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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Saturday, 28 August 2010

(vi)P melawat kawasan?

Initially for Thursday’s home visits I had wanted to bring along one of the trainee volunteers with me to be introduced to the clients. He (the trainee volunteer) stays in the same town with the families I intended to visit and since both families are husband/wife clients, I figured it would be more appropriate to introduce a male buddy to them. I don’t usually introduce male buddies to single mothers as the ladies may not feel comfortable.

However, on Wednesday evening when I texted the volunteer to ask for the place to meet before we proceed to meet the clients, he replied saying he wasn’t sure yet if he could make it as he was on the way to the hospital – his father had to be admitted due to heart problems. We always tell our volunteers that family comes first, so I told the trainee volunteer not to feel obliged to come with me.

So on Thursday, off I went as the Lone Ranger! HI-O-SILVER!! (Ok folks, the theme from the Lone Ranger is supposed to be ringing in your ears right now…)

First to the home of Jeff and Riz, a couple newly diagnosed. I wrote about them here. Since I wasn’t familiar with the place, and the kampong is not listed in my GPS, I asked Jeff for a landmark, like the nearest school maybe. Jeff told me that the kampong was very near a particular school. I made sure I got the name of the school. I didn’t want another of the Tamil school incident earlier. (Actually I did ask my colleague to get the name of the school, but he insisted it was the only Tamil school around. Hah, ambik kau, kan dah tersilap sekolah!!)

When I searched for the name of the school in my GPS, yayyy… it was listed. And since Jeff did mention to just call him once I reach the school, I didn’t have to worry about looking for his kampong. Just follow the GPS instructions to get to the school.

As soon as I reached the school, I just parked my car in front of the school and called Jeff. Within minutes, Jeff came on his motorbike. Ah, his house must be nearby, I thought. Indeed, I just had to follow him into the lane right after the school, and his house was at that very same lane. It was a PPRT house, granted by the government to Jeff’s mother. Jeff and Riz stay with Jeff’s mother. They don’t have any kids (but I did see a cat) and so there were just 3 of them staying there.

Jeff’s 75 year old mother immediately came out of the house when she saw my car reaching her house compound. Smiling, she was happy that someone came to visit them. Wah, rasa macam VIP le pulak… only this time, minus the V and the I, leaving only pea-brained Pi…

Jeff’s wife, Riz, was in the house, not feeling too well. She had just started her antiretroviral and was still having some side-effects. How one’s body adjusts to the medication varies, some take longer than others.

Anyway, I clicked with Jeff’s mother immediately, especially when I started speaking in Perak dialect. But I couldn’t really stay long, there was another house I needed to visit. So after leaving a box of groceries bought using money donated by blog-readers and facebook friends, I left their house.

Next stop, the K’s. Although it wasn’t my first time visiting them, after they moved to another house in a nearby town, I had not been visiting them. So, another task for my GPS. No problem looking for their house.

It was a working day, so I knew Mr and Mrs K wouldn’t be home. But I also knew that their eldest son, Shah, would be home looking after his youngest sister, the 3 1/2 year old girl who underwent a heart surgery about 2 years ago. They weren’t expecting my visit, so it took some time before Shah opened the door. I think he was only in his shorts earlier and so he went to put a shirt on before opening the door. The little girl came out upon seeing me, and followed me to my car when I went to get the groceries out. I also left them with a bagful of clothes, again donated by friends.

That left me with one more box of groceries in the car. No, I didn’t go to visit another family on the same day. After visiting the K’s, I headed home.

I waited until the next day, Friday, to deliver the last box of groceries, this time to Fuzi’s house. Due to the increased number of new clients, I will be handing over Fuzi’s case to another volunteer who doesn’t have a client. So I needed to inform Fuzi about the arrangement as well.

When I got to Fuzi’s house, I honked. They weren’t expecting me either. But it didn’t take long before Fuzi opened the door. And behind her, her 2 younger sons, smiling as always. Yep, the same two boys who almost gave us a heart attack during our recent Family Day when they went missing (they decided to venture Lost World on their own!).

The youngest boy jumped in excitement when I brought down the box of groceries. And when I got into the house, he came running to me, with 2 small flags, a Malaysian flag and a Perak flag; then he shouted “KA!” Yes, kiddo, MERDEKA to you too!

Anyway, Fuzi told me that her children had been chosen to join a group of other children from poor families to go shop for their baju raya next week, alhamdulillah. Fuzi’s only concern was that the function will include buka puasa outside, and her HIV+ son is supposed to take his medication at 7.30 pm. Fuzi herself will not be following (the organisers are only taking the children). I told her not to worry as her 15 year old daughter should be able to take care of that.

I’m glad at least the children will be getting new pairs of baju raya.

With that visit, I am almost done with my Ramadhan visits/deliveries. There will be only 2 more of my usual month-end visits – to Sofie’s and Lin’s to deliver their monthly supply of groceries, sponsored by another club.

I plan to visit Sofie and Lin by early next week, so I can cuti raya earlier. I will be going to my brother’s house in Damansara on Thursday as I need to bring my mother for her appointment in Putrajaya Hospital on Friday. Immediately after the appointment, we will ‘balik kampung’.


What’s that? Balik kampung mana? Oh, balik to where I am staying now lah… :-)

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Another round of clinic duty

What? Clinic duty again on 2 consecutive days? Whoa… never before!

On Tuesday I was on clinic duty at Taiping Hospital. Wednesday I was on clinic duty again, at my “regular” place… Ipoh GH. With 2 new volunteers able to join clinic duty, and the trainees in my old team already confirmed and ready to handle cases on their own without my supervision, we now have additional teams.

Even the nurse was surprised to see me this morning. I told her from now on, there should be volunteers every Wednesdays, except on the 5th Wednesdays of each month, if any. However I told the nurse that in the event HIV clinics on any Wednesdays are cancelled for whatever reason, to please call and inform me about it so that our volunteers will not have to go through all the trouble of finding a parking space at the hospital only to find out clinic was cancelled!

The nurse had told me earlier that a 15 year old HIV+ girl would be coming for her appointment yesterday. Dr Ker too had requested that I meet this girl to assess her needs. But so far no such luck and I was hoping to meet her and talk to her when she comes for her appointment.

Meanwhile there were 2 new cases yesterday. When the first one was referred to me, my fellow volunteers had not arrived yet. The new volunteer was having a hard time finding a parking spot, while the other one was simply… late!

No problem, I might as well just talk to this lady alone. The lady, 35 years of age, originated from Thailand but had married a Malaysian since 15 years ago. My problem yesterday was, this lady speaks very little Malay (and I mean VERY little) and  Mandarin while I can only speak Malay and English. So imagine I had to speak to her in the simplest Malay possible.

“Sudah berapa lama tahu you ada ini sakit?”

*she nodded*

“Sekarang you sudah memang makan ubat ka?”

*she nodded*

“Sudah berapa tahun you mula makan ubat?”

*she nodded*


But eventually I did manage to understand bits and pieces of her background (I think!). She had been diagnosed with HIV when she was still in Thailand and had been taking medication since before she came to Malaysia and married a Malaysian Chinese. She never went for any follow-ups in Malaysia but was still continuing taking her medication by getting a friend to buy the medication in Thailand. It’s cheaper there. Besides, earlier on she did not have any Malaysian IC yet, and as such getting treatment in Malaysian government hospitals would mean she’d have to pay. I couldn’t get an answer on whether her husband knew about her HIV status when they first got married, but after she was finally referred to the Ipoh HIV clinic, her husband was called for blood tests and results showed that he was negative.

So how was she finally referred to the HIV clinic in Ipoh? Now that she has got herself a Malaysian IC, she went to the eye specialist since she had some problem with her right eye. The specialist then asked her if she had any other illness, and so she just told the doctor that she had HIV. When the doctor found out that this lady had not been going for follow-ups ever since she moved to Malaysia, a referral letter was immediately given to her. That was how she finally ended up getting an appointment at the HIV clinic. She even brought a bottle of her medication which she got from Thailand. I told her to make sure she showed them to the doctor as it is important for the doctor to know all these facts.

She seemed to be doing fine, both financially and emotionally, and no kids to worry about; so no buddies were assigned to her. I just gave her our brochure and told her to call the hotline number if she ever needs our help.

My other 2 colleagues arrived after I was done with the Thai lady. We just sat there and chatted. After a while, there were still no new cases referred. Even the 15 year old girl I was hoping to see was nowhere to be seen.

I decided to go over to the other side to see if there were any of my clients there for their appointment. I saw 2 familiar ladies sitting beside each other having a good chat – Maria and Zainab. Yep, Zainab, the one whose house I went to visit last Saturday but she was at work. The moment she saw me, she immediately got up, hugged me, kissed my cheeks and said, “Rindu kat akak, lamanya tak jumpa!” She and her family even missed our Family Day because I couldn’t get hold of her.

