How a Malaysian author and a group of volunteers created the #kitajagakita initiative


  • Arts
  • Friday, 03 Apr 2020

'We all have input into suggesting and verifying initiatives, social media postings, website updates and the general direction of #kitajagakita as an initiative, ' says author Hanna Alkaf about the 'kitajagakita' help directory, which she helps to run with a dedicated team of volunteers. Photo: Filepic

Author Hanna Alkaf was tired of being tired. Every time she went online last month, she kept reading things that made her angry, frustrated, or helpless.

She wanted to do something rather than just sit at home during these uncertain times surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic.

On March 17, she turned to Twitter and listed down initiatives by community groups and NGOs, which worked with communities that would be severely impacted by the Government's movement control order (MCO). The MCO began on March 18 and has been extended to April 14.

Hanna was looking for a platform that would make it easier for people to donate or volunteer their services.

"I figured if I was feeling this way, then I couldn’t be the only one. And I was right. The thread began to gain traction on Twitter; people would link me to more initiatives, I’d add them, and so it grew and grew. I used a hashtag I’d seen going around – #kitajagakita (we look out for one another) – because it spoke to me; I loved the idea of us, the rakyat, taking care of our own," recalls Hanna, 35, the author of the award-winning novel The Weight of Our Sky.

It has been more than two weeks since the start of MCO, and Hanna has kept herself busy at home, taking care of her two young children and also working on communications and handling media for #kitajagakita.

"Between my kids and #kitajagakita, all my time has been fully taken up during the MCO," she says.

As an ordinary citizen, she is thriving on the challenges to help her fellow Malaysians in this time of need.

A Facebook screenshot of a recent #kitajagakita initiative.A Facebook screenshot of a recent #kitajagakita initiative.

Hanna had no idea how much this #kitajagakita idea would take off. At the start, she was contacted by a friend Andrew Loh, who was the co-founder of pulangmengundi.com, a platform that helped Malaysians connect with other Malaysians to assist them in returning home to vote during GE14 in 2018.

Loh and his friends had seen her Twitter thread, and wanted to brainstorm ideas on how to work together. They joined forces, and within 24 hours, #kitajagakita.com was up and running on March 18. The website aims to collect, verify and list initiatives done on the ground to help vulnerable communities and medical frontliners through the MCO, making it easy for people to donate and share beyond social media space.

"#Kitajagakita is a 'one-stop shop' for Malaysian civil society Covid-19 efforts. We match people who want to help (the rakyat, corporate sponsors) with people who need help (affected individuals, groups, medical community) via various civil society initiatives," reads the website description.

The #kitajagakita team comprises Hanna, Loh, Timothy Teoh, Hafiz Noor Shams, Wong Li Hua, See Yew Juan, Ee Chian, Kristy Voon, Rebecca Kiew, Timothy Cheng and Mastura M. Rashid.

"We’re now a team of 11-strong, pulling in people if and when we need to, as our needs and scope evolve. We all come from different backgrounds – economics and finance, business, marketing, publishing, medicine. Not all of us are what you’d call activists, none of us are celebrities. We’re ordinary people. But I think that’s an important thing to note. That when ordinary people come together and focus all their talents and passion and compassion onto one purpose, there is so much you can do," says Hanna.

Every organisation and initiative listed on the #kitajagakita website has been verified through a set of internal requirements set by the group. Some include Mercy Malaysia, Relate Malaysia, Life Line Association Malaysia and Projek Wawasan Rakyat (POWR).

The #kitajagakita initiative also highlighted the plight of Zoo Negara Malaysia's animals with an animal 'adoption package' (by Malaysian Zoological Society) that the public can participate in. The #kitajagakita initiative also highlighted the plight of Zoo Negara Malaysia's animals with an animal 'adoption package' (by Malaysian Zoological Society) that the public can participate in.

"The criteria includes whether the initiative is run by a registered society, whether that society has a proven track record of working within the communities they serve, what account the funds are being channeled into, and how transparent the group or society is with the funds they collect," explains Hanna.

Response to the movement has been amazing, with many people donating, sharing and coming together to help the groups listed on the website.

"We cannot claim each initiative’s or NGO’s successes as our own. All we do is provide a platform and boost whenever we can, but it’s good to see their progress, or even seeing their fundraising goals being met. We’ve also worked with other groups like the 100 Percent Project, Me.reka, Biji-Biji Initiative and MyDiplomacy under a movement called RumahKita to help our frontliners with both medical and non-medical needs and equipment," says Hanna.

Additionally, #kitajagakita works with Yayasan Chow Kit, #UndiRabu, #PulangMengundi and Projek Wawasan Rakyat under the banner of Homes4Heroes to help medical frontliners displaced by sudden new postings due to the Covid-19 situation with accommodation if needed.

Right now, Hanna says the initiative is focused on fundraising for Covid-19 frontliner needs. She hopes to turn further attention and support on smaller groups or initiatives meant to help specific communities, such as refugees, the homeless, the urban poor, stateless children, the elderly, orang asli and more.

Hanna and the #kitajagakita team believe a lot more can still be done, especially with the MCO end date still a long way off.

"I don’t think you can be satisfied, when even the smallest push of the dial in terms of awareness can mean the difference in a family being fed or going hungry. I think we constantly need to think of ways to better serve the initiatives and communities we want to help, and to do that, we need to keep pushing ourselves to get out there, to get more of a response, to keep those donations coming in," she says.

"I hope ordinary people – people like us – realise how much of an impact they can make if they simply choose to help someone who needs it. I hope we come to a collective realisation that no society can call itself successful unless we work to raise everyone up, together. I hope we make it through this with kindness and compassion."

More info: kitajagakita.com. Email: kitajaga.us@gmail.com.

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