Aren't we caring Malaysians?

Last week, The Star featured the story of five old folk who were found living in deplorable conditions after being abandoned by their caretakers in an old folks home in Taman Wahyu.

The images were gripping, and their stories even more so.

One photo on our official Facebook page, which showed a Malaysian Civil Defence Force personnel carrying one of the emaciated senior citizens in soiled clothes, moved many to voice their desire to help.

In a comment, writer Alia Ali said: "Please let the public know how we can help. Perhaps monetary donations for them to be cared for at a hospital until they are well, and continued donations afterwards for them to be homed in reliable, professional nursing homes.

“This is unbelievably cruel, and everyone from the caretakers who abandoned them to their families who let them suffer should be punished. But we should help the old folks first,” she added.

So earlier this week, I took the train up to Kuala Kubu Baru Hospital in Hulu Selangor to find out just how.

After a discussion on how the public can offer aid - the old folk can receive direct contributions during their stay - affable hospital director Dr Jasmeet Singh assured me that the four were well taken care of at the hospital.

“They do not lack for anything here. Even now, the hospital is helping them to get identity cards under the Health Ministry guidelines,” he said.

Asked if anyone had come forward to make donations to the four old folk, Dr Jasmeet said there were none so far.

“But we don’t wait for contributions, we just give. There’s a caring feeling among the hospital staff, which I think is true for those in this line,” he said.

When an abandoned baby was found and taken there recently, hospital staff went out of their way to care for the child, and even offered their own money to buy the young one some diapers.

Indeed, the hospital’s serene surroundings were a far cry from a much busier facility I had visited just the day before in the heart of Kuala Lumpur.

Nightmarish as this case was for the five, I wonder just how unusual it is for aging folk to be abandoned by their families.

Sixty-six-year old Leong Soo Ah has since reunited with her family. But at time of writing, no one has come forward for Lau Looi, Jessica, Ah Meng and P. Muniandy.

It’s a common enough theme. Enough so that every now and then, we see a milder, happier version of events in our festive advertisements, or damning depictions of irresponsible children lashing out against aged and dependent parents.

Most recently, a touching commercial depicted how a wistful few in a (neat, non-nightmarish) nursing home think that they are alone during the holiday season, only to be taken for a whirlwind road trip by a young caretaker with a heart of gold.

Their misadventures, which include a classic car stinkbomb, is good for a laugh, but their joy at being cared for is what brought tears to the eyes of many.

Looking after senior citizens is far from an easy task. But for those who were new parents once, the upkeep of children could not have been that much easier.

I may have left the quiet town of Kuala Kubu Baru with the answers I was looking for, but my questions were straightforward ones after all.

In this case, there are many more questions that need answering.

While the degree of filial piety does differ from one family to the next, a most common cry of disbelief over the entire debacle has questioned a quality most locals are proud to call their own: "Aren't we caring Malaysians?"

I think we are, but lip service can only go so far. This incident could only be one story among many yet undiscovered, and it's depressing to think of how many more are left to languish, in one way or another.

We can only hope that the Taman Wahyu case serves as an early year reminder to other errant caretakers, neglectful family members, and numerous agencies tasked with the responsibility of looking out for this segment of society.

That, or be moved to act, and be the change we want to see.

After all, how many more times must there be a call to action, before it is instinctive for us to care for those who cannot care for themselves?

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