TO the early Greeks, the word Gaia (pronounced guy-ya) meant Earth Goddess. In the late 70s, some environmentalists and scientists adopted Gaia as a concept aimed at protecting the Earth’s land, air and water. The word thus came to mean all things respectful of and beneficial to the planet.
Today, yet another spin has been cast on this word. In July, MBf Cards (M'sia) Sdn Bhd launched its first Visa credit card and called it the Gaia card.
The name was chosen because the credit card is aimed at a specific group – those concerned about ecological issues and personal health.
The Gaia provides an opportunity for card members to support five non-governmental organisations. The chosen five are The Pure Life Society (PLS), Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), The National Kidney Foundation of Malaysia (NKF), Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) and Treat Every Environment Special (TrEES).
The Gaia is a payment gateway that allows card members the chance to contribute a portion of their retail spending to the five NGOs.
For every ringgit spent using the Gaia card, 0.1% of card members’ retail spending will be distributed equally among the five NGOs every year.
Card members can also donate through MBf’s Call ‘n Pay service and the online Click ‘n Pay system.
Those who stand to gain from the idea behind Gaia are understandably very pleased. Not many people realise that the SPCA needs about RM50,000 a month to tend to the animals left in their care. Currently, the society raises money through jumble sales and sales of souvenirs such as T-shirts.
However, Melissa Raj, who works at the SPCA, says that the society sometimes struggles financially because of the sheer number of animals that are handed over to them each month.
“We receive about 1,200 animals a month. That's a lot of unwanted dogs and cats,” says Melissa. Another challenge faced by the SPCA is space constraint.
“We have only 1.5ha of land to work with and that is shared by the clinic, the shop and the office. We don't have the money to expand.”
The SPCA hopes that with the added financial aid provided by Gaia card holders, these problems can eventually be resolved.
Melissa is also looking forward to reaching more people on the issue of unwanted animals through the card members' newsletter which will carry information on environmental news and health awareness.
Director of TrEES, Christa Hashim is also glad for the opportunity to educate more people on the cause championed by her organisation – environmental protection.
TrEES runs various community projects such as waste management, which includes recycling, and biodiversity community outreach centres. Members of the public can learn about the benefits of composting, solar energy and rainwater harvesting at the centres.
Those at TrEES seek to form smart partnerships with communities for the development of an environmentally sustainable future. Christa says that enhancing public awareness is the key.
“We’re happy with the Gaia card newsletter through which we hope to be able to share some information and experiences and get feedback,” she says.
Christa explains that although TrEES is a small organisation, it still needs about half a million ringgit annually.
“The Gaia card has been very helpful. Already we are seeing the benefits as we’re getting quite a lot from the Click ‘n Pay service,” says Christa.
Chief executive officer of the NKF, Goh Seng Chuan, is happy that his organisation is one of the chosen beneficiaries of Gaia. The NKF currently subsidises dialysis treatments for 670 patients.
“Kidney disease is a very expensive disease,” says Goh. Treatments cost between RM150 and RM250 per session at private hospitals, and many patients need treatment three times a week.
According to Goh, the actual cost of a session of dialysis is around RM120 or RM125. Dialysis at the NKF costs the patient only RM60 because RM50 is subsidised by the government.
“But the balance of about RM15 we have to get from somewhere and we are very much dependant on the public,” he says.
This year, the NKF needs RM1.6mil to sustain the current set of patients. Goh’s concern is the rising number of patients with kidney disease.
“There are some 2,000 new cases per year and we at NKF want to grow because there is always a waiting list.”
If the main issue of focus for the NKF is health, the PLS, deals with something just as important – education.
PLS has been around since 1949. Tam Sin Sing, 52, grew up there before he eventually left to pursue a course in accountancy. Today Tam is back at PLS and in charge of the accounts.
Initially, PLS began as an organisation that aimed to improve multi-religious and multi-racial understanding. Eventually, its mission developed when its founder Swami Satyananda realised the need to establish a home for orphans and underprivileged children following WWII.
At the moment, PLS is home to 93 children. Tam says the home needs RM800,000 per year, and is financially quite stable.
“We don’t really appeal to people if we have enough donations,” says Tam, adding that they receive substantial sums during festive seasons. However, he says the home needs more funds to upgrade its activities. One of the most important is the free tuition offered to the children.
“We used to get ample volunteers, but volunteers come and go. So we would now like to get qualified teachers and pay them,” says Tam who hopes that additional donations will help make this a reality.
Much like Tam, executive director for MNS, Dr Loh Chi Leong has been involved with the society since he was a schoolboy.
“I had the opportunity to join some of the MNS activities as a kid, and their passion for nature rubbed off on me.”
It certainly made a lasting impression, as Loh went on to study microbiology in Canada. He now holds a doctorate in the subject.
Loh says MNS currently has a stable of 4,500 members. “We receive donations from members and also sell books and merchandise.”
Unfortunately, the donations are not sufficient. Loh states that the MNS organises quite a number of programmes for schoolchildren. The society also runs environmental education centres and nature parks.
“Just to keep all that running we need about RM600,000.”
This amount does not include an additional RM400,000 for research and promotion of new areas for conservation.
Loh believes there are actually many people who would like to offer financial help to MNS. “A lot of people actually do wish to give RM10 or RM20 but we don’t have places to collect the money,” he says.
“Gaia has given us the opportunity because the Click ‘n Pay service makes it a lot easier for them to help us.”
Loh says that the Gaia card enables people to take part in conserving the environment.
“Malaysia is listed as one of the top 12 countries in the world for richness in species and diversity and most Malaysians don’t even know it,” says Loh who thinks that the Gaia card offers a good avenue to spread the message of awareness and responsibility to Malaysians.
Assistant vice-president of marketing at MBf Cards, Audrey Tan is pleased that the Gaia card is already contributing to the five NGOs.
“The choice of NGOs goes back to the concept of Gaia as it covers a wide spectrum from nature and humans to animals,” she says.
Deputy president of MBf Cards, Al Alagappan believes that although Gaia is a very creative and original credit card, with potential to help good causes, the kudos should go to the people who work tirelessly for these causes.
“I must say that I feel rather humble to be among the people who represent these NGOs because they represent a noble cause,” he says.
“Ours is really a commercial cause but these people have given their time, effort and invested a lot of their emotions in what they believe in and that should be applauded.”