By Dharm Navaratnam
JUNE 14 — Last weekend was an eye opening experience for me. It started off on Friday night when a few of use gathered at a friend’s house to load drinks and food to be supplied to the staff and caregivers for sahur at University Hospital and Serdang Hospital.
On Saturday, there was a request to help deliver cartons of water to Serdang Hospital and I decided to help out. The plan was to drop off the water and come back but once I got there, I decided to just see what was going on. I had no plans to take part in anything but to just listen in.
There were about 30 people there, all volunteers. The coordinator at Serdang was none other than Syed Azmi. He explained that this effort was basically to provide food for sahur for the nursing staff and also those families staying at the hospital to act as caregivers. All the food and drinks were supplied by volunteers and donors.
This effort was actually started a number of years ago by Tiara Shahrani Shahrom who mooted the idea of holding a Picnic In The Park (PITP) for medically and physically challenged children who may not otherwise be able to get outdoors.
The first PITP was for cancer patients, held in an indoor hall and fake grass was fitted to have the semblance of a park. The patients and their parents had a picnic there along with other fun activities. Many more PITP events followed, even an event to teach physically challenged children how to ride bicycles and skateboards.
This evolved to the PITP sahur event where it was found that during the month of Ramadan it is especially difficult for those staying over at hospitals, to look after their loved ones, to get food for sahur. Many times, these caregivers would go without food. Many of the nursing staff and even doctors, especially those attending to emergency cases, did not have access to food for sahur either.
A noble idea indeed.
The food was simple, with a main meal of fried rice, some cupcakes or cream buns, mineral water, Yakult yoghurt drink and an apple. The hospital staff came down with trolleys and the volunteers stacked the trolleys with the necessary amount of each item.
One volunteer would then accompany the trolleys to the ward and distribute the food. It was pointed out that the food was only for the nursing staff and caregivers and race and religion was NOT a barrier. Patients of course were not to be given any food.
As I stood by, trying to stay out of the way, I was suddenly called on to accompany one of the trolleys up to the ward. I had become an accidental volunteer!
En route to the ward, I asked the nurses accompanying me where they would be celebrating Raya. Two were working during Raya — a fact that most of us do not realise and often take for granted. On reaching the ward and distributing the food, it was immediately obvious that the caregivers were extremely grateful to be given the food packages.
Some were sleeping on the floor beside the beds and some were curled up on chairs. Some even had their heads resting on the bed rails and you knew that they would have gone hungry if not for this effort.
One of the nurses related a story of how last year there were two emergency cases in the Neo Natal ward. The nurses and doctors attending to this case had not eaten anything since they broke their fast and if not for this PITP sahur event, the doctors and nurses would not have had anything for sahur.
It was probably then that I realised how a simple idea like this could have such a large impact.
Then there was the immediate friendships formed. It was pretty amazing. Most of the people there were, for me, strangers. The rest had only really communicated over a WhatsApp chat group but yet the camaraderie was evident.
Everyone had a word of encouragement and a warm smile for everyone else. The tasks were carried out efficiently and with good spirit and humour. It was like working with friends you had known for a long time.
All this was happening at the wee hours of 1am in the morning. Once the food distribution in the wards was completed, it was off the the Accident and Emergency Department to give out extra food. This was another critical area as some of the families were waiting there for a long time and the food was most welcomed.
For me, it was truly an amazing experience and indeed an eye-opener to see so many Malaysians doing volunteer work just to make a difference in someone else’s lives. They are not there to gain fame or any rewards but it is done purely out of care for someone else.
The words of one of the staff nurses rings clear in my head. “This is the Malaysia I know. Everyone coming together and everyone getting along so well. Tak kira bangsa.” Indeed, Malaysian regardless of creed, colour or religion gathered together to help people in need.
And you know what? Most times it has always been that way. When we choose to see ourselves simply as Malaysians, great things can be achieved. This is proof of it.
Selamat Hari Raya Aidilfitri to all Malaysians.
This article was first published in MalayMail