PETALING JAYA: With Malaysia’s Covid-19 death toll reaching more than 26,000, many children had been orphaned by the pandemic, either through losing one or both of their parents.
Realising the need for protection and placement for these kids, Suriana Welfare Society chairman Dr James Nayagam is committing to start a home for them.
It all started in September when community leaders at low-cost flat Desa Mentari, which is one of the areas that his organisation has been delivering regular food aid, notified him that over 20 children among the families there had been orphaned by the disease.
With over 40 years of experience as a children’s rights advocate, Nayagam is no stranger to witnessing countless heartbreaking situations and yet, when he spoke to the orphans, something tugged at his heartstrings.
When speaking to the children, Nayagam was washed over with a strong calling to immediately do something to ensure that they would have hope for the future.
“When I met them, I was talking to them as a father. In turn, they spoke to me like someone close to them and opened up about their hopes and goals.
“That’s just the number of orphans in one area. What about the Greater Klang Valley, Selangor and Kuala Lumpur or the whole of Malaysia?
“For those who lost one parent, we can support them through their surviving parent but for those who lost both, their relatives mostly are also poor and can’t afford another mouth to feed.
“So alternatively, they can send the children to this home that I’m committing to start. It will be a home for all the children to stay until they are 18.
“It takes a lot of sacrifice to start a home to ensure that they are protected but once we can achieve this, I have assured the children that they will be cared for,” he said in an interview.
Besides planning for the children’s home, Nayagam and his team are also helping out the children and their families by seeking out food relief to assist them for at least two years and assistance in meeting monthly expenses such as rentals, medical treatment and utility bills.
“We are also providing counselling and emotional support for the children as they are going through a deeply traumatic episode,” he said.
Suriana Welfare Society, which is a child-focused charitable organisation, also provides other types of support to those in need during the pandemic, from taxi drivers and railway workers to poor families and refugees.
“We deliver weekly food aid to hundreds of families. We are very busy but always open to helping more,” Nayagam said.
In addition to the weekly food aid, they also currently have a programme supplying fresh vegetables to poor families so that they could put nutritious meals on the table despite facing financial constraints.
“We are also contacting pharmacies to get vitamin C supplies for children in low-cost flats.
“It’s very important to have healthy food and supplements especially during the pandemic,” he said.
Besides food aid, Suriana Welfare Society also provides living and vocational skills training for single mothers to help them get job opportunities.
“For those with no skills, we teach them how to do beauty treatments, hairdressing or others that can bring in money like catering.
“We see results when we can help children have hope for the future and restore self-worth and dignity for single mothers.
“In my over 40 years of touching the lives of others, it has all come back to me in various ways and I have been blessed by doing good.
“That has been my motivation to do more,” he said.
Nayagam, who has found a location in Petaling Jaya for the children’s home, hoped to be able to take in about 35 children or as many as suitable before the end of the year.
But for now, he would first need public donations to cover the costs.
He said at least RM50,000 is needed to cover rental deposit, utilities and furniture, adding that they welcomed donations from individuals and the private sector.
On being selected as one of the two winners for this year’s Gamuda Inspiration Award by Yayasan Gamuda, Nayagam said he felt deeply honored and appreciated for the recognition and support.
“It is a testimony of the combined efforts of the community and us working towards a common goal in ensuring a better future for impacted families and children,” Nayagam said, adding that he plans to use part of the grant in setting up the orphanage.
For their noble efforts, Suriana Welfare Society is recognised as one of the 10 winners of Star Golden Hearts Award 2021, an annual award that celebrates everyday Malaysian unsung heroes.