When her marriage broke down five years ago, Zarina Zainuddin had to find a way to cope with her despair. She decided to stop wallowing in her misery and to shift her focus to those less fortunate instead.
“There was a sense of emptiness in my life after the divorce. To keep busy, I signed up as a volunteer with a feeding programme as I felt the act of charity will help me heal," recalls the 46-year-old homemaker who sifted through Facebook for philanthropic causes to contribute to.
It proved to be an effective therapy for Zarina's heartbreak, and so after a year she decided to rope her children in.
It has now been four years since Abdullah Ahmad Farouk, 21, Firdaus, 18, Zubayr 16 and Maisarah, 12 have joined their mum to volunteer with non-governmental organisation Feeding The Needy (FTN), helping to feed the homeless and urban poor in Chow Kit, Kuala Lumpur.
Zubayr, who was 12 years old when he started, admits that he was initially apprehensive about going into town at night.
“My initial worry was safety. However, my perspective changed when I saw so many homeless families, people with disabilities and senior citizens queuing up for food. It made me realise how privileged my life is. I think that children, regardless of our age, can do our bit for charity. We can start by donating toys and books to orphanages," says the Form Four student.
Each week, Zubayr and his siblings join about 30 volunteers to distribute 500 food packets and snacks to street dwellers. Zubayr and his brothers also help with crowd control and clean up.
“It can take up to three hours. The workload is lighter when there are more volunteers to lend a hand but there is a sense of accomplishment after each soup kitchen, knowing we’ve done our bit to help others,” says Zubayr.
Although they started volunteering to help those in need, Zarina says that it wasn't long before she started noticing the positive impact the weekly activity had on her family. Their involvement in charity work has changed the way her children think and has about themselves and their lives, she shares.
"They are more grounded, contented and grateful for what they have. They don’t waste food, they spend money wisely and are ever willing to lend people a helping hand," she says, with pride.
For Abdullah, volunteering at the soup kitchen was an "important lesson in humility" which has taught him to to embrace people’s differences. It has also taught him patience. Listening to the stories of the people who live on the streets have also made him obsess less about material possessions or obtaining the latest tech gadgets.
“Each of them have a different story to tell. Many have undergone a lot of hardship to make ends meet. Rather than compare myself to others, I’ve learnt to be more appreciative of life’s blessings.”
Apart from helping out at the soup kitchen, Zarina and her children also take part in FTN’s Free Markets, a sponsorship drive to source for dry food items, toiletries, clothing, toys and utensils for the less fortunate. Last November, the family travelled with to Lombok in Indonesia to help victims of an earthquake.
"The mission was held a day before my birthday. I chose that date because I wanted to do something good ... to give back to the needy on my birthday. And it was the best birthday ever," shares Zarina.
Being involved in charity work together has also helped her bond with her children, she says.
“We work together as a team. There’s so much laughter and happiness, and it feels so good, especially when the job is done well. I like how charity work is helping to shape my kids into caring and generous individuals. I hope that by exposing them to more of these causes, this will become a habit that will continue when they are older.”
Another fringe benefit, she says, is that her children have become more disciplined with their school work to be able to make time for their humanitarian efforts.
Zubayr says: “I make sure that I finish all my homework and revision by the afternoon. Sometimes, I have a short nap so that I wouldn't be exhausted when we're at the soup kitchen. It just boils down to good time management, really.”
Abdullah, who is doing his foundation studies in college, agrees: “It is all about studying smarter and more efficiently. I make it a point to complete my assignments in advance so that I have sufficient time for volunteer work. All you need is to make little pockets of time."
Zarina is grateful her children have never fussed whenever it comes to the spirit of giving. Parents, she feels, play an important and must set an example for their children.
“Kindness, empathy and compassion are among the traits that need to be showcased by parents. Children learn by example,” says Zarina.