Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Ordinary people, extraordinary deeds: Brian Lariche

The Lariche Made-To-Order Charity Project operates out of Brian’s orderly garage in his tastefully-decorated Bangsar home.

My friendship with the one-man dynamo that is Brian Lariche began in 2001/2002, when I received an email from a colleague requesting food items and provisions for a list of welfare homes, on behalf of an individual named Brian Lariche who works directly with marginalised groups. The beneficiaries were mostly women and children living with HIV/AIDS and included the following welfare organisations:

1. The WAO women’s shelter
P.O. Box 493, Jalan Sultan, 46760 Petaling Jaya, Selangor

2. Rumah WAKE and Rumah Solehah
(‘Safe homes’ for women and children living with HIV/AIDS)

3. Rumah Ozanam and Rumah Jaireh
(Homes for women and children living with HIV/AIDS, both located in Batu Arang, Selangor)

4. Food Not Bombs Kuala Lumpur
(A soup kitchen run by a group of young people who serve vegetarian food to street folk)

5. Tenaganita shelter for trafficked women

The entire office was so impressed with how detailed and organised the wishlist was that we spared no effort in pooling our resources to purchase most of the items needed. I learned during my first encounter with Brian that his e-mail lists would be disseminated once a month or every two months, as the need for food and provisions is a constant one, and meeting those needs can be a struggle for the Homes.

Brian informed me that most of the organisations he chose to work with are related to HIV and abuse victims, as these are his areas of work and interest, and he has determined that they are a marginalised minority in Malaysia. Surplus donations would be distributed to other organisations in need.

Brian has been featured in the Press many times for his work with marginalised groups, and his outreach, awareness and education efforts.

Every 6 weeks or so, Brian would compile a list of items that are needed by the Homes. He would then send an email out requesting the food items. Ideally, the e-mail recipients would respond and inform him what they are able to purchase and deliver. Every 2 days, he would update the said list to remove items which have already been received.

I requested to be included in the mailing list. Over the years, some of my friends continued to contribute. Many others dropped out. New friends were made and some supported our effort by contributing and volunteering.

Brian responded to a need not by complaining and blaming others, but by opening up his home and creating opportunities for other Malaysians to help.

At the age of 15, Brian felt the calling to make a difference in the lives of others. He began by constructing maps for the blind and later ran a club for teenagers at the YMCA. He has come a long way since then.

In an interview with The Edge, Brian asserted: “There are many things about this country I wish I could change and many things I won’t. You can b***h about the country and nothing will change. Or you can do something. I’ll never be a rich man but at least I would have made a difference.”

Brian’s e-mails to his mailing list often include the following proviso:
“Some of you have asked to come along with me to visit the Homes. This is a difficult issue as many people seem to want to visit the homes for some reason. I only visit the homes for a purpose and not to just ‘be there’. If the visit adds no value to the home, I think it should not happen. Especially with the homes for abused kids and HIV+ clients/residents which are meant to be in a secret location anyway so as to not attract the any form of discrimination. Furthermore, some caregivers ‘force’ the children to pay attention or speak to the visitors out of obligation.”

I agree with Brian’s firm stand against publicity and gratuitous visits to welfare homes just so the donors can feel good about seeing ‘where their money went to’. However, Brian also finds and creates opportunities for those who wish to volunteer on a regular basis.

Before my acquaintance with Brian, I had preferred to volunteer with animal welfare and environmental initiatives, as I previously found people – both the donors and recipients – demanding, frequently unreasonable and difficult to work with. Brian inspired me and motivated me to work with people in accordance with their strengths and capabilities. It is through observing and having discussions with him that I learned fundraising and charity event management methods.

Through Brian, I learned that when organising charitable projects, there will always be people who will ask ridiculous questions like, “What race/religion are they (i.e. the recipients)?”, “Why should I give to refugees/ former drug users / sex workers/the poor? They brought it upon themselves!” or “Why should I donate? The government should be paying for all these!”, or who will want to foist off their old clothes and junk on you when neither is requested. And that is alright, because I learned that these are opportunities for us to engage in a civil discussion with others to edify them as to our reasons for doing what we do, for choosing the beneficiaries that we do and for declining well-meaning requests. Very often, we have do-gooders who want to take the children from the Homes out for outings or buy them fast food, without realising that these could harm people with compromised immune systems. With a little persuasion, donors could learn to put the needs of the beneficiaries first, instead of pushing their own agendas.

The Lariche Made-To-Order Charity Project has been operating for the past 9 years, and with Brian at the helm, I believe it will be around for many decades more. Brian’s project has received a lot of positive attention from the media, and this has spawned other community projects such as the Venusbuzz Community Chest in Bangsar Village.

Brian wishes for greater social equity and less economic disparity in Malaysia. I hope we can see that dream come true within our lifetimes.

(You can check out “Community Chest & U” outside the Village Grocer supermarket in Bangsar Village 1, Jalan Telawi, Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur.)


Mum said...

great post. great person. and i salute you for volunteering.
plus a very commonsense point you made about taking the children out for fast-food. very valuable.
i was trying to get some help for then moli's sister whose foot had been amputated -- i didnt know where to go...

thankfully one of my friends decided to help...

but i am sure i can approach brian lariche's organisation for help in the future.

thanks for the information.

~Covert_Operations'78~ said...

Thank you for your kind comment, Mum-in-Malaysia! Poor Moli's sister! Perhaps we could try to compile a list of non-profit organisations that may be able to help. Is she undergoing dialysis at the moment?

Keats The Sunshine Girl said...

Wonderful post! Hats off to Brian ! it takes a lot of commitment to have the drive and to keep going. Nothing is easy in welfare work. Those who are involved make lots of sacrifices.

mum said...

MOLI'S sister had diabetes, and a gangrened foot. i tried to google the list of non profit organisations -- that would help her.

and i didnt find any organisation that would help sponsor her artificial leg.

finally i put it on my facebook status, i told everyone i knew etc
one of the volunteers from art of living malaysia, agreed to donate some money from the corpus.

her foot is still healing from the surgery ... so it still isnt time for buying the artificial limb, may be a week or two later.

but it costs around rm 4000.

thanks for your offer covertop. pls do put a list of organisations that would help people like Moli's sister...

much. much obliged

~Covert_Operations'78~ said...

Thanks for dropping by and for your kind and encouraging words, Keats! Brian is an inspiration.

Dear Mum-in-Malaysia, will try to see if there are any organisations willing to help out, if not, you could organise a collection drive to help her.

Patricia said...

Yes, Brian is an inspiration.

~Covert_Operations'78~ said...

Thanks, dear Pat! I'm so glad you dropped by!