Pertiwi soup kitchen founder Munirah Abdul Hamid is determined to continue feeding the homeless despite a warning from Federal Territories Minister Datuk Seri Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor that soup kitchens must move out of the city centre by tomorrow. – The Malaysian Insider pic by Nazir Sufari, July 6, 2014. -
Four days a week, Munirah Abdul Hamid’s family numbers about 800. These are the days the 64-year-old grandmother hits the streets of Kuala Lumpur to look after the vagrants and homeless.
In doing so, she keeps alive an idea planted by her dying friend seven years ago.
"My friend was in remission from cancer when she said I should start a soup kitchen. And in April 2009, she asked me again to launch it as soon as possible but she died a week later,” the founder of Pertiwi (Pertubuhan Tindakan Wanita Islam Malaysia) Soup Kitchen, told the Malaysian Insider.
“We took several years to come up with the plan and execute it. It takes a while to get a project off the ground when you want it to be sustainable.
"Even after it was launched, I was wondering how it would remain sustainable. I resolved to see it through.
"So, I said that for as long as I was still working, I would allocate a couple of thousand ringgit a month to feed the people. I would feed fewer people but I was going to do it,” she said.
Help and support came pouring in once the soup kitchen took off.
Munirah said she was pleasantly surprised and amazed by the overwhelming support the soup kitchen had received from private companies, non-governmental organisations and donors.
"It has been amazing. People hear about us and want to help.
“We started giving medical services two years ago and then a hairdresser volunteered to give free hair cuts to the homeless who couldn't afford to get one.”
The mobile soup kitchen, now in its fourth year of operation, reaches out to more than 800 homeless and less fortunate people, feeding them and giving medical assistance four nights a week – Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday.
It operates in three different locations, starting with Chow Kit at 9pm before moving to Kota Raya, and on to Masjid India.
However, soup kitchens in the city are facing a possible ban following the announcement by Federal Territories Minister Datuk Seri Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor on Thursday that they have to move out of the city centre by Monday or face penalties.
“But I am going ahead. We will not stop feeding the homeless. Let them (take action). It is more than just feeding them (the homeless),” said Munirah.
“We are helping to share with people who are struggling to make ends meet, who cannot afford to eat regularly. Is that wrong?"
Mnunirah recalled that when she first started out, soup kitchens were not very popular. "The Kechara Soup Kitchen was around and some of the churches, temples and mosques were giving out food."
"But the homeless were very suspicious of us and it took us a while to build that trust and relationship with them. And now, they even call me occasionally," Munirah said.
The food is cooked by two different vendors and consists of rice, vegetables, egg and either chicken or fish, she said.
"We also give out cold and hot drinks plus a fruit each.”
Her volunteers, too, have become like family, she said, adding that many have forged relationships in the soup kitchen.
"It has brought together many people. We have seen many volunteers meeting through the soup kitchen and getting married," she said, laughing.
As many as 30 volunteers help out at the soup kitchen at any one time.
"It has been a fulfilling experience for me as well. I have met so many people who just have a heart of giving and I am overwhelmed,” said Munirah.
On the minister’s remarks that the soup kitchen ban was to weed out beggars from Kuala Lumpur, Munirah said: “Tengku Adnan has misunderstood this.
“They are not beggars. They are people who have jobs but do not have enough money to have a place to stay and put food on the table.
"Some mothers come with five children and they might stay in a small room in Chow Kit while the husband is away in prison.
“This gives her a reprieve and her children do not have to go hungry.”
At the soup kitchen on Friday night, following Tengku Adnan's announcement, less than half the usual number of people turned up for food.
Munirah said the people were now afraid to come out. They were fearful of being hauled up by the authorities and placed in halfway homes.
"Yesterday, it was only 400 people. They are scared that action will be taken against them. Some called me and told me they were going elsewhere, where action won't be taken against them. I don't know what is going to happen to them.
Tengku Adnan had said soup kitchens in the city would be fined if they do not move out of Kuala Lumpur by tomorrow.
He said this was in line with Putrajaya’s plans to remove the homeless from Kuala Lumpur’s streets.
He claimed that soup kitchens were dirty and attracted rodents that spread diseases like leptospirosis.
He also said the homeless could go to temples and mosques outside Kuala Lumpur if they needed food, adding that those who donated to beggars in the capital city would also be fined.
His announcement drew flak from those carrying out feeding programmes in the city as well as from the public, who have called the minister "heartless".
Munirah and other soup kitchen operators have vowed to stay put, insisting that they ran a clean operation and had always cleaned up after their food was distributed to the homeless.
"I know I am going to be facing some tough days ahead but I am prepared," she said.
For people like Munirah, giving is not just about writing a cheque, it is being able to touch somebody's life, to borrow the words of American media proprietor, talk show host, and philanthropist Oprah Winfrey. – July 6, 2014.
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