Creating everyday heroes
Article from the Sun daily by Peony Chin (posted on 30 May 2017)
GARY Liew is no stranger to feeding the homeless in Kuala Lumpur, as he has been helping out in his mother's soup kitchen since he was 11 years old. While back then he did not truly understand homelessness, it was many years later when he did missionary work in Kenya that he realised how important it was to help people.
With several friends, he began his work in the streets of Kuala Lumpur six years ago, feeding the homeless, naming themselves Street Feeders KL. The reason why they fed the homeless was because it was the best bond among Malaysians, according to Liew.
"I never intended for it to be a feeding thing at all. I just wanted to go out and make friends, understand their hopes, dreams, where they came from, and how to help them," he said.
What made you continue doing what you are doing?
My mother is a big inspiration to me. She always taught me to share food that I was willing to eat myself, and I thought it was so important. There are so many ways to bond but food is the one thing that comes from the heart.
Feeding became very important because when I was in Kenya, we always tended to their basic needs first and foremost. But in the advent of that, there are so many soup kitchens around.
Suddenly being categorised as a "soup kitchen" felt weird to me because that was never the intention. I still don't think of us like that today. I coined the word "people's movement" to define Street Feeders KL for the longest time, because it's people empowering people. Everything we do in Street Feeders is people-oriented.
Feeding just consists of the first 10 to 15 minutes of our session. After that, is where Street Feeders really gets down to business. It's the whole human connection, getting to know the homeless, and building that relationship in order for us to do more later.
What's the biggest challenge you face, if you don't face a lack of volunteers?
The biggest challenge I face is not funding, it's stigmatisation by society with my street friends. Even my own friends, before they started volunteering, assumed all homeless people are rapists and drug addicts. But they are just so much like you and I.
My small term goal is establishing that human connection and to get more people to step out of their comfort zones; talk to a stranger and get to know them. I guess that's the foundation of Street Feeders.
What else does Street Feeders KL do?
We've done many other things such as mobile street showers, job placement programmes, movie nights, and more. When we first started the job placement programme, it was very case by case. I made a friend in one of the homeless, he was looking for a job, and I would do everything I could to help him get his job. I'd go through the trials and tribulations of him applying for a job, getting rejected, trying again, and again, before finally succeeding.
Now it's not so easy because it's not just me helping one person any more; suddenly it's such a big group. But we piloted this project last year, working with the Ministry of Finance and a bunch of international volunteers to come up with Inclue.
The idea behind it was that if we created a safe working environment where my street friends would come in, do menial jobs and get paid hourly, maybe that might be a better stepping stone in getting them off the streets. At the end of one month, 53 homeless people went through this project, three ended up with long term employment and actually an apartment to live in.
You tried going homeless for awhile; how was your experience?
I went homeless last year for four days. It was the craziest experience; when I came home and showered, it didn't feel like my normal shower any more. I felt weird. I slept on the floor when I came home because I wasn't used to having a soft pillow. I realised that it desensitises you as a person.
What more for people who has that as their norm, that they don't know or remember what it's like entering a door or locking a door? Many NGOs are doing great work but they're not looking at it from the human perspective. Many think homelessness are statistics; they're real human beings at the end of the day and if you don't understand them as human beings, how are you supposed to help them?
What is your biggest aim in life?
To be a good father.
What would be your last meal on earth?
"It's not so much the food, but the people I'm having it with."
Which country impacted you most?
What is the one thing you would bring to a deserted island?
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
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