When I saw the nurse coming out to give an appointment slip to one of the patients, I went to her to ask if there were any more new cases. She said there was one more; so okay, I went back to our room and waited there.

The next case referred to us was a guy, Loges, an ex-IVDU. I let my colleague speak to him in Tamil while I jotted down his particulars in our contact report. But I noticed his Bahasa wasn’t too bad, so I joined in the conversation. I asked if he was still taking drugs.

Loges: “Tada la kak, sudah laaaama tada ambil. Lepas keluar Serenti saya sudah tada ambil dadah lagi.”

Me; “Bila you keluar Pusat Serenti?”

Loges: “Bulan anam itu hari.”

Duh… just 2 months ago and he said sudah lama?

I browsed through his file and I noticed that he had been taking drugs since he was 12 years old! Wow! No wonder he said it had been some time since he last took drugs. He’s 35 now, and so after over 20 years of being addicted to drugs, surely it’s not easy for him to get used to life without them.

Although he is not working (he used to work with a government agency, but after being caught for drugs, he was expelled), and his wife too had stopped working after marrying him, he now lives with his parents. His parents are old, with income coming only from his father’s pension. So how do they survive? His youngest brother and his wife also stay in the same house. It’s his brother supporting the whole family. According to Loges, he doesn’t have any problem with his brother, but it’s the brother’s wife who had been complaining about having to support Loges and wife.

Now Loges wants to move out of the house so he can live on his own, but how on earth is he supposed to support himself and his wife when he is not working? I asked if he had been looking around for jobs, but he said of late he had not been feeling too well. As a matter of fact, both he and his wife had been diagnosed HIV+ since 2007 but both of them had not been going for any follow-up anywhere. Loges himself only decided to see the doctor after he started feeling weak. He coaxed his wife to go along with him to the hospital, but his wife simply refused as she still feels okay.

Yesterday was Loges’ first appointment with the doctor, and already he was asking the doctor for a report in his favour to withdraw his EPF for permanent disability. Ahh… no wonder lah he finally decided to go for hospital appointments… it’s $$$$$$ that he wants!

Well, yesterday he found out that it’s not easy to get the doctor’s letter for EPF purposes. He is not yet in that critical stage where he is no longer capable to work at all. No doubt he is presently feeling weak, but once he goes on medication and if he strictly complies with it, he should be able to improve. I told him to just stick to whatever the doctor advises him to do, get himself better first, and then try to figure out something to generate some income for him. If he withdraws his EPF now, he’d probably finish it very soon. Maybe even get back to drugs, who knows. Then by the time he really becomes incapable to work, he’d have nothing left.

He did still ask for a referral letter from a doctor just to say that he has HIV. I think he wants to use the letter to get sympathy. I’ve seen/heard people doing that. I’m not sure if Loges too will be doing that with the small note he got from the doctor saying that he was HIV+. But he also wants to use the letter in case he gets caught by the police/AADK for not reporting after being released from Pusat Serenti.

Let’s see if Loges will be compliant with his appointments/medication.

Anyway, the 15 year old girl I was hoping to meet, did not show up until the end of the clinic. Sigh. That wasn’t the first time the guardians didn’t bring her for her appointment. I’m not sure if it’s the guardian who’s not bothered, or the girl herself refused to come. I never had the chance to speak to her personally, so it’s rather difficult to assess.

Hopefully one of these days, I will still get the chance to meet her.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

A step forward: expanding to Taiping Hospital

Due to shortage of volunteers who are able to help out with support services at the Ipoh HIV clinic every Wednesdays, we only send volunteers for clinic duty at Ipoh GH every 1st and 3rd Wednesdays of each month. Although we have over 20 volunteers now, clinic duty is during office hours and as such, it’s not for those who work 9 to 5. So far we have 3 teams for clinic duty – the members of these teams are either retired, self-employed or have flexi working hours. 7 of us altogether, 3 in my team and 2 each in the other 2 teams. I had 3 because the other 2 were then still trainee volunteers.

Well, the 2 in my team has since been confirmed, and since we’re getting a few new volunteers with flexi hours as well, I figured I can now let the other 2 members in my team to be on their own so I can set up another team to train the new volunteers. But instead of having to reschedule the duty roster which had already be drawn up until the end of the year, we’ll still stick to the duty roster. I’ll just bring the new volunteers for clinic duty either on the 2nd or 4th Wednesdays of each month when there are no teams on duty.

Our dear Dr Ker had also informed me earlier that they needed support services in Taiping Hospital as well. HIV clinic in Taiping Hospital is only held once a month ie on the 4th Tuesday of each month. After asking around, a few of my fellow volunteers indicated their willingness to go to Taiping. If we can form 3 teams, then each volunteer will only need to go there once every 3 months. That’s not too bad…

So yes, we went ahead. Yesterday we finally started our services in Taiping Hospital – hari ini dalam sejarah for us Buddies! Since it is our first duty in Taiping Hospital, I made sure I myself attended the first clinic – just to be sure of the arrangements. Dr Ker had initially suggested that we share a room with the pharmacist, which is what we’re doing in Ipoh. But the room in Ipoh is a lot bigger – sharing is not a problem. The pharmacist’s room in Taiping Hospital, however, is too small to be shared by too many of us… especially when we have at least 2 Buddies on duty each time. Today we had 3 – including our new volunteer doctor who works in Taiping. The other volunteer came with me from Ipoh.

After Dr Ker introduced me to the head of the Taiping Hospital specialist clinic, and after contemplating a few options, our new volunteer doctor suggested that we used the surau at the specialist clinic. Hmmm… HIV clinic is only half a day, should end by 1 pm, and the Muslims would only be using it after 1 pm. So yeah, why not? And since the surau is at a room right across Dr Ker’s room, it was even better still!

So yes, the surau became our room for the day, and most likely will become the support group room every 4th Tuesdays of each month. We just carried a bench inside, added 2 more chairs, and voila! We were ready to serve! We just had to make sure everyone took off their shoes when entering the room.

Okay, room settled. So in we went. And we waited. And we waited. And we waited. Fasting, and bored waiting, the carpet at the surau looked so tempting to sleep on! After a while I went to the doctor’s room to confirm with the nurse if there were any new cases to be referred to us. She said there were a few. So okay, we’d just wait.

The first case was only referred to us after 11.30 am. A lady in her early forties whose husband passed away a few years back. It seems the husband never told her he had HIV. She only knew when her husband’s condition deteriorated. Even then it was the doctor, not her husband, who told her. Not long after that her husband passed away. It seemed rather weird to me though, that although she was tested positive immediately after that, nobody referred her for further check-ups. She said she was just called up for one counseling session, and that was it! According to her, she didn’t know how to go about to get an appointment. Hmmm… or maybe she didn’t understand what was told to her, resulting in her not going for follow-ups. It was only recently when she had to be warded for severe headache, that further tests were done and an appointment was finally made for her to go for check-ups at the HIV clinic.

Well, in her case, her whole family except her children know she has HIV and they are all okay with it. As for her 3 children, they seem to be doing quite well in school. The first 2 offered to stay in hostels and only the youngest 10 year old boy stays with her at home. Based on her situation, she doesn’t need sponsorship for her kids, but we will consider her for our Children Education Fund which is usually used for back-to-school expenses at the beginning of each schooling year. That’s the time when she’d usually feel the extra financial burden.

The second case referred wasn’t a new case. She had been on medication for 2 years now, and had not been fasting for the past 2 years. However this year she started fasting – meaning she’s taking her medication not at 12 hour intervals like she should be doing. The doctor was quite worried. They would usually allow the patient to do that only if their condition is a bit more stable, but for this lady, her condition is still considered poor, with low CD4 and high viral load.

The doctor then sought my help to speak to this lady. According to the doctor, she told this lady that it is not advisable for her to fast yet, but the lady looked somewhat upset and looked like she was about to burst into tears; so the doctor, a Chinese lady, didn’t dare say anything further. She figured it was better for a fellow Muslim to speak to this lady.

And so the lady was sent into our make-shift counseling room. The doctor was right indeed, every time we said something, the lady looked like she was about to burst into tears. I think she’s also a bit depressed. Anyway, at the end of it, it did seem like she was ready to follow our advise. But I think we will also need to follow up with her from time to time. Maybe if she has someone to talk to, emotionally, she may be a bit more stable.

The next 2 cases referred to us were men with something in common. Not only are both them divorced, in both cases, the children are staying with them, and their ex-wives have gone missing, never even coming back to see their children. The first guy said he doesn’t even know where to start looking for his ex-wife to get her tested. They got divorced a few years back. This guy is already on medication and he seemed like the compliant type.

