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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Friday, 26 December 2014

Another cucu… Cek Mek 2

Those who have been following my blog may remember my little Cek Mek Molek, born to unwed 19 year old mother, Sharifah, 5 years ago. I actually had to send Sharifah to the hospital in the wee hours of the morning 2 weeks before her scheduled c-sect. Sharifah, who initially wanted to take care of Cek Mek, ended up leaving the little girl at the shelter home.

Today I went to visit another baby born to unwed mother. Dahlia’s 15 year old daughter, Dilla, who was raped earlier this year, gave birth to a baby girl 2 days ago. Seeing the cute little baby girl reminded me so much of my little Cek Mek. So I’m just going to call this cutie pie Cek Mek 2.

There are huge differences between the 2 cases though. In Sharifah’s case, it wasn’t rape, and it couldn’t even be considered statutory rape because Sharifah was already 19. And although she didn’t want to give away the baby for adoption, Sharifah and her mother initially wanted to let the baby stay at a shelter home first, visit the little girl on a monthly basis, and then she’d bring the girl home when she’s ready. But after some time, Sharifah stopped visiting and even changed her phone number, the lady in charge at the shelter home could no longer get hold of her.

In Dilla’s case, the whole thing happened without her consent, and even if she did give her consent, it would still be considered statutory rape as she is only 15 years old. With the support of her mother, Dilla too wants to take care of the baby. In fact, she told Dahlia that she’d run away from home if Dahlia decides to give away the baby for adoption. And in this case, the baby will be brought home immediately after discharged from the hospital. No transits at any shelter homes.

I must say I am impressed with Dilla’s determination. Despite all that she had gone through, she still managed to score 6A 2B for her PT3 exams recently. And despite all the kay-poh-chees at the hospital (people got curious seeing such a young girl at the maternity ward, especially with her age written underneath her name at her hospital bed), Dilla was all smiles when I went to visit her today.

And she doesn’t plan to just stay home and take care of her baby. She plans to take care of her baby (with the help of her mother of course) AND take up a 2 year culinary course, at a college sponsored by the state government. Upon completion of the 2 year course, she will obtain a certificate, after which she can either start working, or she can use the cert to continue up to diploma level.

I really salute this girl. She’s only 15. Most of the 15 year olds I know would probably lock themselves in their rooms if they had to go through what Dilla had to go through.

Cek Mek 2 is lucky to have a mother like Dilla (and a supportive grandma like Dahlia). They still have a long way to go, but I like what I’m seeing so far.

May they all have a bright future ahead.

This is definitely a case I’m going to follow up on a monthly basis until they can be independent enough, insyaaAllah.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Done with this year’s Back-To-School-Shopping

For the past few years, I had always been reserving December as my back-to-school-shopping (BTSS) month. Previously I used to bring one family at a time to the shopping centres to shop for the children’s schooling needs. But as my list of clients grew longer, I could no longer afford to bring them one family at a time. So since 2 or 3 years ago, I started doing the BTSS batch by batch, based on where my clients stay.

This year the board decided to have it as some sort of a special event to be listed under our calendar of events. So for the Ipoh BTSS this year, we had a bigger group consisting of more clients, with a few other volunteers helping out as well. The majority of the clients needing assistance were still my clients anyway.

I started off with Kuala Kangsar, with 4 children from 2 families. Not a problem handling this one. Both families were my clients anyway.

Next up, Slim River. Again, 4 children from 2 families and both were my clients.

Round 3 was in Ipoh. 23 children from 9 families were my clients. Thank goodness there were a few other volunteers to help supervise. But I still had to swipe my card for all 9 families. Another volunteer paid first for the children of her client.

For round 4, I went to Kampar. 4 children from 3 families. Although one of them wasn’t my client, it wasn’t too bad handling it alone as there were only 4 of them.

Next, I went to Batu Gajah. 14 children from 8 families, including 2 families who aren’t my clients. And I was doing it alone.

Round 6 was in Taiping. 15 children from 7 families, including 1 family who is a client of another volunteer who did not come along. Again, I had to handle it alone.

For round 7, I went to Sungai Siput. 9 children from 4 families. I’m the main buddy to one family with 2 children, and a co-buddy to another family with 1 child. The other 2 families, with 6 children, were clients of 2 other buddies.

Round 7 was supposed to have ended this year’s BTSS, but 2 girls from Ipoh had missed the earlier Ipoh BTSS because of some family problems, so yesterday I took them out to shop for their schooling needs.

After 8 rounds of shopping, 36 families, 75 children and about RM18.5K spent, I am officially done with this year’s BTSS.

I ended up having to shop for 11 additional children who aren’t my clients. Instead of getting additional manpower from other volunteers to help me with my many clients, I ended up getting more children to handle by myself. I think next year I will have to stick to just my clients alone. Let’s just leave the Ipoh BTSS as a special event. The rest? Let the respective Buddies handle themselves.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Time to get updates on my clients

Looking through the list of phone numbers saved in my mobile phone, I noticed quite a number of them belong to clients of Buddies. 67 of the phone numbers belong to either my clients, or the clients of my fellow volunteers (who sometimes tend to call me when they can’t get hold of their own buddy) or the children of my clients who are now big enough to have their own phones and mature enough to call me directly.

With that many clients, how do I keep in touch with them?

Well, initially when I did not have that many clients, I’d be visiting almost all my clients quite regularly. And if they are poor, the visits would usually be on a monthly basis. Yep, I used to visit Lin, Yah, Fuzi and Mrs K on a monthly basis, bringing along some groceries with me as well. And previously, stories of Nuri, Wani and Zainab also cropped up from time to time in this blog. Yep, these are some of my older clients.

But once my list of clients grew, I had to prioritize, visiting the needy ones more often, while the rest would have to do with just phone calls or text messages, and meeting them only occasionally like during our annual Family Day, or during our year-end back-to-school shopping (BTSS) sessions.

So yes, for the past 5 rounds of BTSS, I’ve been taking the opportunity to get some updates from my clients, although when the BTSS involved so many families in the same session, like last week’s BTSS in Ipoh and today’s BTSS in Batu Gajah, even getting that little bit of info from each and every one of them was quite difficult.

Lin is no longer joining this year’s BTSS as her youngest daughter has recently completed her SPM. Nuri’s youngest daughter (who is also HIV+) will be in form 5 this coming year and so this was probably the last time for them to join our BTSS, unless the girl ends up doing form 6. Mrs K has 2 more daughters still in school. The youngest girl, if you remember Baby K who underwent a heart surgery some time back, will be in standard 2. While Mrs K herself didn’t mention anything about Mr K, I do know that Mr & Mrs K are no longer staying together, although I am not too sure if they are just separated or already divorced.

Fuzi’s eldest daughter is already in a local university, and no longer qualifies for our BTSS. The youngest boy should be in standard 3 this coming year, but is still unable to go to school because of citizenship status. You see, Fuzi has yet to obtain PR status despite applying for it a few times already, reason being her husband is no longer around. Her first 4 children however, have Malaysian citizenship by virtue of having a Malaysian father. Her youngest son however, was born out of a rape case, and with a mother who doesn’t even have PR status, the fatherless boy is not considered a citizen. So the poor boy who is going to be 9 next year, is not accepted at any government schools, not even as a foreign student, unless and until Fuzi can get PR status. And if you think that at least her other 4 children are doing ok, Fuzi’s 16 year old son, who has every chance to go to school, has decided to stop going to school. He used to get into all sorts of trouble in school and even when Fuzi sent him to a vocational school, staying at the school hostel, the boy ran away during the night.

I am done yet with this year’s BTSS. Will probably be meeting with Yah this Saturday and Wani next week. I should be able to get more updates, hopefully heart-warming ones.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Shopping again… for a bigger group

For the past years, I’ve been taking my clients for their back-to-school-shopping (BTSS) by myself. Even when I decided to shop for a few families at the same time, I went by myself without involving other volunteers.

This year however, for the bigger Ipoh group, we decided to make it a special event for Buddies, involving not just my clients, but also clients of other volunteers as well. Nonetheless, the majority of the families involved were my clients.

I was initially supposed to have 11 families joining the Ipoh BTSS. However only 9 families turned up as the other 2 families had more important matters to attend to.

Out of the 9 families, 2 came down from Cameron Highlands. Last year I went up to CH to take them shopping. However, this year, they agreed to come down to Ipoh to join the other families, and make things easier for me as well.

So yesterday, after my Saturday pasar tani routine, I went to fetch Aini at her home. I agreed to fetch her despite only having one child still in school, because of all my clients, she’s physically the weakest, needing a walking stick to move around. Her eldest daughter has gone back to the polytechnic where she is studying, while her second son had just completed his SPM.

We reached the hypermarket quite early, and as I expected, we were the first ones there. But it didn’t take long before I started getting calls and text messages from my clients, telling me they had already arrived and was asking me where exactly to find me.

