Everyone can make a difference in another person?s life. all we need is a compassionate heart, willing hands and feet that are quick to respond.
WHEN Priya?s husband died of a heart attack, she was left to fend for her five young children. To add to her misery, her husband?s relatives came along and carted off all their meagre belongings. the children ended up going from house to house, begging.
Martha was the result of an unwanted teen pregnancy. when Martha was born, her mother was only 14. the baby was placed in the care of her grandmother who had to go out and work, and subsequently, Martha was abused by a care-provider.
The children from both families have found a home in Rumah Kids, an orphanage in Klang, Selangor. the home was started in 1991 under Grace Community Services (GCS), one of the country?s largest charitable organisations which provide community care, and food and shelter for the homeless, destitute, abused and abandoned, regardless of race or religion.
Dr Henry Pillai with some of the donated bags of rice that will be distributed through GCS? Food Bank for the Poor.
GCS recently emerged as The Star Bid & Win Charity Series winner, after thousands of supporters and strangers alike chipped in their unused Star Point tokens to enable the organisation to win a brand new Peugeot 207.
?We are entirely dependent on the support of donors and we are touched that so many people have heard of our work and called us to get our postal address to mail us their coupons,? says GCS chairman and founder Dr Henry Pillai, 65, during an interview to kickstart The Star?s ?Do Good. Volunteer? campaign.
GCS serves 1,600 meals a day through its network of four orphanages, a street feeding programme, and homes for unwed mothers, destitute women, and recovering drug addicts. Food is also delivered through GCS?s Food Bank for the Poor, the first of its kind in the country.
GCS?s reach has been widespread but it is difficult to determine just how many people have benefited as the 20 full-time staff can hardly cope with the ever-increasing need for aid, counselling and support.
It all began with a simple step of faith to go where the need is.
Pillai started off as a young pastor at 26, and today he continues to play a central role as a visionary leader. Faith is reflected in good works, Pillai believes. ?I have been blessed so I want to bless others. It can be as simple as giving a bag of rice or tinned food to someone out there who is hungry. every time we give, we are answering another person?s prayer.?
Pillai grew up in Penang where he was born. his childhood remains a painful memory.
?My mother?s story is similar to that of a real-life Cinderella,? he says with a rueful smile, recalling how she was treated like a servant by her stepmother. ?She had a terrible life until Prince Charming came along one day and rescued her.?
But the fairy tale ended there. the young Pillai was bounced from one family to another, with his little bag of belongings.
?I was fed with leftovers from the dining table. I was never good enough to be treated like the other children. And I never had a toy in my life,? Pillai recalls, his voice cracking.
Feeding the poor: Through Grace Community Services? feeding programme that began 11 years ago, some 150 to 200 packs of food are distributed to the homeless on the streets of KL every week.
?I grew up in constant fear of adults who held complete power over my life. I was considered bad luck. Today when I see an orphaned child with fear in his eyes, I know exactly how he feels. I had no security at all and it came to a point where I stopped shedding tears; I had no more emotions. It wasn?t until I had accepted Christ that the healing began.?
That happened when he was 17. an American student Warren Burns came with a church group, Youth For Christ, to his school. the young Pillai heard the gospel message and made a decision which tranformed his life: he became a Christian.
After secondary school, Pillai worked as a storekeeper for the Marine Department, and often delivered food to various outposts and lighthouses. On hindsight, the work seemed like preparation for what was to become GCS. After five years, Pillai went into full-time Christian ministry.
In 1970, Pillai enrolled in the Bible College of Malaysia in Selangor. when word went round that a small church, Grace Chapel in Klang, badly needed a pastor, Pillai decided to serve there. the church was later renamed Grace Assembly of God.
Besides food aid, basic medical assistance is also rendered to those who turn up at the centre, such as this man suffering a foot infection.
During the early years, Pillai went to minister to the poor and needy in the slums of Port Klang.
?We saw how poor the people were; their clothes were torn and they had no food; the children had no shoes or books and couldn?t afford to go to school. we started Maths and English tuition classes in hopes of helping the children,? says Pillai.
People heard what the young pastor was doing and started donating food, clothes and storybooks.