As for the second guy, he said there was no need to get his ex-wife tested as he only became an IVDU after their divorce. They got divorced when the children were still about 2 or 3 years of age. Now they are already teenagers and don’t even remember their mother. The only thing about this guy is, he wasn’t compliant in taking his trial medication (they are usually given trial medication first to see if they take their medication on time without fail) and so the doctor thought there was no point making him start with his antiretroviral. As a matter of fact, although the guy said he’s no longer taking drugs after released from Pusat Serenti recently, the doctor on the other hand, is considering to refer him to the methadone clinic before giving him the antiretroviral.

So, 4 cases were referred to us yesterday. But because the cases were referred to us late, only after they were called in to see the doctor, we finished rather late, after 1 pm. But ngam ngam just in time before zohor. It was the first time for the nurse at the HIV clinic to have a support group, so she wasn’t really sure how to go about. But she did ask me after that, and so I told her that next time, if there are new or problematic cases, once the patients have arrived at the clinic, she could just refer them to us immediately without having to wait for them to see the doctor first. That way, not only we volunteers don’t have to wait too long; the patients too can go back immediately after seeing the doctor. Win-win situation. Hopefully our next duty in Taiping next month will run more smoothly.

And oh, before we left, there was another duty we had to do… carry out the bench and the chairs and return them back to its original place… :-)

Sunday, 22 August 2010

More visits

One of our volunteers, Sarah, a Malay female, is leaving for overseas. Which means, she’s leaving Buddies as well. Oh dear, we already have a shortage of Malay female volunteers, now she’s leaving too?

Nonetheless, I’d like to thank Sarah for being with us for the past few years. I wish her all the best for her future.

Other than having one less volunteer, there is another issue that we’d need to resolve. Since our volunteers are assigned as “buddies” to our clients on a one-to-one basis, when a volunteer leaves, that means there’d be clients without a buddy.

Luckily Sarah didn’t have many clients due to her busy work schedule. She had only been assigned 3 clients, but one has moved to another state, leaving her with only 2 clients, including one who was just assigned to her 2 months ago, after I personally went to visit the lady, Aza.

Since Aza stays up north of Perak, I will probably have to hand over the case to our new volunteer, a Malay lady doctor, who resides nearby. But the lady doctor is still considered a trainee volunteer, and as such I will still have to supervise.

The other client, Aini, stays in Ipoh. Sarah had been her buddy for the past 3 years already, and they are already very comfortable with each other. When Aini found out Sarah was leaving, she got worried. Who would she contact in case of any needs? Her children are under our sponsorship programme. Other than Sarah, Aini also knows me; and so when Sarah told her that I’d still be around, Aini was a bit relieved. During our Family Day early this month, I gave her my number and made sure I kept her number in my hand phone too. Until we can decide on whom to take over as her buddy, I guess I will have to be her main contact for the time being.

This month being Ramadhan, I’d usually have people contributing cash and goods to be distributed to the needy. Usually, for Aini, I’d just inform Sarah to get the stuff from our center to be delivered to her client. Not this time though.

Since Aini stays in Ipoh, it’s not so much of a problem for me to go and visit her as I wouldn’t have to spend so much time on the road. So I decided to visit her after my Saturday pasar tani routine. I still had 2 boxes of groceries in my car, so I figured I might as well deliver one box to Aini, and after that, deliver the other box to another client of mine who stays in Ipoh, Zainab.

I had informed Aini that I’d be coming, so by the time I got to her house, she was already waiting for me. Her kids, who were sleeping downstairs, ran up when Aini told them I was there. Apparently all of them missed sahur because nobody heard the alarm! By the time they got up it was already 6.30 am.

Before her kids came down again later, Aini whispered to me that none of her kids knew of her HIV status. They know of us as just a “Persatuan Kebajikan” but didn’t have a clue as to what kind of NGO we really are. OK, got the message loud and clear, that means I shouldn’t be talking about HIV to Aini when her kids are around. Aini has some other health problems as well, including kidney problems, so maybe we can play around with the story that we are actually helping poor families with health problems.

Aini actually used to have a job as an assistant at a pharmaceutical shop. The shop than closed down and she wasn’t able to find a job since then. She used to have a car when her husband was still alive, but even that car had to be sold off. Initially she didn’t want to bother us to inform us of her problem. She was surviving on her savings. But after a while, that too was depleted. She needed help desperately. That was when she finally informed Sarah, and Sarah immediately contacted me to ask if we could do anything. Of course, the first thing that came to my mind was the children’s education. And so after a sponsorship assessment visit, we approved her children for our sponsorship programme, and after highlighting the matter through my blog and facebook page, I managed to get a sponsor each for her 3 children.

Now Aini gets welfare aid of RM300 per month to support her children. Since she couldn’t get herself a proper job, she now takes care of a child. A working couple send their child under the care of Aini from Mondays to Fridays, and Aini gets RM200 per month for that – just enough to cover for her house rental.

I’m not sure for how long she can continue doing that though. According to her doctor, based on the condition of her kidney, she may need to start on dialysis in 2 years time. Once she has to do that, no way can she babysit anybody’s child. Even as it is, when she needs to go to the hospital for her appointments (for HIV and for her kidney problem), she’d send the child to her mother’s home nearby. But once she starts dialysis, she’d have to go to the hospital more often. Too often in fact.

As for her HIV, her CD4 had dropped to 270. The doctor told her she’d have to start on anti-retroviral medication, but gave her a choice of whether to start now, or after Raya. Aini decided to start after Raya, at least she can still fast this year. Once she starts taking her HIV medication, she will have to take them all her life.

I told Aini to inform me directly if her children have any other needs for their schooling other than the amount I bank in monthly for their pocket money and bus fares. Anything to do with their schooling is covered under the sponsorship programme.

Anyway, after leaving Aini’s house, I headed straight to Zainab’s house. I had been trying to call her, but my calls simply didn’t get through. I’d usually make sure Zainab’s home before I visit. You see, she works on shifts at a factory. I’d only visit if she’s on night shift, as she’d be home during the day. But since my calls didn’t get through, I decided I’d just go and visit – if she’s home, I’d go inside her house, otherwise, if it’s just her husband Zaki and the kids home, I’d just deliver the groceries, and just get some minimum updates from outside the door. I’d have to be very careful, nanti apa pulak orang kata, bini pergi kerja, bawa perempuan lain masuk rumah pulak…

When I got to their house, the door was closed. I gave the salam, and knocked on the door. Zainab’s 7 year old daughter, called kakak, opened the door. “Ibu ada tak?” I asked. “Ibu kerja,” said the girl. “Kejap ya, nanti makcik angkat barang dulu.”

As I was carrying the box of groceries, Zaki came to the door. I asked why my calls couldn’t get through. Zaki said somebody broke into the house and took their phone. Duh! Orang susah pun kena rompak.

Zaki mentioned that kakak’s kidney problem is surfacing again. Kakak was hospitalised in Ramadhan last year due to her kidney problems. Her face was so bloated I couldn’t recognise her when I went to visit. I took a look at kakak’s face, and yes, it did look a bit bloated, although not as bad as last year. Zaki said they’d have to bring her to the hospital on Monday for her appointment. Looks like she will have to go through another round of check-ups and medication.

I didn’t stay long. After getting the short updates, I told Zaki to convey my salam to Zainab and immediately left.

Now my car is clear, but will be filled up again with groceries before I continue with more visits…

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Sekolah Tamil yang mana satu?!

The last time I went to Taiping together with a few fellow volunteers to visit some new clients as per my posting here, we couldn’t get hold of Rajan. So we only got to meet Selvi who was in the hospital, and then we met Roslan, although it was so difficult to get hold of him, he simply didn’t answer his calls and didn’t reply the text messages my colleague sent him. It was only after I sent a text message using my hand phone did he finally replied the text message asking who I was.

Anyway, my colleague managed to get hold of Rajan recently. Apparently when we tried to contact him earlier, his phone went kaput and so the calls didn’t get through. So today we decided to go again, this time to visit Rajan at his home, and then to get hold of Roslan to get the photocopies of supporting documents. The moment I made the decision to visit Taiping today, I told my colleague to call both Rajan and Roslan to get all the necessary documents ready. But my colleague only managed to get hold of Rajan. As for Roslan, the same thing happened, calls not answered and text messages not replied. So I told my colleague, if Roslan still didn’t reply by the time we got to Taiping, let’s just forget about him.

This morning I was already at the Buddies Center by 8.15 am. I told my colleague we’d make a move at 8.30 am. But this particular colleague is not known to be a punctual person, he got to the center only at 8.40 am; so we definitely couldn’t make a move at 8.30 am! From the center, we first went to Kuala Kangsar, using the old trunk road, to pick up a new volunteer before getting to the highway to proceed to Taiping. We stopped at Taiping Hospital first to pick up another trainee volunteer.

Meanwhile I got my colleague to call up Rajan or his wife (Rajan’s speech is a bit slurred) to get directions to their house. Their house is within an estate area in a small town on the outskirts of Taiping. Rajan’s wife made it sound so simple… after my colleague mentioned we were at Taman xxx, she told my colleague to just go straight ahead until we reach the small town, and then just go straight again until we find a Tamil school just by the main road. She’d come and meet us at the Tamil school and guide us to her house. I asked my colleague who spoke to her, to ask for the name of the school, but according to him, the lady said that’s the only Tamil school there.

