PETALING JAYA: Netizens gave an overwhelming no to the move to stop soup kitchens in the Bukit Bintang area.
Heartless, inhumane and short-sighted, they said, of the proposal to stop Kuala Lumpur’s homeless from receiving free food.
This came about after Federal Territories Minister Datuk Seri Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor said soup kitchens will no longer be allowed to operate within a 2km radius of the city centre. Read more on Izzati’s wonderfully written perspective on this saga:
I am not a veteran volunteer, but I have had a fair share of experience volunteering at various soup kitchens across Kuala Lumpur since I was 16. This is my humble opinion and is not linked to any organisations that I have volunteered with.
From cutting onions to packing food to distributing food in the soup kitchen, we have never been paid. Most soup kitchens receive monetary donation or food donation from various sponsors, be it an individual, company or food operator. Each soup kitchen has their location of distribution (sometimes 3/4 a night) and it is almost at the same spot every time they are on duty. Faces change among volunteers, some regular, some not. Same goes to those who come for food, some are regulars, some are not.
You see, not all of the people who come for soup kitchens are homeless. Some of them are, but a big number of them are people suffering from poverty. Extremely small income earners who cannot afford to feed their family, single mothers who have worked double shift on minimum wage and is unable to provide food for their children, and also old people who are not being cared after. People who have so little to live on, but with many many mouths to feed. Those are the people who line up day after day.
Do we feed the homeless, the drug users and sex workers? Yes we do. The raunchy looking guy with bloodshot red eyes? Yes we do. The man who smells like booze hardly able to stand straight while queueing? Yes we do. The man who pushes a stolen trolly from Giant with all his things inside? Yes we do. But we do not discriminate, we feed because they are hungry and because getting food is a problem for them.
Now, Dato Seri Tengku Adnan said in his statement, “We give them jobs but they don’t want as it is easy to get food as these street kitchens are feeding them”. Putrajaya created a plan to give jobs to the jobless, and not specifically jobs for the homeless. Half of the homeless people do not even have proper identification as they are born out of prostitution, poverty, or is mentally unstable and unfit to find an occupation. Now Dato’, I am pretty sure you have never gone down to the streets to volunteer, so let me give you a little introduction. Soup kitchens in Malaysia are not a walk-in-for-free KFC where it is open 24 hours for you to come in anytime you like, place your order and walk away with hot delicious food. Most soup kitchens only operate at night because volunteers have a day job. Then there’s the weather, and the queue to take food, and trust me Dato’, it is not the gourmet food you are fed with your entire life. Its basic food, just to beat the hunger. So those who come for food, can only come once a day, walk to the area of distribution, bear with the weather and queue just to get basic food. Easy? No Dato’. Its not.
By following your logic, we should ban free food for buka puasa at Masjids, because free food breeds homelessness. We should ban Langar meals at Gudhwaras and temples giving free vegetarian lunch, because we will breed homelessness. We should probably ban Ministers lavish open houses during festive seasons (which are paid by us, the rakyat btw), because that too will breed homelessness. Go ahead, ban them.
Another statement I find to be a bit out of hand is that, volunteer soup kitchens cause garbage infested scenes. Again, Dato, this is not a restaurant where we open tables and serve food under the romantic streetlights of “your” city. Most of the food are packed and given to them where they would go to other places and eat. Either at home, or if they are homeless, wherever they seek shelter. Most don’t eat at the location because there is no space due to the queue and also due to the other services a soup kitchen provide, like a mobile clinic or a free haircutting service. In every soup kitchen, there will be volunteers who will be in charge of the location and queue to ensure that people don’t mess the area up or create a scene. Guess what, some of them even clean after the place too, even when the litter was there before the soup kitchen came.
Its funny how you say soup kitchens cause the garbage. Let me ask you, Dato, have you ever been to a pasar malam or pasar ramadhan? Where people dump garbage as they walk, after they buy food and after they sell their goods? Have you ever walked on a street the morning after a pasar malam? Its infested with garbage, plastic wrappers. Oh go shut them down too, why not.
Do you know why the rakyat is so unhappy with this ban? Well first of all, it is not your city, it is ours. We paid you to run it. Secondly, is because this shows what your priority is, which is image over welfare. Orang melayu kata, biar papa asalkan bergaya, mungkin itulah pegangan hidup Dato. And thirdly, is because we know how it is like to fall. Sometimes, life pulls the carpet under you and you crash with everything around you, and you need help to get up. There is no shame in asking for help, but there is great shame when you are so arrogant, you stop others from seeking help. You may be blessed today, you drive your fancy car, live in your big house and eat delicious food all day everyday. But like those who queues up for free food, they did not ask for that moment when their life turned upside down. And lastly, is because, we, the volunteers/donors, take it upon ourselves to settle a problem that should have been YOUR responsibility. But in our mission, you ban us?
I sincerely hope you learn a few lessons on humility before life teaches you the hard way. There’s no shame in wanting to erase poverty and homelessness. In fact I think its noble. But there is shame in condemning others, just because life is a little harsh on them.
I hope you reconsider. But nonetheless, I know the NGOs will not let your ruling stop them, because they are the heroes. They have always been the heroes.
Authored by Izzati Rahman