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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Sunday, 13 December 2015

BTSS 2015: Mission Accomplished

Wednesday 9th December – Off I went to Slim River to cover the back-to-school shopping for one more family. There were supposed to be 2 families involved, but the other client had to go elsewhere and could not join us. I ended up just banking in a small amount of cash into her account so she could buy some school stuff for her youngest daughter, her only school-going child.

So this round of BTSS was only for one family of 2 school-going children. Client has 3 children, but her eldest son just completed his SPM recently and so he did not join us to shop for schooling needs. It didn’t take too long to complete this round of shopping, so heading back to Ipoh, I decided to follow the old road instead of the highway. It had been quite a while since I last used the old road.

Thursday 10th December – 2nd round of shopping for the Ipoh group, which included one family from Cameron Highlands. I had to fetch 2 families. First up was Aini’s youngest son, Hafiz. Since Aini herself was too weak to come along, while Hafiz’s eldest sister Erin just started work within the same week, Hafiz alone came with me. From there I went straight to Fuzi’s house to fetch Fuzi and her 2 younger sons, the only ones still schooling. Her eldest is already in a university, the 2nd just completed her STPM, while the 3rd quit school last year when he was in form 4. The boy is currently working.

When we got to the hypermarket, 2 boys who were already at the “back-to-school” section, looked as though they wanted to say something to me, but seemed unsure of themselves. I was expecting to meet Helena and her children there, but it has been a year since I last saw them (Helena is one of the “now-you-see-her-now-you-don’t” kind of clients who tend to miss her hospital appointments), and without Helena herself being there, I wasn’t sure myself if the two boys were hers.

Helena punya anak ka?” I asked. The boys nodded. “You punya emak mana?” I asked again. “Amma ada tunggu bawah,” they replied. I told them to get her to come up.

While waiting for Helena, the client from Cameron Highlands arrived with her 2 younger boys. They boys will be in form 3 and form 5 next year. Unlike some other children, although I don’t really meet this family as often as some of my other clients, the 2 boys are quite comfortable with me. They even called me their “ibu nombor 2”.

Anyway, when the 2 boys I met earlier finally brought Helena to see me, I almost did not recognise her. Not only was she on a wheelchair, she also lost a lot of weight. She looked really skinny and frail. Apparently, she had just been warded recently with all sorts of complications, mainly due to her non-adherence to her anti-retroviral treatment.

Helena has 4 school-going boys, but she could only afford to bring 2 of her boys. For the other two, they’d just have to pick the school items based on sizes without trying out. With Helena herself being too weak, it was all up to the 2 boys to pick and choose their schooling needs. Not much of a problem when it came to choosing their uniforms and shoes, but when it came to the stationery sections, it was quite difficult for me to control them. They simply picked stuff, not only more than necessary, but also without taking into consideration if the stuff were too expensive. When they saw me walking over to them, they’d push their trolley elsewhere, probably for fear of having me put back some of the items they had chosen. But when I had the chance, I did go through the items, and told them to put back whatever was not necessary.

Even at the cashier’s counter later, the boy initially waited there and wanted to hand over the items to the cashier personally, but I told him to wait outside so I could go through the items again before the cashier keyed in the codes of each item. True enough, while I wasn’t looking, the boys had put in more unnecessary stuff in the trolley. I simply put them aside. Even then, the total amount came up to RM20 over the specified budget. Imagine if I had not checked the items, wonder how much more over-budget it would be.

I didn’t have any problems with the other families though. The mothers were well in control of their children’s needs and were cautious enough not to overspend. As for Hafiz, who came on his own, he is mature enough to just pick things he really needed.

Friday 11th December – One final round of shopping, this time in Batu Gajah for 10 children from 5 families. All I had to do was remind the mothers that they shouldn’t go above the specified budget, failing which they’d have to pay everything themselves. I later noticed that each and every single one of them used the calculator function on their mobile phones to calculate the total amount to ensure they did not go over-budget.

With that, I completed my back-to-school shopping for this year. Spent over RM12K with another RM3.5K for miscel fees/workbooks to be disbursed before school reopens.

Monday, 7 December 2015

BTSS & getting updates on the children

After taking a family of 4 children shopping last Wednesday, and another 7 children from 4 families on Saturday, today I continued with Rounds 3 and 4 of my back-to-school-shopping.

3 AND 4? 2 rounds in a day? Well yes, this morning I was in Kuala Kangsar, taking care of the schooling needs of 6 children from 3 families. From Kuala Kangsar, I proceeded straight to Taiping, to take care of 7 other children from 2 families. Since the Kuala Kangsar group finished early, I decided to use the old trunk road from Kuala Kangsar to Taiping. I can’t even remember the last time I used that road.

Anyway, I usually use the BTSS to get updates from my clients on how their children are doing, particularly in their studies. For those under sponsorship, I also need to report to the respective sponsors. So today, other than updates on the children, I also took photos of the children who are under sponsorship. Some sponsors have only seen photos of their sponsored children when they first agreed to sponsor… mostly when the kids were still in primary school. Well, they have grown! So it’s about time I send their latest pictures to the respective sponsors!

This morning, of the 3 families, 4 children of 2 families are under sponsorship. The other family’s schooling needs are covered by our Children Education Fund. All 4 children, 2 in secondary and the other 2 in primary school, are doing quite well in school. They may not be the top students in their school, but hey, getting top 10 in class is still something, especially taking into consideration the hardship they face. Taking photos of these 4 children wasn’t a problem at all. I just told them I needed to take pics of them to be forwarded to their sponsors, and they readily posed.

It was a different story in Taiping though. Of the 2 families, the one with 3 children is under sponsorship. The 3 girls, aged 16, 14 and 12, were really shy. At least it wasn’t so bad because I took a photo of all 3 of them together instead of individual photos of each one. The girls are doing well in school. The older 2 are studying at a fully residential school (both of them at the same school). The older girl who scored 10A 1B in her PT3 last year, got 2nd in class and 5th in the whole form for her recent school exams. The younger girl, got 2nd in class and 30th in the whole form. The youngest, who sat for her UPSR just this year, scored 4A 1B.

The other family from Taiping today was Yah’s. Those who had been following my blog from the start may remember the character “Yah-Ah-Ngau”. I sure had headaches with her character back then. Her children’s back-to-school needs are covered by our Children Education Fund. I did not consider her for sponsorship because once upon a time she seemed to have drifted too far… went heads over heels over Mr Darling even when the guy was trying to steer clear off her…. karaoke-ing when all she depended on was welfare aid… her 2 older girls requested to be sent to orphanages… ohh… those were the days.

Well, Yah is a changed woman now. The children are all staying together with Yah now, and today I could see the love among them. The eldest girl, who entered a vocational college after PMR, is doing quite well, scoring A’s in most of her subjects. Yah’s only son, the ADHD boy, is doing a whole lot better now after he was identified as an ADHD child and is classified as an OKU. He gets to join a special class for special-needs children.

I’ve got 3 more rounds of BTSS to do. One in Slim River, one in Batu Gajah and another round in Ipoh. Planning to finish them all within this week…

Friday, 4 December 2015

A busy first half of December

1st December 2015 – World AIDS Day. As had been the practice for the past few years, the ID Clinic of Hospital Raja Permaisuri Bainun would organise a public awareness event at the hospital, and Buddies were always invited to participate because the team felt that other than creating awareness among the public about HIV/AIDS, it was just as important for the public to know the existence of a support group, in case someone infected/affected with HIV/AIDS needed help.

So far I had never missed any of the WAD events held in HRPB. However this year I had to make an exception. Weeks before the ID clinic invited us for the event, one of the organising committee of the state level event had called to invite me to become a panellist for a forum they plan to organise in conjunction with the state level event on the very same day.

Since the event was held on a working day, we were short of volunteers. The exhibition at the HRPB would certainly need more volunteers to help out, so the few volunteers we could gather were to help out at HRPB. The state level event, on the other hand, needed only one rep to be in the forum, so I had to go alone.

Usually for whatever events we attend, I would end up being the photographer, to take photos to be included in our reports. However, being one of the panellists in the forum, it wasn’t possible for me to carry out the same task. And since the other volunteers available had to help out in Ipoh, there was nobody to tag along with me.

Then I remembered that Aini’s daughter, Erin, who had just completed her diploma studies, had indicated her interest to become a volunteer. She was still looking around for a job anyway, and so she was still free. She was so happy when I asked if she would like to tag along with me. When we got to the event venue, I passed her my camera, and I must say she’s got quite a good eye for photography. And on our way home, based on the topics she brought up, it was evident that she was really focussed on the forum discussion.