My fellow volunteers too started arriving, including the 3 new trainee volunteers. All in 8 volunteers turned up to help out.

As for the families, I just gave them the guidelines as to what items to choose and how many of each item to buy. Things were quite easy for me initially, leaving them to choose things for themselves with the volunteers helping them out. But when the time came to check out and pay at the cashiers, I had to standby in between 2 counters. The families queued at 2 separate counters, luckily the counters were next to each other. You see, I used my card to pay for my clients (an advance cheque was made out under my name earlier, but I wasn’t about to carry thousands of Ringgit in my handbag, it was safer to pay by card), so I just had to wait in the middle, whichever cashier finished entering the codes for all the items first, I’d go to that counter to make payment. And this continued for 9 families.

Once payment was made, each family needed to show the receipt to the guard to be stamped before leaving. I needed the receipts for my claims and I wasn’t in the position to follow them out and come back in again to pay for the other families. Thank goodness the trainee volunteers were around and waited till the end, so once payment was made, they’d accompany the families out for the receipt to be stamped, after which they’d bring the receipts back to me.

Total amount swiped was RM6,495.95 for 24 children from 9 families. That does not include the RM1.3K+ another volunteer had to pay for the children of her client.

After 3 rounds of BTSS, I’ve already covered 32 children from 13 families. I have another 4 rounds to go, covering at least 30 more children.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Back to school shopping begins…

With more and more children covered by our Education Sponsorship program or the Children Education Fund, this year I need to really plan for back-to-school-shopping (BTSS) in various towns for various families. Most of them will join the Ipoh and Taiping BTSS though, so for the 2, I need help from my fellow volunteers to help me out. So for those 2 towns, I purposely arranged for the BTSS to be held on a Saturday so that my volunteers can join me.

However, for the smaller towns where I only have a few clients, I decided to go alone on weekdays.

I started off yesterday in Kuala Kangsar. One of the families needed a pair of bicycles as well for the 2 children to ride to school, and since the bicycles are usually cheaper at the shop I usually go to in Ipoh, I decided to buy in Ipoh and carry them in my Kenari to be delivered to this family at their kampong before taking them to town to shop for their schooling needs. Meanwhile, since another client of mine whose children are also under sponsorship, stays further in Pengkalan Hulu, had agreed to meet up in Kuala Kangsar, I told her to meet me at the specified place at 10 am.

So there we were, myself, my 2 clients and 4 children (2 secondary and 2 primary) choosing uniforms, shoes, bags and stationeries for next year’s schooling. More expenses for the secondary school girls definitely, since they also needed scientific calculators and geometry sets. Paid a total of RM1,105 for all 4 of them.

This morning was round 2 of my BTSS. 3 more families were supposed to meet up with me at a specified shop in Slim River, but one client called me yesterday to inform me she wouldn’t be able to make it as she needed to be elsewhere. We agreed that she should just buy whatever necessities, send the receipts to me and I’d reimburse her the amount (subject to a specified maximum limit).

The particular shop was chosen based on the recommendation of one of my clients. I am not familiar with Slim River and so I wouldn’t know where would be the best one-stop shopping place for schooling needs. Since the shop is not listed in my GPS, I asked client for a nearby landmark. True enough, the landmark she mentioned was really near the shop and so it was easy for me to find the place.

One client came with her 3 children, 2 boys in secondary school and a girl still in primary school. Another client, who had to go to the hospital in town to get her supply of meds for the month, came slightly later with her 5 year old daughter. Her older children (from her first marriage) are no longer in school and so they don’t get any more education assistance from us. Since our CEF also covers assistance for pre-school, client brought her youngest daughter so we could buy shoes, bags, t-shirts and other basic necessities for the girl. It didn’t take too long to buy things for just this one girl, so before long they were done and left.

When the shop owner found out that I would be paying for both families, and I told her that it was my NGO project to assist with the educational needs of poor families (of course I didn’t go into further details as to how these cases were referred to us), she actually gave a discount for EVERY single item bought. One of the boys, who will be in form 5 next year, also needed a pair of Boy Scouts uniform. He had been wearing the same one for so many years, it is getting a bit too tight for him already. They sought my permission first of course, and I gave the go-ahead.

All in, I paid a total of RM873.50 for today’s shopping (including for the pre-school girl), thanks to the discounts given by the shop owner. It could have easily reached RM1K without the discounts.

By the time I paid up for everything and we were about to leave, client, who looked calm and was smiling when she first arrived, became somewhat emotional. Holding back tears in her eyes, she hugged and thanked me for helping her out. She wouldn’t have been able to fork out on her own, the amount paid for her children’s schooling needs.

To me it’s simple. As long as the children sees the importance of education, I am more than happy to help. I know of another client, Lin, who only went to school up to standard 6, because by the time she was supposed to go to form one, her parents couldn’t afford to buy her school uniforms and other schooling needs.

We don’t want these children to be deprived of education because of poverty, and end up inheriting their parent’s poverty. To change their future, education is the key.

And the success stories I see in some of these families, for example Lin’s family (her 3 older children completed their studies including one who became a doctor), motivates me to keep on helping the poor families, despite a few frustrating failure stories.

Round 3 of BTSS will be this Saturday in Ipoh. More families and more children expected this time around.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Visiting the pregnant girl

It has been 2 months since I last visited Dahlia and her children. It was during the last visit that Dahlia told me about her daughter’s pregnancy.

The girl, 15, had yet to sit for her PT3. But since her pregnancy wasn’t too obvious yet at that time, she went ahead to school and sat for all her PT3 papers.

During the early stages after being raped, the girl somewhat became rebellious and even tried to run away from home without telling her mother what her problem was. Dahlia suspected something was amiss, but it took her a while before she found out that her daughter was raped by a “friend”. Police reports were made, and fearing the worse, Dahlia brought her daughter to the clinic for tests, and lo and behold, her worse fears came true. The girl was pregnant.

Yesterday I went to visit the family again, to send over some supply of diapers for Dahlia’s 2 youngest children, and to check on how they’re doing, especially the pregnant girl. Frankly, I was expecting her to stay in her room throughout my visit.

But to my surprise, when I arrived, the whole family greeted me, with Dahlia’s 4 younger kids all waiting at the door while Dahlia came out to unlock the gate. They seldom get visitors (almost none at all), so having me visit them at home excited them.

The 15 year old girl stayed on in the living room, together with Dahlia, myself and her other siblings. I think she has trusted me enough by now to know that I was there to support them, not to judge or lecture them.

Both Dahlia and her daughter looked calm despite the problems they are facing. I felt comfortable enough to joke around with them, and it was so good to see the girl’s sweet smile. Dahlia has even planned for the girl’s future, registering her for a skill training course, enabling the girl to get a certificate in 2 years time, which can later on be used to continue her studies to diploma level. The registration will be in December, before the girl delivers, but her course will only start in March next year, ample time to get back into shape after she delivers the baby.

Dahlia’s second child, a 13 year old boy, wasn’t at home when I visited. He went to a kelas mengaji nearby. The boy has been doing very well in school, getting first in class for the recent school exams, and being very active in his school’s co-curricular activities.

Dahlia herself, finding it difficult to get a proper job because she has toddlers at home she needs to take care of, in addition to the fact that no public transport are available at her housing area (the only way is to call a taxi, which she can’t afford to do too often), has resorted to working at home, giving tuition to a few school children. May not be much, but at least she does get some extra income to add to the welfare aid she’s been getting.

By the looks of things, I strongly believe the future of this family is very promising. No doubt when I first got this case, Dahlia felt she and her children had no future. When her daughter was raped, she felt even worse. But all they need is SUPPORT. And that makes a whole world of difference. They look much more empowered now. And with that, comes confidence.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Seeing the positive of a negative situation

When Ana first called me, I was quite confused initially. She mentioned she went to the ID clinic for an appointment for her 12 year old daughter, but at the same time she told me that she herself had been confirmed negative. Then she told me that her daughter was also negative. OK, so why did she get an appointment at the ID clinic?

Apparently Ana’s late husband died more than 7 years ago of AIDS-related illnesses. Ana and all her children got tested and all of them were confirmed negative. Recently Ana’s 12 year old daughter got sick, and worried that the girl may have been infected, Ana got her tested for HIV and she got mixed results… reactive on one and non reactive on the other. In the absence of risk factor (the mother was confirmed negative on every test done), the girl’s blood sample was sent to Penang for further confirmation and they fixed an appointment for Ana to bring her daughter to see the specialist in Ipoh GH.

That was when the nurse at the Ipoh ID Clinic gave Ana my number, knowing that Ana may require some assistance for her children’s schooling needs. Ana herself was at first quite hesitant about calling me, but after a few days, braved herself and finally made that call.

A visit to her home was needed to enable me to assess her situation. I wanted to bring along a few trainee volunteers with me, so I purposely arranged for the visit to be done on a Saturday. But after I fixed the date, I found out that all 3 trainee volunteers were unable to join me. Ah well, alone again… as always.

