As Covid-19 cases soar, Sabahans band together to help those affected within state

Julia Chan
·8-min read
NGOs and charity organisations have stepped in to fulfill some of Sabahans' more pressing needs as the third wave of Covid-19 hit the state recently. — Picture by Firdaus Latif
NGOs and charity organisations have stepped in to fulfill some of Sabahans' more pressing needs as the third wave of Covid-19 hit the state recently. — Picture by Firdaus Latif

KOTA KINABALU, Oct 21 — With Covid-19’s third wave hitting Sabah hard, those in the state have taken it upon themselves to provide help for those in need, or have been affected by the pandemic in recent weeks.

Non-governmental organisations as well as individuals have been busy both behind the scenes and on social media, sharing information and rallying friends and supporters to chip in and help the state health authorities and those affected by Covid-19.

While the new state government bustles to set up its delivery system, NGOs and charity organisations have stepped in to fulfill some of the more pressing needs — some by distributing food supplies to areas which are on lockdown, others in raising funds for frontliners and for medical supplies.

Semporna Heroes

Semporna Heroes, a coalition of some 20 NGOs, have been sending rescue food packs and milk to local Bajau Laut communities who live on floating communities out at sea.— Picture courtesy of Semporna Heroes
Semporna Heroes, a coalition of some 20 NGOs, have been sending rescue food packs and milk to local Bajau Laut communities who live on floating communities out at sea.— Picture courtesy of Semporna Heroes

In Semporna, a group of some 20 NGOs have banded together to form Semporna Heroes, an entity that is sending rescue food packs and milk to local Bajau Laut communities who live on floating communities out at sea.

Aminor Azmi, who owns scuba operations Luma’ Selakan and vice secretary to Semporna Heroes, said he and his team distributed food supplies to the people on Maiga and Selakan during the first movement control order (MCO) in March and decided to do it again this time round.

Aminor said that everyone was feeling the weight of the lockdown and losing business but he knew many would be suffering more than most and got his crew to step up and help.

“There is not much we can do since we are also not in business. But, at least, we can do out best to help people around us, so that they do not go to sleep with empty stomachs and crying babies.

“That is unacceptable for me. It really broke our heart to know and saw peoples and babies, crying in hunger,” Aminor said.

“We had to stop operations and we have no business, so we were having problems on money. We are only a a group of friends who wanted to make sure the people on island stay safe and fed,” he explained.

Aminor, who is from Pahang and has been in Sabah since 2013 started crowdfunding on social media and reached out to friends, families and ex-guests which were mostly fellow divers.

“We were receiving contributions from our friends around the country, even from United States and Singapore. Mostly cash money. Then some of friends started crowdfunding on their own, getting their office and families to chip in too,” he said.

The latest donor, Sime Darby Foundation, also helped the group to provide food supplies for islanders — each food pack contains rice, cooking oil, sugar, flour, salt, biscuit, tea, coffee, Milo drink, baby milk, diapers and sanitary pads.

Each family gets a basic food supply pack once a week.

“These people are desperate now. They even come up to police and army personnel, which they would never usually do. That just shows how in need they are,” said Aminor.

Luma’ Selakan distributes the supplies to three communities on two islands. First of those are the villagers of Kampung Pulau Selakan, consisting of 50 local families.

Secondly, the Bajau Laut, also called sea gypsies in stilt house and boat house around of Selakan Island, estimated at around 35 families. Thirdly, the community on Maiga Island of around 92 families.

“We managed to schedule food supplies for two months during the first MCO, and now, we are into the third week of MCO.

“Every family on these two islands never missed their food supplies from Luma’ Selakan and friends. Every week we provide for approximately 175 families,” he said.

The mission then was to keep people on the island, and bring food supplies to them so they do not need to come to Semporna town and risk infection.

But since receiving more funds, the group has expanded its charity and worked with Semporna Heroes to send food to those on the mainland of Semporna.

“We found out that there were lots of babies in need of milk so we launched a campaign —susu untuk Semporna and ‘islands food relief’ on my social media too,” he said.

The group now gets corporate sponsors as well as private companies and individuals donating to their cause which are dispersed to those in need and frontliners as well.

