By Mariam Mokhtar
Last May, during the drive from KLIA to Kuala Lumpur to start his two-week quarantine, Bruce was given a brief overview of the social situation in Malaysia by the taxi driver.
Many people had lost their jobs, and companies were forced to shut down, there was an increase in people suffering from mental health issues, and some had taken their lives.
The taxi driver said that before the pandemic, his earnings were around RM4,000 and could comfortably support his wife and family. However, with the lockdown, he said that he was lucky to bring home RM1,500 and after he finished his shift at 10 pm, he would mount his kapchai and become a food delivery rider to earn extra income. Most nights, after two to three hours of work, his takings would only amount to RM20.
Two days into his 14-day quarantine at a hotel in KLCC, Bruce received the bad news that his sister had died after an operation.
He had flown in from England to visit his sick sister, but sadly his trip home was to attend her funeral.
Bruce is grateful to the Ministry of Health which for compassionate reasons granted him three hours to attend the funeral.
He was rigged out in full personal protective equipment (PPE), collected by ambulance to transport him to his sister's home and joined the few family members who were allowed to attend the funeral service, under strict social distancing rules.
Bruce's quarantine had to continue despite the death in his family. While locked away in his hotel room, the story of the taxi driver kept troubling him. His stories were reinforced by his observations during his brief drive around KL, from limited conversations with hotel employees and WhatsApp chats with Malaysian friends.
With plenty of time to focus and to channel his energies into helping the starving poor, Bruce contacted an old friend, Thomas Fann, to see what more could be done.
He knew that Fann had been instrumental in starting MakanKongsi 1.0 in 2020.
Fann introduced Bruce to the human rights NGO called Engage and to a social enterprise called Good Kitchen (GK).
After a few discussions, and with Bersih's endorsement, Bruce, Engage and GK decided to form what is known as MakanKongsi 2.0.
The official launch of MakanKongsi 2.0 was on 7 June and within seven days, the appeal to help Malaysia's starving poor reached RM240,000. Their target is RM500,000.
Lennie is one of the leading members of Good Kitchen.
Growing up in Sabah, she had already been exposed to much poverty and when she moved to work in KL, she decided to continue helping the poor.
She said, "I am originally from Sabah, and used to pick up the street kids and give them food. I am now involved in MakanKongsi 2.0 to help the marginalized and communities in need.
"I assist in creating awareness of this campaign and I look for groups that do not have a voice to represent them.
"Refugees and migrant workers are relatively well represented, but some locals, especially the illiterate, the very poor, those who are not computer literate or on social media, do not know where to seek help."
Lennie said the number of starving people had risen because of the pandemic.
She has noticed that professional and working people who once had stable jobs are now in dire straits, and that most professionals are too embarrassed to ask for help. Business owners who once did very well are also hesitant to seek aid.
She said, "When I went out early one morning during the pandemic, I was shocked to find homeless people in the KLCC area.
"We normally associate the homeless with the poor, and most of them congregate in the Chow Kit area.
"To find homeless people in the KLCC area must mean that things are really bad."
She said that MakanKongsi 2.0 has also helped many single mothers and foreigners who have been abandoned by their Malaysian husbands. Foreign workers who were cheated by their agents ended up losing their passports, and were then unable to find jobs or buy food.
She said, "We raise funds, we provide grants to help NGOs, individuals and volunteers whom we trust and can depend on to help the poor.
"We have a meeting every night to discuss each application and perform background checks. Our small committee of volunteers is comprised of members of the business, financial and charity sectors."
She stresses that they help individuals and not ailing businesses. She was also keen to point out that people want food items and not cooked food, because dry food can last longer.
MakanKongsi 2.0 is currently looking for representatives in Perlis, Kelantan, Ipoh and Terengganu.
To apply for grants or to volunteer your services to help the starving poor, please visit the MakanKongsi 2.0 Facebook page.
(Mariam Mokhtar is a Freelance Writer.)