?I remember visiting a family living in a shack with a dirt floor, along the Batu Tiga, Shah Alam, railway tracks. It was raining and I had an umbrella over my head the whole time. the roof was leaking so badly, yet the family lived there.?
One day, an elderly man turned up at his doorstep and begged Pillai to give him a proper burial. Pillai took the man into his rented room, cleaned him up and fed him before sending him to the Klang General Hospital where the man was treated for cataracts. He did not die after all, but he needed a home, so Pillai rented a house for RM200 and took in homeless men he rescued from the streets.
Then Pillai came across a group of destitute elderly women. they were brought into Malaysia at a very young age to work as nannies and housekeepers for wealthy families. their employers had passed away, and the women were left without families of their own to care for them in their old age.
Pillai rented a terrace house for the women at RM200 a month. This marked the beginning of Grace Home for Destitute Women in Klang.
The need soon arose for abandoned children, and Pillai rented yet another house which was to become Rumah Kids.
A surging tide of mounting needs came along with social ills such as urban poverty, child abandonment and abuse, homelessness, juvenile delinquency and drug addiction. Ailing old folks who were dumped in hospitals, were referred to GCS by the Welfare Department, upon their recovery.
?We always look upwards to keep up with the others; we seldom look down in the streets to see the cracks where people have fallen through,? says Pillai.
?Drive around Kuala Lumpur at 2am and you will see hundreds of homeless people sleeping by the five-foot ways and underneath bridges.?
Twelve years ago, Birthright, a home for unwed mothers, was opened in secret locations; only the girls? families knew about it. Mothers were encouraged to keep their babies, or give the infants up for adoption.
?We provide counselling and legal advice alongside a safe home for the mother during her pregnancy. we do whatever we can to give the child a right to be born. we don?t charge anything,? says Pillai.
Grace Centre, a drug rehabilitation centre, has an 18-month programme to help drug dependents to kick the habit.
?They come to us as a last resort. It gives us great joy to see a man overcoming his addiction and reconciling with his family. we deal with suicidal cases, too. very often, they have been rejected so many times that they begin to reject themselves. these are very deep wounds that need healing.?
For the past 11 years, a feeding centre in Jalan Masjid India, Kuala Lumpur, offers free meals to street people. every Sunday without fail, the homeless can look forward to freshly cooked food prepared by volunteers. a free clinic staffed by volunteer doctors, attends to the medical needs of the homeless. they can also take a shower or receive counselling at the centre.
In 2009, the collection of food from donors was streamlined with the opening of the Food Bank for the Poor. a network was built with food manufacturers, importers, wholesalers, supermarkets, hotels and bakeries to collect food to be distributed to the poor and needy.
The food bank currently provides essential food packs to 450 families every month. Each pack contains rice, noodles, cooking oil, sugar, coffee, tea and condensed milk.
Aid from the food bank reaches needy families as far as Pulau Carey off Port Klang, Negri Sembilan and Pahang.
While GCS?s success has been praised by certain quarters, it has also received criticism from detractors who feel that such aid encourages people to be dependent on charity.
?The issues are there and if we do not do our part to help, they can only get worse,? Pillai explains.
?I started GCS to feed the hungry and clothe the naked. I never knew that it would develop to this stage. I have let a homeless man sleep on my bed. I shared my clothes with them. And I kept aside a portion of my food for those who didn?t have any. when I keep giving, the resources just keep growing. Volunteers have never failed to answer the call to help. so much of the giving was done anonymously by people who did not want publicity. the whole work of GCS is a miracle in itself.?
A great nation, says Pillai, is not measured by the number of millionaires and billionaires, but by the absence of the poor.
This year, Pillai has been appointed a partner in the Operation Christmas Child project, the world?s largest Christmas project through which 80 million children worldwide receive shoeboxes filled with gifts of toys, educational supplies and other personal items.
?My dream now is to open a supermarket for the poor, where the needy can walk in and take home furniture, clothing, shoes and books that people donate. every day we throw out so many things that can still be used by people who need them,? adds Pillai.
What a super idea! It is just as well that Pillai has no plans to retire, and has found strength to keep going … where the need is.
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