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I'm exactly 47 years and one month old today. That's approximately 17,195 days, and not a single day of these had I been short of anything to eat. I have been so very lucky, and blessed, that there had always been more than enough to eat, whether at home or anywhere else. Unless when I was fasting, I had never been hungry for more than a few hours.

Until lately, I have also never known or been anywhere close to anyone who has had to go hungry because of poverty and destitution. I'm certainly not proud of this... in fact, I'm terribly annoyed and ashamed of myself for being so ignorant and oblivious to the fact that hunger and starvation aren't happenings limited to war and drought-stricken countries. They are right here in Malaysia too!

This is no exaggeration nor attempt to sensationalise: there are thousands - possibly tens of thousands of people, urban and rural - who are starving and under-nourished in Malaysia in this `modern and progressive' day and age!

Meeting and knowing some of these people have made me realize how extravagant and superfluous my life has been - at least where food and my eating habits are concerned. Since knowing personally for the first time of a person who has had to go without food for days, I have been very conscious, and repulsive, of food in extravagant abundance. In this month of Ramadhan especially, I cringe when I see, hear
or read about the food bazaars. People proudly show and tell of the feast they have devoured at buka puasa. No, I am not looking down with a holier-than-thou or superior attitude for
I myself have been guilty of this. And I remember with remorse, shame and utter disgust all the past years that I had self-defeated the true purpose of fasting and the fasting month.

Nowadays, I'm ridden with guilt and shame when I eat more than I need to. But changing a long-time habit of more than 40 years is not an easy task. However, at the very least, I try to remember and think of the many, many others who are hungry and starving, and say a doa' for them for their sufferings to end soon. It has also been easier for me to fulfill the non-obligatory fasting every Mondays and Thursdays, as well as on the 13th, 14th and 15th of each month of the Hijrah calendar. And the ultimate is the sadness that I feel when the end of the Ramadhan approaches.


I had met Sury Kassim - now Datin Sury - who was my colleague in ITM and someone whom I had not seen for more than 20 years. Together with her friend N, they had related stories about the homeless, the poor and the hungry... all living in the streets of KL. I was flabbergasted -- I was shocked to know that there are actually many, many people sleeping on the sidewalks, pavements, under bridges and anywhere else they could find, to sleep and a place to call "home". There are also women, some of whom are pregnant, and even whole families living on the streets. I was very disturbed by this unexpected discovery, and didn't have restful sleep for what may have been a week after meeting Datin Sury and N.

It was after this meeting that I personally got to know of a very special person. He had been in a situation where he didn’t have a single ringgit in his pocket, and had been in places where he had to sleep on hard concrete floors. From then on, I couldn’t make myself sleep on my too-comfortable bed any longer. Until today, I have chosen to sleep on a comforter on the floor - something I have happily grown accustomed to. I am grateful that our paths crossed, for we share a common belief that there are so many things for us to appreciate and cherish in life, especially people.

I was very fortunate that day to have met the two angels in disguise; they are volunteers and Team Leaders in an organization called Reach Org. They pack food and drinks where three days/nights a week they hit the streets in KL to distribute the meals to the homeless. The regulars who are familiar with members of this group would come for their food. But the volunteers have made a further effort by seeking those who shun outsiders and remain in their hiding places. This takes place well into the night and through the early morning.
According to N, when there are not enough male volunteers, the women volunteers will walk the streets on their own searching for those in need of food, comfort or basic medical aid.

On the 29th of August, 2010, upon N's long-awaited invitation, I had the opportunity to join the volunteers and their homeless friends to a sahur organized by the group, which was in addition to the usual food distribution programme. The event was supposed to be held at an open paved area near Kotaraya. However, the wet weather forced the party to be moved to the covered sidewalk. This was a first -- normally, the food is only handed. But that night was different and special - the volunteers actually sat down and ate with the homeless, in an effort to get to know them in person, to bond with them and to foster a closer relationship.

I extended the invitation to Aiman, my 22-year-old son, and was pleasantly surprised, and proud, that he agreed immediately despite it being a Saturday night. It was still drizzling when we arrived just after 3a.m., and were a little disappointed that there were not as many of the homeless people as I had expected. Apparently, there were strong winds earlier and many had gone back. I was told that along that particular stretch of sidewalk alone there could have been as many as 50 homeless people sleeping at night.

Nevertheless, there was a festive mood in the air despite the drizzle. The homeless were seen tucking happily into their generous meal of rice, assam fish (it could have been tenggiri), fried chicken, half a salted egg and even sambal belacan to top it off. Aiman commented that the food tasted really good - in fact, it was much better than the paid meals he had at a recent trip to Taman Negara! We got our plates of food from one of the volunteers, who went around with a tray and serving everyone with a delightful smile on his face.

We were introduced to two street “otais”, and Aiman and I sat to eat with them while they told us their stories.
They were full of praise for the organization and its members, specifically mentioning N. They see and feel the sincerity, warmth and even love in the volunteers; so much so that they were badly missed if they did not appear as usual. “Never mind the food,” they said, “It’s their presence and their company that we look forward to every week.”

It was of no surprise then that I could sense the positive vibrations permeating through the air. It came from each and every one of them; of people doing this with their hearts... because they cared, for people whom others didn’t... perhaps not even their own families. They offer comfort and inspiration to those not as fortunate, and this is to be the start of bigger missions for the organization.

I was looking forward to meet the founder of the organization, whom I had easily spotted earlier. Tall and lean, he was sporting the black-and-white Palestine muffler around his neck, and nothing on his head. Peter Nicoll is from Scotland, married to a Malaysian and has now lived here for 14 years. Pete, as he is known to everyone, loves Malaysia and hopes to die here. And he shows it. His noble efforts and aspirations put to shame many of us born Malaysians, who profess to love the country, who complain and lament. Yet we are unwilling to sacrifice the time, energy and money for others. And we do nothing to make the country a better place to live in, not only for ourselves but for others too. Never mind to risk their safety and lives in an effort to bring some respite and hope to down-and-out strangers. Too busy and concerned with me, my, I and mine to care about others, we forget, or don’t ever realise, that possessing true happiness is actually in making others happy.


Good post, Aniza. It's very interesting and revealing... and disturbing due to the presence of the homeless and the hungry in the midst of relative prosperity. For as long as these unfortunate people are not given the chance to pull themselves out of this miserable situation, we can't consider ourselves as "caring". By the way, this post will be even better if you can add more pictures.

01 September, 2010 07:40  

Salam Bro MC, thank you for leaving your footprint here, and for the positive comment. The other pictures taken by Aiman didn't turn out too well; perhaps he should learn a thing or two or three from you :-) InsyAllah I'll be joining the midnight street food programme this Saturday and try to get more pictures and an update. And Abang Mat, thank you for caring.

02 September, 2010 07:30  

Dear Aniza,
Many thanks for your blog on the work we are doing at Reach Org. We are very grateful for your time with us and look forward to sharing more 'adventures' on the street with you and the family.
Don't know about the 'tall and lean'. Tall maybe!! Not so lean hehe.
Take care and look forward to working with you again soon.


14 September, 2010 13:44  

Dear Pete
Thank you for visiting Pete. The pleasure is all mine, really. I'm not much of a writer but was just so compelled to jot down and share my experiences, with the hope of opening more eyes and hearts to the plight of the needy. And you guys at Reach Org are doing a great job. You can certainly count on me to join in your activities - I'm hooked!

Warmest regards

14 September, 2010 21:33  

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