Despite exams coming up (ugh, someone save me), I decided to get out of the house yesterday with Amaliyna and Rachel Ng to join the Street Feeders of KL (SFOKL). I’ve been following them on Facebook for a month or so and had wanted to volunteer for quite some time but something always came up. I was pretty excited when they announced they were having it on the 5th of April. This eager person right here (me) jumped straight to extending the invites to her friends through the Facebook event page.
I took a GrabCar to the base with Amaliyna and reached the Hub Pasar Seni Platform E3 at around 8.30 p.m. There were very few people waiting around for their bus at that time and it looked pretty deserted. Let’s hope we’re in the right place, I thought to myself. Amaliyna and I were confused on the exact location of the base. We noticed a path behind the platform that leads to a tunnel under the overhead bridge but then again, there’s only the two of us and we weren’t 100 percent sure if the base was located there. Thankfully, Dylan from SFOKL made his way towards the bus platform and directed us to the base just as we were about to dial the number on the event page.
When we got to base, Amaliyna pretty much shot me a funny look because she caught on to the fact that I was probably more nervous than I let on (apparently, I tend to touch the tip of my right ear or toy with the cartilage piercing there when I’m nervous) and surprise, surprise…guess who was toying with the cartilage piercing on her ear? Yep, this girl. There was a decent crowd size (though, according to SFOKL, it was a small crowd which is pretty impressive. If this was a small crowd, I can’t wait to see their usual numbers) clad in black and white T-shirts. I had wanted to get the STOKL T-shirts but unfortunately, they were out of stock, so I got a pin instead. Next time, hopefully!
People were scattered around the base socialising as briefing would only start at 8.45 p.m. Amaliyna and I got acquainted with Mika and Wendy from MCKL. Mika and I immediately launched into talk about A Levels since we both take Psychology. She’s also doing English Literature WITH Psychology (Mika, you’re a bit loca but it’s okay, you’re such a sweetheart! I hope I haven’t scared you when it comes to Psychology, haha). As we were talking, Rubian from the STOKL team took the four of us newbies aside to show us the sewer side of KL which was next to the base. She told us about how they’d been helping the family there for quite some time. I knew there were people who lived in conditions like these even in my city but I’ve never seen it with my own eyes before. There were young children who were laying down by the banks of the river. At their age, I had the privilege of living in a rented one-room house in the Philippines. Even now as I write this, I cannot really put thoughts to words at the sight. It’s just one of those things which you need to see for yourself for it to hit you.
We got back to base just in time for the briefing. The team had gathered us for a group photo before updating us on upcoming events. Then, one of the team members had said they wanted to try something new that night and that “something new” was singing the national anthem. I hadn’t sang the national anthem in quite a long time. I think the last would have been in 2015 and I hoped that Amaliyna and I wouldn’t sing the version we used to sing in our school choir team on accident. That would have been embarrassing, haha. Two female Alto’s singing the national anthem in a low key. The horror!
We were then allowed to move to the teams we had decided on going with that night. There are a total of 9 teams that would cover various parts of KL. Amaliyna and I moved to Team 7 which would be covering Menara Maybank + Overhead Bridge + UTC because it was suggested on the events page that it would be a great route for first timers with lots of interaction. We were introduced to our three team leaders (Suit Lin, Nada, and Caroline) and then briefed on the dos and don’ts for the duration of the street feeding, after which we proceeded to fill our empty backpacks with some with water bottles, buns and bananas. Others carried the packed foods and empty cardboard boxes. We made our way out of base with the leaders positioned at the front and back to ensure we were all safe when crossing the roads.
Rachel Ng had joined us just a few minutes after we left base due to transport problems. The walk to UTC from the base took us about 15-20 minutes. We walked past the Hindu and Buddhist temples in Petaling Street as well as all the florist shops where I usually frequent. There were about 30 of us walking together in Team 7, which drew some attention from the patrons in the pubs and bars lining the area. We reached our destination and were split into two groups, one that would head to Menara Maybank first and the other would head to UTC and the overhead bridge. My friends and I went to UTC and the overhead bridge. 15-20 street friends loitered around the UTC building and we immediately went ahead distributing the food and water as well as some of the cardboard boxes we had brought along. To them, the flattened out cardboard boxes were their bed.
