GEORGE TOWN: He was neither family nor good friend. But for Shirin Aziha Shahidan, it didn’t matter when it came to helping Uncle Ah San.
While other schoolchildren were busy with homework or spending time with friends, Shirin, at just nine years old then, would wait until “uncle” Lim Kim Sung closed his drinks stall and help him push his cart home.
“People like Shirin are very hard to find,” recalls Lim with tears in his eyes of his young neighbour who continued to help him since then till now as a widower suffering from filariasis (elephantiasis).
“You don’t have to be family to take care of someone, but you have to be genuine,” says Shirin, one of the winners of the inaugural Star Golden Hearts award.
Her desire to help others took root very early in life. At nine, she told her mum that wanted to make Penang old folk-friendly and open an old folks home – no one should be sleeping on the street.
At the age of 18, Shirin left Penang to further her studies.
“But she remembered me and kept coming back to check on me,” said Lim who has been unable to stand and walk for the past four years. His wife died three years ago and he has no children.
“I was busy earning my master’s degree and changing jobs,” said Shirin, who now runs her own company which organises track days at the Sepang Circuit.
This year, she decided it was time to do something more for Uncle Ah San.
In June, she wrote to Syed Azmi Alhabshi – another Golden Hearts award winner – after reading his Facebook post about caring for the elderly. She shared about Lim’s elephantiasis, the trouble he had getting to the hospital every day to have his wound dressed, and what she was trying to do.
“I had zero expectations,” she said. “What were my chances of getting his attention and time?”
Raising funds for a stranger is not easy here, said Syed Azmi. “There is a trust issue. But Shirin has been helping Uncle since she was nine and she’s now 27. That made me trust her.”
The original goal was to get the local community in Penang to help Lim since Shirin is based in Putrajaya. “We didn’t ask for donations,” he said.
But the response was tremendous with offers of help coming not only from here but also from Singapore, Australia, London and New York. Lim became a social media celebrity and, to date, well-wishers have sent RM20,000.
Shirin had to open a PayPal account and figure out how to spend the money. “We had some ideas on how to help Uncle based on his daily challenges,” she said.
And she learned along the way to listen to what he wants, respect his choices and his independence, and be adaptable.
Doctors recommended amputating Lim’s leg but he refused. The trip to and from the hospital every day for his dressing took him around two hours by wheelchair, crossing busy roads.
Shirin has spent about 70% of the funds. She bought a medical bed with a lifting support and remote control and a commode chair, and also arranged for private nurses to come to Lim’s home daily to dress his wound.
Lim is still using the bed but doesn’t use the commode chair because it is difficult within the cramped space of his home and he cannot move his left leg. The nurses stopped coming to his house recently.
“He said he wants to exercise and go to hospital on his own,” said Shirin.
She told him he could take the Rapid mobility van to hospital if it rains or if he doesn’t feel like going by wheelchair and she would pay the fee, but he has yet to take up her offer.
“It’s good exercise,” Lim said. “I’m still strong, see? And when I need to cross the road, there is almost always someone to help me. Sometimes, when they find out I am heading for the hospital, they will push me all the way there.”
Although it didn’t work out the way Shirin had anticipated, she has adapted to Lim’s needs and she plans to keep a pool of funds for him.
“I don’t know what will happen in the future and I want to be able to continue to help him.” She still dreams of opening an old folks home one day and hopes what she learned from helping Lim will be a good start.
“Shirin and Syed Azmi helped me more than anyone has ever done in my whole life,” Lim said.
But one good turn deserves another. Lim helps others too by sending food regularly to the St Nicholas Home for the visually disabled and a Muslim orphanage.
“We are on the same page!” said Shirin.