2nd December 2015 – Back-to-school-shopping for 2015 began. I headed off to Taiping to pick-up Dahlia and her school-going children, including 2 who will be going to a kindergarten next year. With 2 kids aged 5 and 4 joining the shopping trip, I purposely took them out separately by themselves instead of combining them with other families. It would be much easier to control their actions (and their wants!), rather than losing sight of them in a bigger crowd.

After all the other school necessities were bought, we even went to a bicycle shop to buy a bicycle for Dahlia’s 14 year old boy. The moment I explained to the shop-owner that I was representing an NGO buying school necessities (including the bicycle) for poor families, I immediately got a huge discount. What a wonderful gesture by the shop-owner.

Tomorrow 5th December will be BTSS round 2, this time for the first Ipoh group. Next week, my schedule is almost full. Monday: Kuala Kangsar. Wednesday: Slim River. Thursday: Ipoh 2nd group. Friday: Batu Gajah.

After that I need to immediately submit my claims, and also start distributing to the various families the amount needed for the various fees, workbooks and other payments to the respective schools.

This had been my December routine for the past 8 or 9 years…

Friday, 27 November 2015

BTSS into the 9th year

Last year, the committee decided to have the annual back-to-school-shopping for the poor families as a special event for Buddies, involving not only my clients, but also clients of other volunteers as well. The other volunteers also came to help out. I thought with the other volunteers helping out, it would help lighten my burden, being the one with most clients. Only problem was, when it came to paying, as the person in charge of the sponsorship and education fund, I was the one who ended up having to run like a mad woman from one cashier to another to pay for all the families. And with so many families involved, it was difficult for me to control the spending by each family.

So this year, I told the volunteers to take care of their own clients who need help with their children’s schooling necessities. I already have over 40 children to handle just dealing with my own clients, surely the other volunteers can handle at the most 8 children each.

This year’s back to school shopping will start off next week. Taiping-Ipoh-Kuala Kangsar-Slim River-Batu Gajah. With Ipoh having the biggest group, I purposely arranged for the shopping to be held on a Saturday, so that a few trainee volunteers can help supervise the families.

Looking back, I started taking the children of my clients to shop for their schooling needs since 2007, before we even started with our Education Sponsorship Program. Back then, I used to take them out one family at a time. However, with the increasing number of clients I got, in the end I just had to get the various families to meet me at a specified shopping complex (based on where they stay), so I could cover a few families on the same day.

Some of the children that I used to take shopping are already in higher learning institutions, so no more BTSS for them. Into the 9th year of BTSS, one of the children I used to take shopping for her schooling needs, and who is now a diploma holder, will be joining me, this time to assist me! It’s so satisfying to know that one of the children we’ve helped before, has graduated with a diploma. And even more satisfying when she also decided to assist me to help others, even though she has yet to get a job for herself.

Hoping to see more of these children taking full advantage of the help given, to build a better future for themselves.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

A day in the Life of Pi…

When 2 neighbours of mine were at my house recently, they found out that I just came back from delivering some groceries to an Orang Asli mualaf at the flats nearby. The very next day, they came again, “Nak jumpa YB,” so they said. They were actually looking for me, to pass me the phone number of another orang asli mualaf that they knew of, who wanted to learn more about Islam but didn’t know who to approach.

So I met up with this lady last week, and since her only off-days are Thursdays, I promised to bring her to the Pejabat Agama this morning. Apparently they usually do have classes every Thursdays for reverts/converts, but today the ustaz had to attend a course elsewhere and so class was cancelled. The staff there did however ask this lady to leave her name and number so they can call her for the next class. Since there was no class today, I sent her home. I don’t have to send her for the next class though, because after seeing that the place was accessible by bus, the OA lady told me she can go for classes on her own. She did promise to update me on any developments.

One matter settled.

Next up, to buy groceries and deliver to a client. Last night, a client sent me a text message, asking if Buddies could help give her a small amount of money so she could buy some groceries. She just moved to a newly rented house recently (the landlord of the previous house sold the house and so she had no choice but to move out), just started work as an assistant at a restaurant, and was really broke. The family was running out of food supplies in the kitchen and she didn’t have any money to buy any.

Since Buddies don’t make it a practice to give money to clients, I told her I’d send her some groceries instead. From time to time I do get donations from friends, and usually I use them for necessities like these. Client welcomed the idea, and gave me her address. Thank goodness the address given is listed in my GPS, and so after buying stuff like rice, flour, sugar, canned food, biscuits etc, I headed off to her place, about 30km from Ipoh.

Client’s house looked very bare inside, with not a single furniture. But it was a nice house, and the family looked comfortable. I may need to consider sending another round of groceries next month, in addition to taking client’s daughter for the yearly back-to-school shopping.

I got home just in time for lunch, and in my mind, I thought I’d just be staying home for the rest of the day, and just do some work on my laptop. But a whatsapp message came in from Aini’s daughter Erin, at about 3 pm, asking me to call her back. Obviously she ran out of credit. Aini, who was hospitalised since last week, was to be to discharged today, and since they do have 2 prior unpaid hospital bills, they’re afraid they may need to pay today’s bills before Aini could be discharged. I did tell Erin earlier to see the matron in charge and appeal for exemption, but the matron was not around today as she’s on leave. I then told Erin to just try and ask to defer payment until later.

A few minutes later, a call came in from an unfamiliar number. The guy, a client of another volunteer, got my number from the ID clinic. He wanted to inform me he’s got a new phone number and he was afraid he may be left out for this year’s back-to-school shopping. Among the volunteers of Buddies, I’m already the one with the most clients, way more than the others. I didn’t want to have this guy also calling me when he already has a buddy of his own, so I told him I’d give his number to this assigned buddy and get the buddy to call him back.

About half an hour after that call, another message came from Erin, informing me that the guy at the payment counter insisted she had to pay for the latest bill before Aini could be allowed to leave. The bill came to over RM400, an amount they simply couldn’t afford to pay. I didn’t have the heart to ignore them. I told Erin I’d be there as soon as I could. After a short stop at the bank to withdraw some money (thank God some donors banked in some money into my account today), I headed off straight to the hospital, praying all the way that I could get a parking spot near enough. Erin told me they’d just wait for me at the unit hasil. When I got there, I could see Erin looking so frustrated. She was so pissed off by the guy who insisted that payment be made today. She had already sought the help of a friend of hers to come with a car to get her mother home, and the friend was also there waiting.

Not wanting to prolong matters, we just settled the bill. Since Aini still needs to come to the hospital this Friday for her dialysis, I told Erin to still see the matron to at least appeal for exemptions for the previous 2 bills.

Erin, who just completed her diploma recently, is still looking around for a job in Ipoh. Hopefully she can get one soon.

And so that was a day in the Life of Pi. I mean Life of Pi Bani lah… not Life of Pi the movie…

Friday, 13 November 2015

Poor but not eligible for help?

Just earlier this week, Erin, one of the children who were covered under our Education Sponsorship for Children program, texted me to inform me that she had completed her final exams for her diploma course. She’s back home and looking around for a job, hoping to get one in Ipoh so that she can be near her mother, Aini, who has multiple health problems. Since Erin had expressed her interest to be a volunteer before, I asked if she’d like to join me in my voluntary work visits. She was excited at the possibility, saying she’s more than willing to do that.

Yesterday Erin sent me another message. This time to tell me that her mother had been hospitalised. Since I was out this morning to meet up with an Orang Asli mualaf (NOT one of my HIV cases) who was seeking help to learn more about Islam, I figured I might as well go visit Aini at the hospital after that.

As I was driving to the hospital, I received another message from Erin, saying that her mother had to go through some tests including CT scan, to find out why there were excess water in her lungs. Very likely she’d also have to start her dialysis since she also has kidney problems. Apparently the nurses had already wheeled her out of the ward to go to the necessary departments to get the various tests done.

As I reached the hospital, I called Erin to ask where they were. They just got back to the ward. The nurses had forgotten that today was Friday, which meant the various departments close early and would only reopen after Friday prayers.

Poor Aini was in and out of hospital quite frequently of late. Hospital bills were not an issue earlier when Aini was a recipient of the JKM’s monthly financial aid. But ever since her health condition got worse, her family decided that she should move in to stay with her parents. Otherwise during the day she’d be alone at home. Erin, her eldest, was studying at a polytechnic in another state, her 2nd son, who didn’t do well in his SPM was doing odd jobs during the day time, while her youngest son was still in school.

Well, staying at her parent’s house seemed like a good idea. Indeed, it was the best solution they could think of. That was until Aini’s monthly financial aid from JKM had to be reviewed. The officer who reviewed her case told her to include her father’s pension in the household income. The moment that was done, Aini no longer qualified to get monthly financial aid from JKM.

Without the monthly financial aid, Aini’s father was the one who ended up having to support more dependants in the house. With Aini needing to use adult diapers, and with more mouths to feed, that’s not a small amount for her father to cover.

