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)
Malaysia Flag Pictures, Images and Photos

Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Poor, woman, children, baby...

I was updating my list of PLHIV clients when I realised that I have not been in touch with quite a number of them for some time already. Frankly, since the Education Sponsorship Program started and became my baby, I had to spend more time on the Sponsorship program to ensure that all the recipients get their monthly sponsorship on time. It's a heavy responsibility handling the money the sponsors had entrusted us with, and I take that responsibility seriously. Takutlah handle duit orang!

Despite the heavy responsibility, I am still getting assigned to new clients. The HIV clinic coordinator started with, "Afizah, I am so sorry but I have no choice but to do this... I can't think of anybody else", then he handed me the contact report of the latest PLHIV I've been assigned to. No choice did he say? There are a few buddies with only 2 or 3 clients each and he said he had no choice but to pass this client to me? Ahh, must be a problematic client, I thought. I was right. Most of the cases handed to me are usually with rather similar backgrounds, with 4 major keywords - "poor", "woman", "children" and "baby".

Indeed, as I had expected, this new case is of a poor woman who has 4 schooling children and an 11 month old baby. The contact report was passed to me during our AGM last week but I haven't had the time to call her until yesterday. But yesterday when I called, there was no answer. So I thought I'd try again later today.

This morning while I was at my office, our hotline phone rang (I'm still holding the phone, will only pass it over to another board member during our meeting tonight). A lady was asking for a colleague of mine. She had tried my colleague's personal number but couldn't get through, so she tried the hotline number she got from our brochure. I asked who she was, and when she mentioned her name, ahhh... I thought... pucuk dicita ulam mendatang. The lady was Murni, the client I was trying to call yesterday. She said she was at the hospital, done with her blood test and took her supply of medication, and she was at the cafeteria. She had promised to pass some documents to my colleague whom she met during the last clinic, and so that was why she was trying to call him.

Since Murni was already in Ipoh, and work at the office is not too hectic (well, no deadlines for this week...), I decided to meet up with her myself. I told her to wait at the cafeteria and I'd be there in about 20 minutes. Off I drove to the hospital. But as always, getting to the hospital isn't so much of a problem, but getting a parking space was tough! I tried calling Murni, hoping to get her to wait for me somewhere that I need not park my car, but my calls didn't get through. Somehow at certain areas at the hospital, it's rather hard to get that particular 01_ line. When Murni called earlier, she called from a public phone, not her hand phone. Like it or not, I had to park my car somewhere. After 3 rounds of going round the hospital compounds, finally I got myself a parking space, albeit a bit far.

But I had another problem. Murni and I have never met each other before. I tried to call my colleague, hoping he'd be able to describe Murni to me, but like Murni, my calls to him too didn't get through. So, how was I supposed to recognise Murni? I was not about to make a scene at the cafeteria shouting out Murni's name...

Based on the contact report, I knew she had an 11 month old baby. Hoping that she'd bring her baby along, I started looking for those with babies around that age. But it's normal for people to bring their babies along to the hospital, and the cafeteria itself is very near the pediatric clinic. Aiyo... so how?

I looked around, and saw one lady holding a baby around that age with a small boy sitting in front of her. Somehow they looked like poor kampong folks and my gut instincts told me they must be the people I was looking for. So I went over to the table and asked, "Puan Murni?" And whaddaya know... my gut instinct was right! My first try and I got the right person. Even Murni was amused how I managed to single her out amongst the many people at the cafeteria.

The boy sitting in front of her was her 13 year old son who missed school today to accompany her to the hospital so that he could take care of the baby when Murni does her tests and all. The baby, a cute little not-much-fuss girl, is Murni's daughter from her second marriage.

Oh yes, Murni married twice. With her first husband, she had 5 children. The eldest who is 21, is married and stays in another state. The other 4, age ranging from 11 to 16, are all schooling. Murni's first husband died about 5 or 6 years ago. Murni didn't know much about what he died of... apparently her late husband's family were very secretive.

Less than 2 years ago, Murni remarried. Then she got pregnant, and that was when she found out about her HIV infection. Her present husband has been tested twice, both tests negative. Murni must have got the virus from her first husband.

