One Man's Meat

Published: Saturday July 19, 2014 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Saturday July 19, 2014 MYT 8:20:06 AM

Kind-hearted Malaysians respond to 'John'

Filepic: Garbage bags provided for the homeless to throw their trash in after eating, during a street feeding session.

Filepic: Garbage bags provided for the homeless to throw their trash in after eating, during a street feeding session.

They have a plan to pay it forward for the homeless, but the homeless must be willing to work.

NO identity card, no job. No job, no money. No money, no identity card.

John is stuck in a vicious cycle. The 42-year-old Sabahan needs a job so that he can pay for a new identity card, but he needs a new identity card to apply for a job.

Last week I wrote about how John (not his real name) became homeless after losing his identity card five times in incidents involving a drinking bout.

On the day the story was published, I received two e-mails from Kampung Salimandut, not far from the Kota Marudu town in Sabah.

I had named John’s village in the article and they wanted to know whether he was their relative or neighbour.

As I had promised to keep John’s name anonymous, I told them that I would hunt for him in the streets of Kuala Lumpur to seek his permission to reveal his identity.

One of the two e-mails was from a Datin, a community leader in Kampung Salimandut.

She wanted to find out his real identity so that his kampung folks could help him.

I contacted Charles De Costa, who manages Trinity Centre, a drop-in centre for the homeless in Brickfields which John calls his second home after his main “home” under the bridge along Klang River, near the iconic Kuala Lumpur Railway Station. I told him to locate John as soon as possible.

I also received e-mails, phone calls, tweets, WhatsApp messages and SMS-es from friends, Sabahan politicians and strangers wanting to help John secure an identity card and a job.

Here are examples of the kindness of Malaysians.

A friend, who doesn’t want to be identified, SMS-ed: “Do you still know how to find the man you wrote about in your column today? I wish to donate some money for him to get an identity card.”

A stranger e-mailed: “Me and a few Sabahan friends who live in Kuala Lumpur and Johor Baru have chipped in to pay the penalty for John to get his identity card.

“How do we get in touch with him so we can bring him to the National Registration Department?”

@twt_stupid tweeted: “If this guy is given the required money to have his IC back and he wants to work and get off the street, I’m willing to help. How?”

It was an awesome day for me to find out that there were many caring Malaysians.

However, some were judgmental.

Here are some of the comments posted to the comment section of my article, titled “Caught in a vicious cycle”, that was uploaded to The Star Online.

Guts Wan: “How do you change a culture that is getting drunk with friends?

“Jump-start the life of a homeless person by giving him another I/C and money that he will most definitely use to further his ‘culture’.

“By no means should we condemn someone’s mistake but how many times should it be allowed? He’s not caught in a vicious cycle, he himself is the vicious cycle.”

Glenfiddich: “please, please drink more!!!! you can’t lose your ic if u don’t have it.”

Around 5pm, De Costa called to inform me that John was in Trinity Centre.

The centre is a day sanctuary for about 60 to 70 homeless people who can get breakfast (biscuits and bread), lunch (fried rice and instant noodles) and on Tuesdays and Sundays dinner (rice, chicken curry and boiled eggs).

It also provides free haircuts once a week and a movie on Friday nights.

Charles passed the phone to John. I told him that two people, who claimed they were from his village, wanted to know his real identity.

“Meet me at 7pm today at the corner coffee shop in Brickfields so that if you agree, you can talk to these two people,” I told him.

John agreed.

At 7.09pm, I waited for him with Desonny Tuzan, a 39-year-old Sabahan, and a kind-hearted woman, who wanted to remain anonymous as she didn’t want any publicity for her offer to pay RM310 for John to apply for a new identity card.

We waited and waited. The homeless Sabahan arrived around 8pm.

John sheepishly admitted that the Datin is his niece. He, however, did not know the second person who had e-mailed me.

I asked him three times if he wanted to speak to his niece and the man – who was ashamed that his family would know that he was homeless – said “yes” three times.

The Datin and her uncle spoke for 20 minutes in Dusun.

After the call, she told me: “My family was so worried about him as we haven’t heard from him for many years.”

Later that night, the Datin wrote in her Facebook page that John called her after he left the journalist and told her...

I shall not reveal what she wrote as I don’t want to get into her family’s drama with John.

However, what he told his niece made me think of the cliche – you can’t help someone who doesn’t want to help himself.

My awesome day, filled with amazement that many Malaysians had a generous heart, ended in disappointment.

However, Desonny, who was with me to see John and the other Sabahans’ “home” under the bridge, is not disheartened.

He and other friends and strangers are planning to set up an organisation to jump-start the life of the homeless.

Their “paying it forward” plan is to help the homeless get a new identity card (it seems many have lost their documents).

“We’re only helping those who agree to get a job.

“And after we get the identity card, we’ll find jobs and accommodation for them and we will deduct a small amount from their salary so that we can use that money to help the homeless who have lost their documents,” Desonny said.

I’m in two minds on whether to continue being involved in the paying-it-forward project.

My experience with John had left a bitter taste in my mouth.        

I SMS-ed De Costa to get his advice on dealing with people without a home.

“To love, to walk an extra mile if I have to. At the same time you have got to be wise as a serpent and humble as a dove,” he SMS-ed.

“From my own experience, these people are lacking love, 90% of them coming from broken families.”

As Desonny said: “Kalau bukan kita, siapa lagi?” (a phrase in Sabah that means “If it is not us, who will?”).

The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.

Tags / Keywords: Phlip Golingai

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