Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Reflections for the New Year

As my final post for this year (and quite possibly, this contest), I have chosen to interview 5 outstanding KL-ites in terms of their contribution to the country, society and the natural world on their hopes and goals for the coming year.

Edmund Bon
Lawyer, human rights activist and legal aid volunteer.

What was the best thing that you will remember of 2009?

Post-March 8, and this year particularly, we have seen a rise in the number of young(er) activists advocating civil society's causes. 10 years after the birth of the "Reformasi Generation" (as Liew Chin Tong puts it), we have many new, idealistic professionals and students wanting to be heard, to stake their claim, and to shape society by themselves; not allowing others to do it for them.

The successful launch of the "MyConstitution Campaign" or "Kempen PerlembagaanKu" on 13 November 2009 is strong testimony of this - our young Malaysians have sought to embark on a difficult terrain yet uncharted for 2 years to educate 28 million rakyat about the Constitution. These activists are the rising and future stars of the Bar, and include, among others, Mahaletchumi Balakrishnan, Syahredzan Johan, Grace Wong, Firdaus Husni, Adrian Chew, Daniel Albert, Kwan Will Sen, June Low, Low Boon Seong, Samuel Leong, Selena Kong, Shamala Balasundaram, Yip Xiaoheng, Yeoh Tung Seng , Tey Jun Ren, Yap Yin May, Sonya Liew, Young Ai Peng, Nadia Abu Bakar, Michael Loo, Leong Yeng Kong, Keith Chin, Joshua Tay, Gregory Marimuthu and David Siaw.

Malaysia's future looks bright!

If there is anything regrettable or anything you could change about 2009, what would it be?

The way the monarchy took an unprecedented role in our democratic affairs, noting what happened in Terengganu and Perak. Incidents which have caused public disquiet exposed the institution to attacks which could have been avoided. The perception of the Judiciary has not improved, some argue that it has plummeted.

And of course, more importantly, the number of beached whales that die every year. How do we stop that? It is really sad to see them stranded and helpless.

What do you hope 2010 will bring?

MyConsti is working hard to launch the remaining 8 phases by March 2011 - (i) institutions of the Constitution and separation of powers (coming your way on January 15 at Sunway University College), (ii) federal-state relations, (iii) fundamental liberties and the rakyat, (iv) Parliament, (v) Executive, (vi) Judiciary, (vii) elections and democracy, and (viii) Sabah and Sarawak.

I wish that many more people will work with us on the Campaign, participate in our discussions and workshops, attend our launches, join our Facebook page at check out our "Rakyat Guides" and "Rakyat Service Advertisements" at, watch our 1-minute video clips at and disseminate the enduring messages of the Constitution to their friends and loved ones.

Brian Lariche
UNDP Programme Adviser on HIV/AIDS Leadership, social justice activist and director-founder of Lariche Community, a consultancy that develops capacity-building programmes for NGOs and Corporate Social Responsibility programmes.

What was the best thing that you will remember of 2009?
The new social enterprise I started, Lariche Community, which specialises in Community Development.

If there is anything you could change about 2009, what would it be?
That the robbery did not happen to me and my family. I was robbed in my own home and the robbers traumatised us. The police were of no help or use. When I shared this with some people I know, many revealed they were also victims of a robbery. I think my loss of 'innocence' as a result of the robbery is the most painful and regrettable consequence.

What is your wish for 2010?
That Malaysia becomes safer for her citizens, that we will actually have a police force that is trained to have better people skills rather than pass annoying comments and then proceed to do nothing with regards to a crime. That NGOs become more accountable and transparent in their operations. Finally, that more companies do real CSR work and not just PR exercises.

Do you have any New Year resolutions you would like to share with our readers?
I will focus more on non-profit development and I hope to help create a method of public NGO assessment.

Loretta Ann Shepherd
Project Coordinator, Malaysian Conservation Alliance for Tigers (MYCAT).

What was the best thing that you will remember of 2009?
The National Tiger Action Plan that MYCAT produced in collaboration with the government was endorsed by the Deputy Prime Minister. Such high-level commitment to doubling our tiger numbers to 1,000 by 2020 was a big boost – and we look forward to this translating to REAL action for tigers!

