KUALA LUMPUR: Armed with goodwill and perseverance but no start-up capital, seven friends got together, formed a group called FreeMarket and have touched the lives of thousands of people since then.
Ahamad Emran, Fadly Daud, Hafiz Kamal, Hayati Ismail, Sarah Lee, Syarifah Athirah Al Tirmidhi and Syed Azmi Alhabshi have undertaken more than 30 community events and 60 FreeMarket events in the past two years, mostly for the marginalised and needy.
Relying solely on public contributions and with no involvement of political parties, they aim to spread kindness, foster unity among the public, prevent wastage and save the environment.
The group, one of the 10 winners of the inaugural Star Golden Hearts award, met in early 2014 through the community Facebook page for Taman Tun Dr Ismail (TTDI), Kuala Lumpur, became close friends and began organising community events.
“The first event we organised was the village game Jom Turun Padang Sukaneka Rakyat in TTDI,” said pharmacist Syed Azmi.
Although they work as a team, Syed Azmi is undoubtedly the magnet holding them together.
During last year’s east coast floods, Syed Azmi raised funds in 17 minutes to buy a hospital bed for a cancer patient stuck in Manek Urai, Kelantan.
A whimsical post on Facebook – “If I have a helicopter I will help” – got the attention of an American company and a local carrier. He took the opportunity to raise donations in kind and flew the items to Terengganu with another volunteer.
The jovial and charismatic Syed Azmi does not believe in offering cash to the needy. Instead, he believes in offering skilled knowledge, food or useful things.
FreeMarket is an example of this.
The project, a brainchild of both Syed Azmi and Ahamad Emran, is a place where the public can give and take anything that is available, for free.
This includes goods in mint condition as well as perishables such as meat or vegetables. In TTDI, for example, people gave away their barbecue sets and original luxury handbags.
In the urban areas, food items such as vegetables are a hit. In the villages, kitchen items and products are more popular.
“The only requirement is the person interested must ask politely and say ‘thank you’ upon receiving an item,” said Syed Azmi.
As for the donors, he advised them not to dump unwanted goods at the FreeMarkets.
“Things that are not taken by others must be taken back by the contributor,” he said.
FreeMarket was inspired by a similar concept carried out by other groups in Kuala Lumpur, but instead of being fixed at one location, it is organised in various neighbourhoods, he added.
FreeMarkets have been held in various states, including Perlis, Negri Sembilan, Malacca, Kelantan and Selangor.
The project has even gone international, with a FreeMarket in Cambodia and possibly others further afield.
Syed Azmi said his best memory was of a young boy from a People’s Housing Scheme who was delighted to receive two tomatoes.
“He turned around and looked at his mother and said ‘We can eat a nice dish cooked with these tomatoes tonight’.
“Another boy just wanted to play chess and a volunteer played chess with him. You can also share your time at FreeMarket,” he said.
Syed Azmi believes that when a cause is genuine and when members of the public understand it, they will come on board to help.
“You can move mountains,” he said. “That’s what makes heroes. You have to start talking about it and not wait for someone else to make a change if you believe your cause is good. We can make a difference.”
Although his projects have inspired others, he does not consider himself a hero.
“I am nobody and I do not have big money. I consider the boy who donated RM1,000 of his savings to buy vegetables for the FreeMarket a hero,” he said.
Social Science lecturer Lawrence Abus, 29, who teaches underprivileged children during his free time, needed new books for his students but could not afford them.
He collected the books at FreeMarket and returned the favour through volunteering.
Lawrence said he liked to see the happy faces of the recipients at the FreeMarket and hoped to take the project to his hometown in Sibu someday.
TV producer Rozy Ghaffar, 38, was Syed Azmi’s primary school classmate and knew him since they were 10.
She reconnected with Syed Azmi and participated in FreeMarket as a donor.
“I have given eggs and vegetables at the FreeMarket,” she said. “It just feels good to give. The act of giving heals your soul.”