Homelessness in Malaysia
Across the globe, homelessness affects people of all ages, color and creed, and both genders. It is near impossible for a country’s administration to ascertain the true number of homeless people in their country, for some people may find themselves literally out in the streets the next day.
The reasons for homelessness vary from riches to rags, domestic quarrels, being disowned by the family or running away from home to escape physical or sexual abuse. This includes older people being kicked out from their homes after they willed their property over to their next of kin, individuals being asked to leave home for continued substance abuse or for stealing from their family, or being cheated by so-called employment agencies or persons with the promise of lucrative job offers but left stranded after they arrived at their destination. These victims could have used up their life savings to pay for the agency’s fees or worse still, could have borrowed money for the fees and travelling expenses.
Kuala Lumpur is estimated to have about 2,000 homeless people in 2016 but the actual figure could be much higher.
In 2004/2005, the founder of Kechara, His Eminence the 25th Tsem Rinpoche, together with some friends started regularly distributing about 15 packets of food to the homeless in Kuala Lumpur. Those were the humble beginnings of Kechara Soup Kitchen (KSK) and its motto, ‘Hunger Knows No Barriers’, aptly describes the services it provides to the less fortunate.
Tsem Rinpoche knows how it is to be homeless. When he was a teenager growing up in America, he had experienced homelessness there. He left his foster parents’ home in New Jersey, and hitchhiked to Los Angeles, California. He had little money and had to resort to sleeping in parks and under bridges. Many times, he went without food for the day. As such, Rinpoche always says not to judge people or ask why they are homeless, but to offer them food, show them care and compassion. After all, they are people, just like us.
Today KSK serves an average of 12,000 sets of food in a month. Each set consists of vegetarian food, bottled water, biscuits and fruit.
Weekdays see the homeless queuing for their meals at KSK’s premises in downtown Kuala Lumpur. And while having their meals, they can have their laundry done and dried within the premises. KSK is very thankful to all its sponsors for the building, vans, food truck, food and monetary contributions. And also importantly, many thanks to the volunteers who turn out in the dozens each Saturday night to help distribute food to the clients’ doorsteps (which they call home). Their home could be the pavement, bus stops and terminals, beneath bridges or any place they can find a decent roof over their heads.
To become a volunteer, one has to be at least 18 years old and must attend an orientation briefing conducted by a KSK staff or volunteer team leader in KSK’s office premises. Visual aids like slides and videos are used to explain the dos and don’ts before going out into the streets for food distribution. Some of the homeless are sensitive to new faces and may take offence when new volunteers approach.
The homeless are used to living life on the streets and they value their freedom, preferring it to living in shelters and homes run by authorities or NGOs. They may mistake the volunteers as government officers out to nab them. Some homeless are drug addicts and may be very insistent when their demands are not met. There are also ageing prostitutes and it would not be ideal for new volunteers to interact with them during their first time on the streets. So, to ensure the safety of the volunteers, KSK staff request they wear KSK tshirts, proper footwear, no jewelry and expensive handbags, no giving of cash or other items apart from what is already prepared, and not to wander off alone while on the streets. New volunteers will be under the supervision of a seasoned volunteer or KSK staff.
In addition to serving food, KSK’s volunteer doctors provide free medical check ups, wound dressings, and non-prescription medication to the clients. Serious cases will be sent to the nearest hospital for further evaluation or admission. The team of doctors are selfless and are always available for the clients. KSK even had eyewear companies giving out glasses prescribed by their opticians.
Other services provided by KSK and its volunteers are free haircuts, hand-me-down clothes, handbags, shoes, books, children’s toys and diapers, electrical and household items. Another area of service is to assist clients to replace their lost documents through application at relevant government departments. Job interviews are also arranged for clients willing to work. KSK also helps to reconnect some clients with their families.
The important next to-do on the KSK committee’s list as its medium-term goal is to expand on the existing food bank programme which runs on donated surplus food given by sponsors who own food businesses. This helps to reduce food wastage and benefits the needy. The donated food is also distributed among other NGOs who in turn hand them out to their clients. This ensures surplus food from sponsors does not go to waste. And because of this kind food sponsorship, KSK’s premises is bursting at its seams.
The long-term objective of KSK is to set up a nurture centre to arm the homeless and those below the poverty line with the necessary skills for them to secure jobs. The plan is to have basic infrastructure including clean water and electricity, classes cum workshops, a hostel and a canteen. The objective is not to give free handouts to the homeless but to reintroduce them back into society with their dignity intact.
KSK has a branch in Penang with committed volunteers serving the homeless, and a kind group of volunteers in Johor Bahru doing the same.
KSK’s committee members appeal to kind sponsors to generously donate in making our wish list a reality. For more details, please contact +603 2141 6046 or email [email protected].
Please support us so that we can continue to bring you more Dharma:
If you are in the United States, please note that your offerings and contributions are tax deductible. ~ the tsemrinpoche.com blog team