Saturday, May 17, 2008

In The Spirit of Charity

One of the happiest, most satisfying times of my life happened, ironically enough, during the time I was grappling with severe financial difficulties.

The late 1990s was a very stressful period for small-time entrepreneurs like yours truly. I had been running a small public relations consultancy since 1990 and business had been good.

Then came the 1997 financial crunch. All of a sudden, jobs were hard to come by because clients weren't spending.

While money wasn't forthcoming, the kids were on the threshold of college and needed funds.

Making ends meet suddenly became a constant challenge. It didn't help that I was at that time a single mother raising four children on my own.

Still, at a time when I was battling so many personal woes, I found contentment and a deep sense of purpose in a way I could never have imagined.

It all started when a good friend, knowing my penchant for collecting strays, brought me into an NGO well-known for its commitment towards charitable work.

One of our most memorable projects focused on an estate school in rural Selangor where many children went to school on an empty stomach.

They couldn't afford canteen food either. And when they had to stay back for extra-curricular activities, they drank tap water to keep hunger pangs away. Needless to say, truancy was very high.

That such a situation still existed at this time and age left me shocked and angry. A concerned teacher wrote to us highlighting the issue, asking us to help any which way we could.

After many trips to the school to observe for ourselves the situation at hand, and following a series of meetings with the school PTA, we set out to raise funds to put our project in place.

International donors acted on our appeals and came to our aid, raising a substantial amount that enabled us to feed the entire school for one whole year. We also provided the school with a new library.

Truancy ceased and classes reported 100 percent attendance. At the end of that year, seven students achieved straight As in their UPSR exam, something unheard of in the school's 40-year history.

The children held a year-end concert for our benefit. We gave away prizes and presented the 'magnificent seven' (all girls!) with shiny new red bicycles. Our hearts swelled when they told us they wanted to study harder and go to university.

I remember vividly feeling choked with emotion when the kids garlanded us with yellow bunga malai. I remember thinking we didn't deserve the honour.

It was them who taught us the meaning of humility. They made better human beings out of us. We were honoured to have been given the opportunity to help them.

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