Murni's present husband does odd jobs to make a living, earning between RM300 to RM400 a month. Even that is not fixed. It's more of an "ada kerja ada gaji" kinda job. No job means no pay. And with 4 schooling children plus a baby who cannot be breastfed by the mother, it's even tougher. Any money that comes in needs to be used to buy milk for the baby and food for the family. And not forgetting, to pay for their house rental of RM150 a month. I asked if the children's schooling needs had been settled. According to Murni, only the basics. Only the exercise books and whatever stationery needed for school. School uniforms, shoes and bags? Use the old ones. Fees or whatever payment they call it at the schools? They haven't paid a single sen. Yes, the school teachers had already asked for whatever payment, but at least they did not pester the kids for it.

Looks like another case to be considered for our Children Education Fund, and probably also for the Sponsorship program. I hope I can find more sponsors. Whatever it is, I will need to visit Murni at home and assess for myself her situation at home.

What about my other clients whom I had not contacted for some time? Well, I'd better contact them soon to find out how they're doing. And maybe it's time that a few of the less problematic ones be handed over to other volunteers as I may not be able to cope with too many of them under me now.

Saturday, 28 March 2009

The talk to foreign workers

My effort to come up with a very simple website (using blogspot) here for my NGO is already showing results. You see, despite getting a hotline number for ourselves (usually we use our center phone number on our brochures and letterheads but most of the time there is no one at the center), the number is only displayed on our brochures, given only to a small group of people. What about those who want to know more about HIV/AIDS or those who are looking for HIV related organisations in or around Ipoh but have never heard of the Buddies of Ipoh? How do they search for us?

Nowadays, people always use the internet to look for information. So, if we Buddies don't make our information available on the internet, it will be very difficult for people to find us unless they have contacts who already know about us. It doesn't matter if the info displayed on internet is on a very simple blog site with very basic facts. At least now when people google up "HIV Ipoh", they will find Buddies of Ipoh.

That was how the HR personnel of a factory near Ipoh found us. Their Company has quite a large number of female foreign workers (mostly Indonesian and Vietnamese) and apparently of late there had been quite a few cases of social problems when their staff became pregnant and had to be sent back to their country. The HR personnel thought it would be a good idea to get their workers to learn more of HIV/AIDS, how it spreads, the stigma and discrimination that comes with it, etc, with the hope that the workers will be more careful with their social life.

But the HR personnel did not know anyone in or around Ipoh who'd be able to give the talk and never thought that such an organisation such as ours exists in Ipoh. So she googled up "HIV Ipoh" and that was how she got hold of our contact number. It just so happened that she called when it was my turn to take care of the phone, so the call came straight to me.

So this morning, after putting all the necessary stuff (my laptop, posters and brochures on HIV/AIDS) into my car, before 8 am I was already out of my house. I even had to forgo my Saturday morning pasar tani routine as the management of the factory wanted to start the talk at 8.30 am. Met up with a colleague of mine who agreed to come along with me and off we went. We got to the factory's canteen (where the talk was held) ngam ngam 8.30 am. The factory workers who were "forced" to listen to the talk just finished their shift at 8 am. Probably all they had in mind was to go home and sleep. The only consolation was that, to get them to stay back and listen to the talk, the Company sponsored breakfast for them.

While I set up the necessary equipments (I brought my own laptop but the projector was the Company's), my colleague helped to put up the posters on the wall. Usually if I go alone for talks, I don't put up the posters as there'd be nobody to help me out. Another advantage of having a colleague come along was that I finally had someone to take pictures while I gave the talk. At least our reports later will look more lively with pictures attached, no?

Usually for students, I'd have the slides in English and my explanation in both Malay and English. This time the talk was fully in Malay, both the slides and the explanation. For the benefit of the few Vietnamese workers who may not be too fluent in Malay language, they had one of their colleagues doing the translation for them.

Well, despite the workers all longing to go home and rest, at least some of them were attentive enough. They did respond to my questions and at the end of the talk, a few of them did ask questions. As a matter of fact, one Indonesian worker, came over to get additional pamphlets and brochures from us. Apparently before she came to Malaysia to work, she did get herself involved in an NGO in Indonesia carrying out similar activities. I did ask her if she may be interested to join us, but ahh... as a factory worker with 12 hour shifts, where got time to do voluntary work.

Anyway, after the talk ended and their HR personnel said, "OK, sekarang boleh balik", in less than a minute they were all out of the canteen. They already had a tiring 12 hour shift, I bet they couldn't wait to go home. In fact, maybe a few of them were already cursing this makcik... bilalah nak habis bercakap ni...

