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The Reach Org logo on its founder

That’s it...I’m hooked. I’m totally hooked.  I still can’t figure out what it is exactly that excites me and drives me to this state of becoming passionate about Reach Org and this new found activity.
One thing for sure, I am easily affected and influenced by images, and the Reach Org logo was definitely an image that had attracted me from the very beginning.  The impact hit me right in my heart and down to the guts of my stomach. It speaks volumes about the organization; the vibrations I received from it were only inspiring, uplifting and positive ones. The very first time I saw the logo I had felt that this organization had a big mission, and that the way to achieve it was through love, compassion, sincerity, steadfastness, tolerance and true friendship. 

And yes, the leaders and members of Reach Org are undeniably epitomes of these. That’s what makes their Street Food Programme so enjoyable, for me at least. They share a common belief that all poor, homeless people, regardless of race and religion, without prejudice and discrimination, need a form of respite. Before this, I have never seen such a show of genuine care and attention given to those living on the streets. Amongst the members themselves, there is much laughter and fostering of close friendships, and the sense of comradeship is very evident.   

On my outing with them last Saturday, I had tried to squeeze some secrets out of Pete, the founder of Reach Org, as to what made him delve into volunteer work for the homeless with such passion. To initiate and manage a programme such as this needs boundless spiritual, emotional, mental and physical energy. There must be a driving factor that is a resource for him to create, sustain and project these energies not only for himself but to all those within the group. 
Pete in a serious mood, telling me about the harsh realities of street living and people. Pic by Jeff

I didn’t get a specific answer from Pete that night. He didn’t seem to want to talk about the past. He just spoke of his vision of what he wants Reach Org to achieve now and in the future. He has all his plans laid out and strategies in order; I reckon he would be using all his experience, training, knowledge and skills he acquired during his career in the Police force. His attire is definitely proof of this!

Walking alongside Pete with his "chota" and army boots, I'm not afraid of any big, bad wolf that might pounce on me!

At that moment, I saw another side of Pete; the very serious side of him. Before this he came on as a very jovial and comical person, with a thick Scottish accent to match. But where work is concerned, there are no loose ends with Pete. He is on top of things and is always in total control of the situation. 

Back to my curiosity about the reasons behind the creation of Reach Org, I just had to concur that, there is no reason. There is no need for a reason. It just needs to be done. Pete, I stand corrected.

I mulled over it and finally arrived at this. If we look for reasons to do things other than for ourselves, we would also look for excuses not to, especially in situations where sacrifice is required of us. Thus we actually create within ourselves, obstacles, limitations, difficulties and delays in our efforts to achieve a better life.

The truth is, when we do things for others selflessly, without expecting anything in return, we create a totally new dimension in our own lives, an elevation and extension of the previous one, filled with a sense of love, peace, harmony, happiness, contentment and everlasting joy.  These feelings will come from within us, and will remain in us, regardless of any shortcomings in life. They are not dependant on other people or materialistic gains, which grant only superficial and/or short-lived gratification. Doesn’t makes any sense?  Maybe not, but I’m very sure Reach Org members will know exactly what I mean.

That night was the acid test of my self-declared commitment to do volunteer work with Reach Org. For me, making a commitment means my Saturday and Monday nights are dedicated to this programme. It’s not an agenda only “when there is nothing else to do”.  But that night, I had actually already fallen blissfully asleep on the oh-so-comfy sofa. For a moment, upon waking up, I had contemplated on whether I should go... and there were many excuses not to. Among others, I was feeling tired, having had a long day in the clinic, it was a Saturday night, Hari Raya was still being celebrated everywhere with open houses, and it was raining. And how I love to be at home on rainy nights! 

I thought a call to N, Director and Team Leader of Reach Org, and listening to her booming voice might jolt me into gear, but the call went unanswered. The heart was so willing to go on the streets to be with the homeless friends that night, but the body defied and begged otherwise.  Trying very hard to shake off the heaviness, and laziness if you must, I reminded myself that I had waited anxiously for this Saturday night; I was not about to give in to this selfishness and evil nafs to fulfill my own pleasure and comfort!
Me in the Reach Org tee. Pic by Jeff Orr
The turning point was the T-shirt; the instant I saw the bright, cheerful and inspirational logo on the T-shirt in my cupboard, nothing could stop me from joining the Reach Org members on this cold, rainy night. For whatever reasons, I  had felt much pride donning the T-shirt as I was proud to be with Reach Org. I felt important, I was going to represent this organization and make more than one person happy that night. I was going to make someone feel that he/she mattered enough for me to be out in the rain on a cold and wet Saturday night. 

Once in my Reach Org t-shirt, I was supercharged and ready to take on the streets of KL. Lightning streaked across and down the dark skies menacingly and strong winds whipped through the trees, but the threat of a brewing storm couldn’t match my enthusiasm.

I waited for (Datin) Sury and N at the Reach Org Centre in Damansara Utama and it was almost midnight when they arrived, together with a new member, Chik. The rain was getting heavier, but it was not about to dampen our spirits. We headed for Restoran  Aji, next to Menera Maybank where Pete, Jeff and wife Ling, Jaja, Amin, Naomi and Ash were already waiting. The rain got even heavier for a while, and as we waited for it to subside, Zahidah a friend of mine, who had read about the organization on this blog, appeared.
Amin, an Iranian medical student and dedicated volunteer and Jaja, boisterous and most hardworking Team Leader

Zahidah, who was nursing a bout of flu, had driven all the way from Ampang by herself to join the street feeding programme. For her determination, I take off my hat to her. After an introduction to everyone around the table, N briefed Zahidah on street feeding “etiquette” and rules.  Among others, we are not to awaken sleeping clients, and their food packets are to be quietly placed next to them. We are not to step on their “beds”- normally made of flattened carton boxes or newspapers. For obvious reasons, we have to always work in a team, at the very least, in a pair wherever we are.

Having been feeding the street people every week without fail for the past two years, Reach Org and its members are known among most of the clients. Wearing the corporate t-shirts made members even more recognizable.

As the rain subsided to a drizzle, we set out in five cars. The usual routes on this midnight run included Jalan Pudu, Brickfields, Dayabumi, Klang Bus Terminal, Kotaraya, Jalan Masjid India and Masjid Negara. In most places, we saw much fewer people than normal, as most had probably gone inside buildings to find drier and warmer places to sleep.  

It was almost 4a.m. when we gave out the last packet of food around Kotaraya and Menara Maybank. As usual, all the members were still in high spirits at the end of the midnight route, especially with Pete and Jaja endlessly creating a racket with their bantering.
Who wouldn't like working with a happy bunch of people like these?
 From left, Jeff, N, Chik, Zahida and Pete
This is it, I thought, the esprit de corps, this is perhaps the most important factor that appealed to me and attracted me to be a part of the group. There is a common desire and aspiration to make life a little better for others not as fortunate. True to their word, in the early hours of that Sunday morning, Reach Org was there to deliver, even in cold and wet conditions, food, comfort and compassion to homeless people in the heart of Kuala Lumpur. 

Above, me and Datin Sury, co-founder and Director. Below, Naomi and Ash

There are many words to describe the good in these volunteers, but the obvious that came to my mind, is this - their selfless devotion, a virtue that will be very hard to find in any other individual or group, which is also the essence of Reach Org. These are the people who really know the true meaning of caring.

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.

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