THEY WILL ASK thee as to what they should spend on others. Say: "Whatever of your wealth you spend shall [first] be for your parents, and for the near of kin, and the orphans, and the needy, and the wayfarer; and whatever good you do, verily, God has full knowledge thereof." - Al-Baqarah (2:215)
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Tuesday, 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!