It was our first time giving a talk to factory workers. Hopefully this is a start to having more Companies interested in creating awareness amongst their staff.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Various Updates

I have managed to get a few options for Aman (refer my previous posting). A few calls and emails from concerned organisations and individuals came in, providing me with some options. However, to date, Aman has yet to call me although he was supposed to leave his aunt's house by last weekend. I hope no news is good news. Hopefully Aman has found a place to stay... or his aunt decided not to chase him out. Whatever it is, probably I will have to check with SN if Aman comes for follow-ups at the HIV clinic. Usually those who don't show up for follow-up appointments are those who have given up hope. Hopefully that's not the case with Aman.

I am still holding my NGO's hotline phone. The phone rang a few times for the past few days and each time it rang I thought it may be from Aman. But no, Aman didn't call. The calls lately came from the management of a Company, wanting us to conduct a talk on HIV/AIDS for their factory workers - mostly foreign workers ie Indonesian and Vietnamese. Yesterday, 2 of the staff came over to the our center to discuss the matter further. The talk will be held this coming Saturday morning. The workers are not fluent in English, so the talk will have to be held in Malay. Besides, none of our volunteers are able to converse in Vietnamese language! The management will try to get one of the Vietnamese workers who are more conversant in Malay to translate for the Vietnamese workers. The Indonesians shouldn't have any problems understanding Malay... I hope! For all I know I may end up using the Indonesian accent!! (that may help for my Bali trip in August though...)


Shila sent me another SMS telling me about her health problems again. She kept asking me why she was having such problems... whether the problems were due to the medication she was taking etc. Sigh... why lah these people prefer to ask non-medical people about their medical problems. Apparently when she felt unwell last week, I wasn't the only one she SMS-ed. Another colleague of mine also got her SMS but to that colleague Shila said she didn't have enough money to go to the clinic. To me she never complains about not having enough money for her medical needs. BUT she's always giving me all sorts of excuses not to see the doctor.

This time when she sent me the SMS, again I replied telling her to go to a clinic or hospital. In addition to that I also told her not to assume things and not to wait for her condition to worsen before she decides to see a doctor. Shila came up with yet another excuse...

"Saya takut kalau pergi hospital nanti doktor cakap ada sakit lain pulak, nanti kena tahan kat wad. Tak nak susahkan mak kalau saya masuk wad nanti."

Haiya, this woman! Memang cari pasal nak kena bebel! She thinks she won't susahkan mak if she gets sick at home? But lucky her I was too lazy to membebel that day, so I just told her to go to the klinik kesihatan near her place. Well, she promised she'd go the next morning. I hope she did.


We had our AGM last night. Oh, just the usual AGM stuff... adoption of reports etc. And as usual, the election of office bearers too went on like previous years - I propose so and so, I second, I propose nomination closed, I second. That actually went on for every single post where there was no need to vote for anyone. Having just enough quorum for the meeting, we didn't really have many volunteers to choose from, so other than one or two changes here and there, year in year out we'd usually end up with the same faces in the Board. Yeah, so guess who's still stuck as the Chair? :(

After the meeting we decided to take a group photo. OK, ready Buddies... SMILE!!

buddies The lady wearing the tudung had 10 seconds to catwalk to her chair after setting the camera on self-timer.

Out of the above, 10 were elected to the Board. See what I meant when I said we have a shortage of volunteers??

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Can anyone help?

I was relaxing at home on Tuesday when SN called me. She was at the HIV clinic then, giving some counseling to a newly diagnosed HIV positive guy. SN wouldn't call me unless she has a favour to ask or a client to refer.

True enough, SN asked if I'd be on clinic duty the next day as there was one particular case she wanted to specifically pass to me. Well, my next clinic duty will be in mid-April and so, that Wednesday (yesterday) the clinic duty was attended by my colleagues.

According to SN, this guy, Aman, a Muslim convert, needs a place to stay. His parents are no longer around, and he's been staying at an aunt's house, (the aunt knows he's a Muslim) but when the aunt found out about his HIV status, she wanted him to move out. She said she'd be coming back in a week's time and she wants him out by then.

Aman used to work at a food court, but ever since he got sick (he found out about his HIV when he was hospitalized recently) he's no longer working. Now that he needs to move out of his aunt's house, and without earning any income, how on earth is he supposed to support himself? And where on earth is he supposed to live? Not only does he need  shelter and moral support, being a new Muslim, he also needs religious guidance.

