Long Haul Journey
On 11 June 2021, out of the blue, I received a WhatsApp text from my ex-client, M.
Background: M was 18 when I attended to him back in 2013. It was heart wrenching to learn about his story - though his parents were alive, he was sent away to live with relatives when he was a child. His father left him. When he was a teenager, relatives sent him back to his mother but he was not welcomed by his mother. As a result, he ended up homeless and did not complete his SPM. He was left fending for his own while his friends moved on into colleges and universities. A caring lady from a nearby church took note of his situation and referred M to us in CARE.
... We received him into Rumah Petros and I was his caseworker. I remember he was very skinny, had messy hair, unpleasant smell and withdrawn. He spoke very softly, had difficulty articulating his thoughts and came with very low self-esteem and an unsettling heart. He used to converse with his head lowered and eyes to the ground. Despite having learnt about his sad and troubling situation, the staff and I faced lots of difficulties with him during his stay in Petros. He was not used to living in a home setting with a schedule, duties and regulations. He had his own peculiar ways, character and mindset that none of us could seem to figure out! (even after all the counseling sessions, spending quality time together and one-to-one planning sessions). The case plan seemed to change constantly because he kept changing his thoughts and plans! Many times when I thought he’s on track with his progress plan - I realized I was wrong! Many times he wanted to leave abruptly and I spent hours telling him to stay (as I thought what good outcome will he get if he reverted back to his homeless lifestyle?). Yet he still left Petros, eventually (in 2014). I was deeply worried for him and his future. I really thought that his life would only spiral downwards.
Through the years thereafter, surprisingly, he would occasionally pop by in my church where all of us were familiar with him. He would drop me messages now and then whenever he got a new job or just to say hello. One day he had a bad fall and I had to bring him to the emergency ward. Then he managed to obtain a passport because it was his dream to work overseas. As the years passed, somehow he managed to get his own job and accommodation. One day, he treated me to lunch (for the first time!). When the pandemic hit Malaysia in March 2020, he spent some months in the airport as he lost his job and was hoping to fly to another country to look for a job. At the airport, he met another jobless/homeless man and contacted me to help the man. Through these years (after he left Petros), God seemed to have proven me wrong and He has taught me a precious lesson - 'God cares for the client even more than me and He will care for them even when they had chosen to leave and go on their own'. And so through the years, I had learnt to release and trust M to the Lord’s care, therefore, I refrain myself from actively checking in on M and will only respond to M when he asks.
Back to the recent 11-June 2021, M texted me to ask how’s church Sunday service. Thereafter, he informed me that he wishes to donate for any poor and needy person who was struggling during this pandemic. M updated me that he’s currently working in Singapore as a Chef with a good income, accommodation provided and a stable life. He conveyed to me that he remembers his past, how difficult it was and believe that there’s people who are in need financially just to pull through the tough times. When I read that, my heart was overwhelmed with praises and rejoicing! All my tiredness, discouragements, stress of the present vanished! What an honour and privilege to witness and experience this after all these years! I’m just amazed at how God cares for M.
My Hero Uncle
I got to know of Uncle Raju (pseudonym) through my colleagues who had been journeying with him for many years now. Uncle Raju was diagnosed with HIV in year 2000. I joined Malaysian CARE on 1st November 2019 and was introduced to him shortly after as I was given the responsibility to work on policy, advocacy and research efforts to support and advocate for people living with HIV/AIDS (PLHIV). Malaysian CARE started extending aftercare services towards PLHIV within the Klang vicinity and I was to connect with Mr. Raju to get an understanding of the work.
Getting to know Uncle Raju was simple. From the get go, he had an aura and charisma around him that was infectious. He instantly came across as a highly passionate, driven, sociable and energetic person. A true character he was. He was also diagnosed with 3rd stage colon cancer in 2019 and was going through therapy when we met, something I would have never guessed, if I was not told.
Rewinding now to a few years back. In Uncle Raju’s early years of recovery from HIV, it wasn’t all that easy. At one point, he was even bed-ridden for a period of time. When my colleagues use to visit him, he used to ask us to pray from him, which we indeed did. Uncle Raju managed to fight back with his positive spirit and get better. He then started helping out in in Hospital Tengku Ampuan Rahimah, Klang (HTAR). There is an Infectious Disease ward there and he could be seen there almost every day helping the doctors, nurses and most importantly the patients. He became a popular and much loved figure amongst the staff and patients there.