Previously, with the JKM card she held as a recipient of their financial aid, every time she was hospitalised, all she had to do was show the card at the payment counter and she’d be exempted from paying the bills. Now that she is no longer a recipient of JKM’s monthly aid, she no longer has that privilege. She has to pay every time she is warded. The only exemption is if she’s warded because of anything HIV-related. In her case, most of the time it’s her other ailments that requires her to be hospitalised. We did help them from time to time with their hospital bills, but after some time, they became too embarrassed to ask again. Right now her bills for her previous 2 hospitalisation has reached RM1K, which is still outstanding. Now that she’s hospitalised again, and having to go through so many tests, am sure the bill may probably come up to another RM500.

Now that Erin is back home, she has submitted an appeal to the hospital welfare unit for a discount. Still waiting for response. She also went to Baitulmal to seek assistance to pay her mother’s hospital bills, but although there was a possibility to get help from them, they requested that Aini pay the bills first before submitting the receipts and other documents to Baitulmal to get a reimbursement. I can understand that there may have been irresponsible recipients before who used the money they got for something else instead of what the money was requested for, but how on earth is Aini supposed to pay first when she’s not earning anything at all?

Worse, when Aini needs to start her dialysis, she’d have to go to the hospital 3 times a week. That involves transportation costs.

I suggested to Erin to apply for monthly financial aid from Baitulmal, now that they are no longer getting any financial aid from JKM. Whatever it is, I told her to update me on the outcome. If need be, I will try to find other sources.

Erin has a job interview to attend this coming Monday. I do hope it will have a favourable outcome.

Monday, 9 November 2015

The determined young girl

What would you do if you were just a 15 year old girl, still in school, suddenly somebody raped you? And how would you feel if you are a mother to such a girl?

In the case of Dilla, at first she was afraid to tell her mother, Dahlia, about it. But she did become somewhat rebellious, and after a while her mother suspected there was something wrong. After coaxing her to talk, Dilla finally admitted she was raped.

Fearing for the worst, Dahlia brought her daughter to the hospital to be tested. What she feared most was confirmed… Dilla was confirmed pregnant. But despite her initial rebelliousness, after getting her mother’s support, Dilla’s strength grew tremendously.

I had expected Dilla to just stay in her room, not wanting to see or talk to anyone during her pregnancy. On the contrary, whenever I went to visit them at home, she sat together with us, and would even smile whenever I joked with her younger siblings. She went to school as usual (with her best effort to hide her pregnancy of course) and sat for her PT3. She stopped schooling immediately after her PT3 as her tummy was getting bigger and her pregnancy became more obvious.

Despite all those, Dilla scored 6A 2B in her form 3 exams. Dahlia managed to register Dilla at a private college (with full sponsorship by the state government) for a 2 year culinary course, a  field that Dilla had always been interested in. Barely 2 weeks after Dilla delivered a cute little baby girl, she started attending classes at the college. Yep, just 2 weeks after delivery.

While some might think it is such a waste that a bright girl like Dilla didn’t continue going to school up to form 5 at least, I was happy enough she did not quit altogether. At least both Dahlia and Dilla had plans for Dilla’s future.

Well, she will soon complete her first year of studies at the culinary college, and she has another year to go. If you think she is already feeling contented with the culinary course she’s doing, well… you’re wrong. Those her age will be sitting for their SPM next year, and Dilla doesn’t want to be left out. Although she no longer goes to school, she still plans to sit for her SPM next year as a private candidate, in fact she has already registered for 10 subjects! I was concerned that she may not be able to cope, but I could also see that her determination is truly exceptional and inspirational. I’ve seen what she is capable of, so I guess I will just continue to give her all the support and encouragement that she needs. It is cases like this one that I usually pay special attention to.

Seriously, I can’t even imagine what I’d do if I were in her shoes. Compared to myself when I was her age, Dilla is certainly a more matured and determined girl. I have nothing but admiration for her. Salute to you, girl!

Friday, 16 October 2015

The children’s education

When Buddies of Ipoh was first set up as a wing under the Perak Family Health Association (then Family Planning Association) back in the late 90’s, its main objective was to provide moral and emotional support to People Living with HIV (PLHIV) and their families. The volunteers were there for the PLHIV to talk to and to encourage them to go on with life despite being diagnosed HIV+. Financial support in any kind was not in the plan.

Then came the case of a poor single mother diagnosed with HIV, with 3 school-going children needing help with their basic schooling necessities. The volunteers then passed the hat around among themselves and friends to collect funds to help out with the children’s schooling needs. The funds were used to buy them uniforms, shoes, bags and also to pay for their school fees.

It was then that the idea of setting up the Children Education Fund came about, so there’d be ready funds to help out any children needing financial assistance with their schooling needs.

In 2004, Buddies broke away from PFHA and was registered as The Buddies Society of Ipoh Perak, standing on our own. That was the year I personally joined as a volunteer. By 2007, when I was the treasurer, the Chairperson then came up with the idea of the Education Sponsorship for Children Program, where we’d be sourcing for individual sponsors for each individual child needing financial assistance for their education. After months of discussion, the Education Sponsorship Programme started off in 2008 with 9 children being sponsored. Right from the beginning, this program was handed over to me as my baby. And it is still my baby now in its 8th year running.

So what happened to the first 9 children under the program? 2 of them are already studying in local universities, 2 more dropped out of school before even completing form 5 (yep, despite getting financial assistance), 1 went to a private college after SPM but dropped out, 2 are now in form 6, 1 in form 3 and the other one in form 4. We won’t let the dropouts deter us from continuing this program. The fact that 2 of them made it to university (and are still there) is reason enough for us to try and provide the same opportunities to other children.

It is 2015 and to date close to 50 children had been covered under this program. Yes, we had a few more dropouts, and a few whose sponsorship had to be revoked for misuse of funds, but what is so satisfying about the program is that more and more of these children are seeing the importance of education. Those who did not do too well academically, started showing their potential once we led them to vocational courses in subjects of interest to them.

I don’t know for sure until when I will have to take charge of this program, and when I can find a suitable volunteer (one who is comfortable with numbers at least) to be trained to take over, but despite some setbacks, I do get great satisfaction when some of the children show some interest and determination in their studies. Although the sponsorship program is only until they complete secondary school (either form five or form 6), those who do well enough to further their studies, would usually still get some sort of assistance from their sponsors especially when they need to register at universities/colleges/polytechnics etc.

I can’t wait for the day they graduate. I know one girl who will complete her diploma soon. And she had already indicated her interest to join Buddies as a volunteer. Hey, seeing the day she graduates with a diploma is satisfying enough for me. Her wanting to be a volunteer? That’s a bonus!

Monday, 12 October 2015

Clinic duty: 2 new cases

When I got to the ID clinic this morning, the nurse told me there were 4 new cases to be referred. Wow! It had been quite some time since there were any more than 2 new cases referred to us in a day. In fact during many of our clinic duties of late, there’d be no new cases referred at all.

I was actually anticipating a busy day at the clinic after the nurse told me there were 4 cases to be referred. I waited and waited… yet no cases were referred. Thinking that the nurse might be busy (2 of the regular ID clinic nurses were on leave) to refer the cases to the support service room, I went over to the doctor’s room. The nurse then told me that she needed to refer 2 cases, the other 2 new cases didn’t want/need support service.

One of them was seeing the doctor at that very moment, so I’d have to wait until the doctor was done. The other one was still waiting for her turn to see the doctor, so might as well let her see me first. So I took the file and the nurse brought the patient to the support service room.

The new case was of a 26 year old female who recently found out about her HIV infection during the mandatory pre-marital testing. She’s supposed to get married this coming November. The rapid test done on her came out reactive, while her partner’s was non-reactive. After thinking things over, her partner decided to call off the wedding.

She was devastated of course, firstly to find out that she HIV+, and secondly when her partner decided to call off the wedding. But her own mother had been emotionally supportive, and that helped her a lot.

Her eyes did seem a bit watery when we started talking, but after a while, she became more and more comfortable. I started joking with her and it was good to see her laughing. I am pretty sure her family support played a major role.

She welcomed the idea about being assigned a buddy. I think I’m going to give her some time, and observe to see if she has what it takes to become a volunteer herself. Unlike most of my female clients, this one is financially independent and doesn’t have any children to support. Getting herself busy by becoming a volunteer might help increase her own confidence.

The other case referred today was that of a young guy with CD4 of only 1. He was warded for lung infections and difficulty in breathing and initially he thought it was due to the haze. But his blood test results showed that he was HIV+. For the time being, nobody in his family knows of his HIV status even though he is staying with his parents. He’s simply not ready to share the info with anyone. While he agreed to be assigned a buddy, his condition was that the buddy shouldn’t visit or call him at home.

