go through for a measly RM115 per month to feed 5 children. I don’t know what else to say….

All I can say for now is thank you again to the blog reader who was kind enough to bank in a certain amount every month into Fuzi’s bank account. Otherwise the family may not have enough to eat…

Monday, 16 July 2007

The children & their education

One of my NGO’s main concerns when helping out the children of the families under our care is to ensure that all the infected and affected children are not deprived of basic education at the very least. Every child has a right to education and should be given that chance. There should not be any reason whatsoever, not for financial reasons especially, for the child to be left out or to drop out of school. They MUST go to school!

That was the reason behind the setting up of our Children Education Fund (CEF) – to provide school bags, work-books, school shoes and uniforms, bus fares, school fees and other basic schooling needs for the children.

However, for hard core poor families, even the CEF is not enough. The CEF only covers basic needs – the children may have additional needs like pocket money, and for those taking major exams, they may need extra books, tuition etc. This is why we are now in the process of finalizing a “Sponsorship for Education” program for the children where we hope to get a donor to sponsor each particular child’s entire education. Some sort of an adoption program, but for sponsorship purposes only. I’ve been entrusted to coordinate this program… hopefully it will take off within this year. Anyone interested?

Of the 34 children from the families under my care, 21 are schooling, and 11 are getting CEF for this year. There are 6 or 7 other children under the care of other volunteers who have also been granted CEF for this year. I believe by next year more will need financial assistance for their schooling.

However, there are a few of these children who have already been blacklisted by their teachers that even after they get the CEF, they are still reluctant to go to school.

Take Shah for example, last year he had to take his PMR. His family couldn’t afford to pay bus fares, so he had to depend on a neighbour who’d give him a lift IF the neighbour so happened to pass the way to his school. Otherwise, Shah would miss school. Because of that Shah missed school quite a lot, and every time he did go to school, he’d get a scolding by his teacher. And his teacher also kept pestering him to pay school fees. Never once did any of the teachers pay him a visit at home to find out WHY he had missed school and why he had not been paying his fees.

Beginning this year, his fees and bus fares are covered by our CEF, but Shah has no more interest in his studies and the fact that he had missed out quite a lot last year has resulted in him being rather slow in catching up with his studies – and as a result, he is STILL reluctant to go to school for he still gets scolded by his teachers every time he does go to school. I was told that recently he got a warning letter from the school to either come to school or gets kicked out permanently. That means, without my knowledge, Shah has still been missing school despite his fees and bus fares already being paid for. I understand it’s not easy for him. He needs motivation, lots of them.

But it is not easy to motivate a 16 year old boy who had gone through such misery as Shah had – I think deep down inside him he still blames his father (for taking drugs) for all his family’s sufferings. Every time Shah wanted to explain to me something that happened in the past, he’d start with, “Masa Ayah buat perangai dulu…”

Another PLWHA, Baayah who is under the care of another volunteer, has a 13 year old daughter who is also reluctant to go to school because of her teacher’s constant pestering asking her to pay up her school fees. By now, her fees have been covered by our CEF, but since the girl is not under my care, I’m not quite sure what the latest situation for her is.

In the case of Fuzi’s 9 year old son, last year he refused to go to school beginning the month of May right until the end of the year, for reasons only he knew. His teachers were more understanding - they came to Fuzi’s house to find out why he didn’t want to go to school and in fact they offered assistance for the family. They even offered to buy him a bicycle if he agreed to go back to school. But the boy simply refused. It took a lot of coaxing [and threats?! ;)] on my part at the end of last year to get him to go back to school beginning this year. Thank God he finally agreed. And as an insentive, I gave one of the 4 bicycles donated by a Good Samaritan to him. According to Fuzi, the boy no longer has problems of not wanting to go to school. I guess it is much easier to coax a young boy to go to school rather than trying to influence and motivate teenagers like Shah and Baayah’s daughter…

It gives me joy whenever any of “my” children enjoys going to school. When they enjoy schooling, usually they’d perform quite well in their studies. Fuzi’s eldest daughter, Wina, not only does fairly well in her studies, she’s also rather active in co-curricular activities. Yah’s 2 daughters too seem to be doing well despite just losing their father late last year and moving into a new school… both of them got second in their respective classes for their school exams recently. As for Yah’s 3rd child, the only boy, I think he has other problems that need to be dealt with… I will try to get help for him for his lack of attention span and his hyper activeness.

I noticed Lily’s children too seemed to understand the importance of education. They had in fact asked for tuition so they can perform better in certain subjects they feel they are weak in.

Coming from poor HIV affected families, these children’s future depend a whole lot on their education. Let’s not deprive them of their basic needs…

Thursday, 12 July 2007

The excitement begins...