So today I went to visit. Ana stays in a rented kampong house and works as a cleaner in various individual homes, getting paid RM30 each time.

Initially when her late husband was diagnosed HIV+, only the 2 of them plus a few of her husband’s family members knew about it. However, when he died at home, with the obvious visit & instructions given by the health department people, the whole kampong knew on the spot. What with the use of clorox to bathe him, use of plastic outside the kafan, the burning of clothes of the deceased and whatever other things he used (including pillows and mattresses), I am not surprised Ana’s family got shunned after the incident. (This was circa 2006 or 2007. During the past 2 years, I have attended courses given to health department staff in handling HIV cases, and they were specifically told NOT to do what was done in the above case.)

According to Ana, for at least 2 years they had to endure discrimination from her kampong folks. No invitation to kenduris, and when Ana worked at her uncle’s food stall for a few months, the customers refused to eat/drink there for as long as Ana was still there, even if it was just to wash the dishes. All these, despite the fact that Ana and her children had all been tested NEGATIVE.

Every time any of the children fell ill, the kampong folks would immediately assume that it had something to do with HIV.

But guess what? They held their heads high and went on with life as usual. They did not run away from the problems, they simply faced them head on. Despite all the financial constraints, they have survived so far.

The mixed results in the daughter’s blood tests were a blessing in disguise. Because of that, Ana brought her daughter to see the doctor in Ipoh GH. And although there will be no further appointments for her at the ID clinic, it was during that one visit that the nurse suggested to her to give me a call. Otherwise she wouldn’t have found out about Buddies and I wouldn’t have found out about her case. And her children wouldn’t have been able to get help from our Children Education Fund.

Now they can get the help and support they need.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Marrying a burden…

I’ve been assigned to so many clients ever since I joined Buddies in 2004. Basically almost all of them were/are women, either widowed, or divorced.

While there were some, like the late Sofie and Shila, who didn’t even consider remarrying after getting a divorce (Sofie) or after her husband died (Shila), quite a few felt that they NEEDED to get married, even if it was just for the sake of getting married, and nothing else.
I remember once, while driving the late Lily to the hospital, she talked about the need to get married, implying that a woman simply cannot survive without a husband. (she didn’t know I wasn’t married, of course)

Then there was Jah, who was such a happy-go-lucky person. She managed to get over her past bitter memories (of losing both husband and son within a short period) with the support of her whole family. Then came a guy who she saw as her prince charming coming to her rescue, and they got married, without either family’s consent. Her family was against the marriage because the guy didn’t even have a job to support Jah. His famiy was against the marriage because Jah was HIV+.

Despite family objections, they went ahead and got married anyway, in southern Thailand, & never got the marriage registered in Malaysia. Now they are both rejected by their families, without any fixed income and have a baby to feed. And I am not even done talking about all the problems Jah is facing now.

Then there’s Hana. When her case was first referred to me, her 2nd husband was still alive, although already in critical condition. He passed away not long after that, and Hana was having financial problems supporting her children. But after we arranged for some financial help, especially for her schooling children, Hana finally managed to cope. Things seemed to be going well for her… she got a job, her children were covered under our sponsorship program, her parent’s house (where she was staying) was repaired using her father’s EPF money. I thought this family was becoming more and more independent…

UNTIL… one day when quietly she married a guy who’s only 3 years older than her eldest daughter. All the while when she needed help she’d call or text me without fail, yet when she got married, she never bothered to even tell me about it. Worse, the guy didn’t have a job, and in fact he was told by his father to marry Hana because Hana had a job with fixed income. Errr… so who’s supposed to support who?

Now, with an another child in addition to Hana’s 3 earlier children, and the husband still not working (in fact his young friends use their house as their “port” to lepak), Hana never seem to have enough… always asking for help from her assigned buddy. She’s always asking for diapers, milk etc. She even tried to ask for cash. Latest is that she asked her buddy to lend her some money, purportedly to start a business with her husband. Based on what we’ve seen so far, I doubt very much the money will be used to business purposes. I told the buddy that lending money to Hana was a big NO.

If these ladies want to get married, by all means, go ahead. But don’t get married just for the sake of having a husband. The guy doesn’t have to be rich, but at least get someone who has some sense of responsibility.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Visiting 3 clients in a day…

While I was getting ready to fly to Johor last Friday, 2 calls came in from unfamiliar numbers, seeking help. They got my number from the nurse at the Ipoh ID clinic. Before that an old client, Helena, texted me, saying that she needed to pay for her children’s books for next year. The particular school that her children go to, asked for the students to pay up for next year’s books before the school holidays.

On Sunday, while I was still in Johor, another call came in, again from an unfamiliar number. Like the earlier 2 cases, she too got my number from the ID clinic. Looks like my number is “hotter” than the Buddies hotline. To all 4 ladies, I told them I’d call them once I got home.

I got home on Monday, so on Tuesday, I called all 4 ladies. First up was Ros, who was at the hospital, accompanying her husband who had been warded since Friday last week. Since she said she’d probably be at the hospital for quite some time as her husband’s condition was quite critical, I told her I’d visit her at the hospital the next day (today).

Next up, I called Ruby. Ruby stays in Ipoh, and when I asked if I could visit her at home, she said ok, provided I don’t mention anything about hiv if her daughter’s around, as her daughter doesn’t know anything about her hiv.

Then I called Ana, who stays out of Ipoh. Her case is also slightly different as neither she nor her children are HIV positive. It was her husband, who died 7 years ago due to AIDS-related illnesses. Apparently the whole kampong found out that he died of AIDS, and worse, even his death cert indicated AIDS as cause of death, and so Ana had to go through all sorts of problems despite being tested negative herself. I will need to properly plan a visit to her house, as she stays in a kampong outside of Ipoh.

After calling Ana, I called Helena. Most of the other children I have handled before require payments for books etc only after school reopens, not before, and so I found it quite odd that she needed to pay for her children’s books before the school term for this year ends. Since Helena mentioned she’d be coming to the hospital today, I told her to bring a copy of the letter from the school regarding the above. I was planning to go to the hospital anyway to see Ros, I might as well meet up with Helena and get the letter.

So yes, today I went to the hospital although I wasn’t on clinic duty. I initially I thought of seeing Helena first, get the letter from her and then proceed to the ward to see Ros. But when I called Helena, she said she was still on the way. I might as well meet up with Ros first.

And so meet up with Ros I did. Her husband was still in the ward, his condition quite bad. Ros herself had been tested negative, but the last test done was 6 years ago. Her husband had defaulted his hospital appointments & HAART treatments since 2012, and is only now back at the hospital after his condition worsened. The couple has 6 children. The eldest is now studying at a Teachers Training College. The second, having only completed form 4 at school, is doing odd jobs. The third is doing accounting at a MARA College, while the younger 3 are all still schooling. So none of the children are able to help out the family financially yet. With the husband now unable to work, and Ros herself, who usually gets an income from baby-sitting children, is currently unable to do her job as she needs to take care of her husband at the hospital. The children are on their own at home right now, except for the youngest, an 8 year old boy, who had to be sent to the home of Ros’ parents temporarily. This family definitely needs help with the children’s schooling needs. I told Ros to inform me of any latest updates about her husband’s condition so I can follow up by visiting her at home later.

While I was talking to Ros, Helena called to inform me she had arrived, so I went over to see her, had a short chat, and got the letter from her.

Later in the afternoon I went to visit Ruby. Based on the address she had given me earlier, I depended on my GPS to show me the way. When I arrived at her house, the door was open, and I could hear the TV was on, but when I gave the salam, nobody answered. So I decided to call, and after a few rings, she finally answered. She was actually watching TV while waiting to go fetch her daughter from work, and while waiting she slept in front of the TV, which was why she didn’t answer when I gave my salam earlier.

And her daughter who was at work? Her 15 year old daughter who decided to do a part time job to help earn some extra income while waiting for her form 3 exam results. She had not paid her school’s PTA fees etc, and was feeling quite embarrassed being asked about it by her class teacher. She’s also concerned that her PT3 results may be held back later if the amount is not paid soon.

Ruby also has another problem. She is in the process of filing for divorce from her present husband (her second marriage, she got hiv from her first husband who died 8 years ago), the documents are all ready, BUT she has yet to submit the documents as she needs to pay RM100 for that purpose, and for the moment, she still can’t afford it from the money she gets selling nasi lemak by the roadside every morning. Bear in mind, she also needs to pay for her house rental and utilities.

Anyway, I told her not to worry about her daughter’s schooling needs, as we Buddies can cover the costs through our Children Education Fund. In fact, before I left I gave her some money to settle what she still owes to her daughter’s school.

As I was about to go off, Ruby cried, thanking me for helping her out. I gave her a hug, knowing pretty well she needed it very much.

