Malaysians look for white flags to reach out to those in distress


AS THE Covid-19 crisis is not showing any signs of slowing down and uncertainties on movement restrictions mount, Malaysia is seeing more families from the bottom 40% (B40), and even the middle 40% (M40) group, experiencing financial and emotional distress.

The Malaysian Reserve (TMR) recently reported that 468 suicide cases were recorded in the first five months of 2021 alone.

To alleviate the desperation of their fellow neighbours, Malaysians kicked off the “white flag” movement (#benderaputih) on social media on June 28.

It asked people who are pressed financially to put up a white flag in front of their homes, after which Good Samaritans would assist in the form of food boxes.

The movement’s supporters encourage those in need to not be afraid or ashamed to reach out for help. Many have said that it not only provides food, but also emotional support to the recipients.

Projek Bendera Putih founder Muhamad Izat Abu Talib launched the initiative to help individuals who, like him, were affected by the pandemic.

He told TMR that his group provides assistance according to the applicant’s needs.

“When we receive a request, we will evaluate and contact them to know what they need most.

“We received various requests such as chicken, anchovies and baby food, while some needed cash assistance to pay their bills,” he said.

Meanwhile, Zero Hunger Mission recently receives about 23 requests from people who lost their jobs and are facing pay cuts due to shortened working hours.

Its director Shubasini Rajkumar said high demands are challenging for the group due to limited food supply and donations.

“However, this does not stop us from reaching out to the needy. We may not be able to help immediately, but definitely, with the support of many kind people in our community.

“Basic grocery items that are in demand are rice, egg, flour, canned foods, dish detergent and sanitary pads,” Shubasini told TMR.

The Zero Hunger Mission is a food bank that helps the needy with groceries, bills and children’s essentials in Puchong and Klang. Established early this year, requests have increased with the white flag movement currently trending on social media.

Pertiwi Soup Kitchen founder Datuk Munirah Abdul Hamid saw the white flag movement as the younger generation’s reaction, through social media, to make it easier to help the desperate.

“While the traditional ways are still being carried out, we must also find new ways of doing things.

“We have several ongoing initiatives and will respond to any request for cooked meals, grocery items, milk and diapers. We support the white flag campaign,” she told TMR.

Also actively participating in #benderaputih is the 99 Speedmart chain, which provides 1,000 grocery packages a day throughout the campaign, Hero Market and Mix Radio, among others.

They urge the public to WhatsApp them the address as well as pictures of their homes with the white flags.

Apart from door-to-door deliveries, food banks have also mushroomed in neighbourhoods nationwide. Petrol stations like Petroliam Nasional Bhd (Petronas) and Shell Malaysia have provided spaces for people to leave food items where the needy can go and collect.

For Shell, it started when the Volunteers Unite NGO approached the Shell Setia Alam retailer and proposed to make the Community Food Box a permanent feature there due to the high number of footfalls they received.

Shell senior regional manager Joari Mohamad Jaafar said this started more than a year ago during the first lockdown.

“What we aspire to do here is to connect donors and recipients without looking at background, race, religion or age,” he told TMR.

Today, Shell is getting more requests from their retailers from Perlis to Sabah to be connected to Volunteers Unite as times are getting tougher.

“This is a journey that we would like to continue as long as we have people to help, especially those who cannot afford even a simple decent meal.

“We are also encouraged to see the response from the general public which keeps pouring in, using our stations as the link to help their community.

“Even half a kilogramme of rice, when we have 20 people in the community donating it, it is easily 10 to 20 families we can feed in a week,” he added.

However, not everyone welcomes the white flag movement.

In Kuantan, Pahang, there were news reports that police ordered people to take down their white flags, which led to those in Jinjang, Kepong, to also take down their flags out of fear of getting police compounds.

Meanwhile, the Kedah government had reportedly said it will not be sending help to anyone who raises the white flag to ask for help amid the pandemic.

Mentri Besar Muhammad Sanusi Md Nor said only those who request for help by phone to the official channel, the Disaster Control Operation Centre, will be given food aide throughout the nationwide lockdown.