HARI Raya is a time for self-reflection, forgiveness and spending time with family and of course, feasting on delicious food, be it at home or at open houses. However, there are those who are down on their luck and have next to nothing, which can be painful during the festive season.
A typical Friday night for a group of corporate figures usually revolves around friends and socialising to wind down after a busy week. But for a few doctors and bank executives, they sacrifice their night out to help the needy and feed the homeless at Pertiwi Soup Kitchen in downtown Kuala Lumpur.
It was about 9pm when hundreds of homeless folk formed a long line around the corner near Medan Tuanku, Kuala Lumpur.
Barathi Tahsan Suppiah, who recently resigned from his job to take a sabbatical leave, ushered guests towards the food and drinks at a Hari Raya gathering, organised by Pertiwi for their street friends, volunteers and everyone they work with for the community.
The exterior of Medan Kasih Centre was transformed into a carnival-like atmosphere with food and drink stalls while entertainment was provided by buskers from Unggas KL, a social service and community group, which aims to curb social ills.
“We get between 650 and 700 people comprising adults and children, made up of locals and foreigners. These people each have their own story to tell and they just need a helping hand,” said Barathi, 44.
He has been volunteering with Pertiwi for the past four years and looks forward to doing it every week.
“Doing something useful makes me happy. I like to join the Friday group because it comprises a multiracial group of working class professionals,” he said.
The soup kitchen distributes food every Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. It also provides free medical check-ups by doctors who volunteer their expertise.
Barathi also teaches Bahasa Malaysia and English to orphans at the Sivananda Home in Batu Caves on weekdays. “I do it because it is close to home. My sister-in-law is also a volunteer teacher,” he said.
Raja Teh Maimunah Raja Abdul Aziz, the chief executive officer of Hong Leong Islamic Bank, shows her altruism through caring for HIV-positive orphans, under the care of Kasih Pertiwi.
“We help to raise funds to enable the kids to go to school and receive healthcare. I even have my own little family where I oversee 11 children,” she said.
Having volunteered for Pertiwi for over 10 years, Raja Teh Maimunah said although they received help from a good number of volunteers, help in terms of monetary funding from the public would be a big help.
“Most companies have their corporate social responsibility (CSR) projects but they don’t know where to channel the money. I suggest that people come to Pertiwi and volunteer with us for just one night to see how the money can be put to good use,” she added.
As the homeless enjoyed their meal, those in need of medical aid take a seat to consult Dr Nason Tan.
The general practitioner has been running the Pertiwi mobile clinic for over a year.
“We treat common ailments like diarrhoea, flu and skin infections and those who have defaulted on HIV treatments. In the latter case, we help to link them back to the previous hospital,” said Dr Tan, who also does missions with Doctors Without Borders.
His patients at the Pertiwi mobile clinic mostly consist of drug addicts, people from the streets looking for work but don’t meet the minimum requirements, alcoholics, sex workers, transgenders and those who are HIV positive.
“We cannot turn them away because they need treatment for immediate relief and we advise them on prevention.” he added.
The food served at Pertiwi Soup Kitchen is outsourced from corporate sponsors. This is a project that was established to provide meals at various locations around Kuala Lumpur on a regular basis.
Pertiwi vice-president Munirah Abdul Hamid, who is also Pertiwi Soup Kitchen chairman and founder, said they decided to do their Hari Raya event out in the streets to bring their street friends, volunteers and everyone they work with together.
“This is not just the soup kitchen’s do but the main organisation’s. The food was sourced from us, the volunteers. Unggas provided the cakes. The people brought nasi lemak and the ice cream was sponsored. It is a nice effort coming together,” she said.
Munirah, 65, is an entrepreneur in the private sector researching in human genomes. “I’m also a grandmother,” she beamed.
“We do this because it makes us grateful for the things we have,” said Munirah.