That definitely won’t be my last visit to her house.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

3rd National AIDS Conference: Kuantan 11-12 October 2014





















Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Another unwed pregnancy

It had been quite a while since I was last assigned to unwed pregnancy cases. I still remember sending Zana to a shelter home in KL just a few days after she admitted to me that she was pregnant.

Then there was Sharifah, a student at a private college in Ipoh. Since her parents lived outside of Perak, when things didn’t turn out as planned, I had to send her to the hospital in the wee hours of the morning (I received her emergency call at about 2.30 am) to deliver.

This time however, it’s a totally different scenario. I have not been assigned to a new case of an unwed pregnant HIV+ girl like the previous cases. If you remember earlier in March this year, I received a message from an HIV+ lady, Dahlia, seeking help. Dahlia got my number from someone else who thought I’d be the right person to approach for HIV cases. True enough, I not only had to help her out financially, I also had to help arrange to get her an appointment at the hospital and get proper HIV treatment.

Dahlia is a single mother taking care of 6 children from her failed marriages.

No, the unwed pregnancy case I’m talking about this time is not about Dahlia. And the pregnant girl is not even HIV+. But this story is still about Dahlia’s family. Meaning to say, more burden on Dahlia’s shoulders.

You see, the pregnant girl is Dahlia’s 15 year old daughter. She was raped by a 20 year old boy, a former student of the same school. Apparently he lured the girl with money, taking her out to have some fun. Things that Dahlia herself could not afford to give her kids. Dahlia did not have any earlier knowledge about this boy since her daughter would actually go out with a female classmate of hers.

When the girl was initially raped, she did not inform her mother about it. It was only later when she became more rebellious, and at one time even tried to run away from home, that Dahlia figured something was wrong. When finally the girl told her the truth about being raped, Dahlia immediately brought her to get tested, and sure enough, the girl was found to be pregnant.

Police reports were made, and since the girl is underage, JKM too got involved. Dahlia is adamant that she will take care of her soon-to-be-born grandchild. That was what she told the JKM officers and that was what she told me today. The JKM will still closely monitor the case.

However, since the rape/pregnancy was known later, I suppose there is no proof to show that this particular boy was the actual culprit. While the boy had been remanded for questioning, they will have to wait until the girl delivers, after which a DNA test will be done to determine the biological father of the baby.

And guess what? The boy had the cheek to meet Dahlia at home, offering her some money, asking her to withdraw her police report on him. Despite being poor and at times desperately in need of money, Dahlia did not give in. Instead, she made another police report saying that the boy was harassing her to withdraw her earlier report.

For the moment the girl still goes to school. Her pregnancy is not quite visible yet to the naked eye and the girl will continue going to school at least until she completes her form 3 exams next month. She is due to deliver in early January. Hopefully she will deliver earlier during the school holidays, and then she can continue her schooling when school reopens next year. Dahlia plans to transfer her to another school by then.

My main concern is the girl’s future. It is however good to know that she is still doing okay at school. For the moment the girl doesn’t know that I already know about her pregnancy. I’m sure she’d feel uncomfortable if Dahlia told anyone about it, and I’m sure Dahlia herself doesn’t want people to know about it either. But Dahlia simply had to let things out of her system, and today she got the opportunity when I bumped into her at the hospital. She was there for her appointment and I was there for my clinic duty.

Whatever it is, Dahlia definitely needs more support from now on. I hope to be able to give her the needed moral support at least.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Visiting a problematic client

When a doctor from a klinik kesihatan called me a few weeks ago to refer a case to me, and asked when I would be free to visit, I purposely chose a date after our family day. Giving myself just a one day break, I told him I should be ok for Tuesday 9th September.

Family Day was over 2 days ago. And I totally forgot about my visit to the klinik kesihatan. Luckily a nurse called me up yesterday to confirm if I’d be coming.

So off I went this morning. Since I had never been to the area before, I had to depend on my old faithful GPS to show me the way. And since the place I was heading to was a klinik kesihatan, it was listed in my GPS. Frankly, if not for the GPS, I probably wouldn’t be too confident about driving to the place. The last 15km was a small winding road with palm estates on both sides of the road.

When I got to the place, first I had quite a lengthy discussion with the doctor and the nurse. I was informed that this patient of his, Siha, had started missing her appointments since June, giving all sorts of excuses. They then started sending her medications to her house. Even the doctor himself went to visit her at home, trying to coax her to continue going for her appointments, and to never miss her medication. But Siha eventually got fed-up with the visits. When the doctor or any of the nurses tried to talk to her, she’d just keep quite. Even when she talks, she’d just say a single word, just a yes or a no, or if her answers came in more than one word, it’d be “tak tau”.

Siha’s present marriage is actually her second marriage. She was infected by her first husband, an active IVDU when he was alive. One of her children from her first marriage had also been infected with HIV. The son, who is 19 this year, had been going for his appointments with the paediatrician earlier when he was younger, but the moment his appointments was transferred to the adult clinic, the boy started missing his appointments and stopped taking any medication.

Siha also has a 3 year old son from her present marriage. The boy has been confirmed to be negative. Apparently Siha is now the second wife of a hot-tempered guy who doesn’t even have a permanent job. From what I was told, Siha’s first husband, when he was still alive, told this 2nd husband to take care of Siha when he’s “gone”. The doctor suspects that Siha may be facing financial problems, especially since the husband actually depends on his first wife’s salary (the first wife has a job) for a living. Siha herself is actually an orang asli from a nearby kampong.

Anyway, when we first got to Siha’s house, the door and windows were closed. The condition of the house was quite bad, with quite a lot of the top part of the window panes missing, and the wooden window sills rotted. Before the nurse knocked on the door and gave the salam, initially she thought she heard someone’s voice inside. But the moment she knocked, whoever was talking suddenly became quiet. No matter how hard the nurse knocked or called out Siha’s name, there was no response. Obviously Siha didn’t want to open the door. I guess she didn’t want to listen to any more “lectures” as to why she shouldn’t miss her appointments or her medication.

After a while another nurse from the nearby klinik ibu & anak came. She had been following up with Siha and the 3 year old boy from day one and is already a familiar face/voice to the boy. So when the boy heard the 2nd nurse’s voice, he opened the window. He got a scolding from his mother for doing so. Anyway, with the boy opening the windows, we could see inside. It was just a small house anyway, and there was no way for Siha to hide anymore. Reluctantly, she opened the door. The moment I asked if I could go in, she told us, “Apa-apa cakap dengan suami saja!” It looked to me as though she was afraid her husband may scold her.

I told her I didn’t want to talk to her husband. I wanted to talk to her so I could determine what sort of help I could give her.

True enough, she didn’t talk much at first. But as I started to talk about her children’s education, she began to give more-than-one-word answers. When I asked if her 19 year old son (the hiv+ boy) was working, at first she didn’t say much. She just told me he was somewhere else sleeping. But the moment I asked if the boy would be interested to further his studies in a field he may be interested in, suddenly Siha’s face lit up. “Dia memang suka tengok buku”, replied Siha. That’s her way of saying that her son loves to study. The nurse who accompanied me was pleasantly surprised to see a smile on Siha’s face.

Looks like I managed to hit the right note. I didn’t want to go into her appointments or her medication. Not just yet. She seemed quite comfortable talking about her children’s educational needs, so that will be my main topic of discussion with her for the moment. Later, after I gain her trust, hopefully, I will slowly try to get into the other matters.

Siha promised to ask her son if he wanted to further his studies. When I left my number with her, at first she said she didn’t have any phone, then suddenly she remembered, “Eh, Hairul (her son) ada.” Unlike previously when she’d just ask the nurses to contact her husband if need be, this time, she seemed eager to get her son to contact us direct.

Siha also started talking about the problems at the house she’s staying in. Other than the poor external condition, it seems almost every electrical appliances at her house is no longer working. The only one working is the fluorescent light at the main area where we sat.

Hmmm… why hasn’t her husband been taking care of that I wonder…

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

An update on Fuzi’s children

When I arrived at Fuzi’s house yesterday morning to fetch the family and send Wina off to register for university, I got a shock seeing the load of stuff Wina wanted to bring along. My biggest worry was that they may not all fit into my Kenari, especially since Wina’s 3 younger siblings were coming along and I couldn’t use the back seats to put Wina’s stuff.

My first round of arranging the things at first didn’t work out, but after a retry, I finally managed to arrange all of Wina’s stuff into the car without having to ask any of the children to hold some of the things on their laps.

The 2 hour journey gave me the opportunity to find out more about the latest updates of Fuzi’s other children. So far the girls don’t seem to be much of a problem. But the boys… ahhh… a different story altogether.

Wina, the eldest daughter, had always been dependable. A very responsible girl, and respects her elders. She had always been good in her studies too, despite sometimes having to miss school to take care of her younger siblings at home whenever her mother had to go to the hospital.

Fuzi’s second, Didi, also a girl, is now doing form six. Her SPM result wasn’t too bad, however failing her English paper limited her options. However, it’s good to know that she is very much more hardworking than she ever was before.