Yesterday, together with a fellow volunteer, I went to survey the place where we are supposed to have our Family Day outing next month. At the same time, we were supposed to negotiate for a special rate as this is a charitable organization and the people joining us will be underprivileged children and families. They need a break but they can’t afford a luxury holiday.

Well, we ourselves are funded by donations from friends and the public who understands our work, so we can’t afford to give them a luxury holiday either. But we honestly hope the Family Day, which we organize every year, will be able to let them forget their plight and their sufferings, and just enjoy themselves, at least during this one day of the year. Of course, at the same time, we volunteers too will get the chance to let our hair down and enjoy ourselves silly (and maybe even act more childish than the children themselves!!).

So, yesterday I had the chance to have a “sneak preview” of the place – free of charge. We had a half hour tour of the place… so at least we now know what to expect, and as such it will be easier for us to plan our programmes for the day. The nice gentleman who showed us around even offered a free spinning chair ride… but my friend just had a cup of coffee and she was afraid she may throw up after the ride… while I was not in the proper attire… in my jubah and tudung labuh, which would probably be flapping all over when the chair goes spinning in the air! (Now, that may look like a different version of the movie “The Flying Nun”, don’t you think?) But come that day, I will make it a point to go properly attired so I will not miss any of the thrilling rides available.

Our main concern was the children. We need a strategic place so that we can easily keep an eye on the children. Kids being kids, they are bound to try anything… and especially because most, if not all, of these kids have never been exposed to such fun and amusement before. We just have to be extra careful. So yes, we got ourselves a strategic place where the mothers can easily supervise their children.

Now, coaxing the families to come is another story. For the first timers especially, they ask all sorts of questions… will their illness be discussed in any way? What if their children find out about their illness? What if people look down on them? But once we managed to convince them that there is nothing to worry about as it will be just like any other family day outings, they agreed to join. In fact, the kids are already excited the moment they found out where we’re going. (Oh okay, this overgrown kid here is just as excited…)

Actually, in organizing such events, we volunteers too tend to be caught in a dilemma. On one hand, we want to show the public that there is no harm mixing around with PLWHAs, but on the other hand, on the issue of confidentiality, we promised our clients that we will not disclose their status to anyone without their consent. And so, even in organizing this event, we have to be on low profile…

But THAT will not stop us from having fun!

These next 3 weeks running up to the Family Day, we have meetings every week to ensure the smooth running of the event. We want to make sure it will be a day the families, especially the children, will remember for a long long time…

Monday, 9 July 2007

Loving and Giving

I'm pretty tied up these few days... I can't really come up with another story to post. So, I'd like to share this poem ~ something for us all (myself included) to think about...


Whatever you give away today,
or think or say or do
will multiply about tenfold
and then return to you.

It may not come immediately,
nor from the obvious source
but the law applies unfailingly,
through some invisible force.

Whatever you feel about another,
be it love or hate or passion
will surely bounce right back to you
in some clear (or secret) fashion

If you speak about some person,
a word of praise or two,
soon, tens of other people
will speak kind words of you.

Our thoughts are broadcasts of the soul,
not secrets of the brain.
Kind ones bring us happiness;
petty ones, untold pain.

Giving works as surely as reflections in a mirror.
If hate you send, hate you'll get back,
but loving brings love nearer.

Remember, as you start this day
and duty crowds your mind,
that kindness comes so quickly back
to those who first are kind.

Let that thought and this one
direct us through each day.
The only things we ever keep
are the things we give away.

-author unknown-

"It is one of the beautiful compensations of this life that noone can sincerely try to help another without helping himself."
~ Charles Dudley Warner ~

Friday, 6 July 2007

When a woman has no say - Part 2

This week and last week I’ve been calling almost all my PLWHA clients inviting them to join our Family Day outing on 5th August. It’s confirmed, from the families under my care, there’ll be 10 adults and 23 children going.

Joining will be the happy-go-lucky Jah, Yah and her 4 children, Fuzi and 5 children, Zainab/Zaki and their 2 daughters, Mr. and Mrs. K and their 4 children, Sha and her 2 boys and finally Lily’s children with their new guardians plus their 2 young cousins.

Nuri, as I had expected, declined. From day one she had been reluctant to join such activities where she could meet up with fellow PLWHAs. I’ve been trying to call Ifa, but each time I called, she wasn’t home (she doesn’t have a hand phone) and the man who answered the call (I think it was her father) sounded like he was going to eat me up so I dared not ask any further… :)

But I really feel so sorry for Maria.

When I called Maria last week informing her of the Family Day, she sounded so excited. She really wanted to go… bring her family along and get the chance to meet other families with HIV. But she would have to discuss the matter with her husband first to make sure they don’t have any other events or appointments on that day. I told her I’d call her again this week.

