Feeding the heart of the city

By JAMIE KHOO, The Star, July 27, 2008

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia -- Have you ever walked past a homeless person and wondered what you could do to help? If so, join the Kechara Soup Kitchen which actively goes out to the streets to find them, feed them and befriend them.

IT can’t be easy living on the streets. Homelessness – its filth and its forgotten people – is a subject that most would rather not talk about, attributing this dire state of affairs to a sometimes mistaken belief of drug abuse, a criminal mind or pure laziness.

So why then is a group of young Malaysians heading out every Saturday evening to actively look for them?

The Kechara Soup Kitchen, an independent initiative run by volunteers of all ages and backgrounds, seeks to bring relief to the streets by going out twice a week to distribute halal food packets to the homeless and urban poor with its tagline “Hunger knows no barriers.”

Meeting a desperate need

Volunteers pack the food themselves and set out on foot in the early evening on Wednesdays and Saturdays, rain or shine, to pockets of Kuala Lumpur like Puduraya, Pudu Market and Chow Kit.

“KSK started off two years ago with only a few people delivering about 20 packets of food. They would just walk for hours looking for homeless and poor people all over the city,” explains KSK director Chuah Su Ming.

“Now, we’re delivering up to 350 packets of food each session and have better identified the areas which are most populated.”

KSK also provides basic first aid or brings those requiring more serious treatment to a clinic. They also distribute umbrellas, blankets and clothes and some volunteers even cook extra goodies themselves to be distributed with the food packets.

“These people have become our friends,” shares Chuah.

“We know their stories now, and although it is hard to pinpoint exactly why most of them are on the streets, we know one thing for sure – that they’re not there by choice.”

This poses a controversial question of whether they also feed drug addicts, thieves and criminals, indirectly encouraging their behaviour.

“Yes, we do feed all. Our policy is never to give money, but we will feed anybody who is hungry,” explains KSK non-executive director Peter Nicoll.

“We would never encourage what might be criminal behaviour. Feeding the homeless is only part of the plan – our aspiration is to make a connection with them and try to earn their trust by meeting this basic need of food. By doing so, we’re in a better position to identify those who wish to work and get off the streets. Then we can encourage them towards rehabilitation and even introduce them back into the workforce as responsible citizens,” he adds.

KSK’s long-term vision is to have a permanent base in the city where the homeless community can go every day for food, a shower and rest. Running simultaneously with the Soup Kitchen, KSK is also looking to develop a nurture centre in the suburbs of KL where they hope to temporarily house those wishing to undergo rehabilitation programmes and re-enter society. There, training for basic work skills such as gardening will be provided as well as programmes to assist in re-integrating them back into the work force and society.

From its humble, small beginnings, KSK has grown exponentially in its volunteerism, drawing people from very diverse backgrounds. Putting aside age, occupation, race and religion, they unite in the common objective of bringing relief and cheer to the less fortunate.

Through its noble efforts, KSK has even attracted the support of corporate sponsors who sponsor food and help distribute food to those who need it.

University professors, socialites, students, working professionals, expatriates and even their visiting friends from as far as Indonesia and Australia pitch in every week to bring relief to KL’s most forgotten streets

Says volunteer William Lee: “KSK educates that homelessness and poverty can in fact affect anyone.” It addresses a situation that anyone could potentially find themselves in.

“To make bigger things happen it’s important that the cause is addressed at a grassroots level. Start small and build,” adds the human resource executive.

Jehan Omar, a student from HELP college shares that the experience of going out with KSK has helped her realise that “we really are ignorant about lots of things going on close to us.”

She and two friends, Mohammad Rushdi Mohd Razif and Nikko Tan Ailynn, were required to complete a project as part of their course work.

“We decided we would rather take an active part in something. This is why we came to Kechara Soup Kitchen,” says Rushdi.

Note: The Kechara Soup Kitchen is a registered charitable NGO under the Malaysian Registration of Societies Ordinance. For more information on how to participate in Kechara Soup Kitchen’s work, visit www.kskcommunity.org or call Peter Nicoll 012-705 9022, Chuah Su Ming 012-2911 178.