Monday, February 1, 2010

The Shoebox Project: Photos from December

We've finally got some photos of the Burmese Refugee Children Christmas Party held on 18 December 2009, after a long wait! Thank you to all our wonderful contributors who ensured that no child went home empty-handed. The initial request was for 172 presents, but we received over 300 presents in the end, which meant that the extra presents could be distributed to children from other vulnerable communities. Some of you may not be able to recognise your presents, as the other volunteers and I have wrapped and decorated the boxes that were not wrapped. The age of the children in this particular community school range from 6 to 16. The final two photos are of the teens. As you can see, your kindness brought them a lot of joy. For many of them, it is probably the first time they have received a Christmas gift.

Friday, January 22, 2010

International Refugee Food Fair

The UNHCR Office in Kuala Lumpur recently held an International Refugee Food Fair from 20th - 22nd January 2010 to generate income for the refugee communities and to bring the various communities closer together through food. It was also an opportunity for the staff and volunteers to sample the food of the communities that they have been working with.

A copy of the menu for the day.

Somali sambousa (i.e. samosa) with a filling of potatoes, peas and meat.

Somali Abu Timir Cake.

Sri Lankan Fish and Potato Cutlets.

Sri Lankan Ulunthu Vadai (Vegetarian).

Sri Lankan 'Kool' - A spicy seafood soup.

Sri Lankan 'Roti' (flatbread) with Seeni Sambal (sweet and spicy onion relish) on the left, and Modaka/Modak sweetmeat made with flour, coconut, green beans, sugar and spices on the right. Hindu friends will know Modaka as the sweet offered to Lord Ganesha every Vinayagar Chatthurti.

Shan noodles (Siang Lah Miang) from Myanmar, cooked in a soup containing tomato and dried shrimps.

Afghan 'Zereskh' - Mixed rice and chicken.

Note: I could not provide food reviews as most of the food is not vegetarian. In addition, in some of the photos, you may notice that Styrofoam tableware was used, simply because the particular communities did not bring sufficient tableware. Nobody had thought of supplying the stalls with biodegradable tableware, which would be more expensive but less harmful to the environment. Measures could be taken in future to create incentives for customers who bring their own cutlery, takeaway containers and tableware.

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)
Address: 570, Jalan Bukit Petaling, 50460 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Telephone: (603) 2141 1322
Fax: (603) 2141 1780

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

SPCA Charity Gala: Black Solid Gold!

After years of applying to purchase the land that our animal shelter is situated on, SPCA Selangor is finally able to legally own the premises, thanks to the efforts of the Selangor State Government, which approved the application for land alienation. For the past few months, all of us at the shelter have been very excited over the plans to transform and remodel the animal shelter into an aesthetically-pleasing eco-friendly shelter that can house 300 dogs and 200 cats.

The new eco-friendly facility is designed by award-winning architect Hijjas Kasturi, who offered his services pro bono. Hijjas Kasturi, his wife and his family are no strangers to volunteering and have dedicated a lot of their time, effort and resources to worthy causes.

To raise funds for our highly ambitious remodelling plans, SPCA Selangor organised a fundraising dinner featuring Chairperson Christine Chin's husband, Donne Ray Radford, who would be singing R&B, soul and funk hits from the '70s and '80s. I have heard Donne perform before, at the fundraising do at Noble Banquet in 2007, and was delighted to be offered a seat at the volunteers' table. I knew my parents would enjoy the dinner and programme, and so we purchased dinner tickets so we could attend the event together and contribute to this worthy cause.

SPCA Charity Gala: Black Solid Gold! Dress code: 80's Retro!

The Charity Gala, which took place at the Sabah Ballroom of Shangri-La, was highly successful. Merchandise sales were brisk. There was even a wine auction and a magic show as precursors to the main attraction.

Donne Ray Radford, former lead singer of The Platters, in his element. You couldn't help but want to get up and dance!

As we would say back in the '80s, it has been a most excellent party, fur sure!

To find out ways to support SPCA Selangor, come visit our current animal shelter any day, from 0900 - 1600 hours!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

"Give Peace A Chance"

The January 7 arson attacks on four churches in the Klang Valley have unleashed the best and the worst in Malaysians.

While the mainstream media has been exercising restraint in their reporting of the incidents, not all bloggers have demonstrated the same level of mindfulness. Some of the bloggers I have previously followed expressed such prejudice, hatred and suspicion in their opinions that I have decided that they are not people I wish to retain as my friends. Others made unfounded and preposterous allegations of the arson attacks being political manoeuvres by either party, depending on which side you are on. The more erudite bloggers have been holding forth endlessly on how the random acts of violence are the results of years of corruption, reverse discrimination, marginalisation of certain groups and the undermining of the independence of the judiciary and the doctrine of separation of powers.

I am not convinced that the attacks are the outcome of political machinations. I am not convinced that the situation is under control, as our nation's leaders would have us believe. I am not convinced that the incidents were isolated and unrelated incidents.