Alright! Sounded simple enough, there shouldn’t be any problem! Or so we thought…

We followed her instructions, went straight, until we reached the small town, the Tamil school was supposed to be after the town area. We simply couldn’t find any Tamil school. So we stopped to ask a guy, and he showed us a junction we had just passed. So we turned back, and although we couldn’t find the school, there was a signboard of the school by the main road (without any arrows or anything to indicate that where the school was). We then called Rajan’s wife, who kept saying she was on her way. My colleague told her to look out for my Kenari.

After a while, she was still nowhere in sight. We called again, and was told that she was already waiting at the school. I finally decided to speak to her myself. I had asked my Tamil speaking colleague to speak to her earlier to avoid miscommunication but we didn't seem to be on the right track. I asked her which school she was talking about, and she just said, “Bukan itu jauh sekolah, ini dekat punya sekolah saja”, making me think that we must have already passed the school earlier. But she did finally told me to just wait there at the school and she’d come fetch us. We still decided to turn back and maybe meet her half way, but nope, to no avail. We stopped to ask one Malay guy asking where the particular kampong was, he just said, “Ada simpang depan tu masuk kiri, lepas tu ada traffic light masuk kiri lagi.” Only problem was, he didn’t tell us WHICH simpang to masuk kiri, and we were back on the main road again.

I then decided to go back to the school that we went to earlier. Who knows, maybe Rajan’s wife may already be there. True enough, just as we were about to enter the junction, we saw a lady on a motorbike who looked as though she was looking out for a Kenari… :-)

Thank goodness, all we had to do then was just to follow her. To our surprise, she didn’t head back to town, but instead brought us further in. Quite far from the small town I must say, and from the main road (yang dia kata jalan teruuuuuuss je tu), there was another right junction we were supposed to take before we could find another Tamil school! Duh! Patutlah tak jumpa. When she mentioned “dekat punya sekolah”, she meant “dekat” to her house, not “dekat” for us to find!

And following her from behind her motorbike was quite nerve-wrecking I must say. The first time she gave the right signal, she remained on the left side of the road, making me unsure whether to signal right or not. The second time she gave a right signal, she went straight right without even looking to see if there was any vehicle coming from behind! Adoi, I was thinking, ini perempuan ada lesen ka tada??

We finally reached her house, and found out… no wonder la bawa motor macam orang tak ada lesen… MEMANG TAK ADA LESEN!! And in fact that was her first time going out of the kampong to the main road on the motorbike. Oh well, but she didn’t seem scared. The 4 volunteers in the Kenari behind her motorbike were the ones who got scared!

Anyway, Rajan only found out about his HIV after he met with an accident last year, causing fatal injury, forcing him to quit his job as a lorry driver. It had been a tough year for them since then, but they are already beginning to get monthly payments from Socso and the Welfare Department. So things aren’t as too bad anymore… but with 4 schooling children and house rental to pay, it’s not enough. Rajan is unable to walk on his own without being aided by his wife, and going to Taiping Hospital for his appointments, taxis usually charge them about RM30 one way.

Thank goodness Rajan’s wife was tested negative for HIV, so at least she can take care of him.

After taking down all the necessary details, and getting Rajan to sign the form to enable us to submit his application for the Pediatric Aids Funds, we left. By then it was already almost 12.30 pm. Roslan had still not replied my colleague’s SMS, so we left it as it is. If the clients want help but they themselves are making it difficult for us to reach them, so be it. Why should we go out of our way when they themselves don’t want to answer our calls?

So I just sent the Taiping volunteer back to the hospital, then headed back to Kuala Kangsar to send off the other volunteer, before heading back to Ipoh. It was already 2.30 pm by the time we reached Ipoh. And after all the pusing-pusing and waiting, the mileage for the day… 245 km.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Are we just going to watch?

Millions of people, many of them children, need help urgently. And here we are, having a headache deciding what to cook/buy for buka puasa and sahur when there are millions in Pakistan needing help NOW! Are we just going to watch?

Below is the latest press release from UNICEF. For more info, including video report, and how to donate, go to UNICEF Malaysia website.


UNICEF's life-saving operation in jeopardy due to funding shortfall

Floods in Pakistan
Children at risk of deadly water-borne diseases
Floods have hit "the poorest of the poor"

ISLAMABAD/KUALA LUMPUR, 17 August 2010 - Serious funding shortfalls, warned the UN children's agency, are jeopardising its humanitarian operation in Pakistan, as the worst natural disaster in living memory continues to unfold in the country.

The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) is extremely concerned at the lack of funds for its water and sanitation operation, with millions of children at risk from water-borne diseases.

"Providing clean water and adequate sanitation is key to the survival of millions of flood affected people in Pakistan. In terms of numbers of people needing life-saving assistance, this emergency is bigger than the Tsunami, Haiti, and the last Pakistan earthquake put together,” said UNICEF Representative in Pakistan Martin Mogwanja.

Poorest of the poor hardest hit

UNICEF is currently providing enough clean water for 1.3 million people every day, but millions more need the same services.

The Government of Pakistan estimates 20 million people overall have been hit by the flood crises, and according to the United Nations, at least 15 million people have been seriously affected, half of whom are children.

UNICEF is concerned that the floods have hit "the poorest of the poor", those least able to survive the present harsh conditions.

Millions in need of aid

The top concerns are water-borne diseases, acute respiratory infections, skin diseases and malnutrition rates, already dangerously high in many flood-affected regions of Pakistan.

Polio is endemic and measles still a threat, cautioned UNICEF, which, together with WHO and Government, is carrying out polio and measles vaccinations at relief centres. UNICEF is also supplying oral rehydration solution, a home based treatment for diarrheoa, but notes that this treatment is also in short supply due to funding constraints.

"We urgently need to scale up the distribution of water. If we are not able to do so because of lack of funding, water-borne diseases such as cholera, diarrheoa and dysentery will spread and begin killing affected populations, especially children, already weak and vulnerable to disease and malnutrition," added Mr. Mogwanja.


Saturday, 14 August 2010

Sewing machine delivery, and a visit to perkampungan Orang Asli…

After finding out last week that Sofie could sew but had not been doing so for a long time because she didn’t have a sewing machine, I started looking around for used sewing machines no longer used by their owners. I had 3 offers of the electrical sewing machines, but one was too far up north, the other two, after trying, didn’t seem to work. I’m not sure what was wrong with the first one, probably because it hadn’t been used for such a long time. The second one, probably the motor needs replacement.

Then my mother suggested that I take a look at her old mechanical sewing machine (mesin kayuh) which by the way, is older than I am! After testing it for a while, it did seem to work, it just needed some minor repairs which I could do myself. I then texted Sofie, asking if she wanted the mechanical or electrical sewing machine. Sofie, as always, wasn’t choosy. She said any type would do but since she had only used a mechanical sewing machine before, maybe the mechanical one would be better. Besides, there are limited electrical sockets at her present rented house, adding another electrical item would mean more extension wire needed… and by the looks of the house, nope, it’s not safe.

So yep, the old mechanical sewing machine it was. I had told Sofie yesterday I would be delivering the sewing machine this morning, and I also told her to make sure at least one of her 2 older boys, aged 16 and 14, to be home to help me carry the heavy and bulky sewing machine out of my car.

As for carrying the sewing machine into my car this morning, I didn’t have much choice. Only my 77 year old mother and myself were home, and I wasn’t about to get her to help me carry the extra heavy machine (it is an old machine, old enough to be called antique, you know how solid and heavy they can be!). And so I had to lift it into my car all by myself.

sewing machine My Kenari, the lorry…

Just as I was about to reach Sofie’s house, I saw Ika her youngest girl cycling, heading towards her grandma’s house. The moment she saw my car, immediately she headed back home. And yes, thank goodness, Azlan and Azman, the 2 teenage boys, were home. I got them to carry the sewing machine out of my car into their house. I just helped them to set up the machine properly, and told Sofie to test it out. Immediately Azman took out his shorts which needed repair (entah macam mana dia pakai seluar entah, rabak celah kangkang!) Satisfied that the stitches looked good, I headed further north.

First, to meet up with a new volunteer who stays in the town I was heading to. Then I got the new volunteer to follow me to a nearby orang asli village to meet a new client. I had not met this client before, but Dr Ker from the Ipoh HIV Clinic had recommended that I help the lady out. She’s 3 months pregnant, her husband died 3 months ago, and she already has 4 other children.

Off we went… the new volunteer knew roughly where the area was, but wasn’t too sure about the exact location of the kampong. After asking around, we did manage to find the way into the kampong. But it was a long drive in, with trees left and right, with no single house in sight, I think had I gone alone, I probably wouldn’t dare venture further in all by myself.


