Tough times, tougher heroes

Nurturing growth: Tamu Kita (left) improves the livelihood of rural farmers by bringing fresh produce to Kota Kinabalu.

PETALING JAYA: Heroes abound in difficult times and most of the time, they are just ordinary people.

This is evident when the country and the world face unprecedented challenges as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

On March 18, the government made an extremely difficult decision to enforce the movement control order (MCO) to break the chain of infection.

Due to these restrictions nationwide, efforts to carry out effective social work throughout society were hampered.

But several past winners of Star Golden Hearts Award (SGHA) stepped up and continued to serve marginalised communities in rural areas.

To reduce their reliance on dwindling donations, SGHA 2019 winner Hopes Malaysia took it upon itself to champion the importance of creating livelihood opportunities by helping rural farmers sell produce directly to customers in Kota Kinabalu.

“We saw a drastic drop in Kota Belud farmers’ income during the MCO.

“To address this, we have been working tirelessly to help farmers advertise and sell their produce, which comprise mainly vegetables and fruits, through our social enterprise platform Tamu Kita on Facebook.

“Our most recent delivery of about 400kg of fresh produce raised over RM1,300 for the farmers, ” said Hopes Malaysia co-founder and executive director June Wong.

Through Tamu Kita, the Sabah-based organisation has not only provided a source of income to rural farmers, but helps to reduce food waste.

Before this, rural farmers would discard all excess produce due to the lack of affordable transportation options to the cities.

Having a lean team also helped the crew of three to reduce operating expenses.

“To ensure better payout to the farmers, we manage everything from marketing on social media to collecting local produce from the villages and delivering them directly to customers, ” said Wong.

Due to the MCO, Petaling Jaya-based Suka Society had no direct access to its beneficiaries – about 150 Orang Asli children aged between four and six – in its pre-schools located in remote spots in Perak, Kelantan and Pahang.

Despite the lack of Internet services in rural villages, a system was put in place to ensure that the children in these remote locations get to continue their learning process.

Every Thursday, Orang Asli teachers would meet parents to pass them homework for their children for the following week.

The completed worksheets from the previous week are then collected for grading.Suka Society’s Orang Asli teachers visit homes to ensure children in rural villages continue learning when schools are closed.Suka Society’s Orang Asli teachers visit homes to ensure children in rural villages continue learning when schools are closed.

“Through this method, we are empowering Orang Asli parents to teach, guide and assist their children with daily lessons.

“For parents who are illiterate, teachers will visit their houses to provide guidance.

“So far, teachers shared that the children are delighted to do their homework and hope to go back to school soon, ” said Suka Society project coordinator Zaliha Titoi.

Funding for the Orang Asli pre-schools is obtained through various corporate and individual sponsors, who adopt a pupil or an entire pre-school.

The SGHA 2018 winner also sent food and essential items to more than 300 refugee families during the MCO period, made possible with donations from the public.

“As much as all of us are affected by the pandemic, we need to remember that those who are vulnerable and marginalised go through a tougher experience.

“For example, urban children might have access to online lessons.

“However, for rural communities, it is not only difficult to get an Internet connection, but some even have limited access to electricity, ” said Suka Society executive director Anderson Selvasegaram.

“We are encouraged by how Malaysians rose up to help those in need but as our lives slowly return to normalcy, we must not forget that the everyday struggles of those who are marginalised remain.

“We hope the Malaysian community will continue to serve those who are vulnerable.”

SGHA 2016 winner Viva Starfish founders Jerryson Abraham Doss and Edna Sung Burongoh have long worked to help rural communities through efforts such as providing clean drinking water to Orang Asli villages and supporting educational opportunities for estate children.

However, when the MCO was imposed, the founders admitted that they initially had to stop all activities as they did not know how to respond.

As corporate social responsibility efforts were reduced, Abraham and Burongoh had to dip into their personal savings to fund their outreach work.

“We just did not have enough resources to reach out.

“I remember wanting to stay in bed and hide under the blanket because there were hundreds of messages and voice mails pleading for help, ” recalled Abraham.

Against what seemed insurmountable, they decided to fall back on the organisation’s core, which was “helping one person at a time”.

The team eventually started by reaching out to marginalised communities in Puchong, where they are based.

“At that point, our activities mainly consisted of distributing food, essential items and personal protective equipment to marginalised communities through our community representatives.

“There was a case of a single mother with five children, who had not eaten for three days.

“We were able to help them and that made it all worthwhile.

“As a layman, we just need to play our part and help one person at a time.

“The support we need will find its way to us because where there is hope for the future, there is power in the present, ” said Abraham.

With the unemployment rate on the rise, Viva Starfish aims to help marginalised communities in the areas of livelihood and employment in moving forward.

Launched in 2015, SGHA is an annual award by The Star and Yayasan Gamuda to celebrate and appreciate Malaysia’s unsung heroes.

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