Wednesday, 11 December 2013
Carrying out service projects on my birthday is something I have been doing for years without really making plans about it.
I spent the entire December 2009 coordinating the immensely stressful Shoebox Project. My birthday in 2011 was spent in the company of animals at the Bentong Farm Sanctuary, while my birthday week in 2012 was a frenzy of volunteer and social commitments.
When I found out about The Birthday Project, read this article and viewed this video, I saw Birthday Random Acts of Kindness (RAOKs) as something fun, memorable and achievable.
The beauty of random acts of kindness to me lies in the fact that we see everyone -- and not just certain needy individuals and established organisations -- as deserving beneficiaries. Random acts of kindness encourage us to be mindful in our daily lives to people we would normally not be considerate and mindful to, such as fellow road users and shoppers.
Carrying out intentional acts of kindness for random beneficiaries compels us to live more graciously, consciously, courteously and gratefully. I didn't want to rush through all 35 acts in a day. I don't find it meaningful to dash through hospitals and shelters without having the time to stop and do something hands-on. I wanted to do it my way, and carry out the 35 acts over the space of one month (9th Nov 2013 - 9th Dec 2013).
I am not arrogant enough to believe that I am "making the world a better/happier place" or that I would be inspiring others to do the same. Change comes from sustained and committed actions, not from one-off donations and consumable goods. Carrying out 35 Acts of Kindness on my 35th birthday was to me not a way of making a major difference, but a way of expressing gratitude for the many blessings in my life.
So here are the 35 for my 35th:
1. 9th Nov 2013:
I signed Aravind and myself up for the Wild Tiger Run to raise awareness and funds for tiger conservation. We both completed 10km in under 1 hour 20 minutes and received our Finisher's Medals. I have been a supporter of and volunteer for MYCAT, the Malaysian Conservation Alliance for Tigers, since its inception in 2009.
2. 9th Nov 2013:
Aravind and I picked up a stray kitten from Puchong where he regularly feeds strays that we hope to trap, neuter and release. This little tortoiseshell girl (now named Paisley) has feline mange, so I decided to foster her until she has made a full recovery and can be vaccinated, spayed and rehomed.
Here she is at the vet, after receiving her first ivermectin shot.
And this is what Paisley looks like now. She has made a complete recovery and will be ready for rehoming after spaying.
3. 11th Nov 2013:
I surprised a Diet Coke-addicted colleague with these Birthday Cokes on Monday. It was unexpected, he loved it and received a lot of attention for it. Many Happy Returns, Nazim!
4. 12th Nov 2013:
Provided an employment reference for a friend, Katie M, who had volunteered for SPCA Selangor. I wrote in the capacity of a senior volunteer. She got the job, but I don't know if my reference had anything to do with it.
5. 13th Nov 2013:
Took 2 of my junior colleagues out for dinner at MyBurgerLab because one of them was leaving for an overseas posting with the United Nations Volunteers. I could have done the easy thing and bought her a trinket, but I wanted to spend time with her. I also offered to provide a good employment reference for her if she needs one in future. Bon Voyage and Good Luck, Brianne!
6. 18th Nov 2013:
Contributed to our office's fund for the victims of Typhoon Haiyan, and made an additional donation on behalf of my parents and Aravind. The funds collected would be channelled to our headquarters, and then the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) will decide how best to utilise the funds to help in disaster relief and rebuilding efforts.
7. 21st Nov 2013:
Aravind and I sponsored school uniforms, a new backpack, school supplies and school fees for an Orang Asli (indigenous community) child each under a project initiated by friends of Jennifer, one of our ReachOut Malaysia food run cordinators. We hope to make the children's back-to-school experience more enjoyable.
8. 22nd Nov 2013:
Our friend Amanda who volunteers with the visually-impaired community sent out a Facebook appeal about a visually-impaired individual who had to replace an audiobook player. Aravind and I offered to chip in and help him buy a replacement audiobook player.
9. 23rd Nov 2013:
Had to get the Battletank's spark plug and cable replaced at the mechanic's after classes on Saturday. Bought Cokes for the mechanic and 3 assistants as it was a hot afternoon.
10. 23rd Nov 2013:
Had initially planned to participate in the Silent Walk for special needs children and youth, but arrived 15 mins too late for the candlelight walk. Aravind and I donated money to the organisation for their education/outreach programmes all the same.