And so that was why SN decided to call me. I already had other appointments in my office on Wednesday, otherwise I wouldn't mind dropping by the hospital for a while to meet up with this guy. I told SN to just refer him to my colleagues who were on duty so they could take down his details. I trust my colleagues would still refer the case to me.

Just as I had expected, while I was at my office yesterday morning, my colleague who was on clinic duty called to inform me about this guy. I already had some basic info about Aman from SN, so my colleague didn't have to explain much. But I couldn't give an answer there and then as I still need to ask around on where would be the best place to refer this guy to. Only problem was, he doesn't have a phone, and he's about to be chased out of his aunt's house, so how was I supposed to contact him? I had no choice but to tell my colleague to tell Aman to call me in 2 or 3 days time, with the hope that I'd be able to come up with a solution by then.

Meanwhile I've been surfing the web, searching for homes that may accept people like Aman. I know of some shelter homes for HIV+ men, but the ones which would probably give some Islamic guidance are the ones specifically for drug/substance users - and according to what I've been told, Aman is not. His HIV infection was probably due to his bad past. There are a few other shelter homes for HIV positive men, but they are either Christian or Buddhist homes. Yes, there are some homes which are not religion based, but Aman needs religious guidance as well. Yes, there are many Muslim shelter homes - but all for either women or children. For men? Ahh, the old folks homes... but Aman definitely doesn't qualify.

I was browsing the website of a particular Muslim dakwah and charity organisation. I figured this organisation would be the best organisation to help Muslim converts. I just tried my luck by sending in my query - telling them of Aman's situation and asking if the organisation is able to help. When I checked this morning, there was already a response to my query, asking me for Aman's or my phone number. Alhamdulillah... there's hope, I thought. So I quickly replied, saying that Aman doesn't have a phone but is supposed to call me back in 2 or 3 days time. So I gave them my phone number. Again, there was another quick response, telling me that someone will call me. I became even more hopeful.

Before noon, a lady from the said organisation called. I was expecting her to maybe ask for further details and then suggesting to me where I should refer this guy to. But instead the lady said they didn't have the sources for this kind of cases for men, and so she suggested that I refer this case to JKM instead. Aduh, my hopes were dashed! If an organisation supposedly doing dakwah work can't help me out on this one, who can?

Aman still hasn't called me yet. Frankly I'm not sure if I can come up with a solution by the time he calls. I guess the most important thing is for him to get some shelter, so I guess all I can do for the time being is to give him the options of the various shelter homes for HIV positive men.

Aman may be rather weak and fragile at the moment, but if given proper care and guidance, I believe he can get better. And when he does get better, he should be able to work again. But if he becomes homeless and doesn't get any proper care, his condition will only worsen. And probably, so will his faith, na'uzubillah.

Ya Allah, help him please.


Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Apa sakit?

Almost every morning, if it doesn't rain, and if I don't have any early morning assignments elsewhere, I'd be outside my house, doing any of the m's... menyapu, menebas, menyangkul, meracun, mencantas, menebang, mesin rumput and whatever other m's I consider as my 'exercise kampong', before I get ready to go to my office. The list used to include membasuh kereta, but of late, since the existence of the RM3 snow car wash right at the junction going in & out of my kampong, I now wash my car while sitting at the driver's seat, on my way to work. For RM3, it's worth missing the exercise... :-)

Anyway, due to my daily routine, any calls coming in on my hand phone before 8.30 in the morning would usually be unanswered. And any SMS coming in during that time would be replied rather late.

Yesterday, after my usual morning routine, I came in and saw the red light on my phone blinking instead of the green light. That's a notification that there was either a missed call or unread message or a reminder of an appointment. I checked my phone, and noticed there was one missed call and one unread message - both coming from Shila. She had actually sent the SMS earlier, and after not getting any replies within half an hour, she decided to call. That was the unanswered call. I was wondering what the urgent matter was that she couldn't wait for my reply to her SMS.

I read her message - her nose was bleeding, and so she asked me what was wrong with her. She said she was scared.

Yep, some of these PLHIV clients of mine do tend to consult me on things which they should be consulting a doctor instead. In fact there are still people out there who think that I actually work at the hospital. However, Shila knows very well that I'm just a volunteer whose job has nothing to do with the medical line.