If there is anything regrettable or anything you could change about 2009, what would it be?
More dead tigers seized in Malaysia than ever before. Tigers are poached for man-made greed – for wildmeat consumption, medicinal use, trophy collections – the list is long. Malaysia is lucky because she still has tigers but that also means she has tigers to lose. Dead tigers popping up here and there really cut to the core of us working so hard to protect them in the wild. The demand appears almost relentless, and we fear that this coming 2010 will mean an increase in the demand for tiger parts precisely because it IS the Year of the Tiger.

What is your wish for 2010?
2010 being the Lunar Year of the Tiger = big buzz in the tiger world. There is much planned for the coming year, and we hope to ‘capitalise’ on the attention so that it is channelled positively to saving wild tigers.

I have more than one wish, naturally. I wish we could have more Malaysians join the field of conservation. There are so many things than need doing; and you have the choice of making it your career, or volunteering to help out, and taking steps to change the way you do things. For specific ideas on how you can help -

We need more Malaysians to join the cause by speaking up to the media, to their MPs, to their local leaders. If Malaysians don’t demand that wildlife needs better protection, why should any politician take a handful of ‘animal-lovers’ (the Press loves to paint everyone with that brush) seriously?

Lack of funds is not the only challenge we have, but it is a major one. It would be wonderful if we had all the money we needed to tackle the identified threats to tigers.

Do you have any New Year resolutions you would like to share with our readers?
To do more for tigers this year (and beyond) than I have, and one of the ways I can think of doing more is by inspiring more people, especially youth, to commit themselves to helping save Malaysian wildlife.

Joe Yap
Founder-Creator of the Waterfall Survivors Facebook Group, which aims to educate Malaysians on conservation of our water catchment areas and river systems, and which organizes, coordinates and conducts waterfall and river cleanup campaigns.

What was the best thing that you will remember of 2009?
Personally, I felt that the Save Our Waterfall cleanup campaign at Kanching waterfalls cum was a very successful event with more than 350 participants. This is really one of the events that made history for Waterfall Survivors in 2009. Why do I consider this the best thing that I will remember of 2009? Because we held this event together with thousands of other events across the world and we managed to reach out to people directly to tell them what the 350 movement is all about. Most participants contributed as much as they could in terms of hard work and that was truly very heartwarming, and a confidence booster for us to soldier on. It also proves that Malaysians are still a caring lot.

If there is anything regrettable or anything you could change about 2009, what would it be?
I would have liked members to be more active. We have almost 4,000 members but those that participate are only a handful. In fact, I can safely say that fewer than 1,000 participated in our events.

There were times when Waterfall Survivors (hereafter, “WS”) was criticized heavily because some members thought WS was becoming commercialized. It wasn’t easy to handle these situations, especially since we are a Facebook-based group. It is just so easy for people to post damaging remarks and there is no onus on them to be responsible for what they have posted. We hope they can understand that the grass always looks greener on the other side. We work with very tight budgets and our objectives and missions have never changed. We have always been about receiving funds from members and providing services back to the members and promoting protection of the environment. Since WS’s formation, our committee covers the deficit of events, if any. We didn’t perform well in terms of fund raising. Else we could have done much more.

What is your wish for 2010?
I’ll be a little greedy here because I have many wishes, not just one. Here goes:
-To explore more unknown falls;
-To do even more charity and social work for society, whether waterfall-related or otherwise;
-To make future Save Our Waterfalls campaigns even more successful;
-To educate the public and the younger generation, especially schoolchildren, about protecting waterfalls and the environment 350 days a year, oops, I mean 365 days a year;
-To bring underprivileged children, with the support of WS members, to enjoy the beauty of Mother Nature. Why with WS members? Because they will only feel more empathy for these children if they are personally involved in the programme. Sadly, people in general are still more interested in enjoying life and making money, even though they have more than they need. I think WS members can be much more active than they were in 2009. After all, one of the main driving forces behind WS’s activities is compassion for people and Mother Nature;
-To create more awareness of safety at waterfalls and hopefully this will result in zero drowning cases at waterfalls in 2010;
-To recruit more hardcore waterfall lovers to join us as committee members, as we tend to get tired at times. There simply aren’t enough hands; and finally
- To secure more sponsors for our events!