I remember once, I was blown away when I found out that he went all the way to Thailand to purchase Antiretroviral medication for the patients just to prove a point that access to HIV medication was too expensive in Malaysia. He was an advocate and he did it from a heart that was filled with genuine love and compassion for the people that he served. In my role within CARE, thinking of a person like my Uncle Raju motivates me and gives me perspective on firstly to always put our client’s first. This applies to aligning my thought process, strategizing advocacy projects and research initiatives. This is something that I’ve never told Raju, but it was him who taught me this through his demeanor and passion.
He has gone for 25 radiotherapy and 25 chemotherapy sessions. Whilst dealing with his circumstances, he is still actively advocating for PLHIV at his own capacity. He is a source of positivity and celebrates every moment of life to its fullest. He still makes sure that we (CARE staff, myself included) are invited for his birthday bash’s every year. To say that he is an inspiration would be an understatement. A true hero in my eyes and someone I will always look up to. Thank you Uncle Raju!
An Island of Hope
Let me tell you about a community that I journeyed with in Pulau Banggi, Sabah. Firstly, getting there would mean taking a three-hour drive to Kudat followed by a one-hour boat ride from Kudat to Pulau Banggi.
We got to know of this community through a church engagement exercise and the people from Pulau Banggi showed interest in some of the projects Malaysian CARE had to offer.
For the last 2 years, we have been conducting the Financial Literacy Program (FLP) with them, aimed to teach them about managing their finances effectively and saving as well.
After successfully going through the FLP with them, I was pleased to know that the community wanted to take a further step towards building a more sustainable livelihood. At the end of FLP, we would explore the opportunity for them to embark on micro-financing and income generation projects. Seven families signed up to explore this idea and we are now working with them in processing micro-financing loans and income generation projects that varies from agriculture, small business set ups and also automotive services.
This particular community was really an inspiration to me. Because in the midst of the MCO, we had difficulty in connecting with them. This community did not give up and they always kept in touch with us through Whatsapp calls and other means, although they had a lot of problems with internet connection in the village. They were resilient and saw things through. The commitment and trust that they showed inspires me to continue to give my best in my calling to serve at Malaysian CARE. Funnily enough, sometimes when I think to myself, it is them who were a much bigger blessing to me than I was to them.
Responding to a Gentle Whisper
I have been journeying with my client, a youth-at-risk, for a year now. And when you journey with a client, you also inadvertently journey with their families (if they have any).
Through my client, I got to know and build a relationship with her mother, Sasikala (pseudonym).
Sasikala called me one day and asked if I could help her find an orphanage for her other daughter, a 5 year old girl. This 5 year old girl was currently already placed in an orphanage but due to certain issues, the mother was sourcing for another orphanage. Naturally, I had to ask her a few questions before recommending some homes. So I started off with ‘how long is the period of stay’, Sasikala replied ‘until she’s 18 years old’. Just to provide context, Sasikala is a single mother in between jobs at the moment, all her children grew up in residential homes. Upon hearing of the period of stay, I decided to calmly talk to her and explore other options. Sasikala was very much older to me. Since, I'm not a mother, I was worried I might overstep a boundary if I were to speak to her. But I couldn’t stop myself from advocating for this child. I knew I had to talk to her even at the risk of offending Sasikala. I explained to her the psychological benefits of growing up under the care of the mother, and no one can ever love and care for her child the way Sasikala would.
Sasikala listened and agreed with me. I respectfully ended the conversation with ‘but the choice is yours to make, and I will respect it regardless’. A few week later, Sasikala updates me that she has brought her daughter back from the home and will be living with her from now on. She is now in the process of looking for a Kindergarten for her daughter. I was very happy that at least one child grows up with the mother and doesn’t have to go through the pain of separation. I want to thank God for prompting and opening up the opportunity for me to speak to Sasikala. I don’t think any of this would have been possible without God.
Never Give Up!
Where do I begin with my story about John (pseudonym)? I started journeying John, a young adult with special needs since year 2019. He was on the street (homeless).
Due to our inability to gather information from him, to our best understanding, he was adopted as a child and his parents had passed away a few years ago prior to me meeting him.