Fuzi’s 3rd child, Hafiz, had been the most problematic since day one. He had been getting into all sorts of trouble ever since he was in primary school. Being called to school to meet with the school authorities was a norm for Fuzi. Earlier this year, together with a group of his friends, Hafiz got into a fight in school with another group of students. In the end, Fuzi was asked to transfer him to another school. Fuzi did. She enlisted him at a technical school, making him stay at the school hostel. After a while Hafiz ran away from the hostel, and so he is now no longer schooling. He is not staying at his parent’s home either. Instead, he is staying with a foster mother within the same kampong. Which was why he did not join us for yesterday’s trip to send Wina off to university.

Fuzi’s 4th, Ijam, the hiv+ boy. Doing average in school, but would be happy be skip school for whatever reason. Thank goodness Fuzi no longer has any problem giving him his HAART, like evident yesterday when he needed to take his medication in the car on our way back. Previously Fuzi had to force the medication down his throat. So far, except for his hiv, I don’t see any other problem with Ijam.

The youngest, Iwan, is 8 this year but is still unable to go to a proper school due to his citizenship status. For readers who hasn’t been following the story, Iwan was born out of a rape case (after Fuzi’s husband passed away), and so doesn’t have a father stated in his birth cert. With Fuzi still unable to get PR status, Iwan is considered a non-citizen/non-PR too like his mother, and so couldn’t be accepted at any of the government schools.

A Malaysian pair did offer to “adopt” Iwan (on paper only) to enable them to enlist him in a government school, and the application was initially approved, but a nosey neighbour, who had never liked Fuzi, reported the case to JPN and Welfare Dept. Officers from both agencies came to visit one night, and lo and behold, they found that the boy who was purportedly adopted by the couple, was still staying with Fuzi. The adoption was then revoked, and Iwan’s status is back to square one.

Fuzi did explain the whole situation to them, telling them she was only doing it to enable Iwan to go to school. They suggested to her that once Wina, the eldest daughter, who has Malaysian citizenship, turns 21 (she is 19 this year), then she can apply to adopt Iwan.

OK, so until then, Iwan doesn’t go to school?

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Going off to university

When Wina, Fuzi’s eldest daughter, was offered a place at one of the local universities, I knew she’d need some initial financial help. No doubt she’d be able to apply for funds like PTPTN and the likes, but surely there are some other preparations needing money. With Fuzi depending on monthly welfare aid to support her family, I knew they wouldn’t have much to spare.

So yesterday I decided to pay them a visit to check on Wina’s preparations.

Thank goodness I decided to drop by. There were still so many necessities that she had not bought. Her shoes were all worn out. She needed to buy some other things as well. Although she had been working temporarily at a supermarket while waiting for the results of her UPU applications, she’ll only be getting her pay on the 30th. She needs to register at the university on the 1st. If she has to wait for her pay to be banked into her account, she can only start buying her things on the 31st.

In addition, she needs to bank in some registration fees into a bank account specified by the university, and to bring along the bank-in slip on registration day. She needs money for that too.

Seeing that she had not bought most of her necessities, I told them I’d bring them shopping there and then. Wina was caught by surprise, asking if I was serious. Of course I was serious lah…

So off I took them shopping. She needed shoes, luggage bag, a small back pack for her to use to class, some stationeries and some clothes she can wear to class.

While shopping Fuzi told me that the usual “kereta sapu” she used to hire to go anywhere with her family whenever needed, was repossessed by the bank as the owner had not been paying his instalments. Which means Fuzi can’t hire the same car to send Wina for the registration. She had been asking around for others who may be willing, but all of those asked, were only willing if Fuzi would pay triple of what she used to pay to the earlier guy. So Fuzi sought my help if I could arrange for some kind of transport.

Hmmm… while I had a few children from our education sponsorship program who had already registered at various higher learning institutions earlier, all of them had some sort of transport (uncles or other relatives). So I had never personally sent off any of these children when they registered for higher learning.

Considering I’m free this coming Monday, I figured why not take the opportunity to personally send Wina for her registration. I already had the satisfaction of knowing she was offered a place, how much more satisfactory can it get seeing for myself one of our sponsored children registering at the university?

There’s always a first time for everything.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Those little precious moments

Having been involved with Buddies for more than 10 years now, there definitely had been some ups and downs in my voluntary work. With so many problematic clients assigned to me, there were times when I felt I was almost on the verge of burnout.

Which is why it is good to take a break from time to time. In my case, since I am the adventure-thrill-seeker type of person, my kind of break usually involves adventurous activities like hiking, caving and the likes.

But what had really kept me going were those little precious moments of satisfaction seeing the success stories of my clients and their families, particularly the children.

I can’t really describe how I felt when Lin’s daughter came back from overseas with a medical degree. She is now doing her housemanship at one of the general hospitals. Although by the time this family’s case was handed over to me, the girl had already obtained a scholarship to study overseas (in other words I had nothing to do with her success), but helping to reduce the burden her mother had to carry as a single mother to 6 children still studying either in school or in higher learning institutions, and later on seeing with my own eyes how the family has progressed (4 of the children are working now), the satisfaction I got was still priceless. 

When we started our Education Sponsorship Program for the children of our clients in 2008, our main aim was to ensure that the children from the poor families would not be deprived of basic education despite what their families had to go through. We wanted to make sure they completed form 5 at the very least.

While there were still a few cases where the children stopped schooling before completing form five, at least we did offer them help. Still the kids were adamant about no longer going to school despite all our coaxing. Those moments can be quite frustrating.

But those are very rare. We are beginning to get positive results from the sponsorship program now. With one already in university and a few more in other higher learning institutions or vocational colleges, things are beginning to look brighter for these children.

Today came another of those precious moments. I can’t really describe how happy I was when I found out that Fuzi’s eldest daughter (who went to a matriculation college last year) was offered a place in one of the local universities to do a degree in accounting. I personally know the girl as a very polite and responsible girl, and I sincerely hope one day she will be a successful person who will motivate other children from underprivileged families to be successful as well.

We still have many other children under the sponsorship program. We started off with only 9 children sponsored in 2008, to date over 40 children either had benefitted from or are still beneficiaries of this program.

These children may not be my own, but the pride and joy I get when they succeed in life is like they are my own.

I look forward to many more of those little precious moments.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Distributing Ramadhan contributions to various families

Usually during Ramadhan, I always get contributions from various donors to be distributed to the poor families among my clients. This year is no different. The amount of cash that came in this year was more than RM5.7K, and that doesn’t include contributions of groceries and diapers.

I’ve been distributing the contributions, in cash or in kinds, to at least 21 different families. I’ve still got a few more families to go, with less than RM1K balance in hand. For some of the families, I visit them at home to hand over the contributions. However, I can’t afford to go to the homes of each and every client, particularly those who stay quite far from Ipoh, and so for some I distribute the cash by banking into their accounts.

Tomorrow I will be meeting up with Wani to get my orders of Raya cookies from her. She usually gives me samples before Ramadhan to enable me to help get orders for her. But I had never been a business-minded person, so going around looking for orders is out of my league.

But since I do usually go around giving Raya cookies to a few of my clients, I made it a point to order the cookies from Wani. To me it’s a win-win situation, I get to help Wani with her business while at the same time make some contributions to some of my other clients.

Some of those cookies will go to Fuzi’s family. I do plan to visit them this week, as the latest news I got from Fuzi is that she has already got a confirmation letter from Jabatan Pendaftaran Negara to enable her youngest son, Iwan, to register for school. Iwan is already 9 years old this year but has not been able to go to school in view of his citizenship status. You see, Fuzi is an Indonesian citizen. While her older 4 children are Malaysian citizens by virtue of having a Malaysian father (although there were problems initially because the marriage was still not registered in Malaysia when their father died), Iwan had a different problem because he was born out of a rape case. Iwan’s birth cert indicated his father’s info as “Maklumat Tidak Diketahui”, and with Fuzi still unable to get PR status even though she had applied numerous times, Iwan was unable to register at any of the Malaysian government schools.

Now that matter is settled, we now need to register him for school as soon as possible. He had already missed 2 1/2 years of school because of all the problems. Hopefully after this the boy’s future will be brighter.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Visiting a new case

While we Buddies usually get cases referred either from Hospital Raja Permaisuri Bainun, Ipoh and Hospital Taiping, of late I’m beginning to get cases referred by others. 2 weeks ago, a JKM officer from another district called me to refer a case (read my previous posting). Then last week, the staff nurse at a hospital not covered by our volunteers called to refer a new case to me.

For the usual cases referred to us at HRPB or Hospital Taiping, we do have our volunteers on duty at the hospital and so the nurses would usually introduce the new patients to us. Our volunteers would get to meet and talk to the patients before letting them decide whether or not they wanted our services.