So yes, we will respect his request. The assigned buddy will not visit him at home.

Friday, 9 October 2015

Why me?

When I went to visit Salmah last week, initially she seemed okay. Then after she felt comfortable enough to talk to me, she started talking about her problems. It was obvious she was frustrated. She was at that stage where questions like “why me?” kept coming up in her mind. It was nothing new to me. Most, if not all, of my other clients went through that stage.

Sometimes when I talk to them face to face, they calm down. Then I go home, and after a day or two, they’d start sending messages, venting their frustration, and questioning why they, and not someone else, who were infected.

Most of the time, I’d tell them that there are people in worse situations. I’d tell them about some of my other clients with even more complicated problems. It usually helps them feel that they’re not in such a bad situation after all, when I tell them about what my other clients had to go through, but after a while, the whole thing starts playing in their minds again.

So yes, usually for new cases like these, I have to follow up on them more frequently, until they gain some confidence and until they truly believe that life is not over when they are infected with HIV.

Yesterday after my clinic duty in Taiping, and after visiting Dahlia (who went through the same thing last year), I decided to call Salmah. She was beginning to get so frustrated after trying to apply for jobs at quite a number of places but landed with not a single one. She was beginning to ask that “why me” question again. I told her things won’t come easy but she needs to have faith that there will be light at the end of the tunnel. She did seem eager when I suggested that maybe she should start a small business, because she said she knows how to make good bakso and soto. Only problem is, she doesn’t have any money for capital. In fact she has been postponing going back to her hometown to arrange for the transfer of her children’s school, because she doesn’t have enough money to buy the bus tickets.

I told her that I already have sponsors for her children’s education, so she doesn’t have to worry about their schooling expenses, all she needs to do now is to arrange for their transfer. As for the small business, I asked her to come up with an estimate of how much is needed to start off, so I can ask around for some help with the capital needed.

Salmah did sound a lot better by the end of the call, thanking me for my willingness to help. But I’d better call her again in a few days time before she starts feeling down again. Maybe after this I need to tell her of some success stories of my other clients who also started off just like she did, if not worse.

I have arranged to visit her later this month, and will be bringing along another volunteer who Salmah can contact in case she can’t get hold of me. A trainee volunteer has also agreed to join us for the coming visit. Other than clinic duties, home visits are the next best training for the new volunteers.

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Visiting a new client with multiple problems

When the nurse from Slim River Hospital called me last week to refer a case (which she felt needed help) to me, it was only 2 days before Raya Haji. While I’d usually call referred cases almost immediately, this time I decided to wait. Raya had always been family time for me, and so family comes first. Just because I’m not married doesn’t mean I don’t have a family. Then the weekend following Raya Haji, I was busy with other events.

So yesterday while I was on clinic duty at HRPB, I decided to call the referred client, Salmah. She sounded receptive enough, and so I asked if it was okay for me to visit her at home. It’s always easier to assess my clients via home visits, because some things cannot be assessed via phone calls. Their living condition… their body language… and things like that. In addition, gaining their trust is never easy if they’ve never met you before, so visiting them at home to meet them personally is always the better option, provided of course you get their permission first. We never visit any clients at home without their permission.

This morning I set off to visit Salmah. The address I got was simply a block __ at Taman _____. No road names whatsoever. After driving for roughly an hour and a half, I finally reached the said Taman. All I saw were terrace and semi-D houses, didn’t see any flats. So I stopped at the first mini-market I saw to ask, and I was told to drive straight ahead. And true enough, it wasn’t hard to find the low cost flats from there on.

The place didn’t look well kept by the developers. I saw many “untuk dilelong” signs at the various windows on various floors. I saw 2 boys running down the stairs when I walked up to the 3rd floor to find Salmah’s home (later I found out that the 2 boys were Salmah’s children).

As I was looking around for the unit number, the door to one home was open,with a lady holding a broom, sweeping. I looked at the unit number, it was the number I was looking for. “Salmah?” I asked the young lady. The moment she said yes, I introduced myself as the person from the NGO who called her yesterday.

Salmah has 4 boys with age ranging from 4 to 10 years old. 3 of them from her first husband, all classified as OKU. The number one boy is classified as a slow learner, number two with ADHD, and number 3 dumb. All 3 have to go to special schools. After their parent’s divorce, they had been staying with their father in another state, while Salmah moved to Perak to work. But their father kept going in and out of jail, and so the kids were passed to their paternal grandfather, who himself felt he didn’t have enough strength and energy to take care of the children.

When their divorce initially took place, it was an out-of-court divorce, and so there was no black and white. Both of them then remarried. No problem for the husband of course, but without formal divorce papers, Salmah ended up marrying an Indonesian guy (who works in Malaysia) and the marriage took place in Thailand. When they ended up getting a child, Salmah’s ex-husband was registered as the child’s father.

I thought there’d be problems with the youngest son’s birth cert, but as it turned out, it was the 3rd son who had problems with his birth cert. You see, Salmah’s second and third sons were born only about a year apart, and after giving birth to her 3rd son, her second son had to be warded for some accidental injury at home, and so Salmah spent most of her time with her 2nd son at the hospital. At that time she was also suffering from depression, and not being able to depend on her ex-husband, the 3rd son did not get registered and ended up without a birth cert until years later when his grandfather wanted to register the boy for school. By the time the grandfather went to the JPN to register the boy, divorce papers had already been filed but had yet to be finalised. The boy’s birth cert was only filled in with the boy’s and mother’s info, all other info in the birth cert was registered as “maklumat tidak diperolehi”.

Now Salmah wants to amend her 3rd son’s birth cert, and she has got all the necessary documents filled up and signed. Only problem now is that she needs to also submit the original copy of the birth cert. She has the photocopy, but the original copy, which was kept at his grandpa’s house, got burned during a minor fire which took place at the house some time ago. There shouldn’t be a problem getting a certified copy from JPN, right? Or at least that was what I thought. Salmah already tried that. But she was told that in this boy’s case, it wasn’t doable because of the incomplete info on the boy’s birth cert and in the system. Salmah was told to go to a lawyer to proceed. And from then on Salmah did not proceed further. She couldn’t afford a lawyer.

I don’t really know the whole story behind it, maybe Salmah misunderstood or maybe there were other options but the JPN officer suggested using the services of a lawyer instead just to make things easier. Since Salmah needs to go back to settle her children’s transfer of school, I suggested to her to sign a statement witnessed by a commissioner of oaths, indicating that the original birth cert was destroyed during a fire. Hopefully that will be enough for her to proceed in making amendments to her 3rd son’s birth cert.

Although Salmah’s present husband, an Indonesian doing odd jobs to make ends meet, doesn’t make much, all 4 children adore him. When the older 3 boys stayed with their father before, they never got any kind of love from him. He was angry most of the time, always scolding them. That was why he simply left them with their grandfather. Now that they have a fatherly figure to look up to, the boys are very happy with their stepfather.

Salmah knows she may need to work to earn extra income for the family, but after being diagnosed with HIV, she lost her confidence to face other people. She knew about her ex-husband’s HIV infection much earlier, but at that time, she was in denial and simply refused to get tested, telling herself that she couldn’t have been infected because she didn’t do anything wrong. It was only later, after she moved to Perak, when she was working at a factory, that she started getting ill and finally got warded and tested +ve for HIV. Salmah had to quit her job after the frequent medical leave she had to take. By then she had married her present husband, who, like her, initially refused to get tested, telling himself he couldn’t have been infected. That was until recently, when he finally got the courage to get tested, and he too was found to be HIV+. Both Salmah and her husband are on ARV medication now.

When I asked what’s stopping her from getting herself a job now, Salmah asked me back, “Boleh ke kak?” Apparently, she is of the impression that everyone will know of her HIV and everyone will look down on her. I gave her examples of my other clients who are currently working and Salmah seemed amused. I then asked if she was interested to start up a small business like selling nasi lemak and the likes. She told me she’d love to but she simply didn’t have any capital to start off her business. Her face lit when I told her that agencies like Baitulmal and JKM’s e-kasih do provide assistance to start off small businesses for the poor.

I had initially planned to spend just about half an hour at Salmah’s place. But when I got there, it was obvious she needed a listening ear and she needed encouragement. I ended up spending more than an hour there. Her spirits did seem somewhat lifted by the time I made a move. But I need to follow up on her from time to time to make sure her spirits do not die down.