From my rear-view mirror, I saw a guy on a motorbike, so I stopped him and asked. Apparently he was an Indonesian worker who didn’t really know the who’s who in the kampong, but he told me that it was an Orang Asli area. Well, at least I knew I was at the right place, since Dr Ker had mentioned to me that the lady was an Orang Asli. I couldn’t call the lady as she doesn’t have a phone.

We just drove further in until we reached a point where there were 3 junctions. Which one were we to follow? The Indonesian guy, who had followed us, then stopped to tell us to follow the middle lane as that lane led to the area where most of the OAs are. After thanking him and he rode off, we then drove on following the middle lane as suggested. After reaching a group of houses, I stopped and my colleague got down to ask 2 men whom we saw chatting outside a house on our left. The moment my colleague mentioned the name of the lady we were looking for, the men showed a house on our right, just where we stopped! Woohoo!


And here’s the scenery behind the house…


The lady, Ina, was quite receptive. After explaining to her who we were and why we were there, I got her to provide us with all the particulars needed. Sadly, Ina’s 3 elder kids are not schooling. I asked if they would like to go back to school, Ina said she had already coaxed them to do so, but after leaving school for some time already, the kids are quite reluctant. However, she has a 6 year old child who should start schooling next year, and so I told her to please send the child to school. Ina said she would, and I assured her that if the child needed any financial assistance for his schooling, I could arrange for financial aid. We had always been extra supportive of children’s educational needs.

I couldn’t ask her much on whether she understood about her HIV and all the implications especially on the baby she’s due to deliver in 6 months time, but after a while, quite a number of her neighbors and the neighborhood kids came by. They are always excited seeing an outsider coming to visit, and seeing an unfamiliar Kenari there triggered their interest.

Since I needed the photocopy of all the supporting documents, and there was no nearby photostating facility available, a neighbor who’s also a relative of hers, brought the documents to town (which was quite far) to be photostated. He went on his motorbike.

Meanwhile, I got down to have a look around since it’s not often that I get to visit an Orang Asli village. The only time I went before this was when we Buddies gave a talk at another OA village late last year. Even then, for that one, we didn’t really have to drive so far in as the place was quite near the main road.

A group of the neighborhood kids happily posed with me.

After Ina’s relative came back from town with the photostated documents, we made a move; but not before leaving her with a box of groceries that I had brought along in my car plus a hari raya packet containing some cash, as an amanah handed over to me by a friend wanting me to distribute the cash to deserving families.

Off we went, this time happily smiling after a mission accomplished…


Wednesday, 11 August 2010

New client, new volunteers…

Just as I was about to have lunch yesterday (yesterday masih boleh lunch ok?), a few calls came in… one after another. First it was our Buddies part-time staff. Since she’s holding our hotline number, any calls coming in for Buddies would first go through her before she gives the callers the numbers of the relevant volunteers. She called me to inform me that she had given my number to 2 people – a PLHIV who wanted to seek the help of Buddies, and a lady who wanted to become a volunteer, together with her daughter.

The volunteer-wannabe actually called while I was talking to the part-time staff. When I returned call, there was no answer. Then another call came in, this time from the PLHIV. He wanted to see us and asked where our center was. I told him we didn’t have a drop-in center, just an admin center, and so if he wanted to see us, we had better fix a specific time so I could be sure somebody would be at the center. I then gave him our address and told him to be there after 3 pm yesterday.

Immediately after that call, I noticed there was a missed call – from the volunteer-wannabe! Wah, she must think it’s very hard to get hold of me, whereas in actual fact, she just so happened to be calling at the wrong time. I don’t usually get calls all coming in at the same time (there was not a single call earlier in the morning!). This time when I returned call, she answered the phone. It seemed neither she nor her daughter knew much about us Buddies, but her daughter seemed very interested in what we do, and so she coaxed her mother to call us and find out more. I told them it would be best if we could meet up and have a chit chat so I could explain to them more - then only they should decide if they are still interested in this line of voluntary work. Since I was going to the center anyway yesterday to meet up with the PLHIV, I told the mother/daughter volunteer-wannabe’s to come to the center after 3 pm as well.

After that I immediately called a male colleague of mine, asking him if he could come to the center too as I may need a male volunteer to talk to the male PLHIV who called.

Right after my zohor prayer, the male volunteer called me. He just arrived at the center as our cleaner was coming over for her weekly cleaning job. My colleague told me that the PLHIV was already there at the center! It wasn’t even 2 pm yet! I told him to come at 3 pm! Oh well, I told my colleague to talk to him first, and I’d go there as soon as I could. Luckily our center is not that far from my house, so it didn’t take me too long to get there.

The moment I walked into the center, my colleague was there, talking to a couple. Oh, so the PLHIV came with his wife. One look at him, I thought he looked familiar. Then I looked at his wife, and yep, she looked familiar too. Then I remembered meeting them during one of my clinic duties. We didn’t assign any buddies to this guy, Jeff, because we usually don’t take in IVDUs – not because we don’t want to, but because we don’t have the expertise. Cases like these we’d usually refer them to Bakti Kasih, if they want to be referred. At that time (when I met them during clinic duty), the wife’s status was not known yet – whether she was positive or not.

Yesterday when we met them at our center, we were told that the wife, Riz, had also been confirmed positive. Apparently they had once met Fuzi at the hospital and Fuzi told them about all the help she had been getting from Buddies… the financial aid, the groceries etc. Oh dear, did she have to tell others everything she got from us?

Anyway, I explained to both Jeff and Riz that Fuzi’s case was different. Firstly, Fuzi was a single mother, it was easier to apply for financial aid for her. Secondly, Fuzi has 5 schooling children – and for that we didn’t really need to recommend her case to anyone else as we have our own Children Education Fund and Sponsorship Programme. In the case of Jeff and Riz, they don’t have any children. And based on looks, both of them still look capable of working. Having HIV is not an excuse.

Riz had stopped working ever since she married Jeff. As for Jeff himself, he does odd jobs, mostly by catching fish at an unused mine near his place and selling them to his kampong folks or at a pasar malam. It would be difficult for him to find a salaried job as he is still on methadone treatment. Who would want to employ him?

Jeff wanted to withdraw his EPF. He had once worked for less than a year and has some savings in EPF. But there wasn’t much, less than RM2K. We advised him that if he withdrew the money now, he’d finish it within days. After that? Besides, to withdraw he’d have to get his medical report from the hospital, which he has to pay for. And the only way for him to get his EPF withdrawal approved, is if the doctor certifies that he is unable to work. Based on his condition, I doubt the doctor would do that. So why waste money to pay for the medical report? We told Jeff that he might as well leave his savings there first, and only withdraw the money when he is really really not capable to work any more.

But Jeff said he’d prefer to withdraw the money now so he could use it now. He’s not even bothered how he’d survive when he’s no longer able to work. He said he probably won’t live long enough to wait until he is 50 (he's in his early 40's now) to be able to withdraw the money. Sigh! All he wants is to use the money. I bet if he is able to get his hands on the money, he’d finish it within just a few days. Degil sungguh.

Well, if he wants to go ahead and attempt to withdraw his EPF (under permanent disability), he can go ahead and proceed. We’re not going to help him with that, because if we do, when the application gets rejected (which is very likely), he’d probably come back to us asking us to do something about it. And he would have wasted at least RM40 for the medical report – which he will be complaining about later…

I told them that since we only have funds to cover for children’s educational needs, we cannot help them financially. However, we could consider sending them groceries whenever we get supply of groceries from donors. Coincidentally, there was a 10kg pack of rice at our center, courtesy of a donor, so I gave that pack to them. And since we still had some adult clothes as well, we also told them to choose whichever they could fit into.

At least when they left they were happy enough that they managed to go home with rice and clothes. They thanked us many many times for that.

Not long after they left, the mother-daughter volunteer-wannabes arrived at our center. It was the daughter who was looking for organisations to volunteer for, and from the list she found on the internet, she thought Buddies would be an interesting option. All she knew was that we deal with HIV positive people. That was it. Anyway, we explained to them what we do… all the do’s and don’ts… and they still seemed interested. So yep, we have 2 new volunteers now – the first of a mother-daughter team. Only thing to decide now is which volunteer to assign as their “mummy”…

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Salam Ramadhan!

Wishing all my Muslim friends a happy and blessed Ramadhan!

Kalau pergi Pasar Ramadhan, once you get what you need, don't linger. GO HOME! Don't get tempted with all the food okay? Defeats the whole purpose!

Picture below is not to tempt you, just to test your imaan... ;-)

Monday, 9 August 2010

Muka kesian

Remember Fiza? Sofie’s sister-in-law who needed help but since she’s not one of my PLHIV clients I couldn’t help her through Buddies?