When cases are referred to us by others, we only get their details and it is up to us to approach them. It is usually not as easy to gain their trust just by talking to them on the phone.

But for this new case referred by the staff nurse, it wasn’t too difficult for me to get the lady to open up although she had never met me before. She immediately gave her consent when I asked if I could visit her at home.

Since this lady stays at a district covered by the JKM office that I went to last week, I called the JKM officer to inform him of this new case and he agreed to go for a joint visit to this lady’s place.

And so this morning we went for the visit. I drove over to the JKM office, and this time we went for the visit in JKM’s vehicle. Yay!! I didn’t have to drive. Off the 4 of us (2 JKM officers, the driver and myself) headed over to the lady’s place. If it was up to me, I would have to use my GPS to get to the kampong, and then from there on, I’d either have to ask around, or I’d have to call the lady to ask for directions. But the JKM officers and the driver was quite familiar with the place and so we got there without any problem. It was only when we wanted to find the exact unit where she was staying that I had to call her. Apparently we had to walk to the back rows to get to the house so what she did was, she walked out to look for us. So there we were, she was looking for a lady talking on the phone while trying to look for her… and I was looking for the other lady talking on the phone while trying to look for me… Smile

This lady stays at a makeshift home, built by her late father-in-law. The place comes without any title whatsoever, the land belongs to the plantation, and they are allowed to stay there as long as the plantation don’t intend to develop the place. So while she and her children may have a roof over their heads for the moment, in future anything can happen.

As for her monthly income, she sells vegetables at a stall in front of the nearby market. Since her husband died a few months ago, she had to depend on a friend, who’s also a vegetable seller, to get supplies for her. While her late husband did leave behind a motorbike, this lady doesn’t know how to ride a bike, having been too dependent on her husband all the while. Now she is dependent on the friend to help her out, so if for whatever reason the friend can’t go to get supplies of vegetables, she won’t be getting any supplies either. In other words, her monthly income is not fixed.

I told her that Buddies will be helping out with her children’s educational needs. And the JKM officer seemed keen to help her out as well, leaving her the form, telling her how to fill it up and what documents to get.

Other than reminding her about the importance of not missing any of her hospital appointments (she’s not on HAART yet), I also emphasized to her the importance of education for her children. She must have discussed the matter with her children later today when they came back from school (by then we had already left) because I got a text message from her, seeking my advice for her 2nd son who’s not so academically-inclined but has an interest in electronics and mechanical stuff.

Considering it was just our first meet this morning, I think that was a very good start.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

From not much problem before marriage, to lots of problem after marriage…

While I was shopping for the schooling needs of Mr & Mrs Rama’s children last week, a call came in from an unfamiliar number. The caller identified himself as a Welfare Officer from another district in Perak and that he got my number from the nurse at the HIV clinic in HRPB, Ipoh. He said he wanted to refer the case of an HIV+ couple who also has a 3 year old child who has been confirmed to be negative.

The officer asked how we Buddies could help, but I told him I’d need to assess the case first, if possible by visiting them at home. I was told that the couple go for appointments at a hospital in another town, and so meeting up with them during their hospital appointments is out of the question. The Welfare Officer then offered to take me along with him to visit the family.

By the time I got home and was able to sink in all the facts given to me by the officer, somehow I had that gut feeling that the couple he was referring to could actually be Jah and her husband. Remember Jah… the HIV+ lady who only found out about her HIV after both her son and 1st husband died. Despite all the trials, Jah was always the jovial type. She was always happy to follow me during my Raya visits to the homes of my other clients and never failed to join our annual Family Day. Despite not having a permanent job, it was never a problem for her as her mother and sisters had always been supportive. She also became good friends with another client of mine, Shila.

When Jah remarried, I was quite concerned. I asked if her boyfriend then knew of her HIV and if her family was ok with the marriage. I guess she was so happy to get married, she told me everything was fine.

After she got married, I sort of lost touch with her. Her phone number was no longer valid and when I finally did get to see her at the hospital during her appointment, I was told she no longer had a phone. Any contacts would have to be through her husband. When Jah transferred her appointments to a hospital in another town, I finally lost touch with Jah.

BUT… unknown to Jah, her husband did contact Shila, via SMS, asking her to marry him. And he also did contact me, again via SMS, seeking financial help and asking if her could be my adik angkat. You can read that story here.

Anyway, the visit with the Welfare Officers was arranged for this morning. I was to go to the Welfare office, and from there they’d take me to the client’s house. I thought I had the chance to visit the client in the department’s vehicle, but as soon as I got there, I was told both their vehicles had to be used for other purposes, and so I ended up having to drive and the 2 Welfare Officers became my passengers.

We finally reached a small wooden kampong house, surrounded by bigger houses around it. The door was closed, but as soon as it was opened, I immediately saw Jah. So my gut feeling was right after all. I had wanted to see for myself how the husband looks like, but was told he wasn’t home. He does odd jobs, getting daily wages, and so he was out at work. I did however, get to meet to meet her son, who will be 3 years old later this year.

When Jah and the 2 welfare officers mentioned that Jah’s husband was the shy and doesn’t speak much type, I was indeed surprised. Shy? The guy who had asked Shila to marry him (when he was already married to Jah), and the guy who asked if he could be my adik angkat… SHY?????

Oh well, I didn’t say anything then. I wanted to know more of their latest updates, because from what the Welfare Officer told me earlier, they seemed to need so much help.

Apparently, when Jah and her present husband got married about 4 years ago, it wasn’t with family’s consent. They got married in Southern Thailand, and up till now the marriage was never registered here in Malaysia. The husband had all along stayed with his mother, but after he married Jah, they were both chased out of the house. Jah, who had all along received full support from her family, began losing the support after she married this guy. While she still goes back to visit her mother from time to time, she’s no longer welcomed as she had always been before. I told her to keep on visiting her mother from time to time no matter what.

In the process of moving houses after being chased out, they misplaced their Thai marriage certificate. After Jah gave birth, they had problems registering the baby as they couldn’t provide NRD with the relevant supporting documents. And so the child up till today, still hasn’t obtained a birth cert.

Jah and her husband are however lucky that the welfare officers at their district had been helping them out… a whole lot. In addition to giving a monthly financial aid of RM200, they too took the trouble to help them out in connecting with the NRD officers to get all the documentations done. Their main concern is of course, that the child gets a birth cert as soon as possible.

Usually, the couple would have to bring their Thai marriage cert to the Pejabat Agama to register the marriage in Malaysia, and paying a fine. However, since they have also lost that cert, and after discussing with the Pejabat Agama officers, arrangements have been made for Jah and her husband to remarry, with new akad nikah, legally here in Malaysia. The welfare officers had been very helpful, the Pejabat Agama and NRD people had been very cooperative, the forms that needed to be signed had been signed by Jah’s brother as her wali, all that is needed now is for Jah and more importantly her husband to go to the Pejabat Agama for the new akad nikah. So why is the husband still dilly-dallying over the matter? According to Jah, they needed to pay a sum of RM300 for the akad nikah to be carried out (includes upah jurunikah etc). Jah says for the moment she has saved RM100, she needs to save another RM200. I’m not sure when she can reach the total RM300 needed. So her son will not get a birth cert until then? Oh dear…

I can try to get the balance of RM200 needed from donors, but I am not willing, particularly after personally knowing the husband’s history, to give them cash. If they end up using the money for some other matters which they feel is more important (they look at things more short term than long term), the child’s birth cert would still not get done. I told this to Jah straight in her face, right in front of the Welfare Officers.

The Welfare Officer then suggested that if I could get someone to donate the RM200, then I should liaise direct with another Welfare Officer who had been handling their case since day 1. That sounds like a better idea…

Just like the welfare officers, my main concern is for the child to get a proper birth cert…. ASAP!

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Planning for some shopping and home visits…

It’s already June, and I thought by now shopping for the children’s schooling necessities would be over. But no, with new cases assigned, there are bound to be newly referred clients needing help with their children’s educational needs.

The case of Mr and Mrs Rama was referred to me recently, and with Mr Rama unable to work while Mrs Rama only works as a helper at a restaurant, they certainly need help. I’ve already assigned another volunteer to this family, however when Mr Rama called me yesterday, I was told the assigned volunteer has not called him yet.

Anyway, I do plan to go to the town where Mr & Mrs Rama are staying, to visit another client of mine, so I might as well take the opportunity to bring Mr Rama’s children to shop for whatever else needed for their schooling.

Meanwhile, there’s another family I may need to visit… an HIV+ pregnant lady who also has a 2 year old HIV+ child. Am not sure yet if she needs any help because I have neither met nor spoken to her. Her details were given to me by the staff nurse when I went for my clinic duty yesterday.

Since Ramadhan is also coming soon, I also need to schedule visits to the homes of a few of my clients, particularly those who still need help financially. This will also involve shopping as my Ramadhan rounds usually include distributing contributions of groceries to these families as well. I’m already beginning to get cash contributions from friends for this purpose.

