Last Saturday night, instead of going to the movies or to Zouk, Shorty and I decided to do something different. We went to the Kechara Soup Kitchen in Imbi to help out. Kechara is this huge buddhist organization that does lots and lots of different things and one of it is the Kechara Soup Kitchen. While it was started by Kechara, the Kechara Soup Kitchen or KSK is not for exclusively meant for buddhists or any particular religion. The whole idea of KSK is to feed the hungry regardless of race or religion and the volunteers you find there are of all races and religion. I for one am Christian… but I found myself very much at home there because it’s main focus was not to spread buddhism or anything like that but just to feed the homeless.
The night started off with all of us meeting at the Kechara Soup Kitchen in Imbi for a safety briefing. We were all told the things we should and shouldn’t do while going out on the streets to give food to the homeless. Things like how to approach the homeless safely. Most of the homeless were ok but some who might be mentally unstable had to be handled with care.
After we were all confident that we knew enough not to get ourselves in any trouble while on our trips, we were all introduced to our team leaders and fellow team mates that would go out on 10 different routes around KL that night to feed the homeless. It was amazing. The target every weekend is for volunteers like us to go out and feed 650-700 homeless people ranging from Petaling Street
to Bangkok Bank and more.
Shorty, Huai Bin, David and I were put into a team that was in charge of Chow Kit and a place they called “Honda”.
All of the food that we gave out came from sponsors. Everyone from Giant, High 5, Tupperware, Pensonic, Khind to even hotels like Le Meridien who would take turns to cook food to donate. Even many restaurants around KL like the Boathouse in TTDI would donate food to be distributed.
The logistics was quite something. First volunteers had to pick up the food from all the sponsors. Then people had to pack it or distribute it among the 10 different teams that will go out.
And finally we would all load it up in our vans or cars like this.
Carrying all that food and loading it up into our van made me feel like an aid worker for the UN. Each food pack we gave out had
– A meal pack consisting of either rice with something or pasta.
– A mineral water bottle
– A loaf of High-5 bread (that was high in demand among the homeless so it ran out really quickly).
– Bread rolls from High-5 (which was also high in demand but fortunately we had plenty of that).
We also brought along some other stuff like some clothes in case we found any of the homeless needed any.
Shorty and I had reached KSK about 8PM but it was only about 11PM that we were ready to leave. Why so late? Well the truth is… there are lots of homeless people in KL but we don’t see them during the day. Why? Because they too have a sense of dignity and want to blend in with society. So when the sun is up and everyone is busying around with their days, they’re hiding in the back alleys where we never look. When night comes and the shops close at 10PM, they start coming out and laying their mats right in front of all the store fronts to spend their nights there. It is only at around 11PM when you see lots of them sleeping on bus stops or in front of store fronts in all these areas like Chow Kit.
Our first stop was “Honda” which turned out to be the Honda showroom I always drove past whenever I went for Super Kitchen/Kin Kin Chilli Pan Mee.
There were already about 40 homeless people already waiting there for us by the time we got there. I was told that every Saturday night, a crowd of homeless people would gather there to wait for us to give them the food and water they needed.
We stopped our van right next to the showroom and we all went to work to unload the van.
We then formed a line of volunteers where we would each give them one specific item. I was in charge of giving everyone bottles of water while Shorty and Huai Bin were in charge of giving them bread and a pack of pasta. We learned that a lot of them didn’t like pasta. Unfortunately for us our team didn’t have the rice packs so for those who didn’t want the pasta we could only make up for it by giving them more bread.
Most of the homeless were very happy to see us. They would smile and thank us in all their respective languages whenever we gave them anything. Those smiles alone made the entire night worth it for us. For the rest of the homeless, they were less smiley. Not because they felt it was like their right or anything… but because you could see in their eyes they were ashamed to even take this from us, but they had to… to continue living.
After we were done distributing the food, some of them would stay back to talk to us. KSK’s view of feeding the homeless was that while it starts with addressing their primary physiological need, it doesn’t end there. KSK spends much of their time starting conversations with the homeless and helping find them jobs and a way out of poverty. Then again some of you might ask, how did they get into being homeless people in the first place?
Contrary to the belief some might have, the homeless people of today aren’t all homeless because they’re lazy or refuse to find a job. They come from all races and religion. A good number of them are educated and speak fluent English! I even met an Indian homeless guy that spoke fluent Tamil, English and Hokkien. All of them probably had lives like you and I at one point years ago. What they did have that we didn’t though… was very very bad luck.
