So cool to be caring

AID THE AILING: Besides providing hands-on care and support for AIDS victims and their children, there is much young people can do to inform the public and help erase the stigma associated with the condition.

NOW that everyone is knocking over themselves to come up with good community service programmes, Star Education spoke to two high-profile non-governmental groups on possible community service that students can undertake. 

Two areas that need contributions from members of the community are women’s issues and HIV/AIDs. 

Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) executive secretary Ivy Josiah said students can contribute at various levels for the women’s cause in Malaysia. 

At the individual level, they can look at women's needs, especially those who need help with their children.  

“Identify single mothers who need assistance. There are various programmes that will help – from providing tuition for poor children to developing a free babysitting service for single mothers and raising money through activities for bus fare, pocket money, exam fees and revision books for children of single-parent homes, and conducting courses for women,” she says. 

The next level is through institutions where students can identify homes for women and their specific needs. 

Get their wish list, she advises, and contribute by painting a child care centre, starting a garden and maintaining it at women’s shelters such as the WAO Refuge or Child Care Centre, buying a sewing machine, or running computer classes and activities for the children. 

At the advocacy level, students can choose an issue – something that affects them perhaps – and organise a series of talks for the school, to educate both boys and girls on the issue.  

Josiah cites sexual harassment as an example, and proposes that students run a campaign against it. “They can come out with a play that carries a message on why sexual harassment is not cool, and take it to other schools.” 

It is not difficult to embark on a community service programme that would help women, she adds. First of all, knowing the issues is important, so students can invite women's groups to give them talks on how to identify the community's needs.  

Says Josiah: “Identify a community – is it the school itself, is it a home, a community in a squatter area, low-cost flats, a village, or even an orang asli settlement? Which community are you targeting?” 

“One can start at home, or find out from one's own school what the needs are of, say, single mothers (of the pupils). Then, one can decide whether to do a one-year programme or a shorter programme.”  

Josiah feels that because students have exams and are free only for a short period of time during the year, they would need to identify one-off projects where for two to four weeks they can dedicate themselves to completing the project. However, she suggests that such community service be done every year so the schools build a relationship with their local communities.  

If students are interested in implementing a community programme for women, they can get a list of NGOs working for women from the Ministry of Women and Family Development or the Ministry of National Unity and Social Development, as well as other NGOs like Salam Malaysia. 

Malaysian AIDS Council’s (MAC) executive director Nik Fahmee Nik Hussein lauds the competition for encouraging greater awareness of the importance in giving back to the community among young people.  

“It is good to educate the young on the benefits of charity work. Competitions like this will help them understand the elements of doing community service by making them go beyond their daily routine,” he says. 

For HIV/AIDS, Nik Fahmee says a lot needs to be done. 

The main aspect is prevention. He adds that young people can come up with good ideas to create greater awareness among young people on the condition.  

“In their own creative ways, young people can work on HIV/AIDS programmes and disseminate information on AIDS through discussions or forums. They can also publish leaflets and posters to raise public awareness on the issue,” he opines. 

Along with fresh ideas, the young can make an impact in helping the cause. 

Nik Fahmee believes that young people are often underestimated. “We assume they don’t know much and are not interested in helping the community. In fact, many are aware of issues. For example, I am confident that many know about the dangers of AIDS and HIV. Their only problem is translating ideas into action. Many young people are unsure how and in what areas they can contribute.”  

Other than working to inform the public and helping to erase the stigma faced by HIV/AIDS victims, students can provide care and support through a “buddy system.”  

“They can befriend HIV/AIDS victims and children and provide them with companionship. Infected and affected children need love and care; students can help by taking them out, for example, to the zoo or playhouses,” says Nik Fahmee. 

However, he says, due to the stigma, everything needs to be done in a private and confidential manner to protect the children. MAC can facilitate and will be willing to collaborate with any group of students interested in organising community service programmes in the area. Currently, there is a high number of children of AIDS victims, as well as those infected through their parents.  

Through their own youthful initiative, students can find all kinds of ways to show care and support. Examples are organising a soup programme or volunteering at the hospital. 

Advocacy with young people is another aspect, says Nik Fahmee. “Students can organise artwork activities for the children and victims. Art is a good therapy.” 

They can also organise art exhibitions to showcase the scourge of AIDS. 

Fund-raising is often a major obstacle. “It will be great if the students can look into investing the prize grant.  

“For instance, they can use the prize money to raise more funds, which can then be used to support more programmes for AIDS and HIV.” 

The Malaysian AIDS Council can be contacted at 03-4045 1033 or e-mail  

WATCH THIS SPACE: Offering A Helping Hand – Read about how a few students initiated an after-school programme to help the less fortunate next month. 

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