I have not been doing home visits as often as I did back then, so I am kinda excited to get things going this time around…

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Today’s clinic duty in Taiping

My next clinic duty in Taiping is supposed to be in early July. However, both the volunteers who are supposed to be on duty today couldn’t make it as they had to be elsewhere, and so they sought my help to switch duties with them.

And so I was in Taiping Hospital again this morning. I no longer worry about finding parking in Taiping Hospital ever since their multi-storey parking was opened to public. No luck getting parking space on the first 4 levels usually, but so far I haven’t had any problems parking my car at level 5. If you’re worried about having to walk down (and later up) the staircases for 5 or 6 floors, there’s a lift provided. As usual, I walked past the lift lobby, heading straight to the stairs. A security guard who was doing her rounds, called me and said, “Kak! Kak! Situ ada lif!” She probably thought I didn’t know there was a lift. I, on the other hand, opted for the exercise.

Anyway, the moment I got to the HIV clinic, I saw a patient just outside the room, on a stretcher. I figured that could be one of the cases to be referred to me. I checked with the nurse, and she told me there were very few appointments today, mostly old cases. The only case I may want to see she said, was the lady on the stretcher I saw outside.

But since our make-shift counselling room is the praying room just across the doctor’s room, and the lady was on a stretcher, there was no way for me to bring the lady into the praying room to talk to her there. I had no choice but to talk to her outside, with people passing by from time to time.

Of course I made sure I didn’t mention HIV and AIDS in my conversation. Even when I needed to ask, I’d just say “sakit ni” and she’d understand.

She was brought to Taiping in an ambulance from a district hospital where she was warded. According to her, her husband, who also has HIV, used to work as a bus driver, but now works as a rubber tapper to support the family. She herself used to open a food stall for some extra income for the family, but stopped doing so ever since she became too weak to work.

With 3 school-going children, all in secondary school, I’m sure it’s not easy for the family especially now that both parents are not well. I promised her we’d try to help out with the children’s education expenses. I told her I needed copies of some documents and she could either post them to me, or she can bring them along during her next appointment and pass them to the volunteer on duty.

Let’s see how it goes…

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Another house visit

During my clinic duty last week, other than the 2 cases referred to me during clinic hours, the staff nurse also sought my help to follow up on another case needing attention.

You see, we only send volunteers to help out at the ID clinic of Hospital Raja Permaisuri Bainun Ipoh on Mondays. While the ID clinic usually sets up the appointments for new cases on Mondays, sometimes there may be a few new cases scheduled for appointment on other days when none of our volunteers are at the hospital.

So there was this particular case of an Indonesian lady married to a Malaysian. Husband passed away recently, and she has a 3 year old daughter (who has been confirmed negative). With no specific income of her own, the staff nurse thought the lady would need some assistance.

After calling the lady immediately after my clinic duty was over, and getting the go ahead from the lady to visit her at home, I went to visit her last Wednesday. Her address however, was not listed in my GPS, and I couldn’t find it on google maps either. So the next option was to ask her for nearby landmarks, and I’d call her once I reached the said landmark.

As it turned out, her house was not that far from the given landmark, and when I called her from the said landmark, the directions she gave was quite clear. In fact, she came out of her house to wait by the roadside and asked me to look for her. Well no, I had never met her before that, but it wasn’t so difficult trying to figure that out…. just look for someone holding a handphone and looking like she’s looking out for someone trying to look out for her. Open-mouthed smile

The lady, Elvira, is at least lucky enough that she doesn’t have to pay any house rental. She and her daughter stays at her late husband’s family home. Both parents-in-law had passed away, and the husband’s siblings are all staying elsewhere. So they let her stay at the family house.

But she still has to pay for utilities… and not forgetting food, of course! Thank goodness her eldest sis-in-law, who doesn’t have children of her own, does help out giving her about RM200 per month.

Still, RM200 is not much. But guess what? Unlike some other cases that I’ve handled before, when clients usually complain about not having enough of this and that, Elvira doesn’t complain. She is thankful with what she has. In fact, she feels it will be better for her daughter to grow up here rather than bringing her back home to her hometown back in Indonesia where life is harder.

And probably because of her positive attitude as well, even her neighbours help them out, always giving them food from time to time.

Of course I am not saying that Elvira doesn’t need our help at all. In fact when I went to visit, I brought her some groceries as well. It’s just that at least I don’t really have to worry about Elvira and her daughter not having anything to eat at home. We will still probably send her some groceries from time to time, but more importantly, once her daughter starts going to school, we can surely step in to help out with the girl’s education expenses.

Monday, 19 May 2014

The usual routine

It has been more than a month since I last updated my blog. Not that I have stopped doing my voluntary work, but I guess things were beginning to get routine that I didn’t really have anything new to update.

Things went on as usual… clinic duties in Ipoh and Taiping. Making sure the education sponsorship money is disbursed to the respective families on time… updating the sponsorship account… attending meetings… you get the drift.

I have to admit I don’t do house visits as often as I used to. Firstly, because I seldom get new clients anymore (I already have more than enough clients so my fellow volunteers don’t assign me to new clients unless they really have to). Secondly, our policy is to help our clients become independent. So, my style is, while I do visit the needy clients quite often during the initial stages, once I feel they can be independent enough, I’d slowly distant myself from them, although I don’t totally stay away. I still do monitor their progress, and help will still be rendered if they really need it.

From time to time, the staff nurse at the HIV clinic in Ipoh would call me and seek my help to follow up on certain cases, particularly if the cases involved patients with hospital appointments on the days other than Mondays (we only have volunteers helping out at the HIV clinic in Ipoh on Mondays).

Today for example, although I was on clinic duty, and 2 new cases were referred to me during clinic, the staff nurse also requested that I look into another case of a single mom with a 3 year old child. The lady’s appointment at the clinic was on a Thursday. While the nurse did give the Buddies brochure to the lady and told her she could call us for help, it is not surprising that she hasn’t. Usually it is us Buddies who’d have to take that first step.

And so I did call this lady today and after speaking to her on the phone, she did seem quite receptive to the idea of having me visit her at home. I’m planning to visit her this week. It has been quite a while since my last visit to an unfamiliar territory. I do hope the lady will be able to give clear directions on how to get to her house.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Getting mother and daughter to go for treatment

When I brought Adila, the 13 year old HIV+ girl to the hospital last Monday, the person accompanying her was her 18 year old sister instead of her mother, although the mother was home when I went to fetch them.

When I got to the hospital, I was told by the nurses that the mother, Hamimah, simply refused to get treatment for herself, insisting that she was doing fine as it is. According to the staff nurse, no matter what they told her, Hamimah always came up with an answer. After that Hamimah wouldn’t even bring Adila to the hospital, I suppose to avoid getting more “lectures” from the nurses about getting treatment.

Luckily Adila’s older sisters (married and staying elsewhere) took over the responsibility of making sure Adila doesn’t miss her hospital appointments.

When I sent Adila and her sister home that day, Hamimah still didn’t seem too receptive. So I avoided going in to see her. I didn’t want to seem too pushy. I figured I needed to give her time and space, otherwise she’d avoid me altogether.

Then on Tuesday, I received a text message from Hamimah, telling me that Adila had another hospital appointment that day, this time with a different specialist. Hmmm… who did they think I was? A taxi driver providing them free service? If they had problems getting transport to bring the girl to the hospital, they could have at least informed me the day before instead of telling me on the day itself, just like calling a taxi. This time I told Hamimah I already had some other appointments and wasn’t able to help.

I then used a different approach, I asked whether Hamimah could bring her daughter to the hospital for future appointments if I could arrange for assistance with the taxi fares. It was only then that she admitted to me she couldn’t afford to pay for taxi fares and that she’d appreciate any help she could get.

To arrange for financial assistance, I needed more details. Great opportunity for me to visit them at home and personally speak to Hamimah face to face.

And so this morning, after giving a talk on HIV to a group of foreign workers at a factory here in Ipoh, I headed over to Hamimah’s house. Hamimah this time was a bit more receptive, knowing that I was there to help them, not to pester her to get treatment.

After getting all the details I needed about her 2 schooling children (Adila and her 11 year old sister), I had a heart to heart talk with Hamimah. She then opened up to me about her problems, including health problems, which, to her, had nothing to do with HIV. I managed to coax her to get treatment for her HIV, telling her that unless and until she gets treatment for HIV, it will be difficult for her to get better from her other health problems, mostly skin-related issues.

Hamimah then promised me that she’d accompany Adila to the hospital during her next appointment, see the doctor and try to get an appointment for herself as well.

I hope she will stick to her word and won’t change her mind.

Monday, 7 April 2014

Shopping for the children… and the new case of a 13 year old girl

I had initially wanted to take Dahlia & her children shopping for their needs during the recent 1 week school break, but Dahlia’s 2 year old son was down with pneumonia and had to be warded at the hospital. I had no choice but to postpone the shopping.