Next, we headed to the bridge which gave me quite the shock. I’ve passed under this bridge at least a hundred times or even more, being a KL girl myself. Never did it occur to me it could’ve been home to easily about 20 people. For about 5 people…maybe, but 20? After distributing the items, we went around striking up conversations with our street friends. This was the part that I was most nervous about. I didn’t want to trigger any sort of sad emotions in them by asking the wrong questions. Thankfully, I got to speak to Caroline who has gone on 9 street feedings so far. She understood how it may be slightly overwhelming as first timers and shared a bit from her own experiences. My friends and I spoke to a lady named Anjali first. She was frail looking and was very soft-spoken, so we had to lean in to hear her replies. She had a very cheeky smile too. I’ll admit, there were times when it felt awkward and conversation wasn’t as fluid but after a few moments, we managed to have a back-and-forth conversation. The second person we had approached on the bridge is from Myanmar. Hearing about the passing of his older brother hit home for me, understanding the grief that comes with the loss of loved ones. He told us about places he’s stayed and worked before.
After spending quite some time on the bridge, we headed to Menara Maybank. The first group was already there. Some even brought some mini board games to play with the folks there. We walked towards the steps of the staircase near the entrance of Maybank and an uncle immediately waved at me, probably sensing my hesitation in joining in the big group there. He introduced himself as Jackie and asked the guys to make some space. I seated myself on the step below him and he asked me if I’m from KL. Uncle Jackie was very jovial and often cracked jokes with us. Whenever he spoke in Mandarin (I think it was Mandarin), he’d stop to let a girl named Soda to translate for us. I had asked him if he’s around the area every night. Uncle Jackie answered yes and said by 8 p.m. he must be there or else his friends (all the other uncles sitting on the steps) will twist his ear like a mother does to her child when he/she comes home late. He told us about how they all look out for each other, just like a family does which is why if any one of them arrives late, they would be worried for his/her safety. That warmed my heart. Finding family and caring for them even though it’s not one’s own blood. He divulged some of the struggles they face on a daily basis. Not being able to sleep in peace, in fear that when they wake up, some of their belongings may have been stolen. How can it be that the poor are still being robbed?
Uncle Jackie was more than happy to oblige in my request of taking a group photo with him and his friends. I shook his hand and told him to take care, waving as I left with my team. I thanked Soda who had helped translate during the times Uncle Jackie spoke in Chinese. Our team took a group photo with Menara Maybank in the background before making our way back to base. I got to talk with Soda on the way back and while she finds my nickname great because of Pokemon’s Ash, I personally think hers takes the win.
I’m not used to walking around the Petaling Street area close to midnight. I’m used to driving past it around that time when it’s quiet. The city was free from its heavy traffic and eager tourists except for some pub crawlers and taxi drivers. We made it back to base where we were debriefed. Suit Lin and Nada had stayed around talking to us while we waited for my dad to pick us up. If you two happen to come across this, thank you for making sure we left safe.
As I sat in the backseat of my car with my friends, it seemed like we all had a lot on our minds. It was truly a humbling experience. I found it very refreshing how our street friends can manage to be jovial despite their struggles. Often times, we find ourselves not content in life and we tend to complain. Perhaps we’re unsatisfied in our careers or relationships. It’s funny how someone with so little could afford to share a smile with us. Well, what’s the point in sulking, right? The least one can do is get up, smile and strive – an attribute I found in our street friends. I also found myself grateful that no matter what, I’ve always had a roof on my head and food on my table. I can only hope and pray that our street friends to will get those necessities soon. But, till then, I’m comforted that people like Gary Liew and his friends had taken it upon themselves to make a change in the world this way with an army of volunteers behind them, regardless of age.
I can’t wait to join the Street Feeders of KL again to empower the streets! Hope you will join us too sometime soon. Check out STOKL and give them a like on their Facebook page (link below) to stay tuned for upcoming street feedings.
If you have the power to make someone happy, do it. The world needs more of that. -Anonymous