Stepping up to show compassion

Spreading Raya cheer: An artwork created by Kopi Soh to promote Project Sending Raya Smiles to Needy Families.

HERE’s something I’ve found to be true time and again. Basically, I’ve come to learn that books are wonderful things as they can give us glimpses of different worlds, different experiences and different lives.

I had such an experience not too long ago when I picked up a copy of a book written by a 33-year-old Filipino author named Maria Kathrina Lopez Yarza, or Kcat Yarza for short, through her website,

The book – titled Kcat Can: I Have a Pen That Writes – chronicles her experiences in overcoming the challenges thrown her way by the tumours that grow in her nervous system due to two related genetic disorders called Neurofibromatosis Type 1 and Neurofibromatosis Type 2.

And if you’re wondering why this auto­biography resonated strongly with me, it’s because I was left impressed by how Yarza views life in spite of her experiences with surgeries, radiation treatment and the tumours in her brain and body that have left her deaf and a wheelchair user.

Indeed, the first passage that struck a chord with me was when she described the drive that brought her out of a two-month stay at the Philippine General Hospital (PGH) in Manila back in 2005 when she was 22, a stay made more challenging due to hospital-acquired pneumonia that often left her choking on her own saliva and unable to eat the foods she craved due to a nasogastric tube.

As she said, “Faith and determination, plus my desire to spend some fun time with my family and friends, kept me going. Beautiful and happy thoughts can lift us above the cares and problems of daily living, allowing us to do our tasks with greater ease and comfort.”

She went on to put forward a good point, that although we often have no control over the negative things that come into our lives, we can choose to focus on what we can do to be positive and be happy.

Yarza went on to explain in her book how she then embarked on a nine-year project to share her happiness with others at the PGH in conjunction with her birthday in May, when she gave patients at the PGH Paediatric Intensive Care Unit and Neuro and Spinal Surgery Wards care packages of essential toiletries, toys, food and drinks.

“Our hands will never be too small for helping those who are in need as long we have the heart to care, and months before my birthday in 2007, I felt that I was showered with blessings and this made me decide to give back. So on my next birthday, I celebrated it with the sick kids in the hospital. I am not wealthy, but I believe that I am rich in non-material things like my friends and family who helped me put everything together,” said Yarza.

“To be grateful is to count our blessings, acknowledge everything that we receive, and notice the simple pleasures in life. Even though I am optimistic by nature and was a grateful person even before I got sick, it is only now that I am learning to appreciate every single detail in my life, like breathing, taking a step, swallowing.

“If life were perfect, we wouldn’t know how to count our blessings. Our little actions of love can make a great difference,” she added.

And at this point, let me just say that I agree with Yarza’s views that sharing doesn’t really have a price tag, and an event doesn’t have to be grand to make a meaningful impact. She told me in a recent Facebook interview that “one doesn’t have to be a celebrity or a politician to do something good”.

She also explained to me why she had to bring the project to a halt this year.

“I have to consider my mother’s health, and I have decided that if I want to do something and I need to rely on the people dear to me, I won’t push through with it anymore. I really hope that I have instilled the joy of sharing and caring through my May Birthday Project for nine years,” said Yarza.

This ultimately got me thinking about what little actions we Malaysians can do here in our home country to make a difference. And it led me to an artist who goes by the pseudonym Kopi Soh, who often coordinates initiatives to deliver morale-boosting art to children facing life-threatening illnesses in hospitals and other families facing challenges.

This is something we can do here in Malaysia, as Kopi Soh and the Stick It To Me group of volunteer artists always have something going on, something that is in many cases similar to what Yarza did in the Philippines.

And sure enough, Kopi Soh told me about a project to help 80 families in Bahau, Negri Sembilan, that she is participating in this May along with fellow artist Jennifer Chua, a group of concerned Malaysians called 1 Month 1 Charity, the Happy Caring Hearts Crew and Stick It To Me.

“With Hari Raya coming in a month’s time, we will be relieving some of the challenges faced by the folks in Bahau with grocery packs given to 80 families. Each pack of rice, eggs, sugar, biscuits and bihun will cost RM47, so we need RM3,760.

“People who are interested can help by being with us physically when we go to Bahau, getting in touch with us to help with the costs of the goods or even by donating cheerful art that’ll boost the morale of the families,” she said.

Kopi Soh added that interested Malaysians could visit her Facebook account at or through Stick It To Me at to find out what projects Stick It To Me is working on, so that she can direct them to the right person.

So with that in mind, may we do some good this month?

Senior writer Tan Yi Liang’s In Your Face aims to prove that people have more positive power in their hands than they realise, and to challenge them. He can be reached at

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Opinion , Tan Yi Liang , columnist


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