Well, I was not about to give my opinion on what I thought was wrong with Shila, so my logical advice to her was to go to a clinic and see a doctor. Then her reply came...

'saya nak makan ubat dulu, mcm mana kak, tapi saya rasa panas la.'

Aduuuh, if she had already decided to just swallow some pills at home no matter what my reply was, might as well not ask me what to do. I don't know what kind of answer she had expected from me. Maybe all she wanted to hear from me was that there was nothing to worry about. Or did she expect me to scare her by saying that it was a life threatening situation?! Or did she actually expect medical advice from me?

Hmmm... or did she expect some kind of jampi serapah from me to cure her?

Hey mambang biru, mambang kuning, mambang hijau (oops, sorry Dalilah!)

Oh well, I guess she just wanted to mengadu hal. I do hope she finally decided to see a medical doctor.

Which reminds me of an elderly relative of mine (dah arwah dah pun...) who got ill and went to the clinic to see a doctor. The moment he got in the doctor's room and sat down, the doctor asked, "Ya pakcik, sakit apa?"

And his answer?

"Kalau aku tau idak le aku jumpa kamu!"

Fuyoo... banyak garang wor...

Saturday, 14 March 2009

Calls and more calls...

I've been getting quite a few calls for the past few days relating to my NGO work - a few came in through our hotline number while a few direct on my personal hand phone.

As mentioned in my previous posting, last Tuesday, a university student called, asking for info on HIV/AIDS and TS. I passed her the number of our vice-chairman who's involved with outreach work as I thought he'd have more info on TS, but after talking to the student, he figured she'd get more reliable info from other NGO's dealing direct with TS. So he gave her their contact particulars.

On Thursday morning, another call came in through our hotline number. It was from a lady who called on behalf of her employers. They were planning to hold a talk for their foreign employees on the topic of HIV/AIDS, safe sex etc. They have quite a number of Indonesians and Vietnamese in their workforce. I guess this talk will have to be held in Manglish. I told the lady to inform us in black and white, either by fax or email, so that we can make the necessary arrangements. At the same time I also told her not to give us short notice as we may not be able to get any of the volunteers to do the talk.

On my way home from work the same day, a call came in on my personal hand phone. The call was from a member of the Perak Women for Women Association (PWW). I gave a talk last year to members of PWW - explaining to them on what we Buddies do, and since at that time we didn't have our hotline number yet, I gave them my personal number. PWW focuses on empowering women, and they wanted to organize a talk for women particularly those with problem marriages, so she wanted to find out if any of our HIV clients may be interested to join. Well, some of the HIV women under my charge who are still married, have problems getting the necessary "visa" from their husbands to attend any functions - even for our family day, so it'll be a tough task for me to coax them to join. And while the talk would also be suitable for single mothers, it was rather short notice. She called me on Thursday and the talk was on Saturday. The PWW lady had actually wanted to meet up with me to discuss things further - so maybe we can make arrangements to hold similar talks later; but that Thursday afternoon I had to drive to KL. And Friday was out too because I wasn't sure what time I'd be back from KL. Next week she won't be around - so I just told her to call me when she's free later.

On Friday morning I brought my mother to Putrajaya Hospital for her follow-up appointment (after her knee surgery last year). While waiting for my mother's supply of medication at the pharmacy, a call came in from a Penang number. A guy introduced himself from Community AIDS Services Penang (CASP) and he wanted to discuss about holding a joint event amongst northern partner organisations of the Malaysian AIDS Council to commemorate this year's International AIDS Memorial Day (IAMD) in May. The line wasn't so clear - and in addition to that people around me were talking, so it wasn't really convenient for me to talk then, so I asked him to call me later in the afternoon.

I just got home (yes, back in Ipoh) when he called me again. I asked him what they had in mind for the northern region IAMD, but according to him they don't have plans yet. They intend to call the various partner organisations from the northern region for a first meeting next Sunday, and from then on they will set up a steering committee to get things going. He also told me that someone from MAC suggested that maybe for logistics purposes, we may want to join KL's event; and that it's up to us to decide.

I am not too sure yet myself if we're joining either group. Last year we joined forces with the Perak Family Health Association to hold an exhibition at Ipoh Parade. It's easier because both organisations operate in Ipoh. Joining either the central group or the northern group means we will need to travel outstation. Any decision we make will have to be discussed in our Board meeting, and the next Board meeting will be the last Tuesday of this month - and that's after our AGM.

