Last February, a tourist spot in Perak experienced hard hit by decreasing tourist, due to the pandemic that had spread to the whole world. This not only worry vendors and businessmen that depend on tourist flow, it also affected street people that beg for food.
RM5 lunch voucher, a warm meal during pandemic
Dr. Ong (pseudonym) and his wife open a clinic in that area, which we called it “Peace Clinic”. Other than providing medical consultation to patients, Dr. Ong also provides free consultation to the homeless street people. Two weeks before the MCO was implemented, seeing that crowd are gone, tourists are decreasing, Dr. and Mrs. Ong started to worry if the street people will be starving and might not be able to survive. Situation became worse when government announced MCO starting on 18 Mar 2020, other than essential services, all entities be it government or private sector must close operation. Without hesitation, both of them quickly discuss their plan in ensuring the continuous food supply for the street people.
They came out with printed lunch voucher and approached the hawkers nearby, asking them whether they are interested to get involved, by way of exchanging one lunch voucher with a warm meal to bless the street people. Each voucher is worth RM5; where Dr. Ong will pay up all the bills. Street people can collect vouchers from the clinic and go to the nearby hawkers to redeem food. Due to shorten hawkers’ business hour during MCO period, they can only provide lunch. When the hawkers came to know of this project, they quickly gave good response. One of the hawkers was moved by Dr. Ong’s good initiative, he/she didn’t bother if the food value is more than RM5.
A lunch voucher in exchange of ready meal, do not only ensure street people a full stomach, the hawkers also helped to ensure that this project will not be abused. There was a case, where one street guy requested to have RM3 worth of food and RM2 of cash instead of providing him with RM5 meal. The hawker immediately declines his request and continue to prepare his RM5 meal.
Kindness. Influences Others. Build Trust
In the beginning of the lunch voucher project, there are about 5 to 6 street people are benefited on daily basis. As the news spreads, the number of beneficiaries increased to 7 to 8 street people, sometimes 12 persons a day.
Before lunch time, the street people will collect the voucher from a nurse in the clinic. The nurse will measure their temperature, provide mask and educate them in practicing social distance so that they learn to protect themselves during the pandemic. It seems like an extra work for the nurses, but Dr and Mrs Ong are touched and glad to see the nurses’ willingness in caring the needy, which has improved their working relationship between one another.
During MCO period, the Social Welfare Department in Perak did not neglect the street people, they turned the stadium into a temporary shelter centre for the street people to ensure they are protected from COVID-19. Some of the street people, perceived that the shelter is a retaining centre, therefore strongly refused to move in. Dr. Ong became the ad hoc coordinator, explained to the street people the reason for setting up a shelter centre, and encouraged the street people to accept the arrangement. After this, half of the street people moved into the centre, where few of them street chose to stray on the street. Despite this, “Peace Clinic” still continue to serve them.
After taking up the role of ad hoc coordinator, Dr. Ong realized that the street people started to trust him. In the beginning, he only offered help in providing food and pandemic prevention, but surprisingly, the street people will approach him recently and seek for his advice when they have doubts and feel anxious about something unknown.
The Cat Lover is gone!
Few days after the project launched, a homeless lady who loves cat very much was disappeared. She was a patient of Dr Ong, and she always carries a kitten with her, that’s why Dr. and Mrs. Ong have strong impression of her.
Dr Ong and Mrs. Ong started to miss her when she didn’t turn up to collect the lunch voucher. One day, a nurse bumped into her, she happily tells her about the lunch voucher project, and asked why she didn’t appear. “Oh! I’m aware of that. But the other places are also providing food, so I go to the other place to collect the food, so I’ll not add on to Dr. Ong’s burden,” she replied and walked off.
When the nurse returned to the clinic, she informed Dr. and Mrs. Ong about the lady. When they heard this, they were greatly touched to know that although she needs to beg for food in order to survive, but she is very thoughtful. The Bible teaches us, “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” From this matter, Mrs. Ong learned that God will care for us when we care for others. “No amount of money can buy this,” Mrs Ong said.
Dry goods a day, in replacement of picking at rubbish dumpsite
Due to the fact that RM5 voucher can only be exchanged with lunch, therefore the street people have to find ways to settle their breakfast and dinner. On one occasion where the street people came to collect their voucher, Dr Ong heard that Mr. M (one of the street people) was about to have his dinner which he found some disposed sacrificial food from the rubbish dumpsite.
