KUALA LUMPUR: The Nasi Lemak Project (TNLP) founder Mastura M. Rashid has reached out to the homeless while training urban poor mothers to be entrepreneurs.
The winner of one of The Star’s 10 inaugural Golden Hearts awards has been the answer to the prayers of Nurasmawati Mohd Jalil, 35, who lives with her cancer-stricken husband Khalid Hassan, 46, and five children aged between three and 14.
As the sole breadwinner, she would take up odd jobs, leaving for work early in the morning and sometimes only coming home in the wee hours of the next day.
She prayed hard for a job that would allow her more time to be with her children. Mastura, 25, and her project manager Zul Imran Ishak approached Nurasmawati one day upon seeing the condition of her wooden home in Selayang.
“We first approached her to provide free tuition classes for her children but we realised the family needed financial help,” Mastura said.
In August, Nurasmawati began cooking nasi lemak weekly to supply to the social enterprise TNLP, which buys her food to distribute for catering and to corporations that make orders.
“We wanted to train her to cook but we realised her nasi lemak was way better than ours,” Mastura said.
Nurasmawati is one of the two urban poor mothers TNLP helps and the goal is to help 20 families by next year.
Mastura is currently working to get an agreement with an oil and gas company to allow these mothers to supply their nasi lemak to petrol stations by January.
She has also written to community colleges for mothers to get training on food safety and handling, and will apply for a business licence for them so they can each open a little stall.
Mastura’s first taste of helping through volunteering began while she was in university, where she tutored refugee children and helped out in soup kitchens.
In 2013, she started TNLP to get university students involved in volunteering, especially in their free time. She calls TNLP a young, effective counter-poverty movement fuelled by volunteerism.
Her aim at the time was to help the homeless but she later reached out to urban poor children in Sentul and Selayang as wel, to provide them with four-hour lessons in English, Mathematics and soft skills during the weekend.
The social enterprise has 700 registered volunteers, with 50 active members.
It is divided into two categories – the non-profit and the social enterprise.
Volunteers under the non-profit category are called Edu Rangers, tutors who are in their 20s and 30s, and Street Rangers who feed the homeless. The social enterprise generates funds the non-profit through sales of nasi lemak and donations from corporations.
Mastura and her volunteers spend their Saturday evenings preparing a main dish (most of the time nasi lemak), snacks and drinks, before making their way to Jalan Hang Lekiu to feed the homeless.
Twenty-year-old Kasmirul Hilpe began volunteering with TNLP in July. He said he has always wanted to volunteer and now does so by teaching and preparing food for the homeless.
Previously, TNLP volunteers would sit with the homeless to profile them, getting personal information down to the size of their footwear. Mastura now has the names of 200 homeless in her database.
“The food we give out is a communication tool and this is what people should be doing,” she said, adding that you can only help a person by getting to know them first.
Mastura has employed the homeless to prepare food and helped them secure jobs with food and beverage companies. Five homeless people are off the streets, working and living in hostels provided by their employers.
“I have not seen or heard from them since but as long as I don’t see them back on the streets, I know they are safe,” she said.
However, Mastura will soon concentrate more on urban poor families to ensure they don’t end up on the streets.
Apart from training mothers to be entrepreneurs, she will be starting three new initiatives to help urban poor families next year.
A theatre project called “Sting Garden” will be held to build the confidence of urban youths and children.
Pixel Garage will equip youths with graphic design skills.
Mastura will also be opening an unemployment lab to help brush up resumes and English-speaking skills.
Though many of her plans changed and her focus shifted, her team of volunteers has not given up hope to make the city a better place for the less fortunate.
At the end of the day, The Nasi Lemak Project hopes to develop into a sustainable social enterprise that helps free urban poor families from poverty.