Whatever it is, getting all these calls is a good thing. Those who called for info or wanting us to give talks on HIV/AIDS means awareness is indeed spreading. And the calls from PWW and CASP show that our networking is also expanding. That, to me, is a good sign for better things ahead. At least I hope so...

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

A visit by a TS

I was at my NGO center as usual on Thursday afternoon last week, having a final browse at the reports for the coming AGM, when suddenly I heard a knock on our front door. We don't have any doorbells, so visitors will either have to knock or call out for us. I got up, opened the door, and saw a lady and a TS. For the uninitiated, TS means transsexual.

"Ni Buddies kan?" the TS asked.

"Ya, cari siapa?" I responded.

"Saja nak jumpa Buddies lah. I pernah datang sini dulu."

Then I remembered a few years ago when I was still a newbie in Buddies, a 2-day workshop was held at our center whereby Persatuan Wanita dan Kesihatan, KL (WAKE) sent a team to guide us in carrying out outreach work. A group of TS came over, and Geena was one of them.

While visiting Ipoh last week, Geena decided to drop by our center with a lady friend. The lady friend owns a salon and knows many of the TSes who frequent her salon. In fact, Geena became one of her best friends.

Anyway, they came just to have a chat and to find out more about Buddies. They thought our center was some sort of walk-in or drop-in center where they could come in anytime. I explained to them that we don't have any full time or part time staff manning the center and that one or two of us would come in once a week to check on admin matters. Geena and her lady friend were just lucky that they came when there was somebody around.

Geena: "Kira gaji ikut hari lah?"

Me: "Tak... takde gaji."

Geena: "Oh, dapat elaun ajelah?"

Me: "Tak... elaun pun takde. Ni semata-mata volunteer. Cuma kalau kena travel luar Ipoh, bolehlah claim mileage."

Both Geena and her friend were rather amused that we're not paid anything. I guess to them it's always "ada kerja ada gaji".

Geena was more interested to find out the things that we do... whether we do rapid testing and the likes.

They didn't stay long though. It was just a "saja-saja singgah" visit, so after a short chat and exchanging phone numbers, they left.

Coincidentally today I received a call on our hotline number (since we don't have anybody full time at the center to answer calls, we got ourselves a mobile number whereby the Board members will take turns to keep the phone - and it's now my turn until the next Board meeting). The call was from a university student who got our hotline number from our site. She and her friends are doing a research on HIV/AIDS and transsexuals, and so they wanted to interview Buddies to get some info. I told her I'd call her back once I can arrange for the right time and the right people. I don't mind meeting her myself, but given the topic, I feel it would be best if one of the volunteers from our outreach team attends to this...

Sunday, 8 March 2009

International Women's Day

Click here

Today, 8th March, is International Women's Day. (although people like Kerp prefer to remember today as Dato Seri Samy Vellu's birthday - Happy Birthday Dato Seri!)

How and when did the International Women's Day come about? Okay, for my posting today, let's go back to history (I hope you don't mind history lessons once in a while). Found the following article at the International Women's Day website.

The First International Women's Day

In 1869 British MP John Stuart Mill was the first person in Parliament to call for women's right to vote. On 19 September 1893 New Zealand became the first country in the world to give women the right to vote. Women in other countries did not enjoy this equality and campaigned for justice for many years.

In 1910 a second International Conference of Working Women was held in Copenhagen. A woman named Clara Zetkin (Leader of the 'Women's Office' for the Social Democratic Party in Germany) tabled the idea of an International Women's Day. She proposed that every year in every country there should be a celebration on the same day - a Women's Day - to press for their demands. The conference of over 100 women from 17 countries, representing unions, socialist parties, working women's clubs, and including the first three women elected to the Finnish parliament, greeted Zetkin's suggestion with unanimous approval and thus International Women's Day was the result.

The very first International Women's Day was launched the following year by Clara Zetkin on 19 March (not 8 March). The date was chosen because on 19 March in the year of the 1848 revolution, the Prussian king recognized for the first time the strength of the armed people and gave way before the threat of a proletarian uprising. Among the many promise he made, which he later failed to keep, was the introduction of votes for women.

