By Logeetha Balakrishnan
We are in the third week of 2015 and by now most of us would have settled into the New Year comfortably. As we are here snuggling under our blankets, we may have forgotten our fellow Malaysians in the east coast alongside our New Year’s resolution.
In December, we were hit by the worst floods the country has seen in about 30 years. Efforts were made by various parties to send aid to the victims and we applaud how Malaysians came together as one, cleaning out entire supermarkets in order to donate much needed supplies to the victims.
I spoke to Arwin Muruga, a volunteer for TECH Outreach, a local nonprofit organisation in Malaysia which was quick to respond to the crisis.
When Arwin first heard about the floods, like many others, he felt compelled to help but was unaware of the kind of help needed by the victims. He decided to join a Sai Baba association convoy to Kelantan on a mission to distribute aid so he could understand the realities on the ground and grasp a better idea of the situation.
They started off to a village in Kampung Pasir Kelang and after a 5 hour night drive into the village, they managed to address the needs of the people and followed up with another village 10 kilometers away which was not accessible by the main road. Arwin soon realised there were still a lot of people who were not getting the help they needed.
This prompted him to organise another trip to Kelantan via TECH Outreach which managed to raise over RM 35,000 in just 3 days.
With a team of 9 and spirits high, the TECH team managed to get into an area which had five villages, only to be severely let down. Unknown to them, their ground contact had led them to villages that had already received basic aid. Although it would have been easier to donate all their items to those villages, the TECH team insisted they get to the ones who had not received any help at all. Now at a dead end, they were forced to get back to the main road and hatch another plan.
Through a few phone calls, they connected with a local nonprofit called Solidariti Anak Muda Malaysia (SAMM) which was also distributing aid in the same area and were having the exact same problem trying to identify villages which had not received any aid at all. They did have a solution though, but it was 90 kilometers away in Felda Ciku 3.
When the famished and exhausted TECH team finally arrived at Felda Ciku 3 in Gua Musang, their guardian angel happened to be the Penghulu (Village Head) who set them up for the night at the community hall. The next morning, they followed the penghulu and managed to distribute blankets, pampers, baby formula milk and other necessities to two villages, comprising of 150 families which were in dire need of help.
Based on conversations with villagers affected by the floods, their urgent needs boiled down to food, medical supplies, rebuilding and reconstruction. In Arwin’s words, "You’ll be surprised what a strip of Panadol or hydrocortisone tube can do to help." Right now, he believes efforts should be geared towards medical supplies and rebuilding.
Arwin’s experience highlights the complexities of distributing aid during a natural disaster, the importance of going through local organisations on the ground who really understand the situation and more significantly, the importance of organisations working together.
TECH Outreach’s next trip would focus on getting in basic medications in order to curb any small bruises or cuts becoming bigger problems. If you would like to donate or volunteer, please get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org for further information.