My resolution for 2010 is to preserve WS as the largest Waterfall Group in Malaysia and to reach greater heights in all its endeavours. And for all those who share the same passion as we do, to wake up with a smile everyday!

Ahmad Fansuri
Volunteer Management Coordinator, Rumah Nur Salam

Apakah pengalaman yang paling manis yang saudara lalui pada tahun 2009?
Pengurusan Rumah Nur Salam memberi kepercayaan kepada saya untuk menjadi Penyelaras Pengurusan Sukarelawan agar saya dapat menarik lebih ramai masyarakat menceburi bidang kesukarelawanan, khususnya terhadap isu-isu kanak-kanak di Rumah Nur Salam. Tanggungjawab ini bukanlah mudah kerana kerja-kerja kesukarelawan di Malaysia masih di tahap yang rendah, berbanding masyarakat antarabangsa yang menganggap kerja-kerja sukarela sebagai satu tanggungjawab yang perlu mereka laksanakan dalam kehidupan mereka.

Apakah pengalaman yang paling pahit yang saudara lalui pada tahun 2009?
Pengalaman Pahit - terlalu banyak yang dialami dan biarlah ianya menjadi pengalaman dan panduan diri dalam mengharungi kehidupan yang mendatang.

Apakah hajat, harapan dan azam saudara untuk tahun 2010?
Saya berharap pada tahun 2010, melalui "Nur Salam Volunteer Programme", lebih ramai ahli masyarakat akan menghulurkan bantuan dan berkongsi kasih sayang, pengetahuan, kemahiran dan pengalaman dengan kanak-kanak dan remaja yang mendaftar di Nur Salam seiring dengan misi dan visi Rumah Nur Salam.

Saya juga berharap Nur Salam akan berjaya dalam misi dan visinya, dan jika diizinkan, ingin melihat pusat Nur Salam ditempatkan di serata Malaysia kerana ramai lagi kanak-kanak yang perlu dibantu.

Berkenaan diri sendiri, saya berharap mendapat kesihatan dan kehidupan yang lebih baik.

Happy New Year, everyone! May 2010 be a year of social justice and environmental responsibility, and may the New Year bring hope and general amity to this troubled world of ours.

May 2010 bring out the best in people and prompt us to reach out to others in friendship and with love, empathy, understanding and respect.

May 2010 be a year of productive and joyful achievement for each of us, and may the coming year bring us a Kuala Lumpur with a reduced crime rate, better maintenance of public facilities and greater protection of green spaces.

I wish each of you and your families a year of joy, abundance, reconciliation and faith in all that is good.

Covert Operations ’78, OUT.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Letter to the Editor: Capping of additional school fees a welcome proposal


As volunteers who assist underprivileged families and schoolchildren in Selangor and Kuala Lumpur , we support the National PTA Collaborative Council's call to cap additional school fees at RM25 per primary school pupil and RM50 per secondary school student. (The Star, 28 Dec 2009)

While we also applaud the Education Director-General's call to schools and Parent-Teacher Associations to decide on additional fees based on the student's activities and socio-economic background, we strongly urge the Education Ministry and National PTA Collaborative Council to look into the issue of unnecessary additional fees, which is a burden not only to lower income families, but also to our generous donors who are finding it increasingly expensive to sponsor needy students.

We are of the opinion that the additional fees charged are not entirely for the purpose of improving school infratructure, teaching facilities and services.

Certain schools in Wangsa Maju and Setapak, for instance, are charging students RM20 at the beginning of the school year for the school’s award day and end-of-year party. This sum is exorbitant, as it is on top of the RM30- RM50 charged as PTA contribution. The children we work with are already marginalised and at an academic disadvantage. Awards Day has little context for them, as they are statistically less likely to be the recipients of prizes for good performance. The RM20 fee also raises suspicions of unjust enrichment, as a school with 5,000 students would then have collected RM100,000 for an Awards Day Ceremony attended by approximately 80 teachers and 250 students!