Immediately, I started planning to include him into our Job Coach training in order to help him towards self-sustenance and simultaneously sourced for a place for him to seek shelter in. He started Job Coach training with Malaysian CARE but he was really reluctant to be placed in a home and preferred to go back to the streets. In the midst of training, he decided not to show up one day and I had to go out and look for him. To cut the story short, him coming in for training and then going MIA (missing in action) happened a few times throughout my journey with him. Bear in mind, each time John goes missing, I end up finding him in different locations around KL. Many times, it is only through prayer that I manage to somehow connect back with him. He did not have a cellphone!
After journeying with John for over one year and playing hide and seek with each other, finally through the help of another organisation, we manage to get John into a home that has mainly the elderly in it. He is in a safe environment now and he is also working in this home and he helps them with cleaning services and he even conducts exercise programs for the elderly.
Being a community worker requires a lot of strength - emotionally and physically. Many times when I think of giving up, I am reminded of God’s patience and love for me. That keeps me going despite all the long walks in the sun without direction that I may have/had endured.
Learn Thru Play!
‘My child is 4 years old and is still weak in his speech. Can you help me?’ Yes, we do get those questions in the rural areas too!
The Orang Asli education team recently had an awareness session for mothers and their children to promote the importance of early childhood education. This was held in our OA education centre at Ladang CARE, Perak. ... We started off the day by educating parents on their children’s typical development. Then, we had station activities that involved both parents and children to have hands-on learning on how to improve children’s gross motor, fine motor, linguistic skills and emotions. In each of these stations, each mother was given the opportunity to model and play along with their children after a demonstration by Deek Penaniy teachers. It was a joy seeing the mothers realise first-hand that their children had so much potential that could be developed further by taking simple steps such as providing encouragement and utilising the early childhood education activities that was taught to them. As a teacher, nothing makes me smile brighter!
Going out of our way!
I got to know this Uncle who works as a security guard. He was a Financial Literacy Programme (FLP) participant.
FLP is a programme that Malaysian CARE developed to empower the poor towards financial freedom by educating them on things such as wants vs needs, basic budgeting, savings and credits/loans....
When we started promoting the FLP programme, Uncle was keen but could not attend the regular group sessions that were held bi-weekly as he needed to be by his wife’s side who was bedridden due to a stroke that she had a few years back.
I had the opportunity to know Uncle and his wife through prior family visitations, way before we even introduced the FLP initiative. During these prior visits, despite how difficult their circumstances were, Uncle and his wife always welcomed me with joy and warmth.
When Uncle told me that he would not be coming for the classes, I decided to do a little extra and provide one-on-one lessons with him at his home. The reason is because of a very little thing that convicted me and that was the words from his wife who said in Tamil “Little girl, please come and visit us whenever you can”. That somehow convicted me in a special way, I can’t explain why, but it just did! Indeed, you can imagine that it was a bit ‘leceh’ to go out of my way but I am reminded of how patient God is with me. This experience has been a blessing to me at so many levels.
I am grateful for the platform that I have which allows me to journey with my clients at a personal level. Over the last 3 years, I can gladly say that Uncle is well versed in managing his finances and living within his means.
One Life at A Time!
I got to know Desmond (pseudonym) through Kelas CARE (Malaysian CARE’s in-prison program) at Penjara Kajang. Upon his release from prison, he came to Rumah Petros (RP), Malaysian CARE’s halfway home for ex-prisoners. During his time in RP, he went through various experiences and trainings, needless to say there were ups and downs....
He progressed from being a quiet and seemingly timid person to one who eventually rose to a position of leadership amongst his peers. I witnessed him transform from a beneficiary of the home to a benefactor.
Today, he is officially discharged from RP and has been positively reintegrated back into society. Most importantly, what I treasure the most was the opportunity to watch him reconcile with his family.
He is now living a life he believes God has called him to. As I reflect, I am grateful to God for these small wins and the privilege to see transformation in our clients’ life.
Slowly But Surely!
"I have been journeying with this 5-year-old child since September 2020 through CARE's Home-bsed Learning Support model. Back then when I first introduced the ABC's to him, he was on the verge of crying because he could not remember what was being taught. to make matters worst, the covid-19 pandemic had also shut down schools and tadika's in Miri....
By enabling the child's grandmother and mother to empower their own child, we began to see improvements in his education. I had also encouraged the child's mother to spend time teaching him whenever she was available at home.
The child had started tadika recently. Teachers have been giving him homework and his parents have been taking turns to teach him. I am truly encouraged that his parents and grandmother spent the needed time with him.
Praise God for the changes!"