Let me illustrate this from two real life stories of two homeless people.
1) On one of our stops, I met a 50 year old man that we all called Mr Chee. Mr Chee used to be a very skilled elevator technician. He knew everything about elevators and had a pretty good job, even spent some years of his working in Singapore. One day he got into a fight with someone which resulted in him being hit really hard on the head. He took off his cap to show us his injury. I had never seen anything like that before in my life. The right side of his skull had collapsed so instead of a typical roundish looking head, the right side of his skull was flat downwards like a cottage roof.
I never knew somebody with that kind of injury could still live! But there he was, almost a miracle! That injury though ended up costing his entire life. Because of it, he would get very very bad headaches during the day. So bad that he couldn’t continue working. Then as it got worse, he found relief in taking drugs and eventually began an addict. Eventually he lost his job, his home and whatever family and friends he had… and now he was out on the street with a few of other homeless people who have become his friends. Mr Chee had a life… a home.. a job. But this is how he’s likely to live the rest of his life. Sleeping on a opened up cardboard box by the street.
2) The other story I’m going to tell you was told to me by my team leader whom I will refer to here as KW. KW was distributing food near an LRT station one night and saw this homeless Indian man. He asked the Indian man in Malay if he wanted food only to have the Indian man reply in fluent English and with a British accent. KW was shocked. He later learned of this Indian man’s story.
Many decades ago that old homeless Indian man was working with JKR. He was a civil servant working under the British back in those days and subsequently for our very own Malaysian government. He had family: Two daughters that he sent to the University of Sheffield in the UK to study law. One of them married a Brit and never came back. The other came back and became a lawyer in Malaysia.
He finally retired at the age of 65. Having nothing to do he picked up drinking at home. Every day he would kick up his feed in his living room sofa and have a couple of beers. His wife though didn’t like that at all. Eventually the wife kicked him out of the house and there was nothing he could do about it since the house was under her name. The remaining daughter in Malaysia took the mother’s side and so he left home… all alone. After spending his entire lifetime working to raise his children and giving them a good education… this man was all alone on the streets, without a home and not knowing where his next meal will come from.
So as you can see from both these stories, many of these homeless had lives like you and I at one point. There were many other stories. From senior citizens who worked all their lives only to have their pension cheated out of by some con man, or grandfathers or grandmothers who have been abandoned.
Our second stop of the night was in another area of Chow Kit where another long queue of 30 or so homeless people were waiting for us.
My team leader said that these first two groups we’re visiting have already been trained from our previous team. They knew how to line up and let the ladies go first. After we were done with this second group was when the “hunting” started. We drove all around Chow Kit looking for homeless people to give the rest of our food to. Our team leader knew of these little pockets. We would go to those pockets, see someone we think needs food and drop off some food and water.
When you look at some of these people, the harsh reality of living on the streets is obvious on them. Some are dressed ok but most are dressed with really old clothes and smell like they haven’t showered in a while. They have black feet and some of them have had injuries. You can also tell whether they’re newly homeless or have been homeless for a long time.
We saw this homeless person sleeping on the bus stop and from the way he hugged his bag to his chest while he slept indicated that he was just newly on the streets. According to our team leader, the ones who have been on the streets for the longest time don’t care. They sleep like a starfish on the streets if they had to because they know they have nothing to lose.
We didn’t want to wake him so we put some food next to him. He will wake up to some pasta, some bread and a fresh bottle of clean drinking water.
Another place where our team leader knew some homeless people stayed at was at the top of this pedestrian bridge.
You probably drive past many many bridges like this at night not knowing that some homeless people actually live on top of these bridges. We sent a few of us down to look for them and found them hiding in a corner of it, all dug in ready to sleep.
We made many more stops that night, in places that I never thought would have homeless people inhabit.
By the time we were done it was 2AM. We had drove around for 3 hours on a Saturday night, looking for homeless people to give food to. At the end of it, Huai Bin joked it was not too late to go to Zouk… but we all knew we were too tired. We just wanted to go home and sleep.
That night, before I went to bed I asked Shorty
“Aren’t we so lucky that we get to sleep on our nice beds in a safe air-conditioned room?”
“You know what scares me? At one point of their lives…. they probably had this luxury too”.
If you’d like to volunteer at KSK. There are many many many things you can do. Helping distribute food to the homeless is just one of them. They feed the homeless not just on weekends but every day. So if you’d like to volunteer, call Kwok Wai at +603 2141 6046.