Students are also charged RM6 - RM8 for Moral Studies / Islamic Studies. No reasons are given for this sum being charged, and since these are compulsory subjects, students who are unable to pay the additional fees do not have the option of dropping these subjects.

We are also concerned over several schools' insistence on school socks (averaging RM6) and track bottoms (averaging RM18), which appear to us to be of substandard quality yet unreasonably expensive. We believe that as long as a student is outfitted in the uniform sanctioned by the Ministry of Education, there should be no need for special ‘school socks’ and other accessories.

Among others, some schools also charge students RM10 for the use of the school library and RM10 for the library access card. A simple, inexpensive library card system and the enforcement of the ‘no schoolbags inside the library’ rule would be sufficient to prevent the loss of books. The children who are unable to afford this fee are also the ones least likely to have access to reading materials and a conducive study space at home.

We have written letters to the respective school principals for a waiver of the fees on behalf of these children, but only one school has agreed to waive the fees for one child. Another school turned down our request, while other schools did not bother to respond at all. Not all parents were able to meet up with the school heads themselves, because the parents are either illiterate, unable to communicate fluently in Bahasa Malaysia or English, ill, victims of domestic violence or more commonly, working at jobs that do not allow them to take leave.

We therefore strongly urge the Education Ministry to cap additional school fees, both in the interests of protecting the welfare of low-income families and of curbing corruption.

We also wish to appeal to the Ministry of Federal Territories and Urban Well-Being to work with schools to identify students whose parents earn below RM2,500 a month and to provide aid in the form of free tuition classes, subsidised transportation, canteen food aid schemes, school uniforms, workbooks and payment of school fees. This would be a more realistic urban poverty eradication strategy than merely disbursing monthly financial aid to individuals and groups who have registered themselves with the Social Welfare Department. Many of the hardcore poor are hindered by illiteracy and the inability to get assistance with bureaucratic processes, and are therefore not receiving aid. At the very least, the Ministry can assist their children by providing all opportunities and resources necessary to enable them to perform academically and thus break the cycle of poverty.


Monday, December 28, 2009

Faces of joy at Rumah Nur Salam, Chow Kit

While I am aware that most Malaysians associate the Chow Kit area in Kuala Lumpur with vice, drug users and illegal activities, I look back on my days of carrying out legal aid outreach work there with much fondness. And when I began receiving shoeboxes in excess of the number I requested for the Shoebox Project, Rumah Nur Salam (formerly Pusat Aktiviti Kanak-Kanak [Children's Activity Centre] Chow Kit) was somewhere on the top of my list of recipients for our shoebox gifts.

Rumah Nur Salam is a 'safe house' for at-risk children from different backgrounds. Rumah Nur Salam also operates a 24-hour activity centre aimed at improving the quality of life of the children of Chow Kit, almost all of whom are from lower income families and who live in environments that expose them to greater risk of harm. Most of the children come from single-parent families, while some are the children of members of marginalised communities, or may have been trafficked or exposed to harm before. Some do not have the requisite legal documents proving themselves to be citizens or enabling them to attend school.

I contacted the affable and friendly Volunteer Management Coordinator of Rumah Nur Salam, Ahmad Fansuri, and explained with unnecessary defensiveness that we (i.e. the volunteers) are not a Christian group, but a multi-faith group mostly made up of members of the Malaysian Nature Society.

In true Malaysian spirit, Ahmad responded that they welcome everyone of all faiths, and that it would be good for the children to celebrate all festivals and learn of different faiths and cultures. And so I spent the rest of the week sorting, filling, packing and labelling shoebox gifts, and invited my friends Sheela, Ili Fatimah, Shet Mei and Lysha to spend Christmas Day at Rumah Nur Salam with me.

Snack time before the games begin! My friends and I marvelled at how well-behaved and polite the children are, even those who are boisterous or talkative. Some of the younger ones 'salam'-ed us before accepting the treats that we handed out for breakfast. A few children offered their snacks to us and to the caretakers before settling down to enjoy the goodies. Credit must go to the caretakers and the highly engaging Children's Coordinator, Hasrul, for teaching the children so well.