11. 24th Nov 2013:
Agreed to a last-minute request from the Malaysian Nature Society secretariat to set up a Green Living environmental education/games booth at Publika for the Science Film Festival.
We didn't get that many visitors but this isn't something we can predict or plan in advance. At least we (volunteers Liza, Illani, Sheela, Aravind and me) did our best. Green Living's volunteers work very hard and we pay for our own transport, meals and often also the cost of materials.
12. 24th Nov 2013:
Stopped by MPH Bookstore to get adhesive tack and saw that their Christmas tree was up and they had started their annual Share-A-Gift campaign, so I picked a name off a tree and bought a book for a 17-year-old special needs boy. I don't know his reading level or interests, so I bought him a copy of "Rain Forests: A Photographic Celebration" and wrote a message on the gift tag. I hope in future the bookstore will include the gift recipients' interests on the tag to make gift selection easier for the giver.
13. 25th Nov 2013:
Stopped by Ikea for fairtrade coffee and a slice of almond cake as I was grocery shopping at Tesco. The Ikea Cafe was packed with the school holiday crowd and the tables were full of dirty plates. The staff were kept busy clearing tables. When I was done with my meal, I cleared not only my tray but also the trays and dirty dishes from the neighbouring tables. The Cafe staff looked confused, then bemused, and then grateful. Patrons quickly occupied the now-cleared tables. One of the Cafe staff said to me: "You're not local, are you?" I had to laugh. Malaysians never clear their own tables, let alone other tables.
14. 25th Nov 2013:
There were lots of stray shopping carts at the Tesco parking lot, and some of them were blocking the exits and cars, so I pushed the shopping carts back to the cart corrals. Shopping would be a more pleasant experience if people were considerate enough to return their shopping carts. How hard can it be to just return one? It took me only 10 minutes to return at least 20.
15. 25th Nov 2013:
Took the recyclables out to the bins at the community centre up the road from the bachelor pad after I came home from Ikea and Tesco. The bins were only half-full but there were bottles, bags and cans scattered on the ground in front of the bins. Maybe someone had tried to tip the contents of their bag into the bins and some of their recyclables fell out. I picked them up and put them in the corresponding bins, and since the lights at the basketball court and futsal court were still on, I went around the park and playground picking up litter and recyclables and putting them into the proper bins.
16. 27th Nov 2013:
Aravind and I sponsored 25 meals (at RM4 each) for ReachOut Malaysia.
17. 27th Nov 2013:
I had purchased some children's encyclopaedias and picture books from the SPCA Charity Shop and delivered them (along with some other children's activity books and almost-new toys) to one of our ReachOut Malaysia Run Leaders, Jennifer, to be delivered to indigenous children living in rural areas. Since I bought the books from a charitable organisation, it's a double win. The books are saved from the landfill and we save resources all around.
18. 28th Nov 2013:
I gave bags of Nescafe mixes and Boh Tea mixes to the office cleaning ladies. When you are earning minimum wage, purchasing hot beverages from the office cafeteria or vending machine can be costly.
19. 28th Nov 2013:
The Nepali security guards who do such a good job of keeping us and our office safe, and who are always ready to help with heavy furniture, wheelchairs and prams are not forgotten. I got them bags of Nescafe and Boh Tea mixes as well. They were appreciative but not surprised -- I am one of the few people who greet them by name each day and regularly purchase food and drinks for them, especially during the festive season.
20. 28th Nov 2013:
I stayed back in the office at night to secretly clean out the office pigeonhole. The photos aren't that clear, but in the "Before" picture, you can see that it is messy, disorganised and full of lint and dust. I spent close to an hour cleaning it out, reorganising the documents and putting documents in clear folders.
21. 28th Nov 2013:
Once I was done cleaning the office pigeonhole, the office fridge was next. Actually, the fridge came from my roommates and me, my colleagues just had to pay to transport it to the office. Well, in the last 6 months, it became pretty grotty, especially since someone let a can of Diet Coke freeze and explode in the freezer compartment. I spent another hour cleaning it out, throwing away all the expired food, wiping down all jars and containers and washing all the racks and produce drawer. It looks a lot better in the "After" photo, doesn't it?
