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Face mask adapters knitted by Sujiyanti Narun, 45 and Dwi Yanuardani Eko Purnomo, 42, at the WOW community sewing centre in Ara Damansara. They were among the women undergoing WOW's programme who switched from selling food to sewing PPE when the MCO was enforced and food stalls were closed.

Adapting, name of the business game

THE Covid-19 pandemic and movement control order (MCO) have taught Sujiyanti Narun the importance of adaptability to survive and to tap into her existing skills so she can feed her family.

“I sold honey chicken wings to supplement my husband’s income as a lorry driver, ” said the 45-year-old mother of three.

“The situation became difficult when he lost his job as a daily wage earner and food stalls were closed during the MCO.”

Suji, as she is better known, is undergoing an entrepreneurship programme by non-governmental organisation (NGO) Women of Will (WOW).

Face mask adapters knitted by Sujiyanti Narun, 45, and Dwi Yanuardani Eko Purnomo, 42.Face mask adapters knitted by Sujiyanti Narun, 45, and Dwi Yanuardani Eko Purnomo, 42.

“Our next project is to sew hospital uniforms.

“Meanwhile, I have also learnt to sew fabric face masks and knit face mask adapters via online tutorials.

“I sell those online as well as to neighbours and friends.

“I hope to be able to expand the variety of my merchandise to include cushion covers and other household furnishings, ” she said.

She dreams of one day opening her own shop selling sewing equipment.

Sujiyanti, along with Syurita Mohd Hashin and Noranisa Jantan, are among women from the B40 community living in PPR Lembah Subang, Petaling Jaya, selected for WOW’s 18-month entrepreneurship programme to learn the skills to run a business.

The home-based entrepreneurs, who sell cooked food, baked goods or offer home-based spa and beauty services, were about a year into the programme when MCO was enforced.

WOW quickly adjusted the modules to teach the basics of online marketing and set up dedicated WOW Ramadan Market sites on the web for the women to sell their products.

“I used to sell nasi lemak and cucur udang by the roadside, ” said Syurita, fondly called Lin by her friends.

“With the micro-credit loan provided by WOW, I was able to buy an umbrella for shelter and kitchen equipment to expand my menu to include nasi ayam, fried noodles and kuih.”

Some of Syurita’s food sold online via the WOW Ramadan Market.Some of Syurita’s food sold online via the WOW Ramadan Market.

Syurita said WOW taught her about online business, marketing, financial management and food presentation besides the importance of having separate accounts for household expenses and the business.

“Thanks to the WOW Ramadan Market, I was able to earn some income during the MCO by promoting and selling my food on their virtual platform.

“That helped sustain my family, as my husband’s income as a security guard was reduced during the MCO, ” said the 43-year-old.

She said her four children, aged between eight and 24, helped with food preparation, packing, handling customers’ enquiries and delivery since they were all stuck at home during the MCO.

Meanwhile, mother-of-four Noranisa signed up for WOW’s training as she wanted to improve her entrepreneurial skills and food business.

“My speciality is nasi kukus ayam berempah. I have been selling that at Ramadan bazaars for the past five years, but had to find a new way of selling when the street bazaars were cancelled during the MCO.

“My husband has been helping in my business since the restaurant he worked at was closed throughout MCO, ” she said. She turned to social media and word-of-mouth recommendations to get customers.

Although she has found it challenging to learn how to conduct business and market her products online, the 42-year-old is grateful for the opportunity and training provided by WOW.

A group of women from PPR Lembah Subang, Petaling Jaya, have been selected by WOW for its 18-month entrepreneurship programme.A group of women from PPR Lembah Subang, Petaling Jaya, have been selected by WOW for its 18-month entrepreneurship programme.

Empowering B40 women

Women of Will president Datin Wira Goh Suet Lan said the organisation was established in 2016 to empower B40 women and their communities.

“For them, it is about the ability to have a business and enjoy sustainable income.

“It is also important for them to achieve a sense of self and to support their family.“The women are each given micro-credit loans of RM2,000 from Hasanah Foundation to help them start or expand their business, ” she said.

She explained that the loans were repaid monthly to imbue in them a sense of responsibility and ownership.

The selection criteria includes a household income of RM2,500 or less, single mothers and B40 women whose husbands are disabled or have low income.

WOW’s entrepreneurship programme provides them the necessary resources, skills and know-how to run a business, such as marketing, financial management and family management.

“Each woman is paired with a business coach who will mentor them, offer the support needed to develop their business and serve as a confidante, ” said Goh.

 Datin Wira Goh Suet Lan.Datin Wira Goh Suet Lan.

“In addition, we have a community development programme where we bring the women, their families and community together to build fellowship and highlight community issues.

“Meanwhile, three women from each batch will be selected for a community leadership development programme to groom them for community leadership roles and to facilitate their community when WOW eventually exits.”

She highlighted that the impact of the community leaders was evident during the MCO.

As she noted that since WOW members could not be on site to coordinate relief efforts, they turned to the leaders to reach out and distribute essentials to the community.

“After a quick survey that revealed most of the women were familiar with social media such as WhatsApp, we quickly tweaked our programme during the MCO to focus on the basics of marketing their businesses using those platforms.

“Since Ramadan bazaars were not allowed during MCO, we set up online bazaar groups where the women could sell their homemade food and cookies, ” she added.

Goh shared that the MCO also saw WOW speeding up the opening of its community sewing centre in Ara Damansara, Petaling Jaya in Selangor.

