I was given the opportunity to spend the evening last night with the homeless of Chow Kit, KL. It was a wet Saturday 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 amongst them, and observed.
The first thing that struck me that night was that they were happy, or at least, not sad. They were chatting and laughing amongst themselves, and when the food and clothing arrived, the lined up in an orderly fashion for their meal and their pickings of the clothes. Smiles all around, kids running around, chasing each other, or sitting together and playing hand games. I spoke to one, asking him if he looked forward to nights like this.
He said, “It’s like this every night. It’s just that no one sees us.”
As the NGOs arrived and began distributing much welcomed food and clothes, it got me thinking. Is this what they need? The obvious answer is yes, the less obvious answer is, what else is there?
The children sat together on a mat. A teacher, playfully named Datin Susu (because she would distribute milk to the children too), taught them how to sing songs, read and put together building blocks.
“Singing is one of the best ways to learn. It teaches them discipline, teamwork, rhythm and exercises their ability to remember and think in the moment.” I agree with her.
Education. It works, it’s the only way to break the cycle of poverty. Of the children on the mat, perhaps a handful, hopefully more, will make it out by going to school, and that’s a good thing.
What about the parents, the adults? The NGO i was with was in the news today. They are looking to raise funds through a charity concert with big name celebs so that they can build a shelter to provide short term relief to the homeless. I couldn’t help but feel that though this was needed and important, it wasn’t enough.
What the adults need are skills, not just an education. Many of them looked physically capable, many of them looked passionate in their action and movements. There were very few with slumped shoulders of defeat. They have energy, but not the skills and the opportunity to channel it for an income that will take them off the streets.
We have vocational institutions in this country. Places where someone can learn how to wire a house, perhaps mow a lawn or build a garden, cut hair, or sew a dress. We need to find a way where these organizations can give the needy the skills they need to find jobs that will give them a chance to move away from this life, if they so choose. Make the people who can pay for these courses subsidize the people who can’t. Let them equip themselves for free, and we’ll find that their contribution to society will be tenfold.
An elderly man, shaking from arthritis, while munching on an apple, said to me, “What are you doing?” waving his half eaten apple at my camera.
“I’m taking photographs.”
“Show me how,” he said, putting his half-eaten apple in his pocket and holding his hands out to me.
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