Osimal Foundation

Malanjum (third from left) said that the Osimal Foundation raises money from private donors in the spirit of ‘rakyat jaga rakyat’. — Picture courtesy of Semporna Heroes
Malanjum (third from left) said that the Osimal Foundation raises money from private donors in the spirit of ‘rakyat jaga rakyat’. — Picture courtesy of Semporna Heroes

Another foundation which has been on the scene since the beginning of the pandemic is Osimal Foundation, headed by former chief Justice Tan Sri Richard Malanjum. The organisation has helped to procure medical equipment and much needed reagents before when the state was suffering from a lack of testing kits.

During the first Covid-19 linked movement control order in March, Osimal Foundation collected and spent about RM1 million to fund personal protective equipment and reagent testing kits.

Recently, the Malaysian Medical Association reached out to Malanjum to help obtain an RM130,000 airborne infection isolation room for the Likas Women and Children's Hospital and fund 20 units of air-purifying respirator suits which costs some RM8,000 per unit to be used by frontliners.

Malanjum said that the foundation raises money from private donors in the spirit of rakyat jaga rakyat, the self-care rallying cry used by the public since the initial response towards Covid-19, which has since been co-opted by the federal government.

“It is one of the foundation purposes to be caregivers of the sick, especially those from rural areas.

“Also, it is the responsibility of each citizen to help our frontliners to fight this pandemic. We should not leave the fighting entirely to them. Otherwise we may be putting our own health at risk. It is time for rakyat jaga rakyat spirit to be shown by all,” he said.

Sabah Next Generation

Members of Sabah Next Generation came together to pool resources and raise funds for food supplies to help the needy in and around Tanjung Aru. — Picture courtesy of Semporna Heroes
Members of Sabah Next Generation came together to pool resources and raise funds for food supplies to help the needy in and around Tanjung Aru. — Picture courtesy of Semporna Heroes

Meanwhile a group of university students who call themselves Sabah Next Generation (SNG) have started a donation drive to raise RM20,000 for those affected by the pandemic and the lockdown.

Its chairman Coen Lee, 22, a student who is on leave from studying in the Republic of Ireland, said the money was to help at least 500 families in Sembulan and the surrounding areas near here.

“We are coordinating a fundraising project to provide essential food to the needy ones around the vicinity of KK area. Most of us may not be able to help physically in this pandemic situation, but we hope to be able to lend a helping hand,” he said.

“This is a most trying period for many families. We have already raised more than RM20,000,” he added.

Each food basket given out has 5kg of rice, cooking oil, canned food, sugar, biscuits, instant noodles and flour, among other items.

Individuals in Sabah, like construction industry project manager David Wong, concerned by the lack of resources in Sabah, have also chipped in to help hospitals get the right medical supplies and equipment by crowdfunding.

“When I found out just how urgently the hospitals needed certain equipment, I knew we had to act now. So I started a GoGetFunding page with the help of my mother, grandmother and friend Emily to raise funds for medical supplies and equipment needed by our dedicated frontliners.

“We went through our entire pool of contacts and resources, reaching out to anyone who we thought could help our cause,” he said.

The 28 year-old Wong, said that he realised many people, not just in Sabah, wanted to help, and his campaign has since reached out to people in West Malaysia, Labuan, UK, France, Australia, Canada, United States, Macau, Hong Kong, and Singapore and he has collected some RM41,832 as of Tuesday.

“We had contributors of all ages, from teens to senior citizens, all proving the power of grassroots movements. There is true power in our Sabahan people, especially in our youths. We hope that with our efforts, we can inspire and empower them to make a difference and be active members of our community.

“Just because you are not someone of position or authority does not mean you cannot act and create real social change,” he said.

Sabahan Astrid Leong said her desire to help stemmed from being frustrated at the lack of standard operating procedures (SOP) enforced during campaigns before the election and she organised a birthday crowdfund effort which raised some RM3,700.

“As expected, when the number of cases went up, we felt really sorry for the frontliners. I can only imagine how exhausted they must be. So myself and a friend just decided to buy some food and for the ICU Department’s pantry.

“At least they will have some food on their break,” she said.

But as her 40th birthday loomed, the 40 year old businesswoman had an idea to crowdfund instead of accepting gifts.

“From there I just posted a video to invite friends to chip in with my birthday donation fund. They can transfer to my personal account, since I’m not an NGO. I was really surprised that many people were keen on helping out,” she said.

The funds collected from both Wong and Leong will be channelled to the Malaysia Medical Association in Sabah who is working directly with the government hospitals under the Sabah Health Department to procure exactly what is needed by the hospitals at that point in time.

As of yesterday, 58 people have died in Sabah from the third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Of the 862 new cases reported yesterday, 673 were from Sabah.

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