Tuesday, 2 June 2015

We, the People

I met two ladies yesterday who work for the Food Aid Foundation. They are one of the many NGOs who are attempting to help the boat people and the ones interned at a camp at Sik, Kedah. They told me the negotiations are very delicate. You can't afford to piss off the authorities or all aid you want to bring will be refused entry.
I wrote this on May 20, the day after coming back from a Mix and Fix, and meeting these two ladies:

A baby was born at the camp a couple of days ago. Some of the women are pregnant. All of them have been raped repeatedly. These are just, some of the horrors of being in those rickety boats, cast adrift at sea.

But what got to me was the response of the people. The moment they heard that Food Aid was doing something and would probably be let through, money poured in. Ordinary Malaysians, poor Malaysians, rich Malaysians. Rosnah told me about someone who had donated RM10. Doing RM10 by bank transfer? How precious that RM10 would have been to that person. But they wanted to help. She said most of the people making these donations were not sophisticated about the bank transfers and instead of sending a copy of the receipts, they sent screen shots of their bank accounts from which the money had been deducted. One woman had only RM237 left in her account after the donation. Rosnah told me she started crying on seeing that. RM237. And how many days more till the end of the month?

"I hope this is not her only bank account," she sobbed to Hayati.

Hayati is the less emotional one. She just sees a humanitarian crisis on hand an wants to get the job done, come hell or high water. This is not a time to debate the politics of the matter or look to see what "message it sends" to the rest of the world. (And what message is that, my dear politicians, that Malaysians are heartless and can look on the face of suffering and turn away? That is the wrong message. We're not. We don't care about what message it sends. We see a crisis on hand, we see these desperate people suffering and regardless of the politics of the matter, we want to help).

Rosnah also told me about the emails and phone calls they have received. It's not only the little people who want to help. It's also the rich ones. One secretary of a corporate figure called her, and said: "My boss asked me to call you and I don't know why..." Long and short, the boss wanted to donate money as well. Do you know how hard it is to shake corporates down for CSR initiatives? And here they were, check book in hand, wanting to do something, anything, to help these people.

Do you think we are heartless, and that we were not as disturbed as you were by the pictures of those starving desperate people?

Clearly, something has to be done on a global level to address the 1 million people who have been declared stateless by a totalitarian regime.

But for now, we need to offer succour to the ones drifting on the boats, desperate and dying. A place to sleep. Food to eat. Clothes to wear. Diapers. A little kindness.

Simple things.

Because we, the people, we care.

My heart is moved by all I cannot save
So much has been destroyed
I have cast my lot with those
who, age after age, perversely
with no extraordinary power
reconstitute the world.

(Adrienne Rich)

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