Shet Mei, who loves children, was delighted when the little ones asked to be photographed with her. The children of Chow Kit, although at greater risk of harm, have an advantage over children of more sheltered environments, in that they are more open-minded, accepting and streetwise. How many 5-year-olds would be able to define 'condom' correctly and without squeamishness? The children of Chow Kit may frequently be little old souls, but are just as in need of protection and care as any other children.

Ili Fatimah was first recruited as a volunteer for the Malaysian Nature Society Eco Kids Junior Day Camp on December 5. She provided such valuable help that I asked if she could come and help out again for this event. I wish all undergraduates were as reliable as her! The ones I tend to meet at the SPCA are so helpless that I sometimes wonder if they have been bottle-fed and swaddled in cotton wool until the age of 21.

A noisy and rambunctious round of Musical Chairs helps the children forget the squalor of life outside Rumah Nur Salam! The Children's Coordinator plans enriching activities for the children daily, while certified tutors and teachers assist the children in their studies in classrooms set apart from the rumpus room in which we had our little party.

Rumah Nur Salam lives up to the motto on its nursery walls: "Because Every Child Matters". With therapy, lessons, love and patience, most of the troubled children are now well-adjusted, productive and healthy young persons.

My friends and I were especially impressed by the fact that quite a large number of the children have since been accepted into residential boarding schools (Note to friends who are not from Malaysia: Places in residential boarding schools are reserved for high achievers).

Time to get down and boogie! No party is complete without music, and the children love to dance. Many of them have really slick moves. The art classes conducted at Rumah Nur Salam also include dance classes as an exercise in self-expression. We noticed that the teenagers were especially kind and helpful to the younger ones, so this is a strong indication that they have learned well from the good example set by the caretakers and coordinators.

A young winner comes forward to receive his prize after a particularly arduous round of "Musical Statues".

Time to hand out the gifts! The children were disciplined and polite and waited until everyone has received their gifts before opening their gifts together. Half an hour after the gifts had been opened, the floor was spotless and every scrap of litter had been swept up and disposed of by the teens.

This little boy could hardly contain his excitement at receiving his gift!

A little girl minds her friend's box while they wait to open their gifts together.

The children admired the contents of each other's boxes and shared their sweets without bickering, not because they are born angels, but because the Children's Coordinator had taught them well. Children living in welfare homes or attending community centres should not only be fed and clothed, but be taught manners, consideration, gratitude and concern for the environment. It sure looks like Rumah Nur Salam has done a good job with these youngsters!

Too cool for school! The children performed a “Thank You” song for us which had us rolling in mirth! “Xie xie ni! Nandri! Domo Arigato, Hai!”, they sang with gusto, followed by a Japanese-style bow!

My friends and I would like to thank the children of Rumah Nur Salam too, for the friendliness and appreciation they expressed so easily, which made us feel welcomed and loved. And our especial thanks go out to the Children’s Coordinator, Hasrul, for his dedication to improving the quality of life of the children, motivating them into becoming better persons and enriching their minds and souls with improving activities. We would love to come back again to conduct another activity during the next school holidays.

“Nur” in Arabic means ‘light’, while “Salam” means ‘peace’. Rumah Nur Salam is therefore an appropriate name for this sanctuary that has lighted the way to a better future for the children of Chow Kit, and provided a peaceful refuge for the children against the chaos of the outside world.

For more information, please contact:
Address: Rumah Nur Salam, No 24B, Jalan Chowkit, 50350 Kuala Lumpur
Facebook: Rumah Nur Salam, Chow Kit

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Generous KL-ites bring cheer to needy families

If I had to describe life in Kuala Lumpur in just one word, I would choose 'abundant'.

"You've got to be kidding," I hear other city-dwellers huff dismissively, as they rant about the rising costs of fuel, highway use, consumer goods and property. I prefer to notice, instead, the portions of food left uneaten at restaurants and stalls, the long queues at department stores and hypermarket counters and the line of eager moviegoers at cinemas.