Well, when a group approached me wanting to spread some charity to needy families, Fiza came to mind. I couldn't bring others to visit my PLHIV families due to confidentiality purposes, so Fiza’s family to me was the better choice to be recommended to this group.

So yep, after informing Fiza that there’s a group of people coming to visit, we arranged a day for the visit. I had, prior to that, went to visit her with Sofie’s sister (Sofie was supposed to bring me to Fiza’s house, but Sofie was unwell then), bringing along some groceries for her family.

When the group from KL went to visit, I let them ask whatever they wanted to ask. They spoke to Fiza, and they spoke to Fiza’s children. And at the end of the visit, they gave her loads of groceries and some cash as well.

After that visit, Fiza had been calling me a few times asking if any financial aid had been banked into her account. Every time I kept telling her it was not my decision but the decision of the group from KL. But since it was just my number that she had, I was the one she kept on calling every time.

When the group decided to sponsor the educational needs of Fiza’s youngest daughter (the only one who seemed interested to go to school), they banked in the amount into my account for me to disburse to the family as and when needed, I told Fiza that a certain fixed amount would be banked into her account on a monthly basis, and that if there were any additional needs pertaining to her schooling, she’d have to inform me. Fiza stopped calling me after that.

Well, recently Fiza went to Sofie’s house to ask for my phone number. Apparently she had accidentally deleted my number from her hand phone. By this time, Sofie knew that Fiza had been telling lies to people here and there, and she regretted recommending Fiza to me for help. So, Sofie too lied… telling Fiza that I had changed my number and she didn’t have my new number because a new buddy had been assigned to her.

Lies? Yep! Fiza had been using her ‘muka kesian’ to seek help from anybody she could get hold of. She is indeed a single mother… her main source of income does come from rubber tapping… no lies there. So in what aspects did she lie?

1. To every person she sought help from, she told them she’s not getting help from anywhere else. In actual fact, she was getting monthly financial aid from welfare, Persatuan Ibu Tunggal and her boyfriends.

2. What? Boyfriends? Yes, her boyfriends had been backing her financially. Saiful, Sofie’s 12 year old son had a few times caught one of the boyfriends coming out of Fiza’s room when Saiful went to visit. The Persatuan Ibu Tunggal had stopped their financial aid to Fiza the moment they found out about this.

3. She has been telling people she’s not earning much as a rubber tapper because she’s leasing the piece of land where the rubber trees are and she’s got to pay a handsome amount to the landlord. The truth is, the landlord too gave in to  her muka kesian. The land would be idle anyway and so as his form of charity to Fiza’s family, whatever proceeds from the sale of rubber would 100% go to Fiza.

4. Fiza told us that whenever she’s unwell, she wouldn’t go out rubber tapping and it would be too dangerous to let her 15 year old daughter go alone. The fact is, sometimes 15 year old daughter and 13 year old son would go instead of Fiza. The 15 year old is already not schooling, the 13 year old would skip school when he goes rubber tapping.

5. Even Fiza’s mother said Fiza doesn’t deserve financial help. The mother did at times when she’s desperate, tried to seek help from Fiza especially when she knew Fiza just managed to get some proceeds from the sale of rubber, but Fiza wouldn’t even depart of RM50 for her mother. Sofie’s 14 year old son sometimes help out during school holidays. For every RM500 weekly proceeds, Fiza would pay the boy RM20.

6. Whenever she has money, Fiza would buy new clothes for herself. Her 15 year old daughter had been complaining to Sofie, whom she calls Mak Long, “Mak tu asyik beli barang untuk dia aje. Jeans lah, t-shirt lah. Kitorang ni tak dapat apa pun Mak Long!” Hmmm… now I wonder if the monthly amount banked into her account, meant for her youngest daughter’s schooling, was used for its original purpose.

7. When Fiza went to Sofie’s house to ask for my phone number recently, she actually told Sofie that other than the groceries I had given her during my earlier visit with Sofie’s sister, there was no other help after that. Even when the group from KL came to visit, Fiza told Sofie that all they did was to look at her house, ask some questions and jot down some details on a piece of paper. Wah! I remember very well they actually brought along a load of groceries and gave her some cash as well! Cheh! Tak mengenang budi sungguh!!

In view of all the above, I had recommended to the group that all financial aid to the family be stopped immediately. I pity her children, but I doubt the money that had been banked into her account were actually used for her children anyway.

Ish, letih dapat orang macam ni…

Since I am more involved with PLHIV families, after this I will no longer recommend non-PLHIV families to anyone since I don’t visit them regularly and I don’t know their background as well as I know my PLHIV clients.

With my PLHIV clients, I am very selective when recommending their children for sponsorship – other than their financial background, I do take into account their attitude as well. Help should only be given to those who want to help themselves improve their lives – not those who intend to make use of kindhearted donors. Which is why until now I have not recommended Mrs K’s children for sponsorship. I know how they go “blind” when they see money. The kids are however, getting assistance for their monthly bus fares through our Children Education Fund, which I’m banking in direct to the bank account of the bus driver, not to Mrs K’s.

I would rather help people like Sofie and Lin, who are both obviously working hard to earn an income even though they do get monthly financial aid. And neither do they come begging when they are short of money. They’d just make do with what they have. And with their children treating me like family instead of “someone to seek help from”, sejuk sikit hati ni…

Thursday, 5 August 2010

A day at the hospital…

When Sofie got a call from the staff nurse of the Ipoh HIV clinic about 2 weeks ago, asking her to come to the hospital much sooner than the appointment already set for her, Sofie started thinking of the worse. Apparently, after getting the blood test results showing that Sofie’s CD4 had dropped drastically, the doctor wanted to find out if she had been compliant in taking her medication, and if yes, whether the drugs given were suitable for her.

Sofie, upon hearing that her condition had worsened, started thinking of what would happen to her children if she dies in the very near future. She called her sister up north (the one sister she could always rely on) telling her about it, and the sister cried. Listening to the sister cry, Sofie cried…

Sofie did call me, but I just told her not to worry and just go for the appointment so that the doctor could figure out what could be wrong. I told her not to think too much about it.

Well, Sofie and her children did seem to enjoy themselves very much during our Family Day on Sunday. As a matter of fact, Sofie herself went swimming at the pool with her kids. (sakit badan kemudian kira!)

Today was Sofie’s brought-forward appointment with the doctor. I told her to call me once she got to the hospital so I could go over and meet her there. Yesterday I made sure I had the family day photos printed so I could bring them along with me today.

Sofie called me about 10.15 am. She just arrived at the hospital then. Immediately I headed to the hospital… and after a few rounds, I finally managed to get a parking space. There seemed to be so many people at the hospital today. I just went over to the area outside the doctor’s room. Apparently most of the patients were waiting to go in to see the specialists at the rooms beside the room for HIV patients. All chairs were taken, the moment one chair was free, I told Sofie to sit. She’s not strong enough to be standing for too long. As for me, I just stood and leaned on the wall beside Sofie. When the patient sitting on the chair beside Sofie’s stood up to go in the doctor’s room, I took the seat. But after just a few minutes, a fragile-looking lady came out of the doctor’s room, needing to wait for her prescription. Aduh, takkan I nak duduk pulak… so I immediately stood up to give my seat to the lady.

We waited for quite some time, and soon more and more seats were free. Thank goodness I finally to sit down, as it was going to be quite a long wait. Sofie was only finally called in at 1 pm. Most of the other people had gone back by then. At first I just let Sofie go in alone, but knowing that the doctor was no longer as busy as earlier on, I decided to go in. I could actually go in and out of the HIV clinic even through the middle corridor meant for staff, but today I wasn’t on duty and so I didn’t want to disturb the doctor.

Both the doctor and the nurse just let me sit on the other chair usually meant for another doctor (during busy hours they’d get an MO to see some of the less problematic cases in the same room as they don’t have any more rooms to spare). I listened to Sofie’s explanation to the doctor on what hurts etc etc. The good doctor gave her some extra medication (non-HIV related) for Sofie’s complaints of sakit kaki… kulit kering… demam… selsema… and whatever else. (mana tak demamnya, enjoy sakan kat Lost World!!)

The doctor then took the opportunity to inform me about 2 cases which she felt needed my attention but had not been referred to Buddies as their appointments didn’t coincide with our clinic duties.

One was a 15 year HIV+ orphaned girl, Nalini. However, when her mother was still alive, she never brought Nalini to the hospital for appointments so Nalini never got proper treatment. Nalini’s mother herself used to miss her own appointments. After the mother died, initially Nalini’s uncle did bring her to see the nurse to fix for an appointment. The nurse had purposely fixed the appointment during one of our clinic duties so the girl could be referred to us Buddies, but the uncle never brought Nalini for the appointment. Apparently later an aunt took care of Nalini, and it was this aunt who finally brought Nalini to see the doctor, but on that day, we Buddies weren’t on duty.

