Charity with a difference

  • Business
  • Saturday, 08 Jan 2011

How a relief fund for the Padang earthquake was made more effective and meaningful

THE school looked quite a pretty picture with its cream painted walls trimmed with red and red roofs. More importantly, there were students and teachers and almost all the necessary facilities were in place to make it a real, operational school.

It was not that way a while ago. An earthquake in Padang, Sumatra, in September 2009 caused great devastation, destroying lives, levelling homes, shops, offices, buildings, and yes, schools. That school was one of them.

A day after the earthquake struck, the CIMB Group and The Star jointly launched a relief fund, The CIMB-The Star Padang Relief Fund, inviting contributions from Malaysians. The CIMB Foundation matched ringgit-for-ringgit all collections.

Eventually, the fund totalled well over RM4mil. This fund was going to be different, CIMB group CEO Datuk Seri Seri Nazir Razak announced, because a supervisory committee would be formed to decide how the money would be spent.

Nazir himself headed the committee and it was the job of the committee and CIMB staff on the ground in Padang to ensure that the money raised was well spent.

It was decided that the bulk of the money would be used to rebuild seven schools destroyed during the earthquake. Not only that, CIMB worked with non-governmental organisations to keep the costs of the construction low so that more could be obtained for less.

This required extra work to ensure that the money in the CIMB-The Star Padang Relief Fund was effectively used, as promised to the public.

There are great advantages but a lot of extra effort to this method. The funds donated by the public and the CIMB Foundation will be tracked to ensure that the maximum possible benefit is obtained.

Also, by taking direct responsibility for how the money was spent and providing the necessary manpower, the costs of administration will not cut into the amount of money available in the fund for rehabilitation and restoration work.

In the aftermath of the Boxing Day 2006 tsunami, there was an outpouring of charity from around the world, so much so that money needed for restoration in the worst-hit area Acheh, also in Sumatra was not a problem but its effective distribution was.

Until today, donors, and according to Nazir this included CIMB, are not fully aware as to how the money they donated was utilised.

Last Thursday, there was a simple but touching ceremony at one of the seven schools in Padang to commemorate the occasion of their opening. The Governor of West Sumatra was there and he pointed out that 50 other schools were still waiting to be reopened.

It was clear that the CIMB-The Star Padang Relief Fund helped to fill an existing need. Yes, CIMB will gain some goodwill in Sumatra for the important part it played, but paramount is the fact that very tangible help was rendered to some people from Padang in their hour of need. That is the essence of charity.

In one of their performances, the schoolchildren sang their gratitude for the return of their school and one of them, as she sang, stepped off the stage and placed a scarf around Nazir's neck in a thankful gesture. Nazir agreed later that this was among the best honours he had ever received.

Indeed, it must have been. That RM4mil plus did go a long way. Seven schools were rebuilt and provided with amenities such as libraries and computers. They became fully operational again.

Several hundred schoolchildren in Padang had their schools back. And imagine how many more children it will help in future years for the schools have been given a new lease of life.

Managing editor P Gunasegaram was privileged to have represented this newspaper on the supervisory committee for the CIMB-The Star Padang Relief Fund and to attend the commemorative ceremony.

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