We are blessed with so much that we sometimes don't make a conscious effort to remember how fortunate we are. Just as a fish would not have a word in its vocabulary for water, most urban professionals in Kuala Lumpur are accustomed to having so much that they forget that they actually lack nothing.

Kuala Lumpur is lucky, too, to be home to a vast number of thoughtful and generous individuals and groups. Numerous charitable bodies operate in the City to alleviate the suffering of those who are less fortunate. Children living in welfare homes and orphanages are so well-provided for that they get dozens of gifts each festive season. When my ex-manager called me up recently to request my assistance in identifying needy children's charities in KL, I had a hard time identifying even one that was truly in want.

There are, however, pockets of impoverished communities living amongst us in KL. Many are so poor that their children drop out of school at a young age. Others are victims of domestic violence, disease or illness.

This is where individuals like my friend Bernie comes in. Bernie has spent years identifying, checking on and assisting hardcore poor families in Setapak, Sentul Dalam, Wangsa Maju and Sri Rampai, near her home in Setapak.

Bernie's outreach work has the noble objective of helping the poor, especially single mothers, be self-sufficient, and of providing education assistance and opportunities to needy schoolchildren.

Sumathi has 6 children, an abusive husband and no means of financial independence. Bernie and her volunteers bought Sumathi a blender and taught her cooking and business skills. As a result, Sumathi is now able to sell nasi lemak, even if only in small quantities, and that has helped her feed and clothe her children.

Kanniamah is a widow with 2 young daughters and strives to be independent by selling thosai outside her house. They rent a room in Setapak and make hardly enough to pay the rent and bills.

Inthra Devi, her husband, 3 sons and a daughter live in this shack that they built themselves in Wangsa Maju. Her husband does odd jobs, as does her 13-year-old son during the school holidays.

For the past 3 years, I have been assisting Bernie in coordinating the collection, purchase and distribution of school supplies and other aid to the needy families. I am frequently overwhelmed by the magnanimity of Malaysians and their trust in us. I have been informed that many Malaysians want to be able to help, but they just need to know that their contributions are being given to the intended beneficiaries directly without the interference of middlemen and organisations with their retinue of staff.

On 20th December, my group of friends and I, led by the inimitable Bernie, visited a number of homes to deliver food items, school supplies, provisions and shoeboxes filled with goodies.

The volunteers getting ready to haul the goodies up 13 flight of stairs to bring cheer to a single mother with serious health issues and her schoolgoing children.

The children were a little awkward and shy during the photo session, but their mother cried and hugged us for the school supplies and provisions we brought to help them through the leaner months.

These siblings lost their father recently and were very glad of the assistance we provided for school. The low-cost flat unit in which they reside is made comfortable thanks to well-wishers who donated secondhand furniture and electrical appliances.

Volunteers Zawalan, Sasha, Shankar and Agi unload the goods from Zawalan's pickup under Bernie's supervision.

Tharuvin and Ravi Kumar tried to look macho for this shot, but broke into wide grins as soon as I finished taking their photo. What young man wouldn't be pleased with such a splendid-looking new bicycle? When our friends heard how the 3 brothers had only one old bicycle between them, and how they had to take turns running and riding the bike to school, they decided to pitch in and get the boys a new bicycle so they could get to school on time.

The new clothes are a little too big for Tharshini, but she will grow into them! Her mother expressed thanks for the provisions we brought, especially the baby formula.

Why do we do what we do? I believe it is because we have embodied the essence of 1Malaysia long before the Prime Minister gave it a name. To volunteers and donors like Bernie and the rest of our friends, 1Malaysia isn't about dressing children up in traditional costumes for a National Day photo opportunity. 1Malaysia isn't about the self-conscious attempt to 'tolerate' and 'understand' people of different faiths and cultures.

To us, 1Malaysia means looking out for each other and offering assistance to all communities, with no strings attached, in order that the nation becomes strong. It means extending our circle of compassion to others regardless of religion, ethnicity, political persuasion, gender and background.