What I do know, however, is that is it now truly a battle between "us" and "them".

"Us" constitutes those of us who are not merely paying lip service to the ideas of peace and tolerance, but who actively reach out to others in a spirit of friendship, compassion and conciliation. "Us" is those of us who believe that a fundamental way of battling corruption is by living our lives with integrity -- by not offering or accepting bribes; by not "pulling strings" and relying on "connections" to secure jobs, contracts, titles and places in favoured institutions; by not transgressing housing and public order regulations and then expecting the authorities to "close one eye"; by not purchasing illegal and pirated goods or patronising illegal outlets; by not creating opportunities for dishonesty and corruption. "Us" is those of us who believe that the way to lasting and peaceful change is through democratic means and through public education efforts, and that the only way to counter bad ideas is through better ideas, and not through censorship, the suppression of civil liberties or exploiting the ignorance of certain groups.

"Them" is made up of those who respond with hatred, suspicion and malice. "Them" are the ones who utter incendiary words and expect the worst of people. "Them" are those who spread fear and hatred and disseminate unfounded rumours and implicate individuals and groups. "Them" are those who hold the "I am better than you" and "Serves you right" mentalities. "Them" are the ones who are arrogant, unthinking and fearful of those who are different.

I urge all of you, gentle readers, not to respond in fear and suspicion, but to pause to reflect instead, on how the arson attacks have also brought out the best in Malaysians.

Consider the goodwill gesture of a group of Malaysians of different faiths and backgrounds who responded to an appeal on Facebook and came together at Bukit Bintang to hand out flowers to passersby in a gesture of goodwill and friendship. I may not be entirely convinced that "everything's going to be alright", but I do know that with individuals such as Chi Too and his friends who courageously turned up at Bukit Bintang, there is immense hope that our country will rise above its failings and shortcomings to be united, strong, progressive and resilient.

Youths giving away flowers as a sign of friendship and unity at a busy intersection at Jalan Bukit Bintang yesterday in the wake of arson attacks on four churches on Friday. — M. AZHAR ARIF / The Star

Photo and caption reproduced from The Star, without permission but in accordance with the principles of fair use.

And today, 130 Muslim NGOs volunteered to help protect churches by patrolling and checking on churches in their neighbourhoods and reporting on suspicious activities in a gesture of goodwill.

These sincere gestures touch our hearts precisely because they are so rare that they have become newsworthy.

Our duty today and henceforth is to make an earnest effort to ensure that goodwill gestures such as these will no longer be exceptional or isolated.

I foresee the attacks are not going to stop immediately. But if we were to react with fear and hatred, we would be letting "Them" win. Our duty therefore is to respond with courage and goodwill, as the groups above have.

The only way we can make our nation strong is by extending a hand in friendship, compassion and trust to others. Don't just sit there complaining that the investors have lost confidence in Malaysia -- play your part by living your life with integrity and reducing opportunities for corruption and illegal activities! Don't whinge about how Malaysian society is no longer what it used to be -- say hello and introduce yourself to a neighbour, a new colleague, the postman or waste collectors, the stranger who happens to share your dinner table at an event! (P/S: Thank you, Mum and Dad!) Be diligent at work, but also take the time to volunteer your time and skills and contribute your resources to worthy causes, because sharing is a privilege and a pleasure.

The groups above have taken a step towards creating a better and more peaceful Malaysia for all. Let us make it our New Year resolution to follow their lead and make peace, stability and unity our responsibility. For we are One, and we are strong, and we are better than those who try to stoke the fires of hatred. And we shall overcome, but only if we all play our part.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

New Year 2010: Merrymaking in the Mangroves and Mudflats!

(This entry is posted after the conclusion of the Blog4FT contest and the events herein were not conducted in Kuala Lumpur. This blogpost is posted for the benefit of the followers of this blog and contributors to the Shoebox Project.)

Sometime in the final week of 2009, I decided that at least 40 of the surplus shoebox gifts I received from our generous contributors could go to the hardworking and deserving children of Kelab Alami, a nature club set up by Cikgu Bakhtiar and Cikgu Zurina, dedicated teachers who I met while volunteering with Save Our Seahorses (SOS Malaysia), in Tanjung Kupang, Johor. The club is assisted and co-coordinated by my dear friend, Serina, and the members of the club are local children who mostly come from the fishing community.

Most of the children come from low-income families, and some are from truly disadvantaged backgrounds. The objective of the club is to inculcate a love of the environment in the children and provide them with basic knowledge in natural history and ecology. Among the projects they have undertaken this year include data collection visits to the seagrass beds and mangrove forests and the establishment of an organic vegetable patch. Since the children have worked hard all year, I made plans to throw them a New Year's Day party and hand out shoebox gifts filled with school supplies and other treats.

My buddy Zawalan was roped in to assist and we started our journey on the morning of New Year's Eve. Serina had also informed us of pollution having occurred in the vicinity of the seagrass beds and I wanted to accompany her to visit the site to collect samples.