Once school reopened, it wasn’t practical for me to take them during weekdays, because although all 3 schooling children go to school in the morning, they’d usually be back home only around 3 pm, especially the ones in secondary school. With their home being about 1 hour drive from my place, I didn’t want to rush everything and end up coming home quite late.

So I finally decided to take them shopping last Saturday morning. When I arrived at their house circa 10 am, Dahlia was still hanging some clothes on the balcony. Apparently their place was affected by the water rationing, and they had no supply of water for the previous 2 days. Water was back on Saturday morning, and so she took the opportunity to wash all her children’s clothes immediately.

Her second son, 13, had some activities at school and so he couldn’t join us shopping. However, according to Dahlia, his size is just about the same as his 15 year old sister, including shoe size, and so there was no problem buying his schooling needs without him tagging along.

So off we went… Dahlia and her 8 month old daughter at the front seat while the other 4 children aged 15, 7, 4 and 2 at the back seat. Since it’s no longer “back-to-school” promotion season, it wasn’t practical taking them to a supermarket. So based on Dahlia’s recommendations (she knows better where to shop at that town), we went to a bazaar in town. More choices of sizes etc. But I definitely wasn’t able to simply swipe my debit card for payment, and so I needed lots of cash with me.

The first round of shopping involved buying school uniforms, shoes, and uniforms for co-curricular activities (Kadet Remaja for the 15 year old girl and Kadet Polis for the 13 year old boy). Total came up to slightly over RM800. And I had about RM800+ cash in hand.

Seeing that the younger 2 boys were becoming restless and thirsty, after putting all the stuff into the car, I brought them to a nearby stall for brunch (they hadn’t had breakfast even). Then, before proceeding with more shopping, I had to go to an ATM first to withdraw more cash. We went on to buy track bottoms and school bags before finally heading to a supermarket to buy milk and diapers for the younger 2 kids.

Total damages: RM1.2K. But all the 3 schooling children are under our sponsorship programme, and I’ve also got some donations to buy milk and diapers for the youngest 2, and so all those expenses are already covered for.

Meanwhile, the blood test results for all the children will be known later this month. Dahlia’s blood test, came back with a CD4 of 110, and so she needs to get started with ARV medication immediately. She does intend to look for a job, but I told her to hang on a little while longer after she starts her ARV, in case there are any side effects. Once she’s okay with the ARV, then there shouldn’t be any problem for her to find a job.

Today I was thinking of just staying at home to finish up my slides for this Thursday’s talk on HIV to a group of factory workers. But after coming back from my morning walk, a call came in from an unfamiliar number. A lady, who got my number from the staff nurse at the HIV clinic, sought my help to bring her 13 year HIV+ sister to the hospital for her appointment. Usually she’d bring her sister to the hospital herself, but today she couldn’t. The girl’s mother, who is +ve herself, simply refused to go to the hospital. If it was up to her, the girl would miss her hospital appointments and meds as well. That’s why the older sister (who is married and stays elsewhere) took over the responsibility. But while she could bring her younger sister for follow up appointments, there was nothing much she could do to coax her mother to do the same.

The nurses had already spoken to the mother, telling her that she’d need to come for appointments herself, but no matter what they told her, she insisted she doesn’t need to because she feels simply fine.

I think she’s still in denial…

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

The new case

As I was looking through my list of clients to assess their needs yesterday, a text message came in on my mobile phone, seeking help.

According to the sender of the message, Dahlia, she had been diagnosed hiv+ in addition to being a breast cancer survivor. Also in the message, she mentioned she had 8 children, 6 of them staying with her.

I immediately called back, trying to get further details, but she didn’t answer my call. I figured she may either be at her workplace, or at a public place where there was no privacy to talk. So I texted her, asking if I could visit her at home, and when would be the best time to visit. I was right, she was at a Klinik Kesihatan, and didn’t answer the call because she didn’t want the conversation to be heard by the people around her.

So this morning I went to visit Dahlia at her home. She and her children stay at a double-storey house, not usually affordable by the lower income group. But don’t get me wrong. The house belongs to her late father, and since her mother went into coma (after a stroke) a few years ago, nobody had been staying there. Her siblings stay elsewhere, and according to Dahlia, she doesn’t really have a good relationship with her siblings.

Dahlia herself had been staying in KL before this, and decided to move back to her parents’ home when she could no longer afford life in KL. Not really knowing what to do, she didn’t even get any referrals from Sg Buloh Hospital for her (and her baby’s) appointment to be transferred to Perak as well. Which was why she was at the Klinik Kesihatan, asking if she could continue her appointments nearer to home. She was told to go back to Sg Buloh Hospital to get a referral letter. But she can’t afford to go back to Sg Buloh, so I arranged for a fellow volunteer who’s a doctor at the general hospital in the town she’s staying in now, to meet her and arrange for a referral letter. After all, Dahlia had not started with HAART yet, so I hope it won’t be much of a problem.

Initially I thought Dahlia got my number from the Buddies brochure, but when I asked her, she said she got my number from someone else. You see, her friends, knowing that Dahlia is a breast cancer survivor, gave her a number of a Datin in another organisation. The Datin did immediately used her contacts in the Welfare Dept, asking them to assess this case. That was immediately done and the welfare department will be giving Dahlia a monthly assistance of RM450 per month, in addition to the immediate relief given to her during the visit.

When the Datin found out that Dahlia was also HIV+, she gave Dahlia my number and told her to contact me. So while I was chatting with Dahlia today, a call came in, and whaddaya know, it was the Datin, who thought she’d call me to inform me that she had given my number to an HIV+ lady needing help. The Datin was surprised when I told her I was at Dahlia’s house at that very moment.

Anyway, back to Dahlia’s story. She has 8 children from 2 marriages. The eldest is 15 years old, and the youngest only 7 months old. 3 children from the first marriage, which ended in a divorce, and 1 of the 3 children is being taken care of by Dahlia’s ex-husband. After the divorce, Dahlia married another guy, but the marriage took place in Thailand, and from what I could understand, it was never registered in Malaysia. Last year, the 2nd husband left Dahlia just like that, together with one of their children, before the youngest one was even born.

So now, without any fixed income, Dahlia needs to take care of 6 children. While she doesn’t have to pay rental for the house, she still needs money for water, electricity, and most importantly, food. To go out and work, Dahlia can only do so during long school holidays when her older children are at home. Otherwise, there’d be nobody at home to take care of the 3 younger children.

The 7 month old baby (and in fact the 2 year old boy too) needs milk and diapers. Dahlia cannot breastfeed, and that means even more money needed. Her 3 schooling children, are surviving with one pair of school uniform each. Workbooks and whatever else that need to be paid to the respective schools, have not been paid. They go to school by bus, but not a single sen has been paid since January this year. The children are beginning to get the unpleasant look from the bus driver.

I didn’t bring much cash with me when I went to visit today, but knowing that the welfare department had given immediate relief when they visited just a few days before, I wasn’t too worried about immediate need for food. However, I did leave her RM200 cash, and told her to pay the money to the bus driver the very next morning, and to promise him that she’d pay the outstanding balance after the coming school holidays. Hopefully, that way, the bus driver will not refuse to fetch the kids after the school holidays.

After coming back from the visit, I immediately updated my FB status, informing my FB friends about the plight of this family. I now already have some donations coming in to be used for the family’s immediate needs. I was also able to get education sponsors for the 3 schooling children. I am planning to bring them shopping next week. Hopefully that will bring the children some cheer.

Friday, 14 March 2014

Where have I been?

Hmmm… more than a month since my last blog posting. Have I stopped doing voluntary work?

Well, no. I am still actively involved with Buddies of Ipoh. But the things that I do are getting more and more routine. Less of those complicated cases I used to get back then. Main thing is probably because my fellow volunteers who attend clinic duties are assigning less clients under me, because I already have a long list of clients.

As for my old clients, either they are doing considerably okay now (okay enough to be independent) or in the case of some of them, they have gone missing from my radar.

And so my routine continues… clinic duty in Ipoh once a fortnight. Clinic duty in Taiping once every 2 months. Home visits when necessary. Monthly board meetings. Making sure the children under our education sponsorship programme get their monthly bus fares/pocket money disbursed on time. Talks/exhibitions when requested.

Once in a while there may something non-routine. Like last Tuesday I was in Penang, invited by USM’s Women’s Development Research Centre (KANITA) as one of the panellists for their International Women’s Day programme, with the theme, “Inspiring Change”.

The other 2 panellists were teachers from Sekolah Kebangsaan Lemoi, Cameron Highlands. It was interesting listening to the challenges they had to face being the first (and so far the only) 2 female teachers at the school, away from all the facilities that we have been taking for granted.

It was an eye-opener for me, and being the “adventurous” type, I would love to one day visit the school.

Hopefully my sharing on what I do as a volunteer with Buddies was also an eye-opener to the audience.