To donors, 1Malaysia means recognising that distributive injustice and inequality exists everywhere in the world. It means embracing our roles as agents of social change by making the gap between the entitled and those who lack opportunity a little smaller. It means understanding that poverty does exist, often due to circumstances such as illness and bereavement of a spouse, and that no one is to blame for it, but that we have a shared duty to assist those who are more in need than we are.

To volunteers, 1Malaysia means realising that a single act of compassion is worth far more than ten volumes of vitriolic criticisms and complaints, and more than the mere paying of lip service to the ideals of harmony and unity. It means acting on the aforementioned realisation and on our shared values of justice, kindness and service to mankind and the living world. It means becoming the difference we want to see.

1Malaysia to us isn't found in songs and PR campaigns, but in the sincerity with which we demonstrate care and concern for the well-being of others, and our ability to empathise with others and their predicament. 1Malaysia isn't to be found in local delicacies, or only during the festive season, but in our daily lives when we share our meals, work together towards common goals, turn to each other for advice and support, spend the night in each other's homes when a volunteer project stretches late into the night, address each other as "brother" or "sister", or have the spare keys to each other's homes in order to attend to pets and potted plants.

For we are so much more than just caricatures of our ethnicities, with traditional costumes and idiosyncratic accents to identify us as being of a particular racial heritage. We are so much more, so much better and so much more resilient than the definitions and limitations that the politicians have encumbered us with.

I know my great-grandparents came to Malaysia from China a hundred years ago for a reason. They saw this country as a land of opportunity for those willing to work hard. They saw this country as a safe place to start a family and raise their young.

I share their vision and I will be part of the mechanism to make it come true. I know that my fellow Malaysians and I will work together to bring inclusiveness, progress, justice and economic, political and environmental stability to this country.

And I know I am not alone in striving towards this goal.

Link to this post: Letter to the Editor: Capping of Additional School Fees A Welcome Proposal.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Shoebox Project, KL Chapter

A fellow blogger, Mum-In-Malaysia, had defined 'honesty' as the best trait of KL folk in her blogpost entitled "A City Named Honest" . In my response to her post, I had averred that I found generosity to be the best trait of KL-ites.

Nowhere is this generosity more apparent than during the festive season, when senior citizens, underprivileged children and the disabled receive countless gifts and invitations to dinners and parties. Fundraisers held in Kuala Lumpur typically raise far more money than the projected targets. Each time a major newspaper highlights the plight of an underprivileged individual requiring medical treatment, donations start pouring in within the same day. Charity boxes and donation bins in Kuala Lumpur fill up almost as soon as they are fixed in place.

Generous city folk never let the VenusBuzz Community Chest at Bangsar Village go empty. It is almost always full of food and provisions for various charities.

I frequently feel overwhelmed by the love, support and generosity of KL-ites whenever I coordinate any community service project. The same is true of this past month, when I coordinated the Shoebox Project.

The Shoebox Project was initiated by my colleagues who solicited shoeboxes filled with toys, school supplies and treats for refugee children living in Kuala Lumpur. We had 172 beneficiaries on our list, and I decided to get a few friends from my mailing list involved. The response was so immense that I was soon swamped with close to 300 shoeboxes, filled with goodies for underprivileged children, that I had to extend The Shoebox Project to include the following groups of children:
1. Urban disadvantaged schoolchildren living in Setapak, Sentul Dalam and Wangsa Maju;
2. The children of Rumah Nur Salam, Chow Kit; and
3. The orang asli children of Ulu Geroh.

Pretty shoeboxes in festive colours created by my friend Patricia, who got her entire family involved.

Volunteers of different faiths get together to pack and decorate shoeboxes at their office.

The contents of one of my shoeboxes, prior to packing. I simply had to include the toothbrush and toothpaste, seeing as that I was giving the children sugary treats!

Some of the donors invested a lot of time and care into decorating their boxes. I had recommended that the donors do not wrap their boxes with wrapping paper, as it is wasteful, but to cover and decorate the boxes in such a way as to allow the recipients to open and close the boxes with ease, and reuse the boxes as storage boxes.

