BEING compassionate and reaching out to the less fortunate and helping those in need is a trait associated with Malaysians but this kindness is, at times, abused by recipients.
StarMetro recently highlighted the issue of food going to waste on the streets but the generosity of Malaysians, we found, is open to abuse.
Pertiwi Soup Kitchen founder Datuk Munirah Abdul Hamid said there had been instances of the homeless selling off blankets, clothes and toiletries at pasar karat (used goods market) in Kuala Lumpur after receiving these items from numerous non-governmental organisations (NGO) and volunteers.
“There are enough medical services being offered to the homeless.
“Anything more increases the likelihood of them getting medicine from more than one source, which can lead to prescription abuse, which has happened.
“This happens when there is not enough coordination and cooperation between the various outreach groups,” she said.
She said Pertiwi usually gave the homeless enough medicine for two doses, except antibiotics where they were required to finish a full course.
“Antibiotics are only prescribed when it is absolutely necessary and we have a database to keep track of what is being prescribed,” said Munirah.
Asked how she got to know about prescription abuse, she said some homeless people had casually mentioned it to her.
“They have told us that they were given medicine by another group and when they mixed it with some drinks, it would become a drug cocktail,” she said.
She said there was a case when Pertiwi handed out baby strollers to those in need, only to find another group doing the same.
“The homeless then sold the extra strollers at several pasar karat to earn money,” she said.
Munirah said the regular NGOs helping the homeless were coordinating with each other in providing necessities and assistance such as baby strollers and milk powder.
The problem, she said was with new groups handing out aid without liaising with established NGOs.
Munirah said Pertiwi welcomed other NGOs, to work with them, in helping the needy.
“We can help them by setting up a booth for them to distribute.
“It is a win-win situation as we can then make sure the items are given out to those who really need them.
“Donors and sponsors also want to ensure the donated supplies are given to the right people and are not abused,” she said.
Munirah added that some of the people seeking medical help were not homeless but were renting rooms in shoplots or were from the People’s Housing Project (PPR) flats.
“Some of the rooms are in the Chow Kit area.
“We know that some people collect the items given out by the NGOs to sell them at a few pasar karat in the city or to middlemen who will buy the items cheap before reselling them,” she said, adding that Pertiwi’s mobile clinics were located in Medan Tuanku Feeding Centre and Kota Raya.
Munirah said, sometimes, even shelters and orphanages received too many donations that were unnecessary.
“Donors need to invest their time in the cause and find out what is actually needed instead of what they think is needed,” she advised.
Kechara Soup Kitchen Society project director and committee member Justin Cheah Kok Leong said they were aware of the problem and to minimise such incidences, volunteers had improvised their method of handing out toiletries.
“We know not everybody takes advantage of our generosity but some of them do.
“To minimise such incidents, we repack things such as shampoo into smaller plastic packets so it is easier for them to use and harder for them to sell.
“For some, we remove the packaging labels so they cannot be resold,” he said.
He added that it was hard to control such a situation because there were many who were in dire need of help and supplies.
Cheah said to avoid overlapping with other organisations providing aid, there should be some give and take.
“Instead of handing out heavy meals, we provide dry food to the homeless so they can keep them longer since there are many groups giving cooked meals,” he said, adding that they tried to complement the efforts of other groups.
He, too, agreed that it was necessary to coordinate with existing organisations so there was no overlap.
“If they want to distribute food in an area that we usually visit, then we will not send food that day.
“We can instead send our volunteers to help them or we can just go and talk to the homeless to find out what they need,” he said.
He advised groups to contact the Medan Tuanku and Jalan Pahang shelters to book a night to do food distribution.
Cheah said some of the urban poor in Chow Kit and the central part of the city were able to get help from a mobile clinic as well.
“We provide only on-the-spot medication and not enough for a full week as we know Pertiwi will be there the next day with the mobile clinic.
“For those living on the outer ring of the city, we give them more medication to ensure recovery,” he said.
Empire Project founder Mohd Ashraff Khan Md Najib said he was aware of the issue.
“I am open to collaborating with other NGOs. We must ensure everything is coordinated and that we combine our efforts to avoid wastage.
“It is good to give but you have to know your target group and research what they need and plan accordingly,” he said.
He added that through such collaborations, he had learned a lot from other organisations on how to conduct certain programmes.
Ashraff said Empire Project distributes bread and drinking water, instead of heavy meals.
“We leave the full meals to Pertiwi, Kechara and other organisations who do it regularly.
“Also, we give out 100 to 200 toiletry kits, once a month, and we remove the boxes so it will be harder for the homeless to sell the items,” he said.
Kuala Lumpur mayor Datuk Seri Mohd Amin Nordin Abd Aziz, when asked to comment on the matter, said he was not aware of such problems.
“Even if we are aware of it, we cannot do anything as the homeless come under the Destitute Persons Act 1977, which is under the ambit of the Social Welfare Department,” he said.