Monday June 11, 2012
Feeding a need, one family at a time
By CHIN MUI YOON
We may not be able to change the world, but we can make a difference in the lives of others – one family at a time.
IT HAS been a while since we have seen children shouting with sheer delight and excitement at the sight of Milo drinks. But that’s exactly what greeted us as we hauled a carton of drinks into one of the homes which is a beneficiary of Project Made.
The five young kids eagerly reached out for the cans of Milo and soon their mouths were stained with the chocolate drink. Their smiles were in stark contrast to the squalor around them. Home is a small, stilted wooden hut with a leaking attap roof. There is no furniture so the children do their homework, have meals and lie down to rest on a damp floor covered by peeling linoleum.
We followed Ainie Sahnam on her rounds as she delivered food aid to 20 homes in remote villages in Selangor. All the families share a common bond of abject poverty as they struggle to find hope amidst despair.
Ainie is the founder and coordinator of Project Made which stands for Making A Difference Everywhere. The project started in April 2009 in Kapar, Klang, Selangor, with a singular mission to help the hardcore poor regardless of race, religion or political affiliation.
Although Ainie did not have the backing of a stream of donors or commitment from any corporation, she decided to roll up her sleeves and do whatever she could. She approached friends and just about anyone who cared to listen, for donations of foodstuff to be distributed to needy families. When aid started streaming in for the Kapar programme, Ainie took her fledgling project to remote, rural areas.
Project Made has since expanded its reach to assist over 70 families and hundreds of children in Tanjung Karang, Batang Berjuntai, Ijok, Rawang and Puchong in Selangor; Kuala Krau, Mentakab, Bentong, Temerloh and Jerantut in Pahang; and Kota Baru in Kelantan. Teachers, headmen, pastors and ustaz from various villages have asked for help.
“I don’t see people according to their race; I just see them as people,” says Ainie. “I’m not going to wait until some big corporation agrees to help. Our outfit is very simple. Any time we lack the resources, we simply scale down on what we are doing. My target for 2012 is to feed as many areas as possible and to support children in schools.”
On an early Saturday morning, Ainie is busy loading cartons of essential foodstuff such rice, noodles, flour, bread, cooking oil, canned food and fresh vegetables together with bars of soap, shampoo and toothpaste which have been sorted into plastic bags. There are milk powder and diapers for families with young children or old folks.
Together with some volunteers, Ainie gamely hops over ditches and trudges along muddied paths which wind through oil palm estates to deliver food to needy households.
A shirtless, scrawny man peeps out of a ramshackle hut that reeks of rotting palm fruit and garbage.
Mohd Nazam Mohd Ijas’s eyes light up when he sees the carton of eggs, three loaves of bread and a bag of rice being deposited on the cold mud floor.
Mohd Nazam, 26, is a slow learner and has never attended school. Life became harder after his father passed away last year. His mother works in a factory in make ends meet.
Kampung Parit Mahang in Ijok, Selangor, is not on the tourist trail nor does it have any attraction that compels motorists to stop. What the village of some 3,400 folks does have is a large community of single mothers who have taken up shelter here.
Village headman Baharom Hussien explains: “We have a large number of single mothers because it’s much cheaper to rent a house here; it’s about RM200 a month for a decent single-storey, low-cost unit. The village also offers an ideal environment for raising children and there are schools nearby, including a religious school.
“Many folks here earn about RM650 a month as factory hands or general workers, and some are small-scale farmers. There is no way they can afford to live in the city or town. Some families are unable to feed their children and we are grateful for well-wishers like Ainie who provide food for them; we’re doing all we can to help them get welfare aid.”
Baharom has a list of 40 needy families which receive food aid on a rotation basis. Many of the single mothers sell home-cooked food, offer cleaning or sewing services or take on odd jobs to help put food on the table.
Hamidah Daurani, 34, who has recently lost her husband, is determined to make a living by sewing clothes and curtains. She has three children to support and the eldest child, Nurul Azwanieza, 11, has a medical problem and requires an oxygen tank all the time.
“Life has always been hard but we were dealt a cruel blow when my husband died,” says Hamidah tearfully.
“The village committee helped me to buy an electric sewing machine so that I can earn an income with it. I am thankful for that. It helps keep my children in school. I received many orders during Hari Raya.”
Another beneficiary of Project Made is Nur Fatin Natrah Yaakub, 23, from Kampung Tok Muda in Selangor. The young mother was left in dire straits after her husband was arrested and jailed for a motorcycle theft although he contended that he bought the vehicle without realising that it was stolen property. Nur Fatin is left to fend for her three children, one of whom is disabled and prone to fits, while juggling work as a helper in a nearby warung (small café).
The many sad stories include that of Samsinar Mohd Shaari, 36, whose husband has asked her and their two children to vacate their home to make way for his new wife. Samsinar became wheelchair-bound after she was knocked down by a motorcycle.
“There are many families who go to bed hungry every night,” says Ainie. “Malaysia is a land of abundance yet there are people who do not have enough to eat. I will never forget the two kids I met who resorted to rinsing stale rice just so they had something to eat.”
Ainie had worked as a journalist with The Star in the early 1980s before she went to London to study law, and ended up as a law lecturer and aviation lawyer.
While in London, Ainie volunteered at The London Light House, a hospice for AIDS and HIV patients. She was also a coordinator for Prisoners’ Families and Friends Service, an NGO which provides a support system for families of prisoners in Britain.
“Charity work can be tiring, but what drives me on is the satisfaction I get in what I do,” says Ainie.
“A friend had invited me to Kapar in 2009. There I met a woman with five children. The family was dirt poor. Her husband was a drunkard and would beat her whenever she tried to ask for help. The moment her husband passed away, we stepped in to help, and that was how Project Made came about.”
The project currently provides monthly food aid to families in Bukit Rotan Baru, Ijok and Puchong in Selangor; Mentakab in Pahang; and the ULC Myanmar Refugee Feeding Programme.
During festive seasons like Hari Raya, Chinese New Year, Deepavali and Christmas, the group also distributes food parcels to needy communities.
“While we may not be able to change the world, we can make a difference even if it’s with one family at a time,” adds Ainie.
How you can help Project Made