A ‘vintage’ group of friends has found an inspiring way to give back to society and is hoping to get more young people to join them.
HER mother had her very own “soup kitchen” when Munirah Abdul Hamid was about five years old.
This was in the 1950s, when the family lived in Alor Star, and come prayer time, there would be throngs of foreigners from across the border around the mosque area.
Munirah’s mum noticed that they looked poor and malnourished. So she came up with a food that is easily digestible and nutritious that she could dole out conveniently: bubur susu (milk pudding).
“Back then, you didn’t get milk from the shops like you do now,” says Munirah, a businesswoman who turns 60 in June.
“The Bengali man would come around with the deep milk urn and he’d stick his entire arm in to scoop out the milk! So what we would do was boil the milk to pasteurise it. You had to take care not to over-boil it. To the milk, my mother added rice.
“Because I was too little to help with the cooking, I was given the task of cutting patterns into the banana leaves that would be used to hold the pudding. My mother was very particular about presentation.
“She would pour the pudding into the fancy-cut banana leaf moulds, and just before they set, put in slices of pisang rastali, which is a special banana. It’s a temperamental fruit, very rare nowadays.
“And this way, the people at the mosque got a complete meal.”
That was Munirah’s first taste of the act of giving. As she grew up, the youngest in a household of nine siblings, she watched her sisters give selflessly back to the community.
Her mother had always drilled into them that, as educated Muslim women, they had an obligation to give back to their fellow women and society.
So Munirah’s sisters founded Pertiwi (Pertubuhan Tindakan Wanita Islam Malaysia) in 1967; it is an NGO that focuses on outreach, social work and the education of women, teens and children.
The then 16-year-old Munirah was their little helper, assisting her sisters with anything and everything they needed.
“I watched as my sisters worked tirelessly for the community. They were in their 20s, sometimes pregnant, often saddled with their little kids, but totally absorbed in giving back to the community,” Munirah says with a laugh (she herself now has two children, Baida, 33 and Adlan, 35).
She helped her sisters organise awareness programmes in rural areas and travelled with them as they took mobile clinics out to villages.
Birthing of an idea
So it was this environment of community work and ties that shaped Munirah.
At school, she formed friendships that have lasted till today. She has one particular group of friends she has known since she was 12. “We call ourselves Vintage 63,” she laughs.
They hold annual gatherings to keep in touch. At these get-togethers, Munirah and her friends would brainstorm about things to do together. “We wanted to train our children to help other people. It’s payback time!” Munirah says.
Among their plans were beach cleanups and, eventually, a soup kitchen, an idea suggested in 2008 by one of Munirah’s best friends, Saadah Din. Munirah was immediately on board.
Her years of unofficial training under her sisters had taught her a lot; she knew the big task wasn’t starting the soup kitchen, but sustaining it, and that would need the support and legitimacy of an NGO, not just a group of friends.
So she went to Pertiwi, and that was how the Pertiwi Soup Kitchen project was born. Pertiwi handles handle the donations, menu and food while Munirah and her friends would handle the logistics.
She also asked the Rotary Club to donate a van, and the Rotary Club of Kuala Lumpur Diraja came through with one.
Their first night out was on March 17; they went to three locations in the heart of Kuala Lumpur and distributed 230 packets of food and drink to the needy.
They have since allocated four nights for taking the soup kitchen out, Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays, and each night they hope to give out 150 packs of food and drink.
It costs them RM300 per night to feed 150 people, so individuals who want to contribute may do so through Pertiwi (see details in How you can help above).
At the moment, the soup kitchen is purchasing food in bulk to give out, but the friends hope to establish a central kitchen in future where food can be prepared. This would have two benefits: it would cut down food costs and provide an income for the people preparing the food.
Munirah is planning to work with the Selangor Cheshire Home (a home for the disabled) on this, but that will be many months down the road.
“The main objective for now is to make it sustainable,” says Munirah.
Now that the project is up and running, she is only sorry that her friend Saadah is not around to see their ideas come to fruition. She died from cancer in May last year.
But Munirah is not one to dwell on the past; she chooses to honour the memory of her friend by making the soup kitchen a success.
The soup kitchen needs volunteers. Ideally, there should be 40 regular and committed volunteers, 10 for each night that the kitchen moves out. The 10 volunteers can rotate duties among themselves over a month so on any given night, there would be a minimum of three people going out – one to drive the van, two to distribute the food and talk to the people.
At the moment, it is mostly friends and family helping out, but Munirah hopes to rope in young volunteers.
“When my sisters started Pertiwi, they were so young, but they had so much heart about working with the people. Now we are all old and we find ourselves asking, where are the young ones?
“We need young people to continue giving,” says Munirah. “I want this soup kitchen to be something young people can relate to, that they will want to volunteer for.
“Hunger is a terrible thing. If you’ve ever gone hungry for any period of time, you will know that the feeling of hunger keeps you awake at night. Being able to feed people is very rewarding.
“Also, when you’re out there, you’re doing more than feeding the hungry, you’re interacting with them and reaching out, providing human contact. If there are young people out there who are talented in music, they can bring music to these people. Bring your guitar with you and entertain the street kids.
“The people who come for the food, they are of all races, all religions. They are sex workers, homeless people, drug users, street kids. It doesn’t matter, they all need help.
“And despite what certain parties insist, that such people are mostly foreigners living on the streets with no shelter or food, they are mostly not. They’re local! Just like you and me.
“The years of living on the streets, the drugs and the hunger have of course taken a toll, and some look disfigured and different from normal people. They would not be able to find jobs; who would hire them?
“And some of these people are born into this life. Right from the very beginning, from the time they were born, it was never a level playing field. I ask myself: what can I do to help? There are so many things to do, you can’t do everything. But do what you can,” urges Munirah.
Although she is still working full time and running her own group of companies, she is already planning her next big give back: “We’re going to clean up those beaches,” she declares. “Perhaps get the big corporations involved. I’ll call you when it happens?”
For now, the soup kitchen is her baby. As I make my way out of her office, Munirah is getting ready for a board meeting and also organising the soup kitchen’s outing for the night. If you haven’t done your big give for the month/year/decade, give her a call. Society thanks you.
How can you help.
MONEY – RM300 can feed 150 people a night. Individuals or companies interested in making donations can do so by making cheques out to Pertiwi and sending them to No. 63, Jalan SS3/53, Kelana Jaya, 47300 Petaling Jaya, Selangor. Contact number: 03-7874 4203.
Alternatively, you may bank it into RHB Bank Bhd, account number: 2-14035-10201591.
All donations are tax exempt.
Time – If you would like to contribute your time, even if it is only once a month, you can sign up as a volunteer. The soup kitchen goes out on Mondays, Wednes-days, Fridays and Sundays at 8.30pm. Go to Pertiwi Soup Kitchen’s Facebook page or write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Talk – Tell people about this community project.