Monday, 21 September 2015

The ups and downs of voluntary work

Having been a volunteer with Buddies for more than 10 years, I’m getting used to all sorts of characters from among my clients. Had I not joined Buddies, I wouldn’t have been exposed to the many situations which I never imagined was even possible. I saw so many situations which I would have just passed off as illogical had I only watched them in dramas.
You know what? I no longer watch dramas on TV because I’ve had enough of watching real life dramas which can sometimes be more ridiculous than the ones on TV.
So, don’t I get fed-up and tired of this voluntary work? Well yes, sometimes I do get fed up. However, whenever I sense some burnout symptoms, I make it a point to take a short break. Either go for a holiday somewhere, or in my case, since I love outdoor adventures, I’d arrange to go for some sort of adventure with adventure-loving friends.

What kind of situations would usually make me fed-up? When the clients we’re trying to help are not willing to take the necessary actions to improve their own lives. Worse, when they try to take advantage of the volunteers. Some of them tend to treat us as though we are paid to help them with all sorts of things.
We’ve had a client who came to Ipoh by bus, and then immediately called her assigned buddy, telling the buddy to “come fetch me at the bus station now”. Whoa… we CAN help to fetch them at the bus station if need be and if we’re free, but the least the client could have done was to seek help and make earlier arrangements.

Then there are clients who, once we start giving them financial assistance (for their children’s educational needs), they expect us to help for their other needs as well. We’ve had clients asking us to pay for electricity bills, or even house rentals. We ourselves depend on donations from the public to survive, they can’t expect us to pay for their every single need.

There are those who misuse the educational assistance given. We give them money to pay for tuition they had requested for, then we get complaints from the tuition teacher that they never paid their tuition fees. They ask for money to pay the necessary amount to their respective schools, then when we ask for proof of payment, they tell us they used the money for something else. Then they had the cheek to ask again for money to pay to the school. Seriously, they didn’t think we’d oblige, did they???

There were those who sought financial assistance for their children’s education, and when I asked them to list down the items in detail, included in the list were motorbike and handphone. Duh! And recently, a client handed over an envelope filled with receipts of her children’s back-to-school expenses. She didn’t have the chance to submit her claims earlier, so she saved the receipts from her December 2014 shopping. She probably thought I wouldn’t go through the trouble of checking the receipts in detail. Her receipts of back-to-school expenses included non-school-related items which she didn’t bother to cancel out. OK, I’d give her the benefit of the doubt for those receipts. But she certainly went overboard when she submitted a receipt totally for groceries, and worse, there was one particular receipt for the purchase of a single item… a RM100 Gio-Fiore handbag! The only thing she succeeded in doing was to make me reconsider her as a recipient of our children education fund. If she could afford to pay for a RM100 handbag for herself in December when she needed to spend so much for her children’s back-to-school expenses, maybe she doesn’t really need our help, does she?

There are clients who say they needed to go to the hospital but didn’t have enough money to pay for transport, but when our volunteers offer to take them to the hospital, they come up with all sorts of excuses and tell the volunteers to just give them cash instead. Naaah… they didn’t intend to go to the hospital, they just used that as an excuse to get some cash for themselves. Even if the client was desperate for money to buy necessities, at least tell us the truth. Don’t twist and turn their stories.
By now, some of you may be asking, why are we still doing all these?

Because there are genuine cases out there needing our help! And there are those who actually make full use of the assistance given to them to improve their own lives. Because there are success stories as well and not just the frustrating situations that I mentioned above. We already have some of the children who’ve been getting educational assistance from us who are now in universities or colleges. For those who didn’t do well academically, some of them are doing vocational/skill-training courses to help prepare them for a better future.

We already have families who used to get monthly supply of groceries that I managed to source from another organisation, now these families are already independent. And that’s the whole idea. Our main objective is to help them become independent.

So for those who translate our “help” as “responsibility” instead, and start becoming dependent on us instead of becoming independent, we really have to be firm and put a stop to it. Sometimes we have to be cruel to be kind. Oh, I do have a few clients who are like that. I find that “silent treatment” is the best response I can give them when they start asking for more than they should. I’ve tried advising/nagging (or whatever else you call it) before, but after some time, they’d try again.

If there are clients who are going to hate us because we don’t entertain their requests, so be it. They can go ahead and complain to people saying that we’re not doing our job, but the truth is, it is NOT our job. We’re only here to assist them, not to take over responsibility.

I do hope the newer volunteers who have to deal with such clients aren’t disheartened. Trust me, the satisfaction of doing this voluntary work will come when the people we help one day become successful.

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Catching up with my clients

With 150 pax in attendance for our recent Family Day, and half of them being families of my clients, it wasn’t an easy task for me to speak to each and every one of my clients. It was especially harder when you’re the organiser trying to ensure everything runs smoothly.

All in all, 19 of my clients joined the event with their family members. I personally went to fetch Laila, who came with her grandma, her aunt and 2 little cousins. Laila, an orphan, is not HIV+, but her mother, Shila, was. Since Shila died in 2011, Laila had been staying with her grandma and her aunt at the same house Shila used to stay in. Laila is in form 3 this year, and will be sitting for her PT3 exams after the coming one week school break.

Ija, another client who I had lost contact with (she changed her phone number without informing me) until just recently, came with her 9 year old son. Although Ija was excited to join, she did feel somewhat intimidated. So when she reached the parking lot of LWOT where they were all told to assemble, she texted me first, telling me that she was already there and asked if she was at the right place. Later towards the end of the whole event, I managed to find some time to speak to her, and she told me that after having made many new friends, she no longer feels intimidated. Good to know her confidence level has been boosted.

I did go around to at least say hi to all my clients, especially the first timers at the event, to make sure they felt welcomed.

As for the old timers, many of them already knew some of my other volunteers, so it wasn’t a problem for them to feel comfortable.

Ida and Iza, 2 good friends, had more than enough confidence mixing around with the other clients. They had already met people like Nora and Mrs K before this, and so to them it was just like meeting up with old friends.

The group from northern Perak already had ample time to get to know each other during the one hour bus ride from Taiping. Among those in that group were Dahlia’s family, the family I still visit on a regular basis due to their situation. Dahlia’s daughter Dilla, was the girl who was raped last year when she was still in form 3 and now Dilla, only 16, already has an 8 month old daughter. All 6 of Dahlia’s children, and her grand-daughter, had a splashing time at the park. I joined them in the kiddies pool for a while to snap some photos, and Dilla took really good care of not only her daughter, but also her other siblings. With her 14 year old brother responsibly helping out, the younger kids were in good hands. Even my other volunteers commented that Dilla seemed very mature for a 16 year old.

Dahlia herself did not join her children in the pool as she didn’t bring any change of clothes. So after I was done taking pictures of the children in the kiddies pool, and with the kids in good hands, I invited Dahlia to join me for a walk around the park.

After lunch break, I went around our reserved huts to chat with some other clients. Kak Mimi, who came together with Rubi (they stay in the same town and have been good friends), told me of the recent flash floods. I did visit both Kak Mimi and Rubi during the month of Ramadhan recently, and frankly I was quite concerned seeing Kak Mimi’s house being quite near a river. True enough, just last week, during heavy rain, water came up to waist level, and many of her household items were destroyed.

I was also shocked to learn that Rubi’s house too was affected. Her house is perched on a hill, and so while she wasn’t affected by water from the river, her house was filled with mud which came from higher up the hill.

Unlike a few other clients (like Sulaiman, who stays in the same town as Kak Mimi and Rubi) who’d ask for help even for non-essentials, Kak Mimi and Rubi went on with their lives despite the recent disaster. To them, they weren’t the only ones affected, and so if help comes along, they’re grateful. If not, they should just go on with life, making do with what they have. I truly salute these tough ladies!

I also had the chance to have a short chat with Zainab, who told me that she and her family plan to move back to her kampong by the end of the year. Zainab, who now works at a factory in Ipoh, says she can no longer take the long hours (for the record, her husband doesn’t work and every time he gets a job, he’d somehow find an excuse to quit after just a few weeks). At least at her kampong, Zainab has other family members to depend on whenever she’s desperate. Zainab asked if her children would still be eligible under our Children Education Fund after they move back to her kampong, which is in another state. I had to say no, because our guidelines clearly indicate that the educational assistance is only for children of our clients in Perak only. The only place outside Perak with exception is Cameron Highlands, because HIV cases in CH are usually referred to HRPB Ipoh, and thus referred to Buddies for social support.

My other clients who came seemed to be doing just fine. Or maybe because they saw I was busy they didn’t want to bother me. But I do know for a fact that the majority of them are grateful for the opportunity given to them by Buddies.

We are not going to let the few ungrateful ones stop us from continuing what we love to do.

Monday, 7 September 2015

Buddies & The Lost World: Version 2015

It was our Annual Family Day yesterday, this time held at Lost World of Tambun…. AGAIN! We first held our Family Day there way back in 2007, with about 60+ attendees. That was a rather high number of attendees at that time. Then in 2010 we went again, this time with a record breaking 90+ pax. In 2013, with new attractions in the park, again we opted for LWOT. And again, it was another record breaking feat with about 110 pax in attendance.

