Groups step up to undertake funeral services safely amid pandemic for free

Gan at Krematorium Majlis Perbandaran Klang putting flowers on top of a casket as a sign of respect to the deceased.

WITH many hospital morgues full because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the task of safely arranging the collection of bodies for speedy burial or cremation can be overwhelming for families already coping with grief.

This is more so for the underprivileged faced with hefty funeral bills.

Several groups are thus offering this important service for free, even in cases of unclaimed bodies.

One of the most unlikely undertakers is Afiz Ayub, a businessman and venture capitalist who has found success in building up the Burger Bakar and Kawd food brands.

When Afiz first started out as an entrepreneur dabbling in various businesses, his vision was to be a millionaire and retire in his 30s.

After achieving all he set his mind to – he opened 16 Burger Bakar restaurants in Malaysia and Singapore before delegating the operations to his partners – he now makes it his life’s mission to do charitable work.

“When I performed the umrah in Mecca in 2014, I had an epiphany and realised I was meant to help the poor. That’s why I decided to offer free undertaker services,” he said.

He set up Amal Team in 2015 to handle funeral arrangements for families in need, at no cost.

“My motto in life is simple: we must help people to succeed.

“I like to think outside the box; so I thought why not do something that not many people would want to do?

“Besides, there are too many people providing food aid already,” said the 37-year-old father of two from Kelana Jaya in Petaling Jaya.

Earlier this year, he set up Afiz Ayub Foundation which helps bereaved families among the poor prepare documentation for the release of bodies from hospitals.

Services include collecting and preparing the bodies for transport, either to the home of the deceased, the mosque or straight to the cemetery.

The foundation also provides free transportation of the dead in Malaysia and overseas.

Afiz already had some experience in the field from his teenage days, having helped a neighbour who owned a casket business carry out funeral arrangements for the needy, both Muslims and non-Muslims.

“This was all before the advent of smartphones and WhatsApp, which are a blessing now in our business, because people can contact us easily if they need help for funeral arrangements.

“For Muslims, I would help to bathe the bodies, many of whom were accident victims, before the burial.

“I helped out non-Muslims too when I first started.

“After we were done, an agent would take charge of the burials,” he recounted his experience to StarMetro.

Death was costly, said Afiz, as a casket alone could cost about RM7,000, while burial plots cost up to RM2,500.

“Preparing the dead for burial is also difficult work, though a noble one,” he said.

He hopes to ease the burden of people who are unable to afford funeral arrangements, regardless of race and religion.

Needless to say, the foundation has been extremely busy since the Covid-19 pandemic started last year, and has so far handled some 300 to 400 funeral arrangements for free.

Now on any given day, it handles an average of 15 Covid-19 and non-Covid-19 deaths a day.

Afiz said he once arranged for a body to be taken home to Sabah via cargo, paying RM3,500 out of his own pocket.

“Soon after that, a story about my free service went viral on social media.

“Imagine the thought of losing a loved one and being unable to transport their body back home.

“I always think that I need to ease their burden,” he added.

Death may be a profit-driven business for some, but Afiz believes in helping people for free.

“I do it with sincerity, which is important,” he said.

The foundation now has a fleet of 25 luxury MPVs as well as three ambulances for emergencies.

“If you notice, most van jenazah are old and rundown.

“I want to change that mentality.

“Why not make a person’s final journey comfortable?” Afiz added.

Those who need assistance with funeral arrangements can call Afiz Ayub Foundation at 012-345 4409.

Transporting bodies

Pensioner Rahmat Mohd Shuaib, 65, from Kepayan in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, has been an undertaker since serving with Sabah Islamic Religious Council (Muis) more than 30 years ago.

Now retired, he and his son Awang Saiful Rahmat, 35, continue to offer free undertaker services for non-Covid-19 deaths around Kota Kinabalu and throughout Sabah.

Rahmat said he felt sorry for the poor and underprivileged who could not afford to pay for funeral services.

“It is sad to see people, especially in villages, having difficulties and no financial means to bury their loved ones,” he said when contacted.

Awang Saiful, a 15-year veteran with the Kota Kinabalu fire station, told StarMetro that he was proud to be part of his father’s humanitarian efforts.

He said they were on-call 24 hours a day to offer help to anyone in need.

“We do not handle burials.

“Our work is to pick up bodies from the hospital and transport them to their destination, be it a family home or mosque.

“The village committee will handle the burial.

“Usually, the hardcore poor will need help from us to transport the bodies,” he explained.

Managing unclaimed remains

Persatuan Kebajikan Khairat Pengebumian Kaum India Selangor (Khais) is another association which offers free funeral arrangements, particularly for the Hindu community in Selangor.

Its chairman Datuk Seri Dr D. Dhatchinamoorthy said its objective was to manage unclaimed bodies to ease congestion at hospital morgues in the state.

He said the deceased came from poor families who could not afford to pay for the funeral, or those who had no next-of-kin.

“Just recently, we had an 80-year-old woman who died of Covid-19 in Hospital Shah Alam.

“Her only daughter did not have any help or money to arrange for a funeral, so we stepped in to help.

“We also deal with plenty of cases of abandoned parents in hospital.

“In this case, the police have to step in and find the next-of-kin, liaise with the forensic department and only then, the body will be released to us.

“It is disturbing and sad to see such cases,” said Dhatchinamoorthy.

Before setting up non-governmental organisation Pertubuhan Perkhidmatan Risiko Bencana Malaysia, Datuk Gan Chong Wee worked as a private embalmer at funeral parlours in Malaysia.

Now, he receives calls from government hospitals to handle the remains of individuals of whom they have no background information in addition to unidentified bodies.

“Recently, we made arrangements for 39 bodies from Hospital Tengku Ampuan Rahimah in Klang. They were all Covid-19-related deaths.

“Some of them were undocumented foreign workers.

“We will help anyone regardless of race and religion.

“For Muslim burials, we work with another team,” Gan said, adding that he had been managing funeral and bereavement services for almost 30 years.

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