22. 30th Nov 2013:
Was informed by our friend Dr. Ille of this charity event, so Aravind and I attended the Austrian-German-Swiss Charity Christmas Bazaar at the Luther Centre to raise funds for selected Malaysian charities.
Bought fairtrade gifts made by the refugee and differently-abled communities and homemade cakes, pastries and traditional German fare, and stayed for the children's orchestra.
23. 1st Dec 2013:
When I first saw these low-cost apartments, I thought they were abandoned. They were dirty, rundown and full of trash and gutted vehicles. Then I found out that families actually live there, and the children would play football and other games on the field each day.
I was inspired by this blogpost I read so I decided to do something similar. I left a ball and pump under a tree on the field, with a note informing the finder that the ball is a gift for him/her.
24. 3rd Dec 2013:
This playground is within walking distance of my bachelor pad and it gets pretty busy there in the evenings. The equipment are relatively old and creaky. I went over around lunchtime when it was quiet and lubricated all the rusty, creaky parts with WD40. Before I left, I also picked up litter from the playground, park and front of the community centre/recycling drop-off and put the litter in the waste bins.
25. 3rd Dec 2013:
A charming little cafe, The Bulb, not far from where I live made a Facebook appeal for donations of used books and magazines for their customers' reading pleasure.
This was an easy request to satisfy. I selected some good quality reading materials that I was ready to part with and took them to the shop.
The young man who runs the cafe was delighted and made me a latte with a heart on it. I hope more people drop by for coffee and cake. It really is much nicer, friendlier and more welcoming here than in most coffee chains.
26. 3rd Dec 2013:
A few months ago, my friend Rukmini mailed me an RSPCA New Zealand sticker. I decided to surprise her with a little Christmas parcel comprising a kitten notebook from the Independent Pet Rescuers Malaysia and a card painted by a differently-abled artist. Another double win here -- funds are raised for charity and a friend gets a lovely surprise in the mail.
27. 4th Dec 2013:
Exam Day! Started the day on the right footing by giving Good Luck candies to all my classmates.
28. 4th Dec 2013:
The security guards at Aravind's place have taken in a stray black dog and would appreciate the food very much, so I went to Keats' place after my exams to pick the food up. This is good -- Blackie gets fed and Robbie gets to do a good deed even after his death.
29. 4th Dec 2013:
Since the dog food and treats were in open bags, I needed to transfer them into jars for storage and hygiene. I didn't have enough jars so I contacted my friend Eugene and went over to his house to look for jars he could spare. He did have jars, and I got to play with his cat, my good friend Pearl. Eugene and Mary got Pearl a new collar but it wasn't one of those quick-release safety collars. I asked Eugene if he'd allow me to modify the collar. He agreed, and so I shaved the outer "prongs" of the buckle with a Swiss Army Knife until the buckle would come undone if Pearl got snagged on something and pulled hard enough.
Here is Pearl, our model. It's blurry because she was moving too much and my phone battery was dying. So I got my empty reusable jars and Pearl's collar was converted into a safety collar. One good turn deserves another.
30. 5th Dec 2013:
Spent the afternoon at the SPCA. Hardly a random act, as I have been volunteering there almost every weekend for the past 18 years. It was a rainy day, so I didn't get to bathe the dogs. I brought my Furminator with me so I could groom the dogs. Sugar here obviously couldn't get enough of being Furminated. Must have felt like a massage to her.
I cleaned the cages, shelter floor and cat litter trays as well. Please ignore the scratches on my hand, it has nothing to do with the SPCA. I gave my cats a bath on Monday and Paisley decided she didn't like it.
31. 5th Dec 2013:
Another opportunity to match a donor with suitable beneficiaries. Went to my friend Kiri's house after the SPCA together with my bestie Nicole to pick up 3 large plastic bags full of pre-loved clothes, all in good condition, for our street clients and for my refugees. Well, Nic carried the heaviest bag of all since she is a badass that way.
32. 6th Dec 2013:
Noticed a Christmas tree at the lobby of the local Y when I went to sign up for kickboxing. Sponsors can "adopt" prizes of fixed value for the community Christmas party for children from various shelters and welfare organisations. I found it hard to muster enthusiasm for Barbies, action figures and plastic junky toys so I picked a relatively big ticket item instead -- football (soccer) goalposts. You know how I feel about football. Everyone should play football and have a proper ball and goalposts.
