Malaysians are a generous lot


THE first time I was introduced to the concept of fundraising for charity was when I was in Form One. My school was raising funds for a new building and we were given cards to ask around for donations.

The response wasn’t great, so my then headmaster decided to add an incentive — if anyone raised more than RM50, he would pay the student 10% of their collection from his own pockets.

I went door-to-door at a few houses in Bangsar asking for donations, but it was tough and mostly embarrassing for a 13-year-old. I think I raised barely over RM50 before I gave up (although I did get my RM5 reward).

Looking back, I think it was so difficult because we weren’t actually taught what charity means in school, and that maybe people (and I include myself) are not used to the idea of raising funds.

That’s not to say that that Malaysians don’t care enough to fundraise – that is absolutely not true. I have encountered and worked with several people and organisations that are passionate in helping various causes in any way they can.

Yet, many people I know are still reluctant to give or donate for various reasons.

I suppose this could be because fundraising in Malaysia is not often very visible. I don’t know if it’s any better than in Singapore but I know that collecting money for charities is very much part of their culture.

Walking to MRT stations, or shopping along Orchard Road on weekends, you are bound to bump into students (and sometimes adults) holding out donation cans for a variety of charities. They then give you a tiny sticker so that other collectors know that you have made a donation.

Maybe it is because it is so common, and public, that I have no qualms putting some money into those tins here in Singapore.

Back home, I am a bit more cynical; admittedly, I am one of those who often “chase” people away from my table when they try to talk to me – I always imagine that they are either scams or trying to sell me something.

Having said that, my experience is that Malaysians – like most people in the world – are always eager to help. In times of tragedy, such as when the tsunami devastation happened in 2004, or even somewhere further from home – the Katrina Hurricane incident in the United States – I personally know of people who have donated a lot of money to help the victims.

The same is happening now with the tragedy in Japan, and there is a strong drive in Malaysia at the moment to raise funds for relief efforts.

When my friends and I organised the first Twestival KL, the local edition of a “Twitter festival” that was part of a global movement which mobilises Twitter users for social good, back in 2009, we hit three times the target amount thanks to the generosity of those who attended.

At the end of the night, people were passing over whatever money they had left in their wallets for Destiny Starting Point, a home for juvenile delinquent, although we had not planned on collecting cash donations.

In planning this year’s edition — to be held next week in aid of Pertubuhan Masyarakat Prihatin, which helps single mothers and children living with HIV in Kota Baru (http://kualalumpur.twestival.com) — there hasn’t been a shortage of any individuals and organisations who have offered to help out. In fact, tickets for the event on March 24 sold out in just over 24 hours.

Still, I’ve also had encounters with people who are less generous. Once when I was working on a fundraiser for a HIV/AIDS cause, a friend asked me why I was doing this considering I am not living with the disease.

Another time when I was raising funds for a home for delinquents, I was told not to bother helping people who will end up robbing me one day.

There were others, of course, and knowing the people who made these statements, I hesitate to label them unkind. I hope that their response stems from ignorance, and perhaps from indifference.

Also, with the number of natural disasters that have been occurring in recent years, I suspect that there is also a sense of fatigue.

But my wish is that more people will be able to see beyond this indifference, fatigue and stereotypes and help out in whatever way they can. We can’t help fight all but it’ll also not hurt to make someone’s life a little bit better.

Niki is currently based in Singapore for the Asia Journalism Fellowship, an initiative by the Temasek Foundation and Nanyang Technological University. He blogs at www.nikicheong.com and Twitters at www.twitter.com/nikicheong.

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