Newspaper vendors. The fire brigade and ambulance services. Public transport drivers and street cleaners.
We see them every day in the city. Without them, our lives would surely break down: but how well do we really know the people doing these jobs? What keeps them motivated? What kind of challenges do they face?
The stories of these hardworking men and women, who do the difficult jobs that keep the city running, are showcased in KLecting Stories, the fourth edition of an annual project to commemorate Merdeka Day and Malaysia Day.
“This year, we wanted to let the people, who might not always get a platform, to tell their stories, not just about their lives, but the lives of KL-ites through their eyes,” said Niki Cheong, KLecting Stories project coordinator.
“We wanted to talk to people who we see day to day, but usually have little interaction with in real life. The examples I gave my students were like the people who sweep the streets: we see them every day, but we never talk to them.”
Cheong, 37, a writer, social activist and former journalist, writes on socio-cultural issues and lectures and researches in the area of media power and politics. Popularly known as the Bangsar Boy (a reference to his fortnightly column in The Star), he has been featured on the BBC, Al Jazeera, Dutch daily Trouw and MTV Asia, among others.
Since Aug 31, 2013, he’s been bringing together a diverse group of writers, photographers, bloggers, artists, designers and former students, to tell Malaysian stories.
In 2013, Cheong’s group travelled to all 13 Malaysian states in 15 days, to get people to share their stories as part of their 50x50 Malaysia project. In 2014, their LimaPuluhTujuh project showcased eight Malaysians with unique stories to share, while the following year, they encouraged young Malaysians to share their hopes for the countries in the #seedingMYhope initiative.
“We wanted to find ways of telling stories that people can resonate with. As Malaysians, no matter where we come from, whether we come from the urban or less areas, we all have very similar experiences, we eat the same food,” added Cheong.
“We’re not so different that we cannot relate with each other. That’s what I wanted to remind people.”
For this year’s project, eight of Cheong’s former students – Sara-Jane Har, Hafiz Norizan, Suemitraa Thiagarajan, Brandon John LiPaul, Nicole Allison, Belinda Soh, Dylan Tan and Zakiy Rahim – spent the 17 days between Merdeka Day and Malaysia Day on the streets, hunting for stories.
According to LiPaul, 25, obtaining these stories was not always easy.
“Some of these people were very shy to be on camera. They were also very aware of what they were saying, because they didn’t want to take credit for whatever they were doing. Even though its their job, it was also their passion. So they didn’t want to say things to make them sound like the only heroes in the country,” said LiPaul, who is currently studying in KDU College.
For his part of the project, LiPaul spoke to Abdul Azim, an ambulance driver, and his colleague Isha, a paramedic from First Ambulance.
“We see ambulances every day, rushing to a particular scene. They save other people’s lives, and also put their lives into danger. We know that they are there, we know they are saving people, but we rarely have the chance to meet them and tell them thank you for what they are doing,” added LiPaul. “This project opened my eyes to what these people really do.”
Allison, 23, spoke to Hazinan Md Yusof, a second-in-command fireman at the Balai Bomba Subang Jaya in Selangor with over 30 years of experience.
“He showed me a video that he took himself, of how he saved a man from committing suicide. Some of us think that firemen only put out fires, but we forget that they also do other things. So watching that video gave me a greater realisation of what they do,” said Allison, also a student at KDU.
What moved her most about the project, Allison mentioned, was realising the extent of the sacrifices that these people make in doing their jobs.
“The fireman told me that he would always have to be stationed in different places, and during those times, they have to be away from their families. They sacrifice their own time and happiness for our own safety. And that was very moving for me,” she said.
All the KLecting Stories pieces have been published on the project’s website in the form of text and photographs. Also featured are video interviews with the people in the stories.
“We don’t want to just speak for these people, we don’t want to lose their voices. I think it’s very important to let their voices come through,” said Cheong.
He also encouraged people to share their own personal stories and photos on social media, especially using the #Klectingstories hashtag.
“We’re not the only ones who are creating stories. We want people to remember that everyone has stories to tell, and my interest is in collecting them. But the only way I can collect them is by people telling them to me. So share your photos, text and videos,” said Cheong.
KLecting Stories is supported by Kakiseni, AFOradio, APW Bangsar, RapidKL and SocialGrooves. Check out the project at www.klectingstories.com.
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