Well, we ran out of ideas again this year, and knowing that the kids love it at LWOT, and logistics-wise, it would be easier for us since the park is in Ipoh, so this year the choice was LWOT yet again. And this time, it was another record-breaking feat with 150 pax in attendance, and more than half of those in attendance were families of MY clients.

The day started off with a few of the volunteers turning into “prebet sapu” drivers, fetching clients and their families from either Medan Gopeng bus stop or Medan Kidd bus station. For about 28 pax from northern Perak, a bus had been arranged to bring them to Ipoh from Taiping, with only one volunteer in charge (the other volunteer from Taiping has gone for Haj).

For those families who opted to go on their own to LWOT, we told them to assemble there by 9 am. No doubt the park only opens at 10 am, but we wanted to give them some light breakfast before going in (since outside food are not allowed in), get them to fill in the indemnity forms, and do a proper headcount to determine how many more tickets we needed to buy. When we confirmed the number of pax and paid in full to LWOT earlier, we didn’t book for the total number who had confirmed earlier, because there were bound to be last minute pullouts. And indeed there were a few who didn’t turn up at all and didn’t even bother to inform us.

With over 100 people assembling under the trees at the car park at LWOT, I knew it wouldn’t be easy to do the headcount. So, we decided to distribute the 125 tickets we had booked earlier, and then count the number of those who didn’t get any tickets. Much easier maths that way too. Ahhh… but then again, there were clients who, despite being told that the tickets marked C was for children below 12, simply took all C tickets for the family, and ended up getting stuck at the entrance because they were obviously adults! Thank goodness we had not bought the additional tickets yet by then, so there was still time to change the numbers when the LWOT staff who took care of us filled in a special form to allow us to buy the tickets at a discounted rate.

Settled? Nope. After we bought the additional tickets using the form allowing for discounts, a few more clients turned up. They probably thought they wouldn’t be causing us any trouble if they turn up late. By the time the last family arrived, I only had 2 more tickets with me, so I had to buy 5 more tickets, including one for myself. We were only allowed to use the form to qualify for a group discount once, so this time we had to go for normal rate. But when I was buying the tickets at the counter, the lady asked if I had any Mesra card, and indeed I had one, and whaddaya know, I did get some discounts after all!

Well then, welcome to Lost World of Tambun!

I have to admit, the staff in charge this time was really really helpful. Not only did we get 2 huts reserved for us, the lady was kind enough to arrange for complimentary free-flow orange juice placed at one of our reserved huts. Previously we did try to ask for that, but it was never entertained.

The theme park was indeed a good place to have our Family Day. There were more than enough attractions for everyone, young or old to do whatever they wanted to do.

You can go round the adventure river…

Or have a dip in the hot springs…

Or go ride the roller coaster… (which I did!)

Or play in the kiddies pool like these children did (and I joined them too with a waterproof camera in hand to take their pics)…

Or just take a stroll (or take the tram) around the park including the petting zoo, enjoying all the beautiful sceneries…

With the extra tickets we had to buy, it also meant we needed to buy extra lunch, since the pre-prepared lunch was only made available for the number we booked for earlier. Lucky draw prizes were also given out during lunch. The number drawn was not to determine who would be getting the prizes, but since we had enough items to be distributed to everyone, the numbers were only to determine what they would be getting. There were loads of toys for the kids, and for the adults, we had handbags, sunglasses, clothes, scarves, and even jewelleries.

There was a moment of panic while we were giving out the lucky draw prizes when a client had an attack of fits. Thank goodness there was a doctor around (the husband of one of our volunteers), and with him attending to her, we didn’t have to worry too much, especially since I knew the client had a history of fits and it wasn’t the first time.

A few clients who came on their own went back after lunch, while most continued enjoying all the attractions available at the park. Tea was served at about 3 pm, and immediately after that, the Taiping group left while the rest stayed on until about 4 pm or so.

I’d like to thank all the volunteers for their help and dedication in ensuring the success of the event.

You rock babes!

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Visiting the children again

I was on clinic duty again today. Yesterday I was on duty in HRPB Ipoh. Today I was on duty in Taiping Hospital. But when I met the staff nurse at the ID clinic, I was told there were no new cases to be referred to me today.

So why should waste any more time at the hospital, huh? I might as well go visit the family I’ve been visiting regularly for the past few months… the family of Dahlia. I had already informed Dahlia earlier that I’d be visiting them after my clinic duty to deliver a used baby’s dining chair donated by a friend of mine.

The moment I got to the house, I heard loud cries from a baby. That had to be Dahlia’s grandchild, of course. (For those who may not have followed my blog earlier, Dahlia’s daughter Dilla was raped when she was 15, became pregnant and gave birth to this baby girl late last year.) Dahlia told me earlier that the baby is usually not so friendly with strangers, but when I got in the house, I took the little girl in my arms and she stopped crying. Ahh… she just wanted some attention.

I didn’t expect to see Dilla at home though. I thought her off-days (from the culinary college she goes to) are Wednesdays, but today is only Tuesday. Apparently she took MC for today to bring her baby for her regular appointment at the Klinik Kesihatan. Usually Dahlia would bring the baby for appointments, but today she wasn’t feeling too well and so she asked Dilla to tag along.

Dahlia’s 14 year old son was also home today. He leaves home about 11.20 am to go to school for the afternoon session. A bicycle was bought for him earlier, making it easier for him to go to school and to attend co-curricular activities in which he is very active, however his bicycle had been stolen at school and so now he has to go to school by bus. When he has activities to attend, he walks to/from school. His bicycle wasn’t the only one stolen. It seems because too many students go to school by their own vehicles (bicycles, motorcycles and even cars for some form 6 students), the school doesn’t allow the students to park their vehicles within the school compound. Not even the bicycles. And while the students do lock their bicycles, the locks are not attached to any fixed poles, and so while thieves aren’t able to ride the bicycles, they can carry the bikes onto a pickup/lorry and drive off. That was what possibly happened because quite a number of bicycles were stolen that day.

Anyway, Dahlia’s 2 younger children aged 2 and 3 were seeking extra attention today. They were climbing all over me while I was chatting with their mother. The boy was showing off the children’s books that I brought for them last month, while the girl happily landed on my laps and with that sweet smile of hers kept staring at my face. (hmmm… wonder if I looked funny to her…)

The children are already excited about the coming Family Day to be held at Lost World of Tambun. I hope it won’t be too difficult to drag them home after the event is over.

Monday, 24 August 2015

Today’s new and old cases at the clinic

It has been quite a while since my clinic duty ended later than noon. Of late, there’d usually only be only one new case, maximum 2, or the case that’s supposed to be referred didn’t turn up at all.

Today however was an exception. There were 2 new cases and one old case referred, with one more case which was supposed to be referred but by the time the nurse wanted to refer the guy to us, the guy had already taken his medication and gone back. I ended up getting home only at 2pm.

The first case referred was that of an Indonesian lady married to a Malaysian. She had previously started her medication when she was in another state, when she followed her husband who initially worked in Perak, but went back to his hometown last year after he fell ill and was diagnosed HIV+. He was so weak back then that his sister decided to take him home.

Halfway through the session, the lady mentioned her husband’s name and suddenly I realised… hey, I know this guy!! Yep, I remember when his case was referred to us last year, this couple was not married yet but had been staying together for quite some time. And I remember after this guy was brought back to his hometown, his sister called me up to seek help for this Indonesian lady. You see, without a valid marriage cert, while she can get treatment from our government hospitals, she’d have to pay for the medication.

It was only then that they decided to legalise their marriage. With proof that she is married to a Malaysian, she could get free treatment just like her husband. According to her, her husband is doing much better now and has started doing odd jobs to earn an income for the family. This lady herself, who once only weighed 37kg when she first started treatment, now already weighs 52kg. So yep, it looks like things are getting better for this couple.

We had to wait a while before the next case was referred. The next case referred was actually an old case, a client of mine, Azi, whom I had lost contact with after she lost her hand phone. The nurses decided to refer her case again, because the girl has since married and is now pregnant. Her husband has so far been tested negative. They are staying together with Azi’s mother-in-law, who is excited about the prospect of getting a grandchild. The MIL however, doesn’t know that Azi has HIV, and chances are she’d want Azi to breastfeed the baby. Azi and her husband better be prepared to deal with all the questions.

There were supposed to be 2 more cases referred to us after Azi’s, which resulted in us having to wait. However, one had left after he got his supply of medication, while the other only came to see us at 1 pm. By then, another client of mine, Aini, who was warded recently, gave me a call, trying her luck to see if I was at the hospital. You see, she had an appointment at the hospital for her kidney problems, and if I was at the hospital, she wanted to see me to seek some help.

