"When I was a little girl, me and my siblings would stage a little theater at home during school holidays and charge our parents for it. We would play the piano, do a dance routine, perform a comedy act and even culminate a stage play. I would then gather all the money in an envelope, give it to my father and said ‘Can you please give this to charity?’
My father was a socialist, so he always wanted to help the underprivileged. We were brought up thinking about other people. My grandfather came to Malaysia from Kerala, India, which was the first communist state in the world. In Kerala, there is a 100% literacy rate and 0% child mortality rate.
My father used to run a clinic on the ground floor of low cost flats (PPR - Program Perumahan Rakyat), so I spent quite a bit of time there growing up. In a way, I understand what life must be like for them.
Low cost flats was a very dangerous place. There were a lot of gangsters and drug dealers, but somehow I felt safe there. The clinic was never raided, damaged or destroyed. I think its because they have a code - to look after their own. Since my father looked after them, they would look after him in return too.
I remember, one day, a girl frantically came running down and said, ‘My friend is delivering a baby upstairs now, can someone please help her? I don’t know who to tell or what to do.’
So my dad and the nurse ran upstairs. This pregnant teenage girl had locked herself in her home, so my dad couldn’t get in. Virtually, the whole neighbourhood tried to break into her house to help her. Eventually, they called the locksmith and managed to get in and help her deliver in time.
Unwanted pregnancies, especially amongst Muslim teenage girls is a very stressful experience for them, so they tried their best to hide it. That’s just one of the stories in these low cost flats. Everyday, there’s a new story. That’s just how life is there.
Aside from my corporate job, I run the DiverseCity Kuala Lumpur International Arts Festival (KLIAF) on a voluntary basis. As part of our CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility), we conducted art and culture programmes with kids from the Flat Seri Tioman, also a PPR (Projek Perumahan Rakyat/low cost flats like the one I grew up in.
It was held during the whole month of September, where we had photography workshops, public speaking classes, film screenings, community theatres,and dance shows.
The kids have taught us so much, and one of the things I've learnt from them, is dignity. In a survey we did, we asked how many of them have received BR1M (Bantuan Rakyat 1Malaysia - government financial assistance). Most of them answered no, which was a surprise to us. When we asked them why, they said its because they don’t want to be a burden to the government.
Can you believe that? Even if its RM500 a year, they’d rather be financially independent. They don’t want handouts. Maybe they are blessed just to be so grateful, and that’s something we can all learn from.”
Story published on Humans of Kuala Lumpur