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Local Expat NGO GHH Rallies Behind White Flag Movement in Johor Bahru

Feature Image courtesy of GHH Facebook
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Expat associations in Malaysia do their part in supporting the white flag movement (#benderaputih) offering food aid to badly impacted families.

Malaysia’s nationwide lockdown that was reinstated on June 1, has plunged a large part of the lower income population into utter desperation that’s resulted in the #benderaputih (white flag) campaign across the nation.

Struggling Malaysians who have had their livelihoods stripped from them in the face of repeated lockdowns with loss of jobs and regular income, are facing literal starvation as EPF (Employee Provident Fund) accounts are emptied just to pay rent and buy groceries. With no proper government aid for the struggling population while the country remains under lockdown, local activists have since started the #benderaputih movement on social media to facilitate immediate help for families or individuals in need.

Gaining momentum across platforms like Twitter and Facebook, multiple NGOs, celebrities, and even local companies have supported the movement fully by actively locating neighbourhoods with white flags before sending food supplies. People affected were also encouraged to post white flags on their social media handles in order for help to reach them.

Many kind restaurant owners around the country have even set up booths with free food for anyone who is hungry and in need of a quick meal, and are spreading the information on social media.

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GHH members with Superintendent Lim Jit Huey – Assistant Chief Of Police South Johor Bahru District | Image Credit: GHH Facebook

But it’s not just Malaysians; expatriates living here have also stepped up to do their part — one of them being local expat-initiated NGO called Glocal Helping Hands (GHH), led by Poonam Singh in Johor Bahru.

“It’s heartrending what we saw at the homes where white flags were hoisted – children with hungry looks, mothers distraught at their helplessness before hungry children and jobless husbands,” said one GHH member.

EXHIBITING GREAT LOYALTY TO THEIR ADOPTED COUNTRY, EXPATS POOL OWN RESOURCES TO HELP THOSE IN NEED

Digging into their own resources, GHH members have gone around Johor Bahru locating families who have raised white flags, as well as others in similar dire situations distributing essential food items such as rice, cooking oil, noodles, tinned food, eggs, milk, and Milo.

“Heaven knows these families need food that’s more substantive like meat and vegetables, but this is what we can afford to give them at the present moment,” said Poonam.

“The whole of this week we will go around to the desperate and the distraught to provide them with food parcels,” she added, in line with their NGO’s tagline ‘Lend a hand, fill a heart’.

She added that “This is the least we can do for people who would otherwise be helpless and starving. Adults may be able to starve but children can’t.”

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Among the people who have received help from GHH is retiree Muniandy Ramasamy, 56, a dialysis patient, asthma patient, and amputee. Muniandy lost his job as a prison warden in Singapore last year when Covid numbers started rising which led to borders being closed.

Glocal Helping Hands renders a food parcel to a family of an amputee. - NSTP/ VINCENT D’SILVA
GHH with Muniandy Ramasamy | Image Credit: NSTP / Vincent D’Silva

“Life was like a turned turtle for me. I can’t support my family now,” lamented Muniandy who has a school-going teenage daughter and a wife who is a homemaker. Living in low-cost housing in Plentong, Muniandy added that “This has been the worst year for us and I don’t know what would happen to my family if something happens to me.”

Another family GHH approached, lives in a low-cost housing area in Taman Rinting, Masai. Senior citizen Yow Kow, 67, has a disabled wife who is wheelchair-bound, and four children who also have disabilities.

“It’s not easy when four of your children are OKU,” said Yow. Caring for a whole family with special needs has been extremely challenging for Yow.

“I’m thankful to GHH for extending their hands to us especially when we are facing a tough time,” he said.

A member of Glocal Helping Hands (right) handing over food items to Yow Kow (left) and his family.   - NSTP/ VINCENT D’SILVA
GHH with Yow Kow and family | Image Credit: NSTP / Vincent D’Silva

GHH was also led to Kamaruzaman Yusoff, 62, who lives with his wife Rashidah Jaafar, 60, and an only daughter Nor Kamariah Kamaruzaman, 34. Kamaruzaman and his family live on a shoestring budget due to the fact that he is wheelchair-bound, and his wife is a homemaker. Their daughter, Nor Kamariah, suffers from cerebral palsy.

“Life had been tough for us but we are thankful for at least GHH is here to provide us with some sustenance,” said Kamaruzaman when GHH visited his family.

“It has been not an easy road for us but by God’s grace some good people out there came to our rescue,” he added.

GHH’s JB-based leader, Poonam Singh, shared how the suffering she has witnessed over the last several weeks has motivated her and her team of enterprising expats to continue coming up with more ways to assist those in dire need.

If only the resilience and empathy showcased by Malaysians and expats alike was reflected in the country’s governance, there would not have been any need for a white flag initiative in the first place.

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