Saturday, June 6

Answering the clarion call for help


Koo brings food aid to a household.

THERE is a famous quote that says, “the difference between darkness and brightness is how you thrive on those moments and how you use such circumstances with goodwill in your spirit”.

Indeed, the Covid-19 pandemic has not only shown how a virus can drastically change lives around the world but also that the bad times bring out the best in people.

In Miri, the unsung heroes at this time of the critical health emergency are ordinary people who have gone out of their way to help those affected by the Movement Control Order (MCO) imposed since March 18.

Volunteers from Tzu Chi Buddhist Foundation Miri Liaison distribute food to the homeless.

The poor and vulnerable have asked for food aid as they struggle to get through the pandemic and their entreaty has not fallen on deaf ears.

A group of volunteers, headed Alexander Voo, have heeded the clarion call for help by distributing daily necessities to destitute families since the ‘Stay at Home’ order came into effect.

“It’s hard not to see that while ordinary people like us find MCO still manageable with our savings, there are those who can’t even afford the basic essentials,” he said.

The small group of friends he sought help from to raise funds to alleviate the plight of the poor at this trying time have grown into a team of 20 volunteers.

Ting (second left) presents vegetables donated by local farmers to a recipient.

Going the extra mile

Instead of giving food aid according to areas, they have gone the extra mile to cover every household that has come forward to seek help.

“We want to make sure all genuine recipients get the food aid. Our survey team will be doing background checks to ensure deserving cases are not left out,” Voo said.

He noted there were households living from hand to mouth but help had yet to come their way.

The group has carried out a survey in and around Miri and is presently focusing on Taman Tunku, Kampung Lusut, Pujut, and Tudan.

Based on Voo’s updates, at least several hundred families in Tudan need basic essentials.

“They don’t have the privilege of owning a vehicle nor the luxury of going to the city centre or supermarket.

(From left) Koo, Susie Yee, and Miri Yuan Man Welfare Association chairman Chai Ging Yuing with recipients of provisions.

“We understand their plight and with the restrictions on movements, we are delivering food to them so that they can stay home,” he said.

His team is also reaching out to the disabled (OKU) and the homeless in the northern part of Miri.

“The OKU have special needs. For those requiring adult diapers or medication, we help them to sort out these items.”

Voo felt volunteering during this trying time was taking an emotional toll on the volunteers.

“We managed to meet some of the demands we thought were beyond our capability. It took a lot of endurance and inner strength but we’re happy we had delivered.”

Some of the prepared food items for the homeless.

Meals for the homeless

For the homeless, meals are provided once a day.

With nowhere to go, these people are forced to live rough and sometimes end up on the wrong side of the law.

“It isn’t the sort of life they choose. What our group tries to do is to give them at least a meal a day,” Voo said.

During the first phase of MCO, the homeless were struggling to find their way after the eateries which had been helping them out with food, were restricted to delivery and takeaway services.

Fortunately, charitable organisations such as Tzu Chi Buddhist Foundation Miri Liaison, have stepped forward to give them hot meals.

While the government intends to pool donations from the community and distribute them appropriately to avoid clusters of activities and reduce the risk of chain infection, some feel it may need a helping hand to carry out the task.

Sarawak for Sarawakians (S4S) Movement co-founder Erick Chin suggested that since many people wanted to help, distribution of necessities could be done with a certain level of MCO compliance.

“I’m sure many organisations have a list of families in need of food and financial assistance. Their services can be utilised to reach out to more needy people,” he said.


Good Samaritans

Donny Koo, who has been helping those he calls the “forgotten ones” said it is an emotional time for volunteers too.

Volunteers get ready to distribute food aid.

“I’ve shed some tears when distributing food to these people. We usually act on tip-offs from friends and well-meaning strangers.

“We’ve sought help from kind retailers, who are more than happy to sponsor within their means. It’s important to note these donors are not necessarily well-off. Most of them run a small business like a grocery stall.

“Even though they are feeling the pinch, they will still contact me to pick up some essentials for needy households.”

Koo is overwhelmed by the compassion of the community, saying the pandemic actually brings people together to help out, regardless of race, religion and social status.

He pointed out that at times aid recipients could became really desperate, not knowing where the next meal is coming from, and fearful of losing food security, they could hardly be blamed for wanting more help.

According to him, those registered as B40 will usually be given priority by the government.

The distribution of aid by government or a political party is normally based on a name list.

Households with incomes below RM3,000 fall under B40. They are the bottom 40 per cent of the country’s income classification.

For those not classified as B40, they too can seek food assistance from the community leaders in their area.

The volunteers are doing all they can to help these people out of any predicament, resulting from the current situation

An aid recipient shows the donated items he received. — Photo by Alexander Voo

Foreign workers

Koo said foreign and migrant workers could also fall under the forgotten group.

“They are in the grey area and though their status can be confusing, they deserve help too.”

Koo has reached out to dozens of poor families through the Miri Yuan Man Welfare Association.

“Our association relies solely on public donations. One hundred per cent of the funds received is used to buy food and other household necessities for poor households.

“Apart from providing food, we also consider the recipients’ living conditions, then decide whether or not they need any other help.”

Previously, a group of farmers made headlines by banding together to donate vegetables and fruits and their caring gesture has been roundly applauded.

Since then, between 100kg and 200kg of green rations have been sent to the SUPP service centres in Piasau, Pujut and Senadin for packing and distribution to poor families.

Assistant Minister for Tourism, Arts and Culture Datuk Sebastian Ting Chiew Yew praised the very supportive farmers, saying what they did was “beyond anything else”.

“It’s already not easy for these farmers because they too are affected by the MCO but they are caring enough to share their produce.”

Miri Planters Association chairman Jong Tze Khiun said Miri produces an average of 10 tonnes of vegetables and 10 tonnes of fruits a day.

“We have been encouraging planters with surpluses to donate for a very worthy cause.”


Social problem

As the economy is hard hit by the  pandemic, people are losing jobs and may, in desperation, resort to anti-social behaviour.

There is a saying that desperate times call for desperate measures. And those in despair and without hope may take matters into their own hands.

Commenting on such a potential scenario, Voo said volunteers would continue to help not because they were well off but also because they wanted to prevent untoward incidents.

He also stressed volunteerism should not be subjected to any political agenda.

“I respect how the political parties are doing their part. As long as they are reaching out, it means they are showing concern for the people. But there is no need to politicise any donation,” he said.