So 2 days ago I called her. Since she didn’t answer the call I sent her a text message. Apparently Maria didn’t answer my call because she had left her hand phone in the car. It was only later that night she replied my message…

“Saya tak pergi. Suami saya tak nak pergi. Dia mana nak campur dengan orang macam kami ni. Dah tau jawabnya dah tentu dia tak nak.”

I understand how she felt. Her husband had always been her problem since day one. Maria never had any say in any decisions.

I’ve posted Maria’s story sometime in March during my early blogging days. You can read her story here. But if you’re too busy or lazy to read the old posting, let me just summarize her story here.

Maria got infected with HIV from her first husband, a drug addict. It was an arranged marriage. After being blessed with 3 children, they got divorced and through another family arrangement, Maria got married to her present husband. Her present husband seemed to be the more responsible type. Everything went well… until Maria got pregnant again. When tests showed that Maria was infected with HIV, her husband was called to the HIV clinic to get tested as well. He was declared negative.

Then the problem began. Nobody else in the family knew about Maria’s HIV status… only Maria and her husband knew. While Maria needed to talk things over, her husband preferred to avoid the problem by not talking about it. So Maria got all tensed having to keep things inside her. She had no choice but to talk to me whenever she needed to let something off her chest.

Whenever Maria did try to open up to her husband, they would usually end up in a fight… sometimes even to the extent of the husband chasing her out of the house. However, each time Maria tried to get out of the house, he’d stop her… saying he didn’t mean what he said. He didn’t apologize; he just said he didn’t mean what he said earlier. To him, if he didn’t mean what he said, things would be alright. To Maria, he wouldn’t have said it if he didn’t mean it.

After some time, Maria didn’t call me as often as she did before. I thought maybe after the baby was delivered, things would turn out for the better. Each time I called to ask how she was doing, she’d just say she was okay. I thought maybe her relationship with her husband had improved. Apparently there wasn’t much improvement. Instead Maria was just getting used to the situation. She was getting used to having no say in any decision.

From her latest SMS I could tell she was frustrated. To her, there was nothing she could do about it because she’s just a woman. I really feel sorry for her.

If only Maria’s husband was more like Sha’s. Sha’s husband was also tested negative but had been very supportive. Although he is not joining the Family Day outing due to work commitments, he encouraged Sha to go with the 2 children.

Financially, Maria’s family is better off than most of the other families under my care. But emotionally, Maria is not.

Frankly speaking, I think Maria’s husband would feel much better if only he’d talk things over with someone. But he simply refuses to do so. Joining the Family Day outing will mean he will be meeting other HIV families. He’s afraid someone may end up talking to him about HIV.

He’s not solving the problem; he’s just avoiding it…


Wednesday, 4 July 2007

The problematic young woman - Part 4

When I first brought Zana to the shelter home for HIV women in KL, she was desperate. She was a single pregnant woman and had to leave her kampong. There was no specific home for HIV women in Perak so I had no choice but to send her to KL. Zana was lucky I had my contacts in MAC who helped me find a place for her. Those who may have missed this part can read about it here.

After she delivered and Kak Hawa was on MC for a while, Zana had problems with the other occupants of the home, moved to another home for a while before she went back to the same shelter home before Hari Raya as the other home did not have any other Muslim occupants for her to celebrate Hari Raya with.

After some time, Zana had wanted to go back to her parent’s home. I went all the way to KL to fetch her after I was made to believe that her family was ready to accept her back. It was only after I reached the shelter home that I was told that her sister just called to tell her not to come home as her father was fuming mad. More details on this in part 2 of Zana’s story.

I tried to get in touch with Zana’s family after that to find out if they could give her a second chance. I was quite taken aback by the SMS I received. I was told Zana no longer had a place in the family as she had already been given a second chance but she blew it. There was no way I could bring Zana home to her family – not yet anyway. More details on this in part 3 of her story.

Then one of Zana’s twin babies died. It must have been a big blow to Zana… or so I thought….

More than a week after her baby died, I received another SMS from Zana. She was asking me why I wouldn’t let her leave the shelter home. She said she couldn’t stand it any longer over there. In her own words…

“Kenapa kakak tak benarkan Zana keluar dari sini? Dah lebih seminggu anak Zana mati, kenapa masih kecoh-kecoh lagi? Zana sendiri tak rasa apa-apa pun!”

She wasn't sad her baby died??

I forwarded that SMS to Kak Hawa. Kak Hawa then spoke to her personally as to why she wouldn’t let Zana leave. The home had its own rules and regulations. Somebody would have to sign her out if she was to leave. If she leaves on her own she may go back to her old ways. In addition to that she now has a baby to look after.

