Tuesday, July 23

A Place of Hope for the poor


When the world says ‘Give Up’ — Hope whispers ‘Try It One More Time’

VOLUNTARY bodies should emulate Hope Place by going to the ground to help the poor instead of focusing too much on holding big meetings and seminars.

A prominent Bidayuh leader Datuk Peter Minos said this about a year after the formation of Hope Place. He noted that Malaysians were very generous when it came to giving aid to disaster-stricken countries and he believed they could do the same for their fellow countrymen in time of need.

Minos praised Hope Place for its ability to identify and locate the destitute and hapless and its readiness to go all out to help them, regardless of race or creed.

Hope Place or Persatuan Kebajikan Harapan Kuching is a non-governmental organisation dedicated to alleviating the plight of the poor and the deprived. Starting as a one-man show, it eventually evolved into a welfare body with 178 needy families presently under its care.

Hope Place celebrated its fourth anniversary last month. It was the first time the NGO held a gathering with its staff and volunteers.

Founder Kelvin Wan, a father of two, said, “These four years have been an amazing experience for me and I thank God for His blessings. I do all this because of God’s love. And of course, Hope Place will not be as what it is today without the invaluable support of the public and the media.”

Hope Place has helped a total 250 families so far. However, aid will be discontinued after the living conditions of the families have improved. The decision on discontinuation is based on a system which reviews the welfare of the families every six months. This has enabled Hope Place to keep tabs on the progress of the families in order to decide whether or not aid needs to be continued.

Basically, the type of assistance Hope Place provides is visiting the families every two months and supplying them with essential rations such as rice, cooking oil, sugar, biscuits and noodles.

The quantity given out on each visit is to tide the recipients over for about two months. Many of these families or individuals are surviving on very low or no income at all. Moreover, there are families with disabled children who require, most importantly, diapers or milk powder.

Hope Place has divided its target groups into five categories: disabled (OKU) individuals with conditions like Down syndrome; senior citizens sick or abandoned by their children; single mothers whose income is below RM500; physically disabled people and families with a total income of less than RM500 a month.

In a Q and A interview with thesundaypost, Wan spoke about his experience in setting up Hope Place and running it and also how he aspires to reach out to the poor through his brainchild.


Q: Why and how did you come to set up Hope Place?

A: I have always been a volunteer for various charity programmes since 2007. Then in 2011, I chanced upon a heart-breaking case which prompted me to do more.  I was with an NGO carrying out rescue operations and providing relief to flood victims in Kampung Kudei when an elderly man came to me and asked for some food to feed his family.

To ensure his plea was genuine, I asked the man (whom I shall call Uncle Foo) to take me to his home. On arrival, I was greatly moved by his plight — there was his elderly wife and their two daughters who had Down’s syndrome crammed in a shack with no electricity. They were living in abject poverty.

Not quite knowing what to do to help him, I just forked out RM250 of my pocket and bought them some essential items. Pretty soon, other poor families who saw me delivering food to Uncle Foo’s family also came to me for help. That was how I was driven deeper into this charity mission. As a follow-up, I identified the next five needy families as my target groups.

I spent half my salary buying food and some basic necessities for them. Then word got around and more came for help. After three months, I was supporting 15 families.

At that time, my monthly salary as a T-shirt salesman was all used up to help the families. I was actually left with no more money to help out with our household expenses. My wife, a teacher, had to use her income to cover these expenses, and the horrifying thing was that she didn’t know what was going on with me. How could I blame her if she suspected I was having an affair?

Looking back, it’s kinda silly of me for not daring to reveal where my money had gone until quite sometime later.

Eventually when I became strapped, I sought help from my Church members and friends — mostly former schoolmates — and they were kind enough to chip in. I believe they were touched — and motivated — by my efforts to help the poor families.

Six months later, we were helping 30 families. It was nearly after a year that my church pastor, noticing how important charity work was, advised me to set up my own charitable organisation. That was how Hope Place came to be.


Why Hope Place?

I thought of the name myself. It’s made up of two easily understood common words reflecting precisely what they mean — a place where the poor can find hope and discover there are still kind souls out there who care and want to help, and through which well-wishers can contribute, regardless of how little, in service, kind or cash to create a better society.


How does Hope Place operate?

Our methods are simple. We collect donations and send them to those in need. With the number of families under our care now reaching 178 and growing, we look forward to more donations. I must say the media are playing a very crucial role in helping to spread the word and create public awareness about our work and get more people to help.

Here, I must say very big ‘thank you’ to all the donors, the media and the well-wishers for their unstinting support. What touches me most is 90 per cent of donors are from various races and backgrounds who insist on anonymity. There are also donors from groups, organisations and corporate sector.

In 2015, Hope Place got a helping hand from Affin Hwang Capital (Sarawak) in organising a charity run called Run For Hope. Among those invited to take part back then were (then) Minister of Social Development Tan Sri William Mawan; Welfare, Women and Community Wellbeing Minister Datuk Fatimah Abdullah; (then) Tourism Assistant Minister Datuk Talib Zulpilip; Engkilili assemblyman Dr Johnical Rayong Ngipa; and leaders of various social bodies.

Apart from the poor, we have helped fire and flood victims in Kuching, Sematan, Lundu, Asajaya, Simunjan, Sri Aman, Batang Ai, Bintangor, Saratok, Sibu and Bintulu areas. We have also extended our help to hard-to-reach places in the rural areas where the communities rarely, if ever, have the chance to get any form of help.

That’s why together with Bintulu 4×4 Club, we started the Charity Without Borders programme which has since become an annual affair. We have introduced the programme to Lubok Antu in Sri Aman, Long Lapok, Long Laput, Long Banga, Long San, Bario, Long Lamam and Lusong Laku. Recently, I was invited to give talks in schools, colleges, universities and at government functions on charity and volunteerism and share my experiences. Our record shows more than 120,000 youths (mainly students) have attended such talks.


What actually gives you the drive to do charity?

I feel it’s right to do good to others, especially helping those in need. And if those I managed to help feel the joy, then I will also feel their joy in me. Sometimes, I seem to get a calling from God, urging me to be compassionate and do whatever I can to help reduce the suffering of the needy.

Let me share two incidents that drove me to work even harder with Hope Place. The first one was in September 2013 when I visited an octogenarian couple in a village along Kuching-Serian Road after a retired army personnel member reported their hardships to us.

The elderly couple were living alone, weaving floor mats to sell at the nearby shops. As both were suffering from various health problems, they could not work every day. Much of their already meagre income was used to pay for medical expenses. At one time, they had to barter trade a mat for a packet of painkiller tablets.

They even told me they preferred dying to living out their days in a hopeless situation such as theirs. As I was leaving, the old woman threw her arms around me, bowed, held my hands firmly and kissed them. I felt something warm flowing down my hands and I immediately realised it was her tears. I was so moved by her gesture. It showed how deep her gratitude was.

The second incident was in 2015. There was this young female outpatient of Hospital Sentosa. She was introduced to us by the hospital’s Medical Social Workers Department to see what we could do for her.

As usual, I had to interview her first before taking her into our care. So I went to visit her with a team of social workers from the department. She lived with her 60-year-old father and a younger sibling in a small hostel inside the factory where her father worked as a cleaner. The girl actually had to go with her father to his workplace because she could not take care of herself if left alone.

Just as I was about to leave after the interview, a voice came into my head, “Is that all? Are you going to leave just like that?”

Suddenly, my gut feeling told me it must be God speaking to me. I was stopped in my tracks, stunned beyond words, just standing there frozen and everyone was staring at me… puzzled.

The voice continued, “Just give them whatever you can give.”

I was confused because I had not brought anything to give them. Then, I remembered I had my last RM200 in my wallet. I took out the notes and squeezed them into the hand of the girl’s father. Clearly surprised, he gave me a firm hug, broke down and said God had answered his prayers. It was an emotional moment for everyone present.

That same year, we received a “thank you” letter from an aid recipient. She had polio — one of her legs was crippled and she was also blind in one eye. The letter, written in Mandarin, said the act of love and kindness we gave her and her family also gave hope to humanity. That was the first time Hope Place received a letter of appreciation from a family under its care. A letter to thank us is something out of the blue.


Are there any new challenges Hope Place is facing now?

I would say our biggest challenge now is to have enough stock of food because the number of recipients keeps increasing and we don’t have stable and regular donors, relying very much on publicity to keep donations coming in. As for expenses, we need money to pay our staff and the monthly rental of RM3,300 for our premises at Jalan Dogan. We moved in over a year ago. Our old place, a semi-detached house, was too small to store the food items.


Are you looking forward to anything for Hope Place?

I’m hoping we can secure a land for our own building because even the bigger place we have now is getting over crowded with our stocks. Moreover, the monthly rental is a challenge for us to pay.  In 2015, I had applied for a piece of land to the Land and Survey Department for Hope Place. If the application is successful, my dream is to put up three buildings — one for a clinic and a store, one as a daycare for old folks and one for an orphanage and a training centre.