It was originally slated to open in the third quarter of this year.

“We were able to gather the sewing machines quickly, then collaborated with Biji-Biji Initiative to teach the women how to sew PPE and gain some income from that.

“They will be taught how to sew other items later on, ” she said.

She added that WOW believed in upskilling women based on their skill set and passion.

“We are looking at consolidating our programmes based on lessons learnt during the MCO and adapting them to fit the new normal.

“The adaptation is important to ensure the programmes’ sustainability and to improve WOW’s structure as an NGO, ” Goh elaborated.

She said some 1,300 women in eight PPR flats across Kuala Lumpur and Selangor as well as in Keningau, Sabah, had undergone WOW’s programmes.

“Hasanah understands the impact of long-term partnerships and their collaboration with us has made us a stronger organisation.

“We have also worked with some of the foundation’s partners to connect and support each other on our projects, ” she added.

On Hasanah Foundation’s support for WOW, its community development head Anita Ahmad said: “Community development is one of our focus areas, in addition to education, environment, arts and public spaces as well as knowledge.

“By providing training, coaching and continuous engagement, WOW’s programme helps empower a vulnerable community to be more self-sustainable and it grooms community leaders.

“We provide interest-free micro loans to help the women if they want to expand their businesses.”

Anita explained that Hasanah, a grant-giving foundation by Khazanah Nasional, aimed to empower and enable Malaysian civil society organisations to undertake community initiatives that improved the lives of vulnerable groups in the country.

Anita AhmadAnita Ahmad

“We build the NGO community in Malaysia by providing training on how they can improve their programmes, management and cross-learning as well as offering a networking platform.

“As part of the Economic Stimulus 2020, we partnered with Finance Ministry for the Hasanah Special Grant 2020 to support social programmes that improve quality of life for vulnerable communities such as Orang Asli and the homeless.

“The funds can be used to help poor families recover from the Covid-19 pandemic and enable rapid mobilisation of resources by NGOs to extend assistance, ” she explained, citing as example training for teachers to learn how to utilise digital tools to teach online.

Anita noted that the MCO was the push that most NGOs needed to move towards the digital initiative and adapt their programmes to suit the community’s needs.

“They will have to use other tools to communicate, raise funds and identify beneficiaries, ” she said.

“It is tough but it is the kind of change we have been pushing for, necessary to ensure the NGOs’ efforts remain relevant and sustainable.”

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KNK Total Assesment

Completed field testing of indicators

Developed communications plan

With the pilot rollout of the Alternate Assessment for Children with Learning Difficulties, (PASM – Pentaksiran Alternat Sekolah Menengah) expected in a dozen secondary schools nationwide in 2021, this year has been all about conceptualisation, design and realisation of instruments for that purpose. The partner is creating a tool to measure students’ abilities within their disabilities, an objective that traditional pen and paper examinations cannot satisfy.

Chumbaka Sdn Bhd

secondary schools

Selected schools in Perlis were first introduced to embedded systems, coding, electronics, mobile apps, AI and various soft skills, after which students showcased their newly gained knowledge in innovation competitions with the ultimate goal of applying technology platforms to identify and solve real life problems in their community.

Nourishing the Body and Mind

Economic devastation is possibly one of the most severe impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, second only to medical-related ones. And for the beneficiaries of Pertubuhan Kesihatan dan Kebajikan Umum Malaysia (PKKUM) comprising of urban poor, jobless, B40, single mothers, senior citizens, the differently-abled and other marginalised  communities around Chow Kit, this is a very real problem. So much so that for some, putting food on the table daily was a huge challenge.  

In response to this, PKKUM Pusat Bantuan Khidmat Sosial (PBKS) commenced its Food for All street feeding project during the very first MCO. On top of providing daily meals, its second objective was to assist those from B40 communities and whose earnings had been affected by COVID-19.  

In July, PKKUM received the Hasanah Special Grant enabling it to provide 330 packs of food—guaranteed nutritious and comes with clean drinking water— for 110 beneficiaries on a daily basis. 

Food for All meal distribution in session

We heard and understood the day-to-day struggles of our beneficiaries when they came reaching out to us. The Food for All project plays a vital role in providing sustenance to the less fortunate, serving as a lifeline for communities in need that would otherwise starve, explains PKKUM programme manager Myra Hashim on what led to the birth of this initiative. 

With HSG assistance also, the organisation was able to expand the types of capacity building classes it offered, which at that time, covered topics such as how to conduct an online business, business registration, marketing and accounting. The organisation’s PBKS Project 2020 saw 20 beneficiaries benefit from monthly workshops and classes on basic business knowledge and management. The aim was to expose them to and equip them with skills suited for new job opportunities. 

Beneficiaries waiting in line at PKKUM PBKS's daily food distribution programme

From an operations perspective, social distancing requirements have had a tremendous effect on the people-centric organisation that PKKUM is, limiting face-to-face interactions with its beneficiaries. But in time, everyday tasks were customised to comply with standard operating procedures and above all, keep everyone safe during a time when adapting is the only way forward. 

One of our key learnings from 2020 was (discovering) the true social and financial impacts of the pandemic on the urban poor, jobless, B40 and other marginalised communities around Chow Kit.

Empowering Communities and Boosting Livelihoods

A huge part of the Global Environment Centres (GEC) conservation efforts in the Upper Kinta River Basin (UKB) involves interacting with nearby communities and during the pandemