A hand for those in need

While KL Sketchnation’s volunteers are conducting the session, KWAP’s staff take charge in refurbishing the unused space

by AZALEA AZUAR

The CDF will also fund programmes for B40 children to support them with their education and soft skills as well to motivate them

LAST month, a group of volunteers from Kuala Lumpur (KL) Sketchnation organised an art activity as part of the Retirement Funds Inc’s (KWAP) bigger corporate social responsibility initiative called “Ruang Permai” at a Program Perumahan Rakyat (PPR) Raya Permai flat at in Sungai Besi, Selangor.

The volunteers prepared canvases, acrylic paints and paint brushes. There weren’t many participants in the beginning but after some time, more and more residents came and joined the activity.

There were quite a number who were apprehensive to be part of the project initially, but after some encouragement, they finally did.

The participants came from all walks of life. One of them used to attend painting lessons but had to stop due to her hectic job as a secretary.

One of the PPR cleaners also joined in the fun and demonstrated her artistic skills. While KL Sketchnation’s volunteers were conducting the session, KWAP’s staff took charge in refurbishing the unused space.

They managed to transform the awful-looking, rundown area into a lively and comfortable place.

The Ruang Permai, as it is called, is now filled with bookshelves, tables and chairs, so that the children will be able to learn, study and play comfortably.

At the end of the day, the participants also created remarkable masterpieces which will later be displayed at the Ruang Permai.

Now, the project shows that the residents, who are mainly in the bottom 40% income group (B40) bracket, can do it, if they are given the opportunity.

They may be trapped under horrible living conditions, but if everyone pitched in and help, they may be offered some hope.

Still, the task might not be as easy as it sounds. As Malaysia aspires to become a high-income nation within the next decade, one must always be reminded that there are still those who are living under poverty.

Types of Poverty

While rural poverty is still a critical issue, urban poverty requires policy attention and prescriptions as well.

The Trustee of Yayasan Sejahtera who is also Binary University vice chancellor Prof Dr Sulochana Nair said there’s been a lot of talk about the poverty line recently, which is RM980 per household.

However, she believed that the poverty line only measures income poverty, which is absolute poverty.

“What is more pertinent in Malaysia these days is relative poverty. And relative poverty, talks about the distribution as well. So we need to look at not just income, but also wealth distribution, the relative aspect of poverty is very important,” she said.

When Yayasan Sejahtera goes on the ground and helps communities, the members see the different dimensions of poverty, of which some may not be captured by the multi-dimensional index of poverty.

Relative poverty is another way to measure poverty and it happens when a family’s income is insufficient to meet its society’s average standard of living.

Usually the level at which a household is considered to be in a state of relative poverty is higher in countries with higher median income levels.

Those who live in relative poverty are not always deprived of all basic needs. However, they may not experience the same standard of living as the majority of the society.

Another method to measure poverty is absolute poverty, or families that live under the scarcity of basic needs such as shelter, water and food. They tend to focus on day-today survival.

However, the concept of absolute poverty fails to concern itself with the broader quality of life issues, so it is unable to recognise that individuals have important social and cultural needs.

Urban poverty, on the other hand, occurs in the cities with a population of at least 50,000 people.

According to a study conducted by a group of researchers from Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia and Universiti Utara Malaysia in 2016, the rate of poverty in urban areas declined from 1970 to 2012.

Nevertheless, poverty still exists in the urban areas of Malaysia.

“Rapid economic development in Malaysia resulted in high speed of urbanisation during the last few decades. The level of urbanisation in the country was 34.2% in 1980 and reached to 71% in 2010.

“The proportion of urban population was 27% of the total population in 1970 which increased to 71% in 2010,” the study stated.

However, excessive urban growth causes economic and social costs to increase. Urban diseconomies such as environmental deterioration, unemployment, squatters and incidence of poverty also escalate.

On the other hand, rural poverty occurs in areas outside cities with population below 50,000 people.

Those who live in rural poverty will be having difficulty accessing quality education and basic infrastructure.

They also suffer from the lack of resources to access technologies and markets which can increase their income and productivity.

KL Sketchnation organises an art activity as part of KWAP’s bigger CSR initiative called ‘Ruang Permai’ (pic by Razak Ghazali)

Consequences of Poverty

The 2015 Malaysian-Tamil film, Jagat, is a story about a young boy who faces pressure from his father to succeed in school, but is drawn to his uncle’s life of crime.

The film may be fictional but it is indeed based on real-life issues, which are brilliantly portrayed in the film as it delves into the subject of poverty.

The young boy in the story, Appoi faces harsh punishments from his father. He is not even allowed to question his school teacher’s lessons and gets frequently bullied by other students.

Appoi even calls the emergency hotline on the public phone to express his feelings because his own family won’t listen to his problems. The film shows examples of what poverty does to a child.

According to a study conducted by the University of California in 2019, exposure to poverty during early childhood as described by the child’s income-to-needs ratio (INR) predicted the efficiency of brain network architecture.

