Special ‘family’ Raya for recovering young addicts when blood family must not visit

Pengasih Malaysia residents perform the Friday prayers at Pengasih, a centre for recovering addicts.

KUALA LUMPUR: Aliff, like millions of other Malaysians, will not be seeing his relatives this Hari Raya, but he is still excited because he now has a new “family” to celebrate with.

Originally from Kota Bharu, Kelantan, he is not related to any of the 60 people living with him in this small corner of Bukit Tunku, Kuala Lumpur, but this is where he has learned what it really means to celebrate Hari Raya together as a family.

Prior to entering the Pengasih Malaysia drug addiction treatment centre in 2017, Aliff did not want to mix with his family, because of his addiction issues.

“This is something I could not experience outside, where I would be spending Hari Raya by myself,” said Aliff, who has been battling substance abuse for the past three years.

Pengasih Malaysia is a facility founded and run by former users for current users. Most of the residents are in their 20s.

It’s open to all addicts, even foreigners. At the moment there are five female residents.

Aliff and a fellow resident put up lights for Hari Raya.

Typically the drug of choice that brings youngsters here is methamphetamine, known as syabu on the street. It’s relatively affordable and easy to find.

The rehab centre operates like one big family, and residents like Aliff not only have to battle substance abuse together but also get used to cleaning, cooking, and doing all kinds of general housekeeping – many of them for the first time.

Today, Aliff is with his “brothers” as they prepare lemang, the traditional Hari Raya sticky rice and coconut milk delicacy, by a small fire under an open shed.

From their joyful chatter and jokes, there is no doubt that festivity is in the air.

“What I love here is that we do everything together,” said Aliff. “I’m excited to celebrate Hari Raya here because everyone is my family.”

Hafizi Harun, Pengasih’s programme director, says Hari Raya is truly a special time for residents, who typically have limited contact with the outside world.

Hafizi (standing, right) looks on as Aliff (in red) and Faizal (in black) cook lemang.

“We prepare lots of traditional dishes,” he says. “Then on the first day we start with prayers before our whole ‘family’ gathers in the dining hall to tuck in. After that, it’s just chilling, watching television, and hanging out.”

Usually crowds of families who come to visit their children add to the festive atmosphere, but under the conditional movement control order (CMCO), this will not be possible for everyone this year.

“Only family members living in the Klang Valley will be allowed to visit, and even then this will be limited to 20 people at any one time, and only on the first day.”

Aliff (left) says it was at Pengasih that he learnt the meaning of celebrating Hari Raya as a family, while Faizal (right) looks forward to the rendang served during the celebrations.

For those whose families live in other states, a visit is out of the question, but Pengasih is allowing residents, who are normally barred from having mobile phones on site, to make video calls.

“They can speak to their families, seek forgiveness and catch up.”

Another resident, Faizal, loves celebrating Hari Raya at Pengasih as well, saying it’s just like celebrating back in his village in Kajang, Selangor.

“I like that we work together to spruce up the place, to decorate and cook for the festivity. The rendang we cook is delicious,” he told FMT. “I’m looking forward to my family coming to visit and I’ll be serving them our home-cooked food.”

This is something Aliff will not get to do this year and he can’t hide the fact that he will miss his parents.

A resident during Friday prayers.

To them, he sends this message:

“To my mother and father, Abang Long is healthy, please look after yourself at home, and do not worry about me.

“Selamat Hari Raya, I am always praying for you. I apologise for getting caught up in drugs. Thank you for your constant support.”

It is a message no doubt shared by all Pengasih’s residents whose parents cannot visit them this Raya.

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