Read how this princess leverages her own network and resources to benefit the homeless
Tengku Zatashah is the lady behind the #zerofoodwastage movement
Acommon perception about the homeless is that feeding them only encourages them to stay on the streets. What Tengku Zatashah Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah learned one Saturday night two years ago was the opposite.
On her first walk distributing food packs with the team from Kechara Soup Kitchen, she learned that soup kitchens do a lot more than give out free food. She shares, “KSK has a database of those living in the streets – who are referred to affectionately as their ‘clients’ – and their issues; there is even a medical unit to address their clients’ issues and help them look for employment. The long-term goal is to get them off the street.”
Being up close and personal with the homeless also allowed her to see into their circumstances beyond stereotypes that often colour the issue. “There are a variety of reasons why people live on the streets. It’s not always because of personal vice like drugs or gambling. There are old people who were kicked out by their families, women who fled domestic violence, business owners who went bankrupt. They all have their own story.”
Making A Change
Impressed by how humanitarian and organised KSK’s approach was, she was determined to join them on a regular basis. She also yearned to do more. How could she leverage her own network and resources for greater impact?
The answer came when she read a news report that revealed over Ramadhan, 270,000 tonnes of food is thrown away in Malaysia. Coincidentally, France had just passed a law that forbids supermarkets and hotels from throwing away surplus food. In a moment of clarity, something clicked in her head.
Zatashah picked up the phone and contacted a major hotel with an unusual request: could it give her all the surplus food from their Ramadhan buffet line? Her intention was to have the food collected, reheated, packed and delivered by KSK to the urban poor.
She confesses, “When I called up the hotel to ask for a favour, I didn’t know how the response would be, but I couldn’t just sit around and do nothing. I figured, repurposing surplus food is such an obvious solution.” Concorde KL loved the idea of helping out a charitable cause, and #zerofoodwastage was born.
A National Movement
Elated, Zatashah promoted her initiative enthusiastically on her Instagram account, where she goes by the handle @zatashah. It wasn’t long before the media picked up on it and other hotels jumped onboard. As a result, two-and-a-half tonnes of warm food, which would otherwise have ended up in landfills, filled up the bellies of over 3,000 homeless and urban poor.
The initiative didn’t end there. #zerofoodwastage has snowballed into a nationwide movement that includes retail giants contributing to Kechara’s food bank drive, a collection of non-perishable goods that is delivered to the homes of the urban poor. At press time, retail giants like Tesco Malaysia have signed on, with more on the way.
From campaigning for reduced plastic usage, to fulfilling the dreams of children with life-threatening illnesses through her Make-AWish Foundation, Zatashah’s social activism is legion. Dubbed the country’s hardest-working princess, her involvement in community work was highlighted during her conferment of the Knight of the Legion of Honour title, France’s highest distinction for exemplary services.
While the #zerofoodwastage campaign itself is gaining momentum, Zatashah says her biggest long-term challenge is to break down misconceptions. We’re not just talking about the homeless, but also about the organisations that help them.
To do this, Zatashah devotes a big chunk of her time educating the public, whether it is through disseminating informative messages on Instagram, giving motivational talks or getting her own family members in on the act.
Eyebrows were raised during the recent eve of Eid Mubarak when Zatashah’s brother, the Raja Muda of Selangor, her husband and her cousins joined her for a food distribution walk.
She says, “I always tell people, if you want to know the truth about soup kitchens, come be a volunteer and get to know the whole process behind. Don’t judge until you have done it yourself.”