A photo making the rounds on Facebook shows environmental activist Wong Tack, digging the ground, breaking-up clods of earth, with an elderly makcik digging alongside him. This was more than just the planting of seedlings and flower bushes. Makcik was rebuilding her life; Wong Tack was helping her.
We normally associate Wong Tack with protests against environmental destruction around the country. When contacted, he confirmed that his project, #BinaHARAPAN, was not just about building homes and giving people hope, but it was instrumental in building bonds between the citizens of Malaysia.
His ongoing charity projects cover rural areas such as Bentong and he also helps Orang Asli communities in Gua Musang and Kuala Lipis.
Initially, Wong Tack was approached to help a makcik from Raub pay her rent. Her own home was near collapse and she paid RM50 to stay in her neighbour’s kitchen. She was behind in paying the rent.
“Makcik” is a widow who had lost contact with her adopted daughter. Her requests for assistance from various government departments and agencies fell on deaf ears.
Touched by makcik’s plight, Wong Tack promised to restore her house. This was a new venture for him as he had only carried out minor house repairs and not anything remotely major like re-building an entire house. Undaunted, he persevered.
He said, “I was surprised at the fantastic response. I attracted a diverse group of volunteers from various backgrounds, ages, and places such as KL, Klang, Johor, Kuantan, Bentong and Raub.”
The participation of a large group of architectural students, who accompanied his friend, Ng Sek San, was gratifying.
“Although the local villagers were not involved in the re-construction, they helped with a continuous supply of food and drinks on-site,” he added.
Re-useable building materials from makcik’s old house were salvaged. New materials were purchased from cash donations. Seedlings, compost and fertiliser were donated. Contractors involved in the supply and installation of materials for plumbing, meter connection, electrical works and roofing material, contributed their services free of charge.
He said, “The lorry driver who transported our donated building materials, refused payment when he discovered the purpose of our project. He even stayed for a few days, and together with his helper, provided much valuable assistance by running errands, and disposing bulky items and construction waste.”
The volunteers worked tirelessly over many days, despite the heavy rains. When they prepared their sleeping bags to stay overnight in the uncompleted house, a villager invited them to stay at his house and enjoy the family’s hospitality. During the day, villagers frequented the site, praising the volunteers for their selfless work.
The motivation for Wong Tack to help others stems from his childhood experience. Having experienced poverty and suffering himself, he said, “I grew up in a rural community and I know how it is to be poor.
“When I returned to Malaysia 20 years ago from Canada, I saw that poverty and injustice still loomed large in this country. Since then, I have tried to contribute and do what I can to improve things.”
It is poignant that whilst Wong Tack applied the finishing touches to makcik’s house, Malaysians were preparing to celebrate Malaysia Day. He said, “We should not think that in order to effect change, we must take up great endeavours. We must realise that little efforts, when combined, will bring about extraordinary results.
“Everyone should do what they can, within their own capacity. If everyone does a little good, then this world will become a better place.
“It is actually quite easy to bring a smile to the face of a person who is suffering.”
The joy on the faces of makcik, Wong Tack, and his team of volunteers, bear testimony to the fruits of his project of hope.
Mariam Mokhtar is an FMT columnist.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.