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Model Citizen: Munirah Abdul Hamid

By Anucyia Victor
How did Pertiwi Soup Kitchen come about?

I started the soup kitchen with my old friends from boarding school. The beautiful love and friendship which dates back 50 years still remain strong. For the blessings we received from God, we wanted to give back to society. One friend, Saadah Din, suggested starting a soup kitchen. That was in 2008. Saadah was in [cancer] remission then. I worked hard to get the project off the ground. Sadly, Saadah died in May 2009. Our soup kitchen was launched on March 11 2010.

Have you been involved in similar initiatives before this?

I have been a volunteer with Pertubuhan Tindakan Wanita Islam (PERTIWI) ever since it was established 45 years ago in November 1967. They were mainly in activities for the betterment of women and children in education. As for feeding the homeless, I remember helping my mother from when I was about five years old. This was back in Alor Setar.

What was the response like when you first started this venture?

It has been amazing. I was calculating how much of my own money I could spare to buy food to feed 100 people twice a week if I had to do it on my own.

How do you source contributions?

We have generous people who donate to PERTIWI. There are also those who contribute in kind.

On average, how many homeless people does PERTIWI feed on each occasion?

An average of 550 people on each outing.

What are the challenges you face in the course of what you do?

My biggest challenge is to ensure that we have sufficient funds to keep it sustainable. I try the gentle approach to look for funds. We cannot make someone pay for another person’s meal. Some people can be very strange that way. They can splurge on expensive small portions of food for themselves but they won’t pay RM3.50 to feed someone they consider lazy or a drug user or a general nuisance. So I must have a lot of faith in God that somehow there will be enough money to keep our soup kitchen going.

I must also ensure that we have a sufficient team of volunteer drivers and a strong core team of volunteers for each night. Hence, you find me going out four nights a week to lead the team. I am 62 and I work full-time. My workload can be tremendous at times but I must somehow juggle.

I am the only person who knows the A to Z of our soup kitchen operations. A few know some aspects of the operations but I am the only person who knows everything. I wish I could have someone to understudy me but I also know how much of it I can impose on any one person. It is not fair to impose all of it on anyone who is helping me now. This is my passion so it doesn’t burden me at all.

How do you co-ordinate with the contributors when it comes to picking the food?

Our main food comes from two sources each night – from our cook and from JAWI. They are delivered to my house in Bangsar. We leave from Bangsar after loading our vehicles with food and drinks.

Can any one of us contribute?

Anything you feel happy to give. It has to come from the heart. Some school children make peanut butter sandwiches. Some bake. Companies and individuals often sponsor for the night. Some donate buns, biscuits and packet drinks.

How do the homeless community know where and when PERTIWI will arrive?

We have not failed to be at our three feeding locations four nights a week since we started in March 2010. The timing remains consistent. We only go beyond the third location if we have extra food.

Why do you think there are so many homeless people in KL?

Many come to KL to look for better opportunities. It is not so easy. The weak end up in the wrong company. There are those with no families. There are many with mental problems.

Are there any organisations that provide shelter for the homeless?

There have been attempts but not successfully.

In your opinion, what can NGOs and the authorities do to alleviate the ever-expanding number of homeless people in the city?

Homeless people don’t earn much and can’t afford to rent rooms and send money home. I think simple open dormitories with mats are good enough. Have shower and toilet facilities and lockers so they don’t end up losing their ICs and belongings.

What motivates you to do this?

Each day is a gift from God. This is one small way to thank God for having blessed my life. What I do is really too small to shout about. Besides, I am blessed with new friends; our volunteers are such kind and caring people.

Source: http://www.timeoutkl.com/aroundtown/articles/Model-citizen-Munirah-Abdul-Hamid

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