BUTTERWORTH: When Shabuddin Mat was working at the Butterworth government health clinic, he noticed how difficult it was for the underprivileged to travel for treatment.
When he retired as a financial administrator in July, he still goes to the clinic and keeps to his working hours.
But instead of clocking in, the 60-year-old would offer his services to ferry needy patients to and from the clinic and their homes free.
From 8am to 5pm, Monday to Friday, Shabuddin’s light blue Proton Preve serves as a “charity taxi”.
“I would be ‘on-call’ on Saturdays and Sundays. I don’t at all mind if patients require my services during the weekend, ” he said.
Shabuddin’s charity taxi service covers areas around Butterworth like Penang Central, Bagan Ajam, Prai, Mak Mandin, Seberang Jaya and Telok Ayer Tawar.
He said the idea of providing the service came to him as he was approaching retirement.
He recalled how underprivileged patients – some of whom were refugees and foreign workers – would lament the difficulty of getting transportation for treatment.
“Some of them told me that taxi and e-hailing services often charged more than what they could afford, ” he said.
He added that many who come to the clinic for check-ups or treatment were struggling to make ends meet.
After years of interacting with patients at the clinic, Shabuddin decided that he would one day find a way to help alleviate some of their burden. That was how the idea of the charity taxi service came about.
“Sometimes, passengers feel obliged to offer me compensation for my services but I explain to them that I am doing this voluntarily and am not expecting any payment for it, ” he said.
Shabuddin hails from Bukit Tambun, some 28km from here. He moved to Butterworth in 1982 and started joining volunteerism activities in 1990 under the Welfare Department’s Volunteer programme.
The charity taxi service by Shabuddin loosely follows the model of the non-emergency patient transport service (NEPTS) or the patient transport services (PTS) used in countries such as Britain, Australia and New Zealand.
Generally, the NEPT and PTS provide an important service for patients who need transportation to and from medical centres and for those whose health condition makes it difficult for them to utilise public transportation.
“The concept allows me to provide voluntary service to non-emergency patients, ” says Shabuddin, who enjoys engaging in volunteerism.
His passion for charity work and volunteerism is evident in the number of contributions he has made.
Even before retiring, Shabuddin was already involved in helping out the patients at the clinic by building a covered waiting area behind the clinic for the benefit of the public.
The waiting area was built in June over the site of what was once the house of a high-ranking British officer. It was previously overrun with shrubs and became a haunt for drug addicts.
“After discussing with the authorities from the District and Land Office and obtaining their approval, a friend and I cleaned up the area and turned it into a waiting area for those seeking my charity taxi service, ” says Shabuddin, who was given the Welfare Department’s National Elite Volunteer award in 2015.
The site is currently maintained by Shabuddin and his friend.
“We take good care of it so that the community here can continue to benefit from it. We have no qualms returning the site to the government should they want it back one day, ” he said.
The father of two says that his family was supportive of the time and resources he has invested in his charity taxi initiative.
“They inspire me to continue serving the needy, ” he said of his wife, a civil servant, while his son who is studying medicine in India and his daughter who is studying at Maktab Rendah Sains Mara (MRSM) in Kedah.
Shabuddin’s selflessness has also inspired others, with someone recently donated a wheelchair for the benefit of patients using his services.
“I am honestly touched by the contribution. This is a form of charity (sedekah) that we should teach our children and people, ” he said.
Shabuddin is hoping that many more out there would follow suit and offer similar complimentary services for underprivileged patients.
“It would be great if the concept of this charity taxi can be adopted and spread throughout the country, as is widely practised in Europe and many other countries, ” he said.
An elderly patient, Zawiyah Babjan, said she is extremely grateful for the service provided by Shabuddin.
The 73-year-old has to go to the clinic for treatment twice a week, bringing along with her 100-year-old mother and 72-year-old disabled younger brother.
“This charity taxi service has been a blessing. I’m so grateful, ” said the widow who lives in Pantai Bersih, 6km from the clinic. — Bernama