PUCHONG: Barely five minutes after speaking about the increasing number of people approaching him for free bags of rice, social activist Kuan Chee Heng’s phone begins to ring, for the sixth time in less than 20 minutes.
On the other end of the line is Mohd Amirul Amin, a technician who has just lost his job. The father of two is in desperate need of a bag of rice to feed his family.
Though the timing of the call may seem like a coincidence, Kuan isn’t the least bit surprised. In fact, calls for help at any hour from the Klang Valley’s urban poor is a norm and a matter of real concern, he said.
“I’ve been distributing free rice for 10 years now, and every month, over 100 hardcore poor families receive rice and other groceries worth at least RM150,” said Kuan, who is the president of the Community Oriented Policing Strategies (COPS), a group he established some years ago to do community work.
“But on a daily basis, I get more requests for free rice, up to 10 requests per day,” he says, in between briefing his group of volunteers on their “mission” for the day.
As we make our way to Kuan’s house, which acts as a makeshift store for goods donated by the public, he voices concern that Malaysians aren’t earning enough to keep up with the cost of living.
“To me, if you earn RM3,000 in Kuala Lumpur, you are very poor. It’s very hard to scrape through. In the city, you need a salary of RM5,000 at least if you want a decent living. If you have kids, that isn’t enough.”
Kuan, who personally delivers the rice and other supplies to those in need, says he’s even met people living in People’s Housing Projects (PPR) who haven’t eaten for days.
“Some are by circumstances facing tough times, like an illness, women who’ve been abandoned by their husbands or met with accidents. But there are also situations where the breadwinner just refuses to work, so we have to push them to work.
“We must help them escape poverty. Urban poverty leads to crime and social disobedience. It also puts a strain on families and schools,” the former policeman said.
Thankfully, Kuan said, Malaysians from all walks of life are generous and kind, donating goods and cash to his cause which includes services like the 10-sen ambulance, 10-sen taxi and RM1 hotel.
“People think I’m a hero. I’m not, I’m like a striker who scores the goal, who completes the last move. There’s no way I can do it without the rest of the team, and the rest of the team are Malaysians of different races and religions.”
He added that running the 10-sen ambulance programme, which utilises three ambulances, including drivers and paramedics, and costs RM40,000 a month, wouldn’t be possible without donations from the public.
“The truth is that Malaysians get along just fine. We leverage on each other’s kindness. Only politics and politicians divide us, because if they don’t divide us, they can’t rule over us.”
Kuan said he hoped politicians, particularly those elected to power, would do more to help the people as they had the resources and networks to do so.
When Amirul arrives at Kuan’s house, he gets more than he asked for. Instead of a bag of rice, he goes home with two, along with cooking oil, potatoes and dry food products, almost too much to fit on his motorcycle.