MALAYSIA Tanah Tumpah Darahku


Tuesday, February 28, 2017

You can’t lead if you don’t love

If leaders truly loved the people they served, there would be no need to badger them into voting for the "right" party come election day.
I moved back to my hometown of Bukit Mertajam in Penang one month ago after spending over fifteen years in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor. In the course of settling in, I met a few locals in my kampung and was fortunate to learn a few things about them.
Having read the recent news that some ministers had threatened the people into supporting the “right” party or risk losing their jobs and privileges, I am compelled to share the stories of two simple but hardworking ordinary women from my kampung.
Janaki is 35 years old. She has three young children and a husband who prefers living in a state of intoxication rather than earning a living driving lorries.
Shouldering her family’s financial responsibilities alone, Janaki works in a few houses as domestic help and earns about RM1,200 a month. She wipes windows, scrubs toilets, mops floors, irons clothes, washes dishes and just about anything else within her capabilities to earn an honest living.
Most of what she earns is spent on her children’s tuition and food for the family. Once in a while, her children beg her to take them out sightseeing especially during school holidays. On occasions like these, Janaki will work extra hours and use the money for car rental and accommodation. Her children are her priority.
However, having to manage a household on a tight budget is never easy, hence the need to cut down on unnecessary spending. Her children reuse essential school items year after year and they own only one set of uniforms each. As for her house, Janaki and her family live in a small, rundown shack with a leaky roof and damaged walls. They own a few pieces of furniture but are happy to make do with what they have.
A few years ago, Janaki reluctantly made her way to the welfare office in search of financial aid. However after combining her income with that of her husband’s, the welfare office dismissed her request outright. The fact that her husband was not an active contributor to the household income was not taken into account.
“They told me after deducting all my household expenses, I should still have RM50 in hand, thus I did not qualify for monthly financial assistance,” she said.
Although life isn’t a walk in the park for Janaki and her family, she is grateful there are still some people who care for her wellbeing. A couple of years ago, local representatives of the state government who make frequent visits to the houses in my kampung took note of Janaki’s squalid living conditions. Since then, they have been assisting her with food items and house repairs, especially during the festive season.
Although Janaki struggles to provide for her family, she is glad there are people who she has been able count on for help – people who she does not have to beg for assistance.

Faizah is Janaki’s neighbour. At 45, she has five children – her eldest is studying in a local university while her youngest is in kindergarten. Faizah’s husband is a factory worker.
Faizah moved to our kampung a few years ago. Unable to afford a house, she and her husband made a request from the state authority for help. As a result, they were given a piece of land.
Using every means possible, Faizah and her husband began building their home from scratch. Using every penny saved, they built their house, little by little and even have a small garden and a nice fencing around the property.
Realising her family could not make do with her husband’s income alone, Faizah began looking for other opportunities to make money. This was around the same time when the state government built a morning market in my kampung. Not wanting to miss out on the potential business opportunity, Faizah began selling nasi lemak there every morning.
Like Janaki, Faizah too received assistance from time to time, in the form of foodstuff from the local authorities. This aid did not make her lazy, instead it inspired her to work harder. In an available patch of land in our kampung, Faizah plants lemongrass, harvests it and sells it in a nearby night market.
Having improved her family’s living conditions, Faizah now has the means to help others. Every now and then, she sends some home cooked meals to Janaki’s house and is more than happy to keep an eye on Janaki’s children when their mother works extra time.
Listening to the hardships of these two women, I felt compelled to pen down their stories. I am not affiliated with any political party but I see what I see and as far as I know, the local representatives of DAP have considerably enhanced the well-being of the people in my kampung. This is exactly what people expect from their leaders.
Thanks to these leaders, not only has the lives of Janaki and Faizah improved, but they are now in the position to help others in need. This is, in my honest opinion, the ultimate role of a government – to play a significant role in improving the lives of those in their constituencies.
These authorities do not beg for votes nor threaten that aid will cease if the people do not vote the “right” party in. Instead, they carry out their responsibilities sincerely.
Perhaps Ismail Sabri Yaakob could learn a lesson or two from this story. The Rural and Regional Development Minister recently warned people that they could lose their jobs and privileges if they stopped supporting the federal government.
With people like him around, no wonder the welfare of the people in my kampung did not improve under the Barisan Nasional regime.
“You can’t lead the people if you don’t love the people.
You can’t save the people if you don’t serve the people.”
Cornel West,
American philosopher, political activist, social critic
Fa Abdul is an FMT columnist.

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