A local non-profit set-up advocates the removal of racial and religious barriers, as it tries to reach out to more communities.
“I have been doing this for so long, I’ve seen so many things,” says Ainie Sahnam, founder of Project MADE (Making A Difference Everywhere), a non-profit organisation that carries out various programmes to help underprivileged families.
“This lady in her 70s had two adult children who were both mentally slow. They could work, but because of their condition, people sometimes swindled them. That old woman was very strong. There were days when they had no food and they would take mouldy rice, wash it and eat. How do you feel when you see something like that?” Ainie says.
Project MADE advocates the removal of racial and religious barriers. It feeds the disadvantaged regardless of race, religion, culture and political affiliation. It's essentially a one-woman show, with Ainie running things full time, assisted by a loosely-knit team of volunteers.
On the afternoon we're visiting her at her home in Petaling Jaya, the living room is filled with blue bags of things waiting to be distributed to needy families. She packed these herself. “We are a very small unit,” Ainie reminds me time and again. Her husband helps whenever he can, as does their 18-year-old daughter. For the bigger programmes, she calls up her volunteers and sponsors will also tag along.
When The Star interviewed Ainie in 2012, Project MADE was only carrying out food distribution. Nowadays, MADE has a long list of programmes that includes:
> Medicine Chest, which hands out over-the-counter pharmaceuticals along with the food distribution;
> Milk Bank, which delivers dairy powder to babies and children, along with feeding bottles, baby pacifiers and other similar items;
> Communal events like Community Medical Camp, Community Carnival, Children’s Charity Carnival and Mother's Day;
> De-clutter And Donate, aimed at refugee communities, where new and used items like clothes, shoes, bags and toys are displayed for families to pick what they want (a similar programme for needy families is called Gratis Grotto);
> Jungle Missions, which serves Orang Asal communities in hard-to-reach places;
> Tabung Relief, which distributes adult diapers and special milk formula;
> Tabung Budi, which provides aid in kind to potentially high achievers in education and special case students from poor families.
> Grab-A-Book/Reading Corner, a reading programme for impoverished areas and rural schools;
> Adopt-A-School/Annual Back To School, which offers school uniforms, shoes, bags and stationery to poverty-stricken kids, sometimes up to 700 of them.
How such a small organisation can do so much for the underprivileged and expand its programmes in such a short time is nothing short of incredible.
“We wanted to cast the web of assistance wider – and we did,” says Ainie of Project MADE’s progress since 2012. “For the Back To School programme, we used to cover only the peninsula. Now we have brought it to Bintulu (Sarawak). Last year, we assisted about 200 children in one school, SK Sungai Kem Batu 18 in Bintulu. This coming 2015 programme, we are going to do it in three schools. On top of that we are going to have a feeding programme for 50 families in Bintulu.”
Ainie says they want to do more but they lack the monetary means. That said, “We do not want money," she says. "We need contributions in kind. As you can see, I operate from my house because I can’t even afford to rent a place."
Unlike other voluntary organisations, Project MADE doesn't make demands on its volunteers. Everyone helps out when they can and no strict commitment is needed.
“Our volunteers all have their own jobs,” Ainie says. “They come whenever they can. We have this lady who is a single mother with four children and she can never earn enough, so she tells us, ‘Look, I can only contribute my energy and my time, and that is only whenever I can.’ So whenever I have a programme that needs her help, I would call her. And there are times when she says she can’t help out because she needs to care for her daughter. Well, that is fine. That is how we operate.”
There is only one condition for volunteers – you must contribute in kind. “Your presence must benefit the families,” Ainie says. “Even if you’re only going to bring sweets for the children, that’s good enough.”
It isn't easy finding sponsors, however. What she tries to do is match sponsor with recipient. For example, if a sponsor wants to help the Orang Asal communities, she will find one particular community for the sponsor.
The unique thing about Project MADE is that it doesn't provide cooked food but raw food materials, so that families can cook for themselves. “If you cook and give them the food, it’s only for that day,” Ainie says. “But if you give them rice and other provisions, they can last for at least two weeks.”
Education is another focus of the organisation. Schoolchildren are given assistance to help their families break out of the poverty cycle. “Project MADE does not do prolonged assistance,” Ainie says. “Reliance and dependency are not things that we want. If a family becomes dependent on you for food, then your mission has failed. We are there to assist, so that for two weeks they will not have to worry about not having food to eat.”
Ainie has always been drawn to charity work, even when she was in school. When she went to London to study law, she volunteered with London Lighthouse, an HIV charity that was brought into the spotlight by Princess Diana. “You feel good about it knowing you can make a difference,” Ainie says of charity work. “I may not be able to change anyone or change the world, but we do what we can.”
She says Project MADE is always in need of food items and toys for kids. “I would like to feed more communities,” Ainie says of the future of MADE. “I’d like to go to unreachable communities in Sabah and Sarawak. I know a lot of assistance can be rendered in places like that. I’d like to reach out to the children over there.”
> To donate or volunteer with Project MADE, call 012-325 0038.