A chance to start over
WHEN they started The Mak Minah Project three years ago, Sara and Ayu chose the recipients of their loans based on their own assessments.
“We interviewed the families and identified those which we thought had the most potential to change and move themselves up. But we didn’t realise the complex issues that these families have.
“The first family we housed stopped repaying their loan after three months. We realised that they were probably not ready for such a move or needed more support.
“We then realised that there are two types of people we are dealing with – families like Suraya who have been self sufficient but ended up on the streets due to unfortunate circumstances and families who have become accustomed to receiving handouts and are not ready to take responsibility for their own lives. These families need a lot more support which we initially were not prepared for. It’s definitely been a learning curve for us,” says Sara. Mak Minah now works with Anjung Singgah to help them identify the recipients for their loans.
Their contact person is Amir Rudin Abdul Rahman, the operations manager of a shelter for the homeless, Pusat Transit Gelandangan Kuala Lumpur.
Amir was managing Anjung Singgah when Suraya turned up at the doorstep of the refuge.
Although Anjung Singgah caters mainly to individuals, the social worker housed Suraya and her family. “I didn’t want to separate the family. In cases like this, the Welfare Department would take temporary custody of the child until the parent has a job and finds a stable home,” he said.
There are more of the homeless who need the financial aid that the Mak Minah Project offers, but Sara and her colleagues only have limited resources.
As the initiative is still in its infancy, their aim now is to help four families find homes in a year. They are, however, on the look out for grants that will enable them to develop their initiative further. They are also in search of partners to strengthen the support services they offer clients.
“When we started out, we had the ambitious plan of re-homing eight families a year. But the task is more challenging than we anticipated as we are a small team doing this on a part-time basis. Hopefully, we can get more people onboard who can partner with us,” says Ayu.
The problems related to urban poverty, she feels, can only be resolved with society’s support; the government and NGOs cannot work alone.
“We first need to create awareness among the public that urban poverty is real and something we all need to address. So far, we have received a lot or support but it would be nice to see more people involved – not necessarily in our project. We also need to convince the homeless families that we help that they have to give back to society too. It’s a two-way process,” says Ayu.
Amir agrees with Ayu, but his expectations are a little more contained.
“The most important thing the public needs to do is to withhold judgement about the displaced and homeless. Many brush them off as being useless or a menace to society. You don’t know their circumstances.
“Everyone deserves a second chance and as long as they are able and healthy, they can rebuild themselves. If you can support them ... even if it’s just one person, that’s already a good thing. If you can’t, then just don’t judge them,” says Amir who has been working with the displaced for almost 20 years.
Homeless families, like those in this file photo, can depend on do-gooders who feed them, but the Mak Minah Project is more ambitious and aims to get them back on their feet.