Outdoors is home for the homeless in KL

The homeless have energy, but not the skills or the opportunity to earn an income to take them off the streets.

I was given the opportunity to spend last Saturday evening with the homeless of Chow Kit, Kuala Lumpur. It was a wet night but they came in droves, packing the sidewalk for hours in anticipation of the various NGOs who would distribute food and clothes.

I mingled with the crowd and what struck me that night was that they were happy or, at least, not sad.

They were chatting and laughing among themselves, and when the food and clothing arrived, they lined up in an orderly fashion for their meal and also to pick out the clothes.

There were smiles all around as the kids ran and chased each other, or sat together, playing hand games.

I spoke to one, asking him if he looked forward to nights like this and he replied: "It's like this every night. It's just that no one sees us."

As the NGOs continued to distribute much welcomed food and clothes, it got me thinking. Is this what they need? The obvious answer was yes, the less obvious answer was, what else is there?

The children sat together on a mat. A teacher, playfully named Datin Susu (because she would also distribute milk to the children), taught them how to sing songs, read and put together building blocks.

"Singing is one of the best ways to learn. It teaches the children discipline, teamwork, rhythm and exercises their ability to remember and think in the moment," she shared.

I agree with her.

Education is the only way to break the cycle of poverty.

Of the children sitting on the mat, perhaps a handful will make it to school, and that's a good thing.

What about the parents, the adults? The NGO I was with was in the news, looking to raise funds through a charity concert with celebrities so that they could build a shelter to provide short-term relief to the homeless. I couldn't help but feel that though this was important, it wasn't enough.

What the homeless adults needed were skills, not just an education. Many of them looked physically capable and were passionate about finding a job.

There were very few with slumped shoulders of defeat. They have energy, but not the skills or the opportunity to earn a regular income that would take them off the streets.

We have vocational institutions in this country, places where someone can learn how to wire a house, mow a lawn or landscape a garden, cut hair, or sew a dress.

We need to find a way where these organisations can provide the homeless with the skills they need to find jobs that will give them a chance to move away from this life, if they so choose.

Those who can pay for these courses can subsidise those who can't. Let them equip themselves for free, and we'll find that their contribution to society will be tenfold.

An elderly man who had been munching on an apple stopped and asked me, "What are you doing?" while waving the apple at my camera.

"I'm taking photographs," I said.

"Show me how," he said, putting the half-eaten apple in his pocket and stretching his hands to reach out to me.

Aizuddin Danian, born and bred in Kuala Lumpur,is a passionate photographer and sees himself as a young man in an old world. He believes that the day we stop having opinions is the day not worth living for.

New NGO Region of Love is giving help and hope to the homeless community.

Saturdays for homeless children in Chow Kit are now filled with learning and laughter, thanks to the "Region of Love" (RoL).

Ida Hariati Hashim and Aizuddin Danian are among a small group of dedicated RoL volunteers who spend their evenings getting to know the community, engaging the kids in fun activities, and doing what little they can to make life a little brighter.

Ida, whom the community fondly calls "Datin Susu", described the less fortunate as "very respectful and cheerful".

The bank executive, who distributes necessities like milk, medication, diapers and mosquito coils to the children, sees herself as an "agent" for those who want to help.

"I post pictures on social media and friends would chip in because they genuinely want to make a change. Whatever is collected is used to buy stuff the kids need," she says.

"RoL is for everyone. We don't discriminate," she adds.

Aizuddin agrees. An amateur photographer, he uses his talent to document and promote RoL's activities.

"There are so many misconceptions about the homeless. They are not dangerous nor are they a miserable lot," he says.

"As a nation, we must do more. It's not just about giving money. Donate your time and skill," he adds.

Founded in April this year, RoL has 30 members who are bound together by a strong spirit of muhibah and moderation.

Colour blind, the new non-governmental organisation (NGO) celebrates love for humanity by dedicating themselves to the homeless, RoL vice-chairman Dadhyanna Tan says.

She says its multi-cultural and multi-religious membership reflects a goal to help everyone regardless of their race and background.

It all started with a few friends wanting to make a difference, she relates.

"Each forked out some money and with RM212 (S$80), we went around Chow Kit to see what we could do to get people off the streets without getting politicians and big corporations involved.

"The homeless and destitute are not beggars. Most have jobs and those who don't do what they can to earn some cash, be it by cleaning or collecting recyclable trash. Unfortunately, they just don't earn enough to make ends meet," she says.

She adds that many from the smaller towns were lured to the Klang Valley for work but could not even secure a job at fast food chains which preferred hiring foreigners.

RoL works with other NGOs to distribute food, helps with welfare aid and MyKad applications, and provides job matching assistance, she says.

"We do what we can. Our focus is to set up a transitional shelter where we can teach kids to read and equip adults with employable skills. But we need volunteers."

She says RoL is now "investing in the homeless" via a pilot project to help a reformed gangster, a new father who is HIV positive, provide for his family.

"He wants to turn over a new leaf so we gave him an allowance, a start-up capital and taught him basic bookkeeping so he can do business.

"Now he has hope," she says.

RoL runs a "help desk" in Chow Kit and Klang every Saturday from 8.30pm.