For the four of us, we were about to distribute food to the displaced & homeless in Kuala Lumpur for the very first time. We’re all a little excited, a little nervous and a little scared. Personally, I didn’t know what to expect.
Some background first….I found out about Reach OUT via TLC Promise Me, whom I work with last year to raise funds for a hospital bed. Founded by husband & wife team, Peter Nicoll and Fexaa Nicoll, Reach OUT is non-political, non-religious and non-profit. Volunteers at Reach OUT are made up of people all ages, races, cultures, religions and from all walks of life.
Reach OUT distributes food to the homeless in Kuala Lumpur everyday as it believes that the act of providing nutrition is the first step to eradicating urban & rural poverty. They help out outside KL too but the food distributing is the main thing. Being directly in touch with the people who are displaced is essential in gaining their trust and to gather information of their situations. When trust is in place, it would be easier to assist them in getting off the streets.
At 11.30pm, we noticed a group of people walking towards us. They were carrying large, red coloured bags. We found out later that all the bags contained nutritious Halal food donated by hotels, restaurants and various organisations.
Some of the people were seasoned volunteers and some were first timers just like us. You could almost detect the nervousness on their faces ;)
# – The bags of food.
Peter Nicoll started briefing us on safety measures and the right conduct while on the walk. Always stay in the group, don’t wander off, don’t approach the people on the street from behind, be courteous to the people, no public display of affection, don’t give money, among others. We’re also told that we’re free to leave the group if we found ourselves getting too emotional or exhausted at any point.
# – Briefing in progress.
Right after the briefing, an articulate, well dressed man named Max approached us. Feexa introduced me to him. I was surprised to find out that Max is one of the homeless people that Reach OUT regularly helps out. He’s certainly not the stereotypical homeless man I had imagined earlier.
He talked passionately about the kittens that he’s caring for and he politely asked for some cat food. He’s been homeless for over 30 years due to a bitter divorce many years ago. He had lost everything & everyone to his ex-wife. We promised to pass some cat food to him later on, and we did.
# – Max.
After the briefing we set off in our cars in a convoy. Our first stop, Pudu Raya. We exited our cars with packets of food in hands and slowly walked towards the back of Pudu Raya. The sight that greeted me was shocking.
# – There were about 15 homeless people sleeping in a row. And about 15 more on another side.
I couldn’t believe that there were already so many at only one spot. And we have half a dozen more areas to cover!
Where did all these homeless people come from?? I was told that we never notice them in the day as they’re constantly on the go. Some even have jobs, albeit extremely low paying jobs.
After sending some little extra money they have to their hometowns, they’d be literally left with nothing, not even for half-decent accommodations, let alone food. You could tell that they’re very appreciative of the food given. If you want to see genuine smiles, I implore you to join Reach OUT :)
After Pudu Raya, we moved on to another part of the city. We’re right outside some bank. I always wondered why the homeless tend to sleep outside banks – I assumed banks are just cleaner in general but I found out from one of them that the primary reason is because banks have CCTVs. They camp outside banks simply for safety.
Knowing that put some things in perspective for me as well. It was difficult to relate to the unfortunate at first until I realised that they’re just like me and you…..concerned about issues such as safety and cleanliness.
It’s not like they choose to live on the streets, you know. They really have no choice. Perhaps there are things that they can do to improve their situations but due to lack of awareness or education, these people really have no idea. And this is when Reach OUT steps in to assist them.
# – People sleeping right outside the bank.
There was an 8 month old pregnant woman. She was due to give birth anytime and yet instead of resting in the comfort of a home, she’s sleeping on an old mat outside a bank with her husband. It’s that screwed up. They came to KL to find jobs but with no such luck, they didn’t even have enough money to go home.
# – The pregnant woman sharing her story.
Feexa told me they’ll be refering her to a shelter for women which would take care of the delivery of her baby. That’s a relief to hear.
We went to several other places and it’s all the same. Rows and rows of people sleeping on the ground on mats or cardboards with the little belongings they have close by.
# – When the shutters are down, they make their beds.
When we came across cats, we’d feed them too. They provide wonderful companionship to the displaced. When I asked why weren’t dogs fed, I was asked back whether I had seen any dog. It was a sobering question….I wonder what happened to all the dogs in the city. Food for thought…
# – Hungry kitties.
While distributing the food, I chatted with one of the volunteers. A fashionable, young man named Hasif. I found out he’s actually a Run Leader for Reach OUT, which means he leads food distributing every week! In fact, he’s already doing it for several months already.
I was pleasantly surprised – why would a young man like him sacrifice precious nights distributing food to the homeless while his peers hang out at mamak stalls ogling at girls or partying. You know, having fun?
I had to ask him why. He grinned shyly and just said he felt that he could help out, he’s got the time anyway. And then he said, “You never know, one day I could end up homeless and I’d be so happy that there are people who would give me some food then”. I was truly humbled.
He mentioned that he’d love to make a documentary highlighting all these urban issues and I think he would definitely make a mark :)
# – Hasif.
Finally, our final destination was a storm drain, somewhere under a busy elevated road. It could be Klang River but honestly, I’m not too sure – it was about 3am. Peter jokingly called it The Lost City of Atlantis – with penthouses, he said. We were super curious as to what he meant by penthouses.
Turned out the “penthouses” were several areas at the top of some steep walls where the homeless sleep, haha. I guess you have to be able to find humour in these things if you were to face do this every single day.
# – “Penthouse”.
We walked along the massive drain and found most of them sleeping under elevated roads in complete darkness. You could tell they were so appreciative of the food distributed even in the dark.
# – Notice the elevated road? They sleep underneath it.
I noticed spectacular graffiti arts on the walls and I was told that they were done by the homeless themselves! I had to wonder what cruel fate they were dealt with…..why with such big talents and yet they have no roof over their heads? In truth, I’m a little afraid to know the details, I’m not certain I can handle it.
# – This artwork highlights that children need help too.
# – Another one depicting various social issues caused by poverty.
By the time we emerged from the storm drain, it was near 3.30pm. It was a humbling, eye-opening experience. I talked with the BF and we both agreed that we would like to contribute on a long term basis. As Peter Nicoll said, it’s voluntary work…just come when you have time or whenever you feel like it, no pressure.
I’m not going to convince you to contribute based on my experience alone, instead I’d implore you to at least join one time to see for yourself. If it’s not your thing, that’s fine. But at least have seen it for yourself.
So how do you get involved? Just join the Reach OUT’s Facebook group and watch out for the daily updates. There’s no need for registration whatsoever, just appear at the designated meeting spot at the designated time :)
# – Reach OUT.
Of course, if you would like to contribute food, clothings, medical supplies or basic necessities, even money (for buying more food and medical supplies), you could do so through the Facebook page as well.
In all honesty, I don’t do this because I want to change the world or that I’m so particularly touched but really, I just like the feeling of going home with a renewed appreciation of my own life and an unexplained satisfaction. I think those genuine smiles really helped.