“Most of them are very pitiful cases. I saw a one-year-old baby who couldn’t breathe, and even children born with defects, so we try to do what we can to make life more comfortable for them,” said Datuk Abdullah Mohd Yusof, president of the Malaysian Aeon Foundation (MAF), Aeon Co’s charity arm.
The stark reality of the needy can be overwhelming and, according to him, it is also very often heartbreaking. The need to ease that suffering is what drives MAF and its With All Our Hearts (WAOH) charity campaign. In its 11 years of existence, the foundation has given money to those who needed help with education, improving their homes, and managing medical problems; it has also supported activities designed to keep underprivileged children away from social ills.
Eleven years is a long time, and there is tangible evidence of all the good work MAF has done in that period.
“In the education area, we have the BEST (Basic Education Support) programme, which kicked off in a big way in 2012 and is a collaboration with the Education Ministry,” said Abdullah about one of the foundation’s efforts.
The ministry identifies needy schools – which have largely been in Sarawak, Perak, and Kelantan to date – and BEST does the rest.
“We complement what the schools have, which isn’t very much to start with,” he said. Some of these schools don’t have basic necessities like functioning classrooms, canteens, and proper tables and chairs even. “We either repair old items or just build new ones. Basically, we try to provide the children a better environment to study in.”
Libraries and IT requirements are often neglected, and these are two areas that BEST can help in. “It’s not just the books that are scarce; on some occasions, we’ve even built libraries. Of course, we provide computers as well, like we did for some schools in Tanah Merah in Kelantan after the floods last year.
“These are the things that make a big difference.”
Abdullah and his team have also travelled deep into the rural areas of Bau, Kuching, and Tapah, Perak, to help schools where many underprivileged indigenous children study.
Apart from educational needs, the foundation also helps with medical matters.
“We learn about their plight from the papers or from our own staff who may know of cases. Then we contact them to verify their needs, and usually they are very great, like requiring RM200,000 for hole-in-the-heart surgery, for instance.”
MAF doesn’t bear the costs lock, stock and barrel but will help cover a part of it; this is because the foundation tries to reach out to as many people as possible. “We try to get other organisations to chip in as well.”
The foundation has contributed dialysis machines to dialysis centres, wheelchairs, and even built a library in the paediatric unit of Hospital Kuala Lumpur and refurbished its kids corner.
Bringing festive cheer is also high on MAF’s list of things to do, especially to orphanages, and three to four locations are marked for each holiday season.
“We take the kids to buy new clothes at Aeon stores and provide them with food and basic supplies.” Before the start of a new school year, the foundation also provides needy children with uniforms and bags.
Entire families have also benefitted from MAF’s charity, with dilapidated homes either restored or completely rebuilt. “We try to make their houses functional again, otherwise they will have to live in squalor,” explained Abdullah.
The recent spate of disasters has kept the foundation occupied with offering help internationally, donating food and basic and medical supplies to victims of Typhoon Hagupit in the Philippines last year and to people involved in the ongoing Gaza Strip conflict; more recently, it has sent aid to victims of the devastating Nepal earthquake.
Since its inception in 2004, MAF has collected more than RM7mil, its main fundraising source being its annual charity gala dinner. “Because it’s charity, we get people to buy tables at inflated prices, but of course, we make the events interesting by having guest artistes and VIPs.
“If you want people to part with their money, you have to make it special,” said Abdullah very frankly.
Aeon’s Business Partners Alliance Golf Tournament likewise contributes to the cause. According to him, new targets are constantly set, with this year’s being RM2mil.
Believe it or not, the Aeon coin boxes stationed at checkout counters in its stores can generate between RM300,000 and RM400,000 a year from the loose change people drop into them. An online donation system has also been set up at edonation.aeonretail.com.my.
Abdullah summed up Aeon Co and MAF’s stand on charity perfectly: “We take a lot from people, and because of that, we wish to give back.”
There’s clearly joy in giving, as much as there is in receiving.