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