Well, today the doctor suddenly thought of Nalini when she found out that we Buddies brought some clients and their families to Lost World on Sunday. She figured Nalini would have enjoyed herself there. But we did not invite Nalini because she’s not on our clients list.

Another case the doctor wanted to refer to me was the case of an orang asli lady. Her husband just died, she already has 4 children, she’s not working, and she’s pregnant with her 5th child! And according to the doctor, this lady seemed blur. “I don’t know if she understood me lah, I talk talk she like blur blur like that!”

Yep, both cases sound like they need attention, so I’d better arrange something soon. Nalini is coming for her appointment in 2 weeks time, so maybe I can meet her during her appointment. As for the OA lady, who stays in another town, I think I may need to pay her a visit one of these days to assess her situation. Only problem is, her kampong doesn’t sound familiar to me, so I’d better do some homework first.

Anyway, by the time we left the hospital, it was almost 2 pm. I took Sofie out for lunch first, bought some food for her kids before I sent her home. It was getting late by the time we reached her house, and not wanting to rush, for the first time, I decided to perform my zohor prayer at her house. “Maaflah kak, bilik saya ni sempit.” (Ahh, you didn’t have to worry about that Sofie!) Meanwhile, the kids were laughing away looking at their family day photos…

Spending a bit more time with Sofie today, I found out that Sofie can actually sew clothes. She knows how to sew baju kurung and baju Melayu it seems. The only problem is, she doesn’t have a sewing machine at home, which is why she’s not doing any sewing. But she makes kuih to be sold. In fact beginning this month, she got a tender to supply kuih to a school canteen. Some caterers too like to order from her if their clients order kuih. Good for her!

Now, if I can find a still usable sewing machine someone may no longer be using, Sofie may be able to use it…

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Family Day: Observations on my clients…

Of the 94 total attendees for Sunday’s Family Day, 17 were volunteers while rest were the family members of 20 different clients – half of them mine. Out of the 20, 9 of them were single mothers (one of the ladies didn’t come though… only her 3 children came with their grandma because the client had to work); 3 were women who got HIV from their first husbands, then remarried and present husband tested negative (so far); 1 woman still married but husband didn’t bother to go for testing; 1 single father; 2 married men; 3 single men (one of them came with his sister) and one 14 year old HIV+ child who came with her aunt.

And while only (huh? ONLY??) 10 of them were my clients, I was happy to note that I recognised and knew the names of 9 of the other 10 clients. There was only one single HIV+ man whom I didn’t recognise because I had never met him before. Indeed it helped a lot that I knew them… with such a big group, if I didn’t know them, it would be difficult to know who was in our group and who was not. Even with the sign indicating that the hut was reserved for us Buddies, there were still a few outsiders who selamba-ly came, sat and put their things on the tables at the hut. Knowing pretty well they weren’t from our group, I just told them that the place was reserved.

But anyway, being an observer, here’s my observation of my clients who attended the Family Day on Sunday:

FUZI – A regular for our Family Day outings. Her children always look forward to the annual event. There was no problem for Fuzi to get along with the others. Only problem was her children were overly adventurous. The boys who caused panic when they went missing during the day were Fuzi’s 2 younger boys!

LIN – Her second time joining. She missed last year’s not because she didn’t want to join, but because she couldn’t. Lin came with her grown up daughters (in their early twenties) and the 2 younger ones, 15 year old boy and 13 year old girl. And being a close-knit family, they were enjoying the day together as a family. So Lin never worried about not having any other “gang” during the day’s events.

MARIA – Not a new client. I was first assigned to be her buddy when she was pregnant. The boy she gave birth to is now already 4 years old. Maria had always been the reserved and quiet type. After all these years, finally this year she indicated her interest to join our Family Day. But she had doubts. She asked who else was coming… to make sure she knew at least one of them. She asked if we’d mention anything about HIV during the day’s events. She specifically requested to follow me in my car when I told her that a few volunteers would be waiting at the bus station. Maria came to our Family Day this year together with her daughter. I tried introducing her to a few other female clients, but their conversations just went as far as “Tinggal kat mana?” Most of the time, Maria just went around the park with her daughter. Even when she was at our reserved hut, I didn’t see her chatting with anyone else. She just sat there quietly. Aduh… very very difficult for others to break the ice with her. And since I had so many others to attend to, I couldn’t be attending to Maria all the time!

ASIAH – Another old client but newcomer to the Family Day. However, unlike Maria, Asiah does talk to the other ladies. Her only problem all the while was that her husband never wanted to join and always told Asiah, “Tak payahlah pergi.” I’m not sure what made him change his mind this year, maybe he finally figured out that at least his children deserved to be given the chance to enjoy themselves once in a while. However, Asiah’s husband didn’t join us at our hut. He sat at a nearby hut until they went back. Oh well, at least it was a good enough start. Asiah finally got to join the event and got to meet and speak to the other HIV+ ladies.

SOFIE – Became my client last year but during last year’s Family Day at the National Stud Farm, she was bed-ridden and simply couldn’t join us. She just became my client at that time and her children weren’t too familiar with me yet, so they didn’t join either. Although this year was their first time at our event, they didn’t have any problems adjusting. Even Sofie herself joined her children in the pool and the walk around the park. Those who had seen her condition last year would probably never have thought she would be able to enjoy herself at the park this year!

MR & MRS K – They had joined our Family Day once before but due to all sorts of problems, didn’t join us for the past 2 years. Last year their youngest had to undergo a heart operation (hole-in-heart). The problem with this family was that they always seem to be in financial trouble. Even this year, Mrs K got her daughter to send me a text message to ask if I’d be sponsoring their bus fares to Ipoh to join the family day! I told them they would have to cough the fares up themselves as we’re already paying a significant amount of money per head for their entry into LWOT. Well they made it to Ipoh… and from what I saw, they enjoyed themselves on Sunday. I got to speak to Shah, their eldest son who also joined the family day this year. Shah had earlier this year said he wanted to go down south to work so he could help his family. Although I advised him to attend a 6-months course under Giat Mara, they (Shah & his parents) didn’t even bother to give it any second thoughts. But Shah is no longer working and when I asked him on Sunday if he didn’t intend to find himself a job, he said, “Entahlah, tanya ibulah. Ibu suruh dok rumah jaga adik.” Ah, after all those talk about getting a job down south, now all he does is babysit his younger sister? Why can’t Mr and Mrs K at least think of Shah’s future? Why can’t they think of any other options? What will become of the boy (he’s 19 this year) in future if all he does now is stay home to look after his younger sister? Adoi… why can’t they THINK?

HANA – Hana’s family joined our family day 2 years ago at Taiping Zoo. However they didn’t join us last year because Hana had to work on Sunday. This year again, Hana couldn’t join us, but I guess she felt guilty that the children would have to miss out all the fun simply because she had to work, this time she decided to send the children to join us, accompanied by their grandmother. At least she wasn’t being selfish.

MURNI – Murni started joining our Family Day last year (then she was still a new client) and by the looks of things, I think she may well be a regular to our annual event. This time even her husband came (he didn’t join last year but still let his wife join our activities without any restrictions).

ROSNAH – She once told me that she didn’t want to join activities involving other PLHIVs as she was afraid others may know of her status. As a matter of fact, she knew Shila (not my client) who stays in the same town. But when I extended her the invitation this year, she was one of the earlier ones to reply, asking me to book 2 places – for her and her daughter. And she didn’t seem to have any problems getting along with the others during the day, and even asked me to take pics of her at the various attractions at the park. I did notice however, that even though she came in her car with just her daughter, she didn’t offer to take Shila home despite them staying not far from each other.

RIN – My newest client and definitely a first timer to our Family Day. She came by car but since she didn’t know the way to LWOT, asked to join the group from the bus station to follow my car from behind. Since she only had 2 young children as passengers in her car, she even offered to take a few passengers from the other families. She got along well with the other clients and didn’t have any problems blending in with the rest.

Today, the following text message came in from Rin:

“Salam kak, apa khabar? Kesempitan ini saya nak ucapkan berbanyak terima kasih dan saya rasa terharu dengan sokongan Buddies. Di samping itu saya dapat kenalan baru. Harap dapat teruskan lagi di masa akan datang!”

For the first time, one of my clients actually sent me a text message to thank us. Not to say the others never thanked us, but usually they’d just say terima kasih at the end of the day when they were about to go home. That, and the fact that these families always look forward to the next family day, are good enough for us, really. But getting an additional thank you message 2 days after the event? That’s certainly an extra boost!

Monday, 2 August 2010

Buddies & the lost world… 2010

1st August 2010:

We had earlier on informed our clients that those who wish to go on their own, to meet us at the car park of LWOT at 9 am, while those who wanted us to fetch them at the bus stations, to be at the respective bus stations (either at Medan Gopeng or Medan Kidd) by 8.30 am. I was to pick up clients at Medan Kidd, together with another volunteer.

