Who will pick up our fallen stars?

After falling on hard times, washed-up pop idol Ben Nathan and faded rock singer Sahara Yaacob were homeless for many years.

Ben became a vagrant, living on the streets of Kuala Lumpur, for close to two decades.

Sahara relied on food from villagers at Hulu Langat, sometimes living in a dingy storeroom, for 10 years.

Their lives changed in May 2017. The pair, who were both recording artistes of the 80s, made a comeback to the limelight.

Coincidentally, Sahara opened a benefit show at Saloma Bistro in Kuala Lumpur for Ben to get back on his feet.

By then, she had been allocated a People’s Housing Project (PPR) flat by Kuala Lumpur City Hall after her plight was widely publicised.

Ben, who has just completed a new single, is waiting to move into his PPR flat.

Their transformation from destitution to the people they once were, is in part to the efforts of the National Artiste Foundation (YKAT) president DJ Dave and the media.

For needy artistes today, however, any light at the end of the tunnel could well be that from an oncoming train.

Funds are drying up in some of the organisations that represent them. Government funding has stopped while fundraisers have been stalled due to the current economic slowdown.

With the wind ripped from their sails, they are struggling to regain the momentum to update their template for caring.

You might ask, why worry when the public always finds that vigour and uses it to the fullest in the service of other people.

Take the recent case of Alzheimer’s disease-stricken veteran music composer Ooi Eow Jin, 84, and his 56-year-old son who needed medical help.

Within 24 hours of FMT’s story on their plight last Monday, well-wishers had donated RM55,000. The tally yesterday was about RM110,000.

Ooi’s son Chin Seng, who was diagnosed with a brain tumour at the age of 14, is scheduled to undergo surgery tomorrow.

Here’s the thing: Organisations such as YKAT and the Malaysian Artistes’ Association (Karyawan) may not be able to replicate their past deeds.

Dave says he has helped more than 1,000 people wade through difficult times and obtained free housing for five artistes in his eight years at YKAT.

Freddie Fernandez, president of Karyawan since 2005, has rendered assistance to some 100 members suffering medical problems or who are struggling to make ends meet.

Luminaries who received aid from both organisations include Hamid Gurkha, Zaiton Sameon, Andre Goh, V Sinnapa, Kesuma Booty, Mimi Loma, Aziz Satar, Yahya Sulong and Yusof Chong.

Last week, Dave and Freddie came under fire from critics who argued that the pair should have rallied to the aid of Ooi and his son instead of calling for public donations.

The two men said that they had previously assisted Ooi but government funding had stopped.

Karyawan had to stop paying out a monthly pension of RM500 each to some 30 artistes in 2010 after six years when government grants were no longer made.

YKAT continues to pay a monthly pension of RM500 to six people, including ailing stars Daud Kilau, Sharifah Aminah and Yap Chin Fong, although there is no government support.

The change of ministers and officials in the ministries overseeing the industry makes the situation fuzzy, said Freddie.

“We rely on corporate social responsibility and fundraisers, but such drives are perceived by some as an unwillingness to part with our funds. Fact is, we are running out of money to care for the people who bring joy into hearts through live entertainment, songs, and films,” he said.

Both the industry leaders hold firm that without media and public support their fundraisers would be unsuccessful.

On the other hand, it is disappointing that the Cultural Economy Development Agency (Cendana), having received millions in government funds, did not go to Ooi’s aid despite his immense contributions to the arts.

Shouldn’t Cendana, set up by the government to build a “vibrant, sustainable and ambitious cultural economy” value treasured symbols of Malaysian arts?

Creatives have questioned whether the agency has a welfare role.

Aren’t musicians and actors projecting national culture? Can someone explain whether distressed creatives will be healed of their pain?

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.

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