“Lower INR measured in childhood was associated with a reduction in the normative pattern of efficient connectedness within the brain network. Importantly, the association of INR on the brain network in these children was significant only among girls,” the study revealed.

Particularly, girls from poor families had reduced network efficiency in many areas of their brain.

Another research conducted by the University of Manchester and funded by the European Research Council associates childhood family income with suicide and violent criminality.

Individuals who grew up in poverty face disproportionately elevated risks. “The longer a child lives in poorer circumstances, the higher their risks for internalised and externalised violence and vice versa for time spent growing up in affluent conditions.

“Tackling the underlying causes of inequality to enable upward socio-economic mobility, at any stage during a child’s development, could potentially ameliorate risks for these destructive behaviours in the longer term,” the research revealed.

Gaining Trust with Community-based Approach

The first step for Yayasan Sejahtera to eradicate poverty is through its community-based approach where the volunteers actually go to the community themselves and try and build a trust.

The first thing that they would do when they approach companies is that they would build the trust within the community. Next, they would have “buy” into the community.

Approaching a community requires a great deal of cooperation from both sides.

Unfortunately, not all of these communities that they tried to help are approachable.

“When we go into communities, we have to deal with all sorts of challenges on the ground. Especially in urban communities when we are in the PPR flats, we don’t go into all the blocks because it will create problems as our sources are limited,” said Nair.

It can be very tough for them as they have to manoeuvre through local level politics and sometimes they can be very individualistic.

There were cases where they had to pull out from the communities because some people wanted to politicise everything.

“The success stories of their members are a very important aspect. Because we are not their models. It is the people within the community who have improved that would be the model. Those who have improved also want to have that community spirit to help them,” Nair said.

She also urged donors to understand that the challenges they faced when helping these communities.

Faizah (right) says the CDF benefits ts communities in the B40 group, especially those who are in the bottom 20% and experience hardcore poverty

No One Gets Left Behind

Those who live under poverty suffer from access to high-quality resources. What’s more, those who are disabled?

University Malaya’s department of architecture, faculty of the built environment Associate Professor Dr Naziaty Mohd Yaacob said persons with disabilities (PWD) who live in the PPR flats are usually unable to go out of the houses.

She also said there have been reports of mental health problems with incidents of residents throwing furniture off their houses. In some cases, residents have been killed and while many issues regarding PWD have also been reported.

“We’re still advocating for accessible transport, for accessible built environment, for accessible sidewalks. A middle-class friend could use mechanised wheelchair from Bangsar shopping complex to her condominium next to Bangsar light rail transit.

“Now what about the PWD from the B40 category, like those who live in Kampung Kerinchi, a B40 area. The roads chockablock with cars, the payments, and then the transportation system.

“How far could a disabled or elderly person go? Free buses are located far away.”

Naziaty, who is also a recipient of Anugerah Tokoh Pekerja Negara (OKU) in 2018, said the government should do away with the “pilot project” mentality and focus on a much more systematic solution.

“When we mentioned about all the problems at the local government level, we have to look ahead with the resources that we have.

On the decentralisation of services, the local government should take on more of the issue of housing,” she said.

Limited Resources

There is only so much the government can do, despite the willingness to help in so many areas.

Deputy Economic Affairs Minister Dr Mohd Radzi Md Jidin said resources are rather limited and the public should be aware of the situation.

“We have our revenue from taxes and so on, and then we have the operating expenditure and a portion of it for the development expenditure. So, the government resources, like it or not, there are constraints…” he said.

He added that as a facilitator, the agencies within the government would also need to understand the environment before they can facilitate anything.

Mohd Radzi said resources should not be misallocated. For instance, investment funds should not be disbursed to build or acquire unnecessary physical assets that are not needed by the community.

“That’s why when I talk about poverty, for example, I make sure to ask every officer in the policy-making position. They need to explain to me. I told them we really need to understand the whole environment; the whole system before we can make any decision,” he said.

For the officers to implement any policy, they would require feedback from the ground as well.

The CDF

In conjunction with its 10th anniversary, Yayasan Sejahtera recently launched the Community Development Fund (CDF) to establish sustainable channel for contributions towards alleviating poverty as a whole. Yayasan Sejahtera chairman Tan Sri Faizah Mohd Tahir said the CDF benefits communities in the B40 group, especially those who are in the bottom 20% and experience hardcore poverty.

“CDF beneficiaries include low-income heads of households, single mothers and children. Yayasan Sejahtera’s beneficiaries typically live in PPRs and villages, in either rural or urban areas,” she said.

The fund is expected to improve the livelihood of the recipients and increase the income of the beneficiaries, while spearheading programmes for community product marketing hubs or cooperatives development, as well as community events that enhance social cohesion and provide a marketplace.

In order to enhance the capacity of the community leaders, leadership training will also be funded.

The CDF will also fund programmes for B40 children to support them with their education and soft skills as well to motivate them.

Government-linked companies and corporate companies would be able to donate directly towards Yayasan Sejahtera’s community projects as the CDF serves as a platform.

The companies are able to work closely together to reduce urban rejection.