It wouldn’t really take long for me to drive to the bus station, especially on a Sunday morning, but I decided to leave home early in case there were early birds. True enough, as early as 8 am, while I was driving, just about to leave my kampong, a call came in with the MI (Mission Impossible) ringtone – that’s my new assigned ringtone for clients. The call was from Rin who was already at the bus station. Rin actually drove herself, in her father’s car, but not knowing how to get to LWOT, she opted to wait at the bus station, so she could follow my car.

The other volunteer who was supposed to wait at Medan Kidd, was also another one who’s not too confident of driving to places she had never been before, so she too wanted to just follow from behind. Well, as I got to the open parking space where I told them to wait, I saw both cars were already there.

We then walked over to the bus station, and immediately saw the K’s and their children. It was only about 8.10 or so. Told them to wait at one spot while I looked around to see if the other family was already there. And yep, Murni’s family was already there too! Great, both families were early!

We went to join the other group, thinking of heading to the cars to proceed to LWOT, but Mr K pulak pergi toilet! Ah well, we were still early anyway. Thank goodness we waited a little while longer. A text message suddenly came in, “Kak tunggu kat mana?” It was from Maria. EEKS! I forgot I was supposed to fetch her too! She wasn’t in our original list as she just decided to join just 2 days before.

Well, thank goodness Rin drove. At least we could tumpang her car as well – 5 people plus 1 toddler from the K’s; 5 people plus one toddler from Murni’s family and Maria & her daughter – to be cramped into 3 cars. My Kenari took in Maria, her daughter, Murni & her son. My colleague’s Proton Wira took in the K’s, while Rin with already her 2 young children in her Perdana, took in Murni’s husband, son & daughter.

I made sure I didn’t drive too fast, in case the cars behind couldn’t follow. Even at the traffic light, when I figured it would turn red soon, I just slowed down and stopped, to be sure all 3 cars were still within sight of each other. We reached LWOT car park at about 8.40 am, and quite a few volunteers, plus some of our clients’ families were already there. Wah, these were indeed early birds!

There wasn’t much I could do but wait, because all I had in my car were the boxes of mineral water… while breakfast and indemnity forms were with our fellowship coordinator, who was still at the Medan Gopeng bus station, waiting for a few clients to come. Apparently a client who was supposed to come with her son, were still not there yet. By 8.50 am, when the client still didn’t show up and calls didn’t get through, I told them to just leave with the clients who were already there.

It was only at 9.30 am did our coordinator arrive, with our breakfast of curry puffs and sandwiches and the indemnity forms for our clients to fill up. I immediately called all those from the Buddies group to gather and fill in the indemnity forms while having breakfast. Thank goodness I brought along our portable speaker. We had so many turnouts yesterday – definitely much much more than our usual Family Day attendees of 45 or so, even when the confirmed attendees reached 60.

Due to past experiences of only 70% turnout from the total confirmed attendees, this time we booked for 70 people (out of 98 confirmations) – 50 adults and 20 children (children above 12 are considered adults).

I told the children below 12 to group on one side, so we could do the headcount. No problem getting them to stand in one row and counting them – 25. The problem was counting the adults. One volunteer said 60, another volunteer said 68. So we had no choice but to get the adults to stand in 2 rows (volunteers, clients & their families alike) and the final count was 65. That meant we had to buy additional entry tickets for 15 adults and 5 children. An additional 4 children below 90 cm could go in free.

We only made a move towards the entrance after all those were settled. Luckily I brought the clapper along – easier for the clients & children to follow the group…


While our fellowship coordinator queued to buy the extra tickets, I called the LWOT lady who was supposed to take care of our group. I went to get the wristbands for the 70 booked and paid earlier… and then went over to pass the wristbands to our group. Even organising all those took some time – what more it was our first time having to handle a group double the usual number!

Anyway, we were finally brought to a hut reserved for us Buddies – although this time instead of being just the Buddies, we were the Buddiest of ‘em all… :-)


After briefing them again to assemble back at the hut at 12.30 pm for lunch and 3.30 pm for tea, off they went to the various attractions…

Water park…

lost world

Amusement park…


Petting zoo…

feeding bird

Or just simply a walk around the park enjoying the view…


I knew some of the kids wanted to rent the tubes but couldn’t afford it, (double tube at a rate of RM22 with RM10 refunded upon return of the tubes) so I took Saiful & Ika (Sofie’s children) to come with me to the rental station and rented 2 double tubes (in case other children may want one too). I took one tube with me back to the hut, while the other was carried by little Saiful… :-)

small boy big tube

Anyway, I had told the clients including Lin’s adult daughters that trackbottoms are not allowed to go in the pool. But they thought the ones with the rather stretchable material without any zips or strings would be okay. The moment they went into the pool, the lifeguard blew the whistle and instructed them to get out of the pool. Even when we went to the slides (the tube raiders), whenever anyone came down from the slides, landed in the pool and took a bit longer to come out, the lifeguard would blow the whistle and told them to get out of the pool as that pool was not meant for swimming.


Aiyo, so garang some more! Granted, they were just doing their duties and were just following instructions, but practice a bit of diplomacy cannot meh? Talk nicely cannot meh? This one like police traffic blow whistle, pointing fingers etc.

However, there was another group who got a reserved hut besides our hut, with quite a big group of foreign workers I think (they look Bangla to me). The mat-mat Bangla, after splashing around in the pools, didn’t even bother to go to the changing room to get changed. They just put on their sarong, went near the children pool, and took out their wet underwears there – and then hung them dry at the fence near the adults pool…

mat bangla

Anyway, Lin’s girls were not deterred. While the eldest was already wearing proper attire, to her it wasn’t fun going into the pool without her siblings. They bought one pair of tights for their youngest sister at the souvenir shop, while the other 2 sisters who weren’t the type to wear tights, tried a new trick. You see, what they wore obviously looked like trackbottoms because of the stripes at the side. So they tore of the stripes and buat muka bodoh went to the slides, and got pass the lifeguard! Muahaha! Kena tipu hidup-hidup! So yes, they had their share of fun despite their early setbacks.

Due to the big group this time, I didn’t walk far from the hut in the morning. Just took pictures whenever I saw any of our clients playing, and when our lunch arrived, I just went over to buy some extras to cater for the unexpected large turnout. Since packed lunch was nasi beriani, and they didn’t sell beriani at any of the stalls, I bought nasi ayam for the additional packs. RM6 each! Pergh!

By lunch some of the other volunteers who had gone round the park earlier in the morning were already back at the hut, so I decided to walk around the park after lunch together with Sofie and her kids. Her kids wanted to take pics but didn’t have any camera, so it was a special request from them that I go around together with them so I could take their pictures – with all sorts of poses! I must say I was happy to see them happy together as a family.

After the walk around the park, I went over to the surau for my zohor prayers. I had just finished my prayer when a text message came in from Asiah, telling me that she was already leaving (she came with husband & children in their own car). As I got back to the hut, Wani too told me she was leaving early.

After zohor, I just sat at the hut, waiting for tea. I was already tired and sleepy by then but the kids sure looked like they just arrived!! An abundance of energy they had. I was sleepy no more when one of Fuzi’s daughters came to me and said, “Makcik, Ijam dengan Iwan hilang!”

WHAT? Alamak… Ijam’s 8 while Iwan’s only 5. Aduhh! Fuzi had initially thought the 2 were still at the kiddies pool where they had been most of the time but upon seeing that they were no longer there, had a frantic time searching for them. Her 2 older daughters joined the search, going around the park all the way to the petting zoo, but couldn’t find the 2 boys. That was when finally the girls approached me. Adoi, boleh sakit jantunglah macam ni!

When the 2 boys were finally found (they had jumped on the train going around the park but jumped off midway), they just grinned from ear to ear even after the scolding they got from Fuzi. Aiyo!!!

By 3.15 or so, our food arrived – meehoon goreng, samosa and apam plus choice of teh tarik or kopi-O. Then slowly, one by one the volunteers/clients started to leave. Of course, I couldn’t leave until I made sure every client had a transport home – making sure that before any volunteer leaves, they’d help to send any of the clients needing transport to the bus station.

The only family left needing transport was Fuzi’s family. Lin & her children came in a car (Lin borrowed someone's car) so I didn’t have to worry about her, but when we wanted to leave, she and her children were nowhere to be seen but their belongings were still at the hut with no one behind to look after the things. So I called Lin (thank God for hand phones!) and told her I was leaving and nobody else was around. They were at the petting zoo. So Lin just let her children continue with their walk around the park while she immediately headed back to the hut to take care of the things.

I finally left the park at about 4.45 pm or so, sent Fuzi’s family back and finally got back home at about 5.50 pm or so. If it was up to any of the children, they wanted to leave the park at 6 pm, the official closing time of the park…

Ah well, all ended well. Must say it was a success indeed with the record-breaking turnout of 94 people. It was tiring, but it felt good knowing the families had fun at the park…