About a month ago, Zana sent me another SMS saying she wanted to leave. She was no longer on talking terms with the other occupants of the home. I asked where she wanted to go… and she replied asking me to find another shelter home for her. I told her I would have to ask around but the fact was that I needed to discuss the matter with Kak Hawa first.

Early this week, I received 2 more SMS from Zana. The first one was a forwarded message to Zana from another occupant of the home who got so pissed off with Zana’s attitude. In the second SMS Zana told me she’d now leave the home on her own as I was not helping her find another place.

From the first SMS, and knowing Zana personally, I could already figure out what the problem was. The problem was not the shelter home, but Zana herself. She wanted a home where she could do as she pleased. She wanted a home where she was not subject to rules, regulations and duties.

I informed Kak Hawa. Kak Hawa asked me to call Zana and tell her to talk to Kak Hawa personally. I tried to call… twice. The first time there was no answer. The second time the call ended after just the first ring. It appeared as though she didn’t want to answer my calls. So I had no choice but to send her a text message asking her to talk things over with Kak Hawa.

Until today she still has not answered my SMS.

The other occupants of the home are getting fed up with her attitude. She’s not helping out with the housework unlike the rest of them. She locks herself in the room most of the time.

Kak Hawa has run out of ideas on what to do with her. So have I. Here we are trying to help her and she’s treating us as her enemies.

I don’t really know what’s on her mind right now. For all I know she’s planning her escape from the home.

Sheeeesh… this is frustrating…

Sunday, 1 July 2007

Happy Birthday Aisya!

Remember Aisya? The girl whose story was highlighted by Daphne Ling? If you haven't read about her before, you can read her story here and here.

No, this has nothing to do with any of my HIV families. But today, 1st July 2007 is Aisya's 4th birthday and Daphne and I promised each other that we'd both do a posting on this.


Yesterday, Daphne and I went to menyibuk to Aisya's house to celebrate her birthday. Daphne had earlier just told Aisya's parents, Shahidan and Hayati, that we were paying them a courtesy visit... just to be sure they'd be home.

First, we went to Kinta City, to buy whatever. Whatever??! You see, given her condition, we didn't really know what to buy for Aisya. Clothes? What's her size? Toys? What does she play? Birthday cake? She cannot eat! Aiyoo... banyak susah lor...

Well, we ended up buying some t-shirts for her. The ones for 3-4 years looked rather small, so we bought the ones for 5-6 years. Then Daphne bought some chocolates for Syazwan, courtesy of Nenek (Daphne's mom). And finally we bought KFC (ooops... they don't ban fast food ads on blogs do they? :) ) for our lunch.

Then off we went to their house. That was my 3rd visit. But this time, there was a difference. A pleasant difference. Aisya was no longer the girl who was scared of strangers. This time we saw her smile! This time we saw the playful side of her! What a pleasant sight...

The happy family:
Shahidan, Syazwan, Aisya & Hayati

Oh, of course, she still throws her tantrums from time to time when she doesn't get what she wants. Like when we went yesterday, Shahidan had actually said "Jom" to her... and to little Aisya when her father says "Jom", that means he's taking her somewhere. When he did not, she started to cry. So, off they went on the motorbike for one round around the taman. For a girl who previously would simply cling on to her dear mom wherever she went, I was happy to note that this time she was not so scared of people. She's a very brave girl now!

Feeding time for Aisya. Sorry dear, no birthday cakes for you...

By the time they came back, Aisya was much happier. Syazwan was happy enough with the chocolates given by Nenek Ling :) and the Chicky Meal we bought for him; while we had fried chicken. Aisya? Sorry dear, no cakes or any solid food for that matter... just her usual liquid food (see pic above).

Big brother Syazwan, enjoying his drumstick.

And the t-shirts? They fit Aisya just fine!

You can read more about the visit and updates on Aisya at Daphne's blog.

But wait, there's another thing I wish to highlight. Yesterday we also found out that Aisya's a big fan of................. ready for this?

M A W I !!!!! (world!)

According to Hayati, since Aisya was younger, she always seem to love listening to Mawi's voice. Well, she can't see, so she can't be going ga-ga over his looks, right? At first I thought maybe there was one particular song she loved. But no, Hayati says Aisya had been a fan of Mawi since his Akademi Fantasia days, it didn't matter what song he sang. And whenever Aisya cries, if suddenly she hears Mawi sing ANY song, she'd stop crying. Oh wow...

I'm not a fan of Mawi, but hey, since Aisya loves him so much, maybe for Aisya's 5th birthday, we can put Mawi in a big box, tie a ribbon around it and send the box over to Aisya?


Oii, who threw that rotten egg?!