My dear friends Khairul Anuar and his lovely wife Shireen obviously put a lot of thought and care into their shoeboxes, which had a combination of practical, useful, fun and beautiful things. I can imagine the look of delight on the faces of the schoolchildren who will be receiving these beauties!

On December 20, a number of volunteers got together to deliver school supplies, food aid and shoebox gifts to needy families. I trust the children could feel the love and care that went into each box.

Shoebox Elves at work! My friend Sheela and my mother are all set to deliver the shoebox gifts to children who rarely have anything new to call their own.

My friend Shet Mei brought cheer to a single mother and her young children with these goodie-filled boxes.

Sumathi, a single mother struggling to make ends meet, expressed her gratitude for the school supplies, food and provisions we brought, while her children were simply thrilled with the unexpected gifts. The younger children were speechless with excitement and could only grin at us.

When you are struggling to put food on the table, even items like Milo packets, raisins, fancy school supplies, colour pencils and toys become luxury goods. This little boy was so pleased with his box that he kept opening and shutting it to sneak peeks at the contents, but took nothing out!

To the 200-odd generous KL-ites who contributed their resources, time and energy into creating, filling and delivering these boxes, we thank you! You've made the world a little more beautiful with the cheer you brought!

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Purr-fect Gift: A Second Chance at Life

"Animals are reliable, many full of love, true in their affections, predictable in their actions, grateful and loyal. Difficult standards for people to live up to. "
- Alfred A. Montapert

Would you consider the saving of a life to be an ideal Christmas gift to yourself? Well, two young men obviously did!

On Friday, my friend Dr. Ong called me to inquire as to cat adoption procedures. Her teenage sons, Nigel and Andrew, did not want a PS3, Wii or new cellphone for Christmas. Instead, they wanted a pet cat to love and to care for. Dr. Ong wanted to know if I had any cats left for adoption under Project Second Chance, which is my personal initiative to vaccinate, rehabilitate, neuter and rehome stray animals, but I did not. All the cats that were not adopted are now permanently living with me and are as attached to me as I am to them.

I recommended that they adopt a cat from the SPCA, as the number of animals abandoned and surrendered increases dramatically every holiday season. There are too many people who consider getting rid of their pets as part of their spring-cleaning duties, and many others who have no qualms about surrendering their pets rather than making arrangements for boarding when they wish to go away on vacation. Too many animal lives are needlessly terminated due to overcrowding and lack of capacity.

I informed Dr. Ong that I would be at the SPCA on Saturday and would be able to assist them with the adoption process.

Nigel, Andrew and their dad Chris spent some time getting to know the animals. Andrew took a special liking to Ginger, a one-year-old neutered tomcat.

Their mum, Dr. Ong, signed the adoption papers. The boys will not be eligible to sign the adoption documents until they are 18. This is to reduce the likelihood of animals being adopted by well-intentioned youngsters who may not have a sufficiently strong sense of responsibility to care for an animal. To bring an animal home, care for it for several days and then return the uncomprehending and miserable animal to the shelter when you find that you are unable to cope with the responsibility would be cruel indeed.

Fortunately, I do not foresee that the Patterson boys would be capable of any act of neglect or irresponsibility. They have a weekend job doing delivery work in their neighbourhood and will be using their hard-earned money to purchase cat food and litter with!

"Two cats are easier to care for than one," I advised Dr. Ong. Cats are social creatures and will be happy to have each other's company. Further, if you have two cats, you will not have to feel so guilty about going out and leaving poor Kitty alone at home for the evening.
Her kind-hearted family agreed, especially since there was a tiny kitten in the same cage as Ginger, and they did not have the heart to leave him behind.

Meet the newest members of the Patterson family, Ginger the Tomcat and Rusty the Kitten!

Andrew and Nigel couldn't wait to bring their new pals home. Thank you so much for saving their lives, guys! I hope you have a Paw-some Christmas!

Many more lonely animals await a new home at the SPCA Animal Shelter and from the Independent Pet Rescuers and other Kuala Lumpur-based animal rescue groups. Would you have room in your heart and home for one?