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Sunday July 5, 2009

‘Ray of hope’ that turned out to be a nightmare

KUALA KUBU BARU: We were hit by the stench of faeces and urine the minute we walked into the men’s block at Taman Sinar Harapan located in a secluded area of the town here.

Mr A, a volunteer from a non-governmental organisation who goes to the home every Sunday to clean and feed the residents, opened the locked door at the back of the block and we were stunned by what greeted us.

About 30 stark naked men were inside the room, either lying down or sitting on the wet marble floor. In one part of the room, we saw a pool of blood, still fresh and red, on the floor.

Half of the men were locked behind bars like animals in a zoo while the others were able to move about in the front portion of the room. Those in the “jail cells” were segregated so that they would not harm their non-violent roommates.

“Those who are accidentally placed inside the cells with the more aggressive residents would be beaten or abused,” the volunteer revealed.

Most of them looked no older than 50 but they were just skin and bones and some looked extremely frail. One resident was lying on his stomach on a wooden bench and had passed motion; we almost gagged at its stench.

Fans were installed inside the room for better ventilation but that was the only luxury the men had. There were no beds, no toilets and not even blankets to keep them warm on cold rainy nights.

Those who were not in the “jail cells” were given beds but without any mattresses or pillows. They were, however, chained to the bed frame with metal chains and a steel lock.

We were told by a volunteer that they were restricted to prevent them from hurting themselves. The volunteer also shared that the men were not given any clothing as they had used their shirts to strangle themselves or the other men in the past.

After a briefing by Mr A, we got down to work. We were put in charge of spreading mats and towels on the floor.

The volunteers were all given different tasks. A group of about six or seven men were in charge of bathing the locked-up residents, the women were in charge of preparing the food and feeding the residents while the rest (there were two children in the volunteer group) were in charge of cleaning up the place and washing their clothes.

The residents were hosed down with water and soap by volunteers dressed in construction boots and a water proof apron.

After that, the male volunteers carried the naked men to the front part of the building for us to towel dry them.

After sensing our discomfort, a female volunteer nearby said: “It’s okay, they’re just like babies, you know, they don’t know anything.”

We proceeded to wipe them dry one by one before we were told to feed them with the yong tau foo bought by one of the volunteers.

The food was mashed to bits and mixed with soup to minimise the need to chew and to make feeding an easier task. so that the residents only needed to swallow them.

As we fed them, some ate obediently while others were greedy and stuffed their hands inside the bowls to take out larger portions of the food.

Some volunteers reprimanded the greedy ones who crawled towards the table to help themselves to more food. We noticed that some of the mentally disabled residents liked to hit themselves repeatedly. When we tried to stop them, they would fight back or just hit their body against the floor.

Mid-way through feeding, some volunteers suddenly rushed over to a young resident whose head was bleeding profusely. We were told that the boy had slipped and fell.

The volunteers immediately dressed him up, put him on a wheelchair and sent him to a hospital nearby.

After mopping the floor, we took a break and noticed that the residents were taken back into their cells to be locked up again.

It was nearly 4pm when everything was done. The residents were all bathed, fed and the place was clean enough.

We asked the volunteers what would happen to the residents on weekdays when the group was not there to offer their help.

The naked truth: Some of the inmates who were caged up in the home.

“The caretakers don’t do much. There are only two of them while there are 50 residents. If it’s time to feed them, they would just walk one round with a bowl and feed whoever wants to eat. Those who don’t are left alone,” answered a volunteer.

She divulged that another charitable organisation had brought food for the residents but it was thrown away. “When the group asked why they did such a thing, the caretakers said that the residents would create a bigger mess if there was more food because they would defecate more often,” she said.

After the voluntary group had left, we stayed back to check out the other blocks.

The women’s wing looked cleaner and did not smell as bad but a handful of the women were seen walking about in the nude.

The two caretakers stationed at the block were seen watching TV and chatting.

We noticed that the women’s clothes were laid out to dry on a dirty floor caked with fungus. We walked over to the children’s block which seemed to be the best kept part of the home. It was decorated and there were proper beds. But the children were curiously quiet.

A volunteer claimed that the children were fed with cough syrup so that they would be sleepy and docile.

Related Stories:
A govt-run shelter for the disabled has, instead, become their jail
Experts slam caregivers for chaining mental patients to their beds

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