CONCERNED that the less fortunate are unable to afford proper funerals, some kind people have come together to ensure the last rites can be performed for them.
Former mechanic Mohd Zulhairi Zainol, 33, offers a free hearse service to Muslims who cannot afford to pay.
The rates to transport a body to the cemetery can start from RM100 and if it has to travel a long distance, from Ampang to Port Dickson, the fee can go up to RM1,300.
His clients are mostly village folk and the urban poor who cannot afford to pay.
Among the cases he handled included that of a couple from Sabak Bernam, Selangor, who came to Kuala Lumpur to visit their children.
Just before returning to their hometown, the wife died of a heart attack. Zulhairi was called in because the widower was unable to pay RM900 for a hearse to take his wife’s body home.
Zulhairi first realised there was a need for such services while doing volunteer work for the destitute and urban poor.
“Many of these families have a household income of less than RM500. It occurred to me that if they could not make ends meet for even the basic necessities like food and shelter, they would find it difficult to pay for the funeral expenses of loved ones.
“About 80% of my cases involve the poor. The rest pay me what they can.
“I use the money to pay for toll charges and other operational costs,” said Zulhairi who has handled over 47 cases since he started in October last year.
Zulhairi, who worked as a delivery runner, said donors helped him buy fuel and maintain the two vans he used.
There were also petrol stations in Bandar Baru Bangi, Bukit Dukung, Klang and Tanjung Karang that allowed him to fuel up for free so he could carry on doing his work.
Who needs it the most
One sector in dire need of such assistance are residents at welfare homes who had no next-of-kin or were abandoned by their families, said Rumah Kasih manager Foong Peng Lam, 73.
Since 2000, Foong sought sponsors to pay for funeral costs of residents at the home.
He found donors to sponsor the funerals of not only residents who passed on in Rumah Kasih, but also those from three other welfare homes.
They are Shepherd’s Foundation Centre (SFC), a foster home for children as well as destitute senior citizens; Positive Living Community (PLC), a shelter for those affected by HIV/AIDS, drug or alcohol addiction; and Kenosis Home, a drug rehabilitation facility.
SFC founder Jacop David vividly remembers how in his last days, they discovered a resident had family in Bengaluru, India. Upon his passing, the home raised the money with Foong’s help to send the body back there.
While every effort is made to trace the families or next-of-kin, PLC founder and executive director Alex Arokiam said most of the home’s dependants have been disowned by their relatives and loved ones due to their chequered past.
“When they die, the only people who will accord them the last rites are often the welfare or charity homes where they spent their last days.”
Great Heart Charity Association (GHCA) secretary Ric See, which has sponsored scores of funerals, said those without next-of-kin usually have very quiet send-offs.
“There is no wake or visitors save for the undertakers. The deceased is usually cremated but that does not mean they cannot be given a proper departure.”
There is usually no lack of willing sponsors when it comes to ensuring the poor and destitute are given dignified send-offs.
When Zulhairi announced on social media that he was looking for donors to fund the purchase of a minivan for his hearse services, he received RM38,000 within three months.
The expenses for vehicle maintenance and shrouds are covered by ongoing donations.
“I don’t even know who some of these donors are,” said Zulhairi.
Persatuan Kebajikan Khairat Pengebumian Kaum India Selangor (Khais) chairman D. Dhatchina-moorthy said time was of the essence.
Whenever he hears of a case, the lorry driver who worked for a forwarding agency in Klang, would send a mass blast on instant messaging services.
One of his regular donors is Shavonne Tan, 43, whom he had never met. Tan, who operated a resort home in Melaka, donated up to RM1,500 for a funeral arranged by Khais.
“I heard about the association from my religious leader and felt compelled to do something for the departed especially those with no relatives,” she said in a telephone interview.
See said it was not unusual for wealthy businessmen from the Chinese community to donate coffins to receive merit.
He was told by casket companies that there was always a long line of donors waiting to perform the deed.
“In a year, we can receive up to RM100,000 in donations for our coffin programme alone,” he said, adding that a memorial park in Semenyih allocated 500 lots for the association’s use.
Foong said in some cultures, it was believed that such ceremonies would enable the spirits of the departed to rest in peace.