Plans for the first International Women's Day demonstration were spread by word of mouth and in the press. During the week before International Women's Day two journals appeared: The Vote for Women in Germany and Women's Day in Austria. Various articles were devoted to International Women's Day: 'Women and Parliament', 'The Working Women and Municipal Affairs', 'What Has the Housewife got to do with Politics?', etc. The articles thoroughly analyzed the question of the equality of women in the government and in society. All articles emphasized the same point that it was absolutely necessary to make parliament more democratic by extending the franchise to women.

Success of the first International Women's Day in 1911 exceeded all expectation.

Meetings were organized everywhere in small towns and even the villages halls were packed so full that male workers were asked to give up their places for women.

Men stayed at home with their children for a change, and their wives, the captive housewives, went to meetings.

During the largest street demonstration of 30,000 women, the police decided to remove the demonstrators' banners so the women workers made a stand. In the scuffle that followed, bloodshed was averted only with the help of the socialist deputies in Parliament.

In 1913 International Women's Day was transferred to 8 March and this day has remained the global date for International Wommen's Day ever since.

During International Women's Year in 1975, IWD was given official recognition by the United Nations and was taken up by many governments. International Women's Day is marked by a national holiday in China, Armenia, Russia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bulgaria, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Macedonia, Moldova, Mongolia, Tajikistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

A day at the clinic

It has been quite a long while since I was last on clinic duty. The last time, if I remember correctly, was in November last year. Even SN was pleasantly surprised to see me this morning - she probably thought I had opted out of the Buddies HIV Clinic team.

I got to the hospital rather early today, and when I got to the room for support group, to my surprise the room seemed rather crowded. Usually we (the support group) would have to share the room with the pharmacists for HIV clinic, who'd be giving detailed explanation to the patients on their medication.

Today we also had another group, albeit a smaller group, of pharmacists giving advice to heart patients about their medication.

In addition to the above, there was also a group of pharmaceutical students doing their attachment - also in the same room.

Wow! So many people in the same room - and to think that we're supposed to talk to the patients in private, confidentially! Thank goodness it was a rather a large room - so I could still have the heart to heart talk with the patients - by getting them to sit right beside me and lowering my voice when talking to them. Besides, the others in the room were busy doing their own thing - I doubt they heard our conversation. We've brought this matter up before (about the need for privacy especially when talking to newly diagnosed HIV patients who may not want to talk when there are so many people around), but the hospital simply doesn't have any more rooms to spare.

Anyway, I got the duty roster for this year's clinic duty last week during our Board Meeting. We still have 3 groups - 2 groups consisting of 2 volunteers each, while the 3rd group, that's my group, has 3 volunteers. Waaa... I'm so lucky to have 3 in the group, huh? Not exactly. You see, the other 2 in my group are both new volunteers, still under training, and so for the time being, I still have to do all the talking while they observe. But I did get one of them to write down the patient's details in our contact report based on the medical file given to us. Today was their first ever clinic duty, so there are still lots of things for them to learn.

We had 3 cases referred to us today. The first case was a Malay-speaking Thai Muslim lady, Aminah, who has been working in Malaysia for more than 2 years. She got divorced about 4 years ago, and has no child.

Aminah came to Malaysia with a friend to work. Late last year she had to do a medical check up to renew her work permit and that was when she found out she was HIV infected. When I asked her what she knew about HIV, she admitted she didn't know much. Her concern was if her condition would in any way affect colleagues and customers at her workplace. She seemed relieved when I told her she wouldn't harm the others if she continued working there.

Aminah seemed rather calm and while she agreed to be assigned a buddy, I don't think she'd be much of a problem to the buddy assigned to her. The only worry is, the friend whom she's staying with, doesn't know she has HIV although this very same friend accompanied her to the hospital. Aminah may need our help later on when and if the friend begins to suspect something.

The second case referred to us was a young pregnant lady, Jayanthi. When I looked through her file, I got a shock when I saw her age. Oh my goodness, she's only 17!! She got married last year at the age of 16! Yeah, so my late grandma got married at the age of 13, but that was 83 years ago!

Jayanthi got pregnant recently and that was when she found out about her HIV. She does look rather mature for age. If I had not looked at her medical file, I would have thought she was in her early 20's.

Like Aminah, Jayanthi too seemed rather calm. Well yeah, she admitted sometimes she still feels angry and confused, but still, she remained calm and could even laugh when I talked to her today. She's definitely more mature than some of the older ladies I've handled before.

Jayanthi however, wasn't too sure if she wanted a buddy. Probably she needs to talk it over with her husband first. I gave her our brochure, told her to think things over, and to call us whenever she feels like talking to someone about it.