Mr. M is a 60 years old man; he was once a technician. Few years ago, he was diagnosed with cervical spondylosis, which requires to use crutches to move around. Lately, his health is deteriorating quickly as he was diagnosed with bladder cancer and heart problem. When Dr. Ong approached him, he found that Mr. M has lost hope to live on. Mr. M is a very independent person, he does not want to cause troubles to others, it could be this reason that he prefers to find food from the dumping site, instead of seeking help from others.
Dr. Ong was helpless and felt sorry for this man. He immediately gave Mr. M a RM5 note, asked him to buy food from nearby convenient store in replacement of the food from dumping site.
Dr Ong learned that the street people are usually starving throughout the night, which makes him ponder on how to provide food for the street people after the stall business hour. As a result, he decided to provide dry goods pack that is sufficient for three meals a day instead of just RM5 lunch voucher. When the street people collect their RM5 lunch voucher, they will be given an additional pack of dry goods such as bread, oats or instance noodle.
Gaining Wisdom in the Process of Helping People
During MCO, the street people will go to “Peace Clinic” daily to collect their lunch vouchers. They became close to Dr. Ong gradually and started to opened up to him. People in the clinic found that these street people are unlike how they perceive of them. People might think that they are lazy, stay idle on the street. But as the street people shared their life stories with the people they met in the clinic, Dr. Ong started to understand that they were forced to wander around the streets due to many reasons. They either faced unemployment due to COVID-19 pandemic, being robbed, fell sick and do not want to trouble their families, refuses to stay in old folk homes, have intellectual disability, drug abused or could not afford room rental.
Mr. C, one of the street people shared his story to Dr. Ong. After Mr. C was released from prison of another country, he came back to Malaysia and took up some odd jobs for living. Unfortunately, in March, he was being robbed, they took his wallet, IC and credit card, everything was gone. Moreover, he lost his job due to pandemic, and the room rental is due. Therefore, he need an amount of money for emergency. The government departments were closed due to pandemic; so he could not do his necessary documents. Eventually, troubles over troubles had pushed him to the street.
On one occasion when Mr. C went to the clinic, he asked Dr. Ong to lend him some money. Worried that he’ll spend the money on drugs, Dr. Ong declined his request and explained that he only provides lunch voucher and dry goods pack. Mr. C responded angrily, refused to take the offer, mumbling a while and walked off. Dr. Ong was stunned by his reaction, worrying that Mr. C will return to disturb the clinic.
On the following day, Mr. C returned. This time, he spoke softly and obediently took the lunch voucher and dry goods pack. Soon after that, he got a job opportunity through a friend’s recommendation, however the employer do not allow him to stay at the workplace. Thus Dr. Ong decided to help him to look for another job so that he can get rid of street life.
Dr. Ong has no experience in handling complex social issue other than providing treatment and medical consultation. In order to help those street people more effectively, he decided to consult social workers and Christian caring organisations, while referring to 7979 COVID-19 Disaster Response Strategies. He made mistakes and learned from the experiences in working with the street people, it has helped him to be more sensitive to others needs and learned to respect their dignity.
7979 COVID-19 Disaster Response Strategies, Let Love Shine amidst COVID-19
In early May, the movement control has started to deregulated, and industries have started to resume business as usual. Dr. Ong has no intention to make the street people to become dependant on lunch voucher and free dry goods. Therefore, he referred them to 7979 COVID-19 special distribution (Manna Food Bank), that can distribute 1 week of food to the street people, so that they will learn to make arrangement for their own meals. At the same time, encouraged them to look for job. Dr. Ong thinks that he was just doing his part in supporting the street people. In fact, Dr. Ong and his wife thought that they had learned a lot from the street people, the hawkers and the nurses. In the end, they discovered that when everyone comes together and contributes each of their parts, the world will be better. Lastly, he also encouraged brothers and sisters in Christ to come together in this pandemic to care for the underprivileged, through assisting them in application of 7979 COVID-19 Disaster Response Strategies, 7979 COVID-19 Special Assistance (Crisis Intervention Program) and 7979 COVID-19 Special Distribution (Manna Food Bank).