33. 6th Dec 2013:
This is PB Massage Centre, one of the massage centres I regularly patronise as they employ visually-impaired masseurs and empower them financially. I got one of my favourite masseuses, Au Yong, to relieve my muscle pains. Gave her a big tip. Put a bag of candies on the counter for the masseurs, staff and clients. Helped two visually-impaired individuals navigate the sidewalks which were crowded with trestle tables and parked motorcycles.
34. 7th Dec 2013:
Saturday night Food Run for the homeless with Reach Out Malaysia under Pete's leadership as usual. Aravind and I were joined by our friend Jo, and a new volunteer, Caryn.
Helped to distribute approximately 150 packs of hot meals, bottled water, buns and cake to our street friends. The clothes I collected from Kiri and Suba plus the other clothes and backpacks I cleared out of our closets went to Reach Out for our street friends as well. Aravind and I fed at least 25 street cats. Also discussed plans to get the cats neutered.
35. 8th Dec 2013:
It's time again for the annual SPCA-Jaya One Santa Paws Christmas Fundraiser to raise funds for community TNR (Trap, Neuter, Release) programmes! It was good to see our friends Chae Lian, Pyo and Kelvin again.
Aravind and I went to participate in the festivities and bought bingo cards for fun. We were thrilled to win dog food sponsored by Smartheart during Bingo. We won 2 big bags and 6 smaller bags of dog food.
I made plans to donate the dog food to an animal rescuer, Mr Ganesan, whose unregistered shelter operates under the name of Lost Animal Souls Shelter. Double win!
(Note: Delivered to Mr. Ganesan for his dog shelter on 12th Dec 2013)
Obviously many of the items on my list were hardly random, and were things I would have done anyway, whether or not it is my birthday month. Obviously also the acts of service don't stop after my birthday, and I will continue to direct funds, resources and effort where needed. Many little gifts and favours for friends and acts of common courtesy (e.g. holding doors open for others, letting other vehicles into my lane) were not counted as I felt they were not significant enough to be worth mentioning.
Recording all these acts and planning new ones to perform has been great fun, despite the fact that many of the plans I made did not materialise (e.g. MNS Green Living t-shirt upcycling workshop had to be postponed, and blood donation failed because my haemoglobin count was too low). Still, it is a worthwhile effort in gratitude and service and I enjoyed every moment of it. Many thanks to all my friends who helped make this happen despite not being aware of my Project.
Wednesday, 27 November 2013
Two weeks ago, I posted this status update on my Facebook account in response to the growing number of laws against vagrancy and volunteers providing food and other assistance to the homeless:
"Instead of waging war against the homeless, laws and society should wage war against poverty. You can't make it illegal for people to be homeless unless there are systems in place to make it virtually impossible to be homeless. Homelessness isn't a choice. No child dreams of becoming the man sleeping on the park bench or the bag lady when they grow up. Somewhere along the way, something went wrong. Our job is to find out what went wrong and find solutions. We cannot punish people just for their poverty and suffering. We have to help, not hinder."
A friend then asked me in a rather condescending manner what "solutions" I would propose. I knew she was implying that the problem of homelessness is one without solutions, that "helping" the homeless would result in more homelessness and dependency.
I responded with the following proposed solutions:
"#1 ERADICATE CORRUPTION. Implement a realistic livable minimum wage. Protect workers' rights. Amend and repeal bankruptcy and foreclosure laws. Allocate a percentage of land and housing for the poor and disadvantaged, and ENSURE that they are reserved for low-income citizens! (Right now most are purchased by rich Datuks and rented out by their agents to tenants) Provide state-funded high quality education and skills training. Mental health treatment and assistance to the mentally ill and substance addicted. Hostels and job training for ex-convicts and former drug users. Legal assistance and safe houses for women who are victims of trafficking and entrapment into the sex trade, or who are victims of domestic violence. Investigations into cases of land confiscation, water pollution and other forms of destruction of rural areas which lead to rural communities not being able to survive or be self-sufficient anymore, causing them to move to cities and end up as squatter citizens."