After Jayanthi left the room, we waited a while but no other cases were referred to us. So I went over to the doctor's room to see SN and find out if there were any more new cases. There was supposed to be one more new case, a single mother, but that lady didn't turn up for her appointment.

However, there was one old case which had never been referred to us before. There's this lady whom SN thought may need our help and since she was at the clinic today (she didn't have any appointment but needed to see the doctor), SN figured she might as well let me talk to this lady.

Before calling the lady, Nora, to see me, SN briefed me about Nora's background. Nora, a young lady in her 20's, is a divorcee. She has been admitted to a mental hospital before and seemed to be a very very stubborn lady. Her family could accept her HIV, but due to her stubbornness, they don't seem to get along very well. Nora used to stay with her parents, but later moved out to a town outside Perak, and stayed with a male friend.

Nora had actually been on medication before, but stopped going for follow-ups at the hospital when she moved out of Perak. Now she's back in Ipoh, and back on medication. She's still not staying with her parents though, instead she's staying with another male friend. When I spoke to Nora, she just mentioned she was staying with a friend, without mentioning if the friend was male or female. I didn't ask much though. This was our first meet, and I didn't want to dig too much.

I did ask Nora how she initially found out about her HIV. Apparently it was during her pregnancy with her youngest child 7 years ago that she found out she was HIV positive. And according to Nora, her 2 older children, aged 11 and 10, are staying with their father, her ex-husband, who has since remarried. The youngest one is staying with Nora's mother.

I think I may need to speak to Nora's mother to find out what Nora's problem really is. Nora reminds me so much of Zana, the problematic young woman I had handled earlier. The difference is, in Zana's case, her parents had disowned her. In Nora's case, the parents are still willing to talk.

As I got home today and wanted to touch up a bit on the contact reports, I realised something. Nora is 24 years of age. If she really has a child who is already 11, that means she gave birth to the child when she was 13. Younger than Jayanthi!!

But, but, but... SN did mention about Nora's earlier mental problems - could Nora have just created the story? Maybe she was like Zana, who tells a different story to someone and another story to someone else? Or was it because of her early pregnancy that she needed psychiatric help?

Alamak, right now I'm the one who's confused...

Monday, 2 March 2009

What's up in March

What?? It's already March 2009??! I thought we just left 2008...

So, what's up in March?

Pi's Twist anniversary is in March. Come 4th March, Pi's Twist will be 2 years old.

March is also the time for my driving license renewal. Well, not every year lah. But the last time I renewed my driving license was in March 5 years ago, so I need to renew my driving license this year. I did that this morning actually at JPJ Ipoh. It's one of the agencies I don't mind going to because things are done rather quick. Went inside the JPJ compound, parked my car, walked up to the building, took my number, and as I was about to get myself a seat while waiting for my number, it was already my turn! So, no, I didn't get to warm any of the seats. At the counter itself, it didn't take any more than 2 minutes to get my license renewed. Walked down to my car, and drove off. I looked at my watch - from the time I drove in, to the time I drove out... all done in 10 minutes! If I need to go to the hospital, looking for a parking space alone would take much longer than that!!

What else is in March? Oh yes, my NGO's AGM. It's almost a year since I was elected as the Chair. There will be elections again this year, but this time, since we have already amended our constitution, office bearers will hold office for a term of 2 years. There are not many of us to choose from anyway, and chances are we'll be seeing the same faces in the Board, so why go through all the trouble of having elections every year, right?

March is also the month when my office usually organize our annual company trip. In March 2007 we were in Genting and March last year we were in Langkawi. So, where are we going this year? Well, we're not organising any trips this year, and it's not because the Company decided to save money, but more so because our staff decided to save their money!! You see, we left it up to them to think of a place to go this year. They said they wanted to save money, and so they asked if we could skip this year's trip and go next year instead. But, but, but... isn't the Company paying for all the travelling and accommodation and even food?? Yes... but our staff said they still need money to spend to buy souvenirs or whatever. Oh whatever, it's their decision...

Not a problem for me, really. My NGO will be having a retreat for volunteers in Cameron Highlands this year (accommodation provided for by our patron), then there's our annual family day for the HIV families, and then the Congress in Bali... so I'd have enough jalan-jalan for the year... all sponsored. So nope, no complaints from me in that department...