By Ong Kay Ti
The first rule at Street Feeders of KL (SFKL) is you must befriend the street friends. “If you dunno what to say, come to me, I help you initiate the conversation. I don’t want to see any of you guys NOT talking to street friends!” said Aunty Rubian, a leader at SFKL, at one of our briefings.
A usual Wednesday at SFKL usually starts like this: volunteers meet at a designated spot in Kuala Lumpur, introductory speech by someone from SFKL, take group photo and then, we split up to go to different parts of KL for the food distribution.
At our first stop, there are usually 15-20 street friends gathered at the sidewalk. We start distributing food and water. Some are sleeping on the floor; some just aren’t in the mood to talk. But there are those who smile at us warmly and greet us. Once we are done, we sit down with these people and begin to talk to them for the rest of the time.
In our initial months, my friends and I covered the route from Masjid Jamek to Masjid India. During my first few street feeding sessions, I shadowed my friends and tried to participate in the conversation but my Malay is so hilariously weak that I ended up just listening to their stories. I learned that there are many street friends who came to KL in hopes of getting better jobs only to end up on the streets because they were cheated by their employers.
Over the next few months, I met many other friends. There was a middle-aged lady, so shy and gentle. I gave her water and in exchange, she talked to me and told me a bit of her story. She worked at a mamak shop just down the street and a few other jobs in Cheras. For every four hours of dishwashing, she was only paid RM10. Despite all she’d faced, she always had that kind smile on her face every time I saw her.
At another route on another day, my friend and I went up to a man in his 30s and gave him a container of warm chap fan (mixed rice). We asked him how the food was and that set him off. He started ranting in rapid Cantonese that I barely understood. He’s going on about a soup kitchen in KL that would regularly distribute rotten food. “Even monkeys won’t eat the food they serve!” he bellowed.
Asian Beacon: Jan – Mar 2018 (Vol 50 #1, p18)