Read how this princess lever­ages her own net­work and re­sources to ben­e­fit the home­less

Women's Weekly (Malaysia) - - Women's Weekly - BY ALEXAN­DRA WONG

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.

Chal­lenges Ahead

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.”

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