Thank goodness the last case referred to us didn’t take long as the guy has family support and didn’t really need our support services.

As I got out of the support service room, Aini and her 18 year old son were already waiting for me. Usually Aini would be accompanied by her eldest daughter Erin, but Erin is currently in her final semester at a polytechnic.

Aini wanted to seek my help as she can’t afford to settle her hospital bills. With the many procedures that she had to go through when she was warded recently, including all sorts of tests and a minor surgery, the bill came up to a subsidized amount of RM500. Previously she didn’t have any problems with hospital bills because as a recipient of monthly financial aid from the Welfare Department, all she had to do was show her welfare card and she’d be exempted from paying.

However, ever since she became weaker, Aini, together with her children, moved to her parents house. When her case got reviewed by the welfare department, her father’s pension was included as part of the household income for Aini, resulting in the monthly financial assistance for her being discontinued. Other than the monthly educational assistance she’s getting from us for her youngest son’s schooling expenses, Aini has no other source of income. Since then her father had to support them with his pension.

Thank goodness we have our Clients Welfare Fund, basically to be used for one-off payments like this one.

Anyway, Aini’s son today expressed his interest to become a volunteer. Wow! Before this his sister Erin had expressed the same to me, and now him? I am so pleased and proud of course that I managed to inspire them to do voluntary work, but today, I told him to volunteer to take good care of his mother first. It is good that he wants to be a volunteer, but a mother must always get top priority.

One fine day, when the situation is better, I can take both sister and brother under my wings and train them to become volunteers.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Visiting the HIV+ child

When Mar first called me about 2 years ago, seeking help, she had just found out of her HIV infection. Her husband, with CD4 of only 2, was very weak and the family really needed help financially. Since it was rather difficult to assess their situation via phone call, I decided to visit them at home.

Since their house was not that easy to find based on address alone (just like the kampong where I’m staying in now), I told Mar I’d call her once I reached a certain kindergarten at the foothill. Mar then sent her 19 year old daughter down on a motorbike to meet me and then show me the way to their house. Other than this daughter, the couple had 2 other daughters, one teenager, while the youngest one was only 2 years old then.

The youngest girl? During that first visit, she had already been tested but the results of her blood test was not known yet. About 2 weeks after that visit, I called Mar. My fears came true. The girl was confirmed HIV+.

I had not visited this family after that first visit. Yes, we still keep in touch via phone calls and from time to time I do meet Mar when she comes to Ipoh for her hospital appointments. Her eldest daughter is now married and stays elsewhere.

Last week Mar called. Her second daughter, who had completed her matriculation, was offered a place at a local university. Her only source of income is by selling nasi lemak in the mornings, so she is concerned about having to pay the over RM2K registration fee. I advised her to apply for assistance from Yayasan Perak and Baitulmal, however for both, even if approved, she won’t be getting the money immediately. She’d have to pay a certain amount first to the university before they will consider releasing the money. I guess this is to ensure that the students will indeed register, and by paying at least a minimal amount, there is commitment on the part of the family.

While I did suggest to Mar to apply for help from those agencies, I also sought help from my friends on FB. Within hours a few friends committed to donate some money for Mar’s daughter. Enough to ease Mar off her worries. And since I had not visited this family at home ever since that first visit, I figured I might as well visit them to hand over the money instead of banking the money into Mar’s account.

And so, yesterday off I went to visit Mar and her family. Since during the last visit, I simply followed Mar’s daughter to get to their house without paying attention to the left or the right, I wasn’t fully confident I’d be able to remember the way to their house. And since Mar sells nasi lemak near the kindergarten where her daughter came down to fetch me the last time, I told Mar I’d either meet her there, or if she had already gone home by then, I’d call her from there.

It so happened I reached the kindergarten just on time. Mar and her husband had just finished packing up and was just about to go home. I just followed them home, this time paying more attention to landmarks to remember so that next time I don’t need them to show me the way.

I remember the first time I visited, Mar actually asked me if I was “brave” enough to drive to her house. Apparently some people don’t dare drive down the very steep hill to get to her house. “Kalau akak jenis brutal, boleh la,” she said. Well, this time, she didn’t bother to ask again. I guess I made it to her “brutal” list… hehehe…

2 years since my last visit. The house looks the same. But her husband who was bed-ridden during my first visit, can now help out at the nasi lemak stall. His CD4 has gone up from just 2 to over 100 now. Her then 2 year old HIV+ daughter, is now an active 4 year old. According to Mar, the girl doesn’t have problems taking her medication but she’d insist on Mar giving the medication personally to her, not from anybody else. The girl does ask from time to time why she needed to take her medication every single day without fail, and so far Mar had been telling her that the medication is to kill worms in her tummy. Am not sure how long that excuse will work on the girl.

Mar’s main concern is on the future of the little HIV+ girl. Will the girl have a future like any normal child? Will she make it to adulthood?

I told Mar of a few other cases where children who were born HIV+ have grown up. I can’t really promise Mar there will be no problem at all for the girl, but at least she knows the girl is not the only one having to go through this. With the support she’s getting, at least she can learn from what the other HIV+ children have gone through.

Anyway, Mar’s second daughter, who will register at the university early next month, was not home when I visited. The girl works temporarily at a cafeteria, washing dishes, to get some pocket money for herself before she goes off to university. Good for her. She is responsible enough not to depend too much on her parents financially, knowing the hardship her family has to go through.

I do hope she will succeed in her studies and that one day she will be able to help her family lead a better life.

Friday, 14 August 2015

Family Day Preparations & More Home Visits

Last Tuesday we finally had our first Family Day meeting for this year. While we had already decided during our last Board Meeting that this year’s Family Day will be at Lost World of Tambun (again!), this recent meeting was more to finalise the statistics and logistics.

We had our Family Day in LWOT a few times before this, and each time it’s held in LWOT, the turnout would usually be very high. The children simply loved it there. Our previous record was 112 pax (including volunteers). And it looks like this year we will break that record. So far we have 140 pax confirmed (NOT inclusive of volunteers), 82 of them from among my clients alone, including a few first timers.  It’s good to note that many of my clients who previously needed me to fetch them at the bus station, this time said they will go on their own to LWOT. Makes life easier for me, I don’t need to arrange for that many volunteers to help fetch the clients.

On Wednesday I went to visit Fuzi at her home. Even Fuzi said she and 3 of her kids will be going on their own by 2 motorbikes for the Family Day. 2 of her children won’t be joining. Her 2nd daughter who is in form 6 this year, said she wanted to stay home and study, while her son Hafiz, is now staying elsewhere with his friends. Joining the event will be her 2 youngest sons, and her eldest daughter Wina who is still on semester holidays. She will have to go back to university immediately after the Family Day.

Anyway, I brought along a box of children’s jeans (used) which I got from a donor earlier this month. The 2 boys got excited when they heard about it. They even offered to help carry the box from my car. Their old jeans are mostly already torn, or they have already outgrown them. The youngest boy managed to get 3 pairs while his older brother got one pair for himself. At least now they have new pairs of jeans (ok, so the jeans are used jeans, but at least they’re new to the boys) to wear for the upcoming Family Day.

Yesterday I got a call from another client, Mar. Her 2nd daughter, who completed her matriculation, has been offered a place at a local university. Mar is worried about the fee she needs to pay when her daughter registers at the university early next month. Her only source of income is from selling nasi lemak every morning at a makeshift stall by the roadside. No doubt she can apply for PTPTN, but that will take time. What she needs now is some cash to pay for the initial registration fee. And I’m sure the daughter will also need to buy some other stuff once she registers. I told Mar to try applying from Yayasan Perak for the initial registration fee while I would try to get some help for her as well.

And get help I did. All I needed to do was to update my FB status and within less than half a day, some friends, who obviously already know the kind of voluntary work I’m involved in, agreed to donate some money for this girl. I plan to visit them next week to hand over the money.

And oh, Mar also has a 4 year old girl who is also HIV+. Maybe I can get her to try out the jeans too… hopefully there is at least one that fits her.

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

A Training Session & A Hospital Visit

When the Buddies board decided to hold a training session for our volunteers on the topic “What To Do & Not To Do As A Volunteer”, and asked me to be the speaker/trainer, I decided to make it a very informal chit chat session with the volunteers, discussing the topic based on our past experiences with our clients. Oh okay, I was actually too lazy to prepare something more detailed…

But yes, the session last night was more of a discussion session. Thank God for that, because earlier during the day, I had an emergency and had to drive to Shah Alam to attend my aunt’s funeral. If I was just one of the volunteers attending the session as a participant, I could have probably given the training session a miss. But I was the trainer, and so I had no choice but to attend. Which was why I drove back to Ipoh immediately after the funeral.