Most Malaysians, including my friend above, buy into the myths that the homeless "choose" to be homeless, that they are lazy and unwilling to work, and that most of them are criminals, alcoholics or drug users. Most Malaysians who have never done street outreach and have never talked to homeless persons are not aware that many of the homeless in Malaysia are working at low-paying jobs. Some have mental illness or are of subaverage intelligence and therefore unemployable. Some lost their jobs due to the deteriorating economy, personal problems, mental illness or other medical issues. Some are victims of crime, sexual abuse or domestic violence, but many are just ordinary folk trying to survive in this big, harsh world.
It was in August this year that Aravind and I started volunteering with Reach Out Malaysia, a volunteer-run community action group with the mission of implementing programmes to deliver relief from hunger, pain, or abuse; of feeding, sheltering and rehabilitating the homeless and urban/rural poor; of raising awareness on the causes of such and in the long term, to reduce the flow of poverty by providing a place of training and assistance and source employment opportunities to help make the poor employable and for them to re-enter society.
As stated in their Mission Statement, Reach Out is strictly non-religious and apolitical and does not discriminate in terms of race, gender, religion or culture. Its volunteers consist of dedicated people of all faiths, races and professional/academic backgrounds. ReachOut offers food, drinks, used clothing, and basic medical first aid to those in need in Kuala Lumpur and other cities and towns.
On our Food Runs with them, we help to purchase, prepare, pack, transport or deliver food and basic necessities. We meet our Run Leaders at designated meeting points and move in groups to locations where our homeless friends await our arrival around midnight (many have day jobs and others come out only at night to avoid encounters with the police and authorities). We try to meet our street clients' request for food, First Aid treatment, job referrals, clothes and other assistance. Many have cats and dogs as companions so we bring them pet food and make arrangements for neutering. Our Run Leaders are committed and caring individuals who still have their sense of humour intact despite the exasperation, sorrow and frustration they often experience. Aravind and I have utmost respect for them and just try to do the best we can to help, as often as we can.
My cell phone camera photos from some of the ReachOut Malaysia volunteer sessions and food runs that Aravind and I had participated in:
11 Aug 2013: Packing Aidilfitri cookies, fruits and treats for our food run with our friends Leena, June and Looi Fang.
11 Aug 2013: Looi Fang and Leena, who initiated the idea of packing festive goodies for our street clients so they would get to celebrate Aidilfitri too.
11 Aug 2013: Each street client would receive a little box of assorted cookies...
... placed in a bag together with an apple, an orange, Kit Kat bars, snack cakes, a carton of Milo and a packet of crackers.
Aravind taking his duty of packing cookies very seriously!
11 Aug 2013: Getting ready to load the goodies into the car.
Meeting point for the volunteers in front of the Masjid Jamek LRT station at 11.30pm. Run Leader Suresh briefed us on our objectives and code of conduct.
Simon and other ReachOut volunteers rendering First Aid treatment for one of our street clients. I'm going to start carrying an Animal First Aid Kit on our street rounds soon for our feline and canine street clients.
31 Aug 2013: Buying toothbrushes, cat food and mosquito coils for our street clients on a rainy National Day.
31 Aug 2013: Unloading the food and doing a headcount outside Lost City.
31 Aug 2013: One of our street clients fell and split his chin on a rainy night, so our volunteers Melvin and Simon helped to disinfect and stitch up his wounds.
One of the cats we encountered during the Food Run. Kitty got some kibbles, too.
15 Sept 2013: ReachOut Malaysia food run as usual tonight, in good weather or bad. Here are some of our street clients outside the Puduraya bus terminal.
15 Sept 2013: Our street clients on the Bangkok Bank sidewalk enjoying a hot meal, which includes yummy marble cake contributed by Leena's friend.
Volunteers keeping track of the number of bags of food we have and getting ready to distribute the food at the sidewalk outside Bangkok Bank.
Food and volunteers all ready for the Deepavali night ReachOut Malaysia food run. Missing our senior volunteers / Run leaders Suresh, Jennifer and Simon tonight. But grateful for Pete's leadership as usual.
2 Nov 2013: The ReachOut van is here! Time to load all 200 hot meal packs and get moving before the rain gets any heavier. Our street friends await!
Want to learn more? Then please click on the links below:
ReachOut Malaysia official blog: http://reachoutmy.wordpress.com/2012/07/23/reach-out-malaysia/
ReachOut Malaysia Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/ReachOutMalaysia/info
HopeBox Malaysia Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/#!/hopeboxmalaysia?fref=ts