We arrived at Pendas Jetty in Tanjung Kupang, Johor, at 1730h. Serina, some of the children and teachers, and our marine scientists Alfian and Leena, were already waiting in the boat. Off we went to visit the seagrass beds to see what could be done to mitigate the damage done to the ecologically-sensitive area.

31 Dec 2009
Serina took her charges, Udin and Amal, along with us to visit the affected seagrass bed in Tanjung Adang.

31 Dec 2009
A sea squirt at the seagrass bed in Tanjung Adang, looking rather poorly.

31 Dec 2009
I checked on yet another poorly-looking "chocolate chip" starfish at the pollution site.

31 Dec 2009
One of the club members, Jannah, inspects the sections of pipe planted in the seagrass bed 2 months ago as part of an experiment on seaweed and seagrass habitats.

31 Dec 2009
Ebony and Ivory... Live together in perfect harmony...

31 Dec 2009
We went out for our New Year's Eve dinner at Awana restaurant in Gelang Patah, as there were no shops and eateries open in the village after dark.
From left to right: Alfian, Leena, Serina, Lan and Zawalan.

1 Jan 2010
Serina's kampung house is the only one in the entire village with a Christmas tree. The kids were absolutely fascinated by it. For many, it was the first time they have seen a Christmas tree in the flesh.

1 Jan 2010
The Kelab Alami organic vegetable patch, maintained by the hardworking children and teens of Kelab Alami Tanjung Kupang, behind Serina's rented pad.

1 Jan 2010
The children started arriving for the party in the afternoon and Serina required a few of them to complete a natural history survey.

1 Jan 2010
To keep the youngsters who have completed their surveys occupied, I organised a nature-related Scavenger Hunt outside and instructed the children to search for specific stones, fruits, leaves and grasses. The first child to bring me the correct object receives a prize. This game had the children running all over the streets and climbing trees and over fences. I gave out over 20 packs of stickers, writing equipment, felt-tip pens and chocolates, which were loose items left over from the Shoebox Project.

1 Jan 2010
The entire village was our playground on New Year's Day. Due to space constraints indoors, we took our Pass-the-Parcel game outdoors. My version had a natural history / Green Living component, for which the youngsters had to answer questions like "Name one way to conserve water at home" and "Name one way to improve fuel economy" before they could have the goodies buried under each layer of paper.

1 Jan 2010
The feline club mascot had a field day begging scraps from everyone.

1 Jan 2010
Tea-time for the Kelab Alami youngsters does not have to be an elaborate affair. I paid for the fried noodles, green bean soup and iced syrup. Serina supplied a watermelon and lots of apples and oranges. A friend, Desmond, contributed chocolate wafers and biscuit bars.

1 Jan 2010
The youngsters were all shiny-eyed and excited over the lovely gifts they received. Most boxes had high quality school supplies in Cartoon Network/Disney themes that our rural children could not afford or could not find in their local shops. The school supplies made practical but fun gifts for the children of Kelab Alami. Once again, I would like to thank our generous sponsors for their thoughtful gifts!

1 Jan 2010
After the party, Shoebox Elves Serina, Jannah and Cikgu Zurina helped me sort and label the remaining gifts for the children who could not attend the party. Most village children either had household chores to do or had to work at little jobs during the school holidays.

We also decided in the evening that some of the remaining gifts could go to the very needy Orang Asli (indigenous) community in Kampung Simpang Arang in Gelang Patah the following day. We opened up the boxes to make the items easier to distribute, as there would not be enough boxes for all, and even if there were, entire boxes full of school supplies would be of limited use to children who do not attend school.

2 Jan 2010
The following morning, we dropped by Kampung Simpang Arang in Gelang Patah to distribute presents and treats to the children. I tried to make them queue up so that I could hand out school supplies to those who do attend school, and hand out presents according to age, gender and need, but it soon descended into anarchy. No one was listening to my pleas to queue up anymore. It was an unpleasant experience as I have hitherto had only positive encounters with our friends from the indigenous communities.

The children of Kampung Simpang Arang were patently impoverished. Many were sickly and clad in rags. Some had such sore and infected eyes that I was surprised they could see what I brought them. They screamed, snatched and fought with each other over the toys. I am glad we made the decision to hand out individual items rather than entire boxes and expect them to share. For our next visit, I think it would be wiser and better for us to give them clothes, soap, shampoo, toothpaste and toothbrushes instead.

2 Jan 2010
One of the boys in the Kg. Simpang Arang Orang Asli Village had found an abandoned baby otter and decided to hand-raise it until it was strong enough to be released. Thankfully, no one tried to sell it to us and the people seem determined to nurse it back to health.

We left Johor on the afternoon of 2nd January and made our way back to Kuala Lumpur. It has been a productive and enjoyable trip, and I was pleased to have spent my New Year in the company of dear friends. Work and the City beckons, and next weekend I will be back at the SPCA animal shelter and be kept busy henceforth for the rest of the year with work and coordinating other projects.

2010 is off to a good start!