It had been quite a while since we last did a training session for the volunteers. In fact it had been very difficult to get the volunteers to gather. Even for our AGM we usually get just enough quorum. And so I was quite happy this time 20 people (including myself) attended the session.

I may not be the best person to conduct the training, but I think I made the right decision to make it an informal session.

Anyway, yesterday morning I received a message from Erin, informing me that her mother, Aini, had to be hospitalised again. When she sent the message, they were still at the emergency dept, because there were no vacant beds available in the wards. This morning when I checked again with Erin, I was told that Aini was already in the ward, waiting to undergo a minor operation.

So after my asr prayer today, I decided to visit them at the hospital. The moment I got into the ward, I saw Erin waving to me. Saved me the trouble of having to go around from bed to bed to look for Aini. Aini’s mother was also by her bedside. Aini herself looked so skinny. She definitely had lost a lot of weight. For someone who is my age, she certainly looked a lot older, not because I am the awet muda type (THAT I am definitely not), but because of all her ailments. Other than HIV, she had also been struggling with kidney problems, and of late there had been so many other complications as well.

Aini’s daughter Erin had been with Aini the whole time since she was brought to the emergency dept, right to more than 24 hours later. She hadn’t even had the opportunity to get a proper meal for herself. Since it was visiting hours and there were a few of us there, I told Erin to go down and get something to eat. The poor girl, who is in her final semester at a polytechnic, had already missed 3 days of classes and will probably miss classes until the end of the week to accompany her mother at the hospital.

I know Erin is tough & strong emotionally, but I could also see from her face that she was also quite stressed out. I do hope her studies will not be affected by her mother’s health condition.

I will need to follow up with not just Aini, but also with Erin as well. She sure needs some moral support.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Voluntary work back in full swing

I had initially planned to get started with my post-raya home visits after I complete my puasa 6, but thinking that I had promised Din during my last visit (a few days before Raya) to send him a wheelchair after Raya, I decided to go earlier. I figured he may need the wheelchair earlier to enable him to easily move around. Besides, I have assigned a male volunteer to Din and I thought it would be a good idea to bring this male volunteer along, show him Din’s house, and introduce them.

After sending Din a text message the day before, last Wednesday I headed off, first to Buddies Center to get the wheelchair and to meet up with Din’s assigned buddy, then to Din’s house. I was taken by surprise when I knocked on the door and someone else opened the door. And when I asked for Din, the guy told me Din wasn’t around. Alamak…

Apparently the guy was Din’s brother-in-law, and while Din wasn’t around, his wife was home. Din’s family had taken him to go for some alternative treatment somewhere. But Din had already told his wife that I was coming to send the wheelchair, and so she was actually expecting me. Before she started preparing any food/drinks to be served, I quickly told her I was fasting. I also reminded her that the wheelchair was on loan to them, and that they should return it once it is no longer required by Din. The fellow volunteer assigned as Din’s buddy will take over this case from now on, and so I probably won’t be visiting this family again.

I managed to complete my puasa 6 on Sunday, and so this week it’s back to my voluntary work routine. Starting off with Monday’s clinic duty, where only one case was referred; followed by last night’s board meeting when we finally confirmed the venue of this year’s Family Day. With both date and venue confirmed, I will need to start contacting my many clients to invite them to join this year’s Family Day.

This morning I went to visit Dahlia’s family. It being a school day, I only expected to see Dahlia, her 2 younger children and her grandchild. To my surprise, I even got to meet her 14 year old son, Asyraf, who I have yet to meet before this because being an active boy in school, he always seemed to have some activities to attend every time I meet the family. Dilla, the teenage mom, was also home. Classes at the culinary college she goes to have already started, but since they usually have trainings during weekends, Wednesday is their off day.

The only 2 not home today was Dahlia’s 3rd & 4th children, who were both in school. Asyraf’s school session is in the afternoon and amazingly I finally got to meet him today because he didn’t have any co-curricular activities to attend.

The family seemed to be doing well. Dilla herself was very cheerful today. For a girl who had been raped just slightly over a year ago, and who was pregnant when she sat for her PMR last year, she has truly bounced back tremendously. And to see her being such a loving mother to her 7 month old baby, I am really in awe. Her strength and courage is making me more determined to help her in any way I can to ensure a better future for herself and her little girl.

Anyway, each and every single one in this family will be joining our coming Family Day in early September. Just from this one family alone, I already have confirmation for 8 pax… 3 @ adult rate, 2 @ children rate, 3 more toddlers below 90 cm in height, who won’t be charged for entrance fees.

The moment I got home after today’s visit, I immediately sent out messages either via SMS or whatsapp to all my clients. It is not even half a day yet and I already have confirmations for 28 pax, with a few more who will be joining but can’t confirm the number of pax yet. They will have to confirm by the 10th of August, after which we will need to arrange for all the logistics.

Being the volunteer assigned to the most number of clients, I believe my phone will be busy for the next few weeks.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Ramadhan visits settled!

I haven’t updated my blog after last week’s post on Aida, the unwed mother of 7. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t have any voluntary-work-related activities.

Within the past one week, I went to visit 2 clients at their respective homes; I went for a 2nd trip to the Immigrations Detention Depot in Belantik, and I went for clinic duty at HRPB Ipoh.

On Thursday, I went to visit Ana. While I have some other clients who earns more and yet still like to ask for money for any and every reason they can think of, Ana, whose current job is to help bathe an elderly bed-ridden person with a pay of RM10 each time, is not that type. To her, Buddies helping her out with her children’s educational needs is a blessing enough. She was so appreciative of the help she’s getting, the moment she found out I was coming last Thursday, she prepared some durians and rambutans for me to bring home. To me, I am happy enough that she and her children see the importance of education.

On Friday, together with a few other volunteers calling ourselves Wanita Prihatin Perak, went for a follow up visit to the Immigrations Detention Depot in Belantik, Kedah. We brought along a few boxes of educational materials for the Rohingya children. We totally forgot that Friday’s a public holiday in Kedah, but the officer was kind enough to entertain us.

On Monday, I went for my clinic duty at HRPB, Ipoh. The moment I got there, I was told that there were no new cases to be referred to me, so I ended up discussing a few cases with Sister Zaitun. And since Aida, the unwed pregnant lady, was at the hospital for her appointment, we decided to meet up. When I brought her shopping for her baby’s needs the previous week, she told me she wanted to bring the baby balik kampong to see her mother (who still doesn’t know she’s pregnant) and she’s hoping her mother can help take care of the baby. This time, when I met her, her story has changed. It seems her foster mother (the one she’s staying with now) is interested to adopt the baby, and so Aida thought that would be a better idea. She’s thinking she doesn’t have to break the news to her own mother. The only problem is, her foster mother doesn’t know she has HIV and so she doesn’t know that the baby, even if not infected, will need to be brought for follow up appointments as precautionary measures. Aida doesn’t intend to tell her foster mother about her HIV.

I told Aida to rethink her decision. Whatever she decides, whoever is going to take care of the baby needs to know the real situation.

Yesterday, I went to visit one more family, this time a new case. A guy, Din, called me last week seeking help. He got my number from Sister Zaitun. It was rather difficult for me to assess his situation via a phone call, and so I sought his permission to visit his family at home this week. Meanwhile I took the opportunity to get more info about him from Sister Zaitun during Monday’s clinic duty.

The moment I got to the house, I noticed the doors and windows were all closed and the gate was locked. It looked as though nobody was home, but I had already informed Din I was coming and he said ok. So I decided to call, to be sure I got to the right house. Indeed it was the right house, and they were inside. Even after the call, it took quite a while before Din opened the door. I was initially wondering why it took him so long, but the moment I saw him walking to unlock the gate, I immediately understood. He couldn’t properly control his movements, even when he walks, he’d sway left and right like a drunk person. I guess his inability to control his movements had something to do with the infection to his brains.

Thank goodness, his wife was tested negative. The wife doesn’t mind going to work in place of her husband, but given Din’s present condition, she didn’t feel good leaving him at home alone with their 2 young children either. So they are thinking of setting up a small stall near their home, and maybe sell stuff like pisang goreng and the likes. They have even applied for help from e-kasih to get some starting capital to start off the business. They were also happy when I told them Buddies may be able to help out with their children’s schooling expenses. Both boys are not in school yet, but the older boy will start pre-school next year. I also offered to lend Din the donated wheelchair we have at the centre, and they both felt it was a good idea especially to use when they need to go out somewhere (at home at least he can grab on to the chairs/walls etc). I promised to deliver them the wheelchair after Hari Raya.

And that wraps up my visits this Ramadhan. My next visit will probably be after I complete my puasa enam.

To all my blog readers (if there are any), Selamat Hari Raya. Maaf Zahir Batin. Hope you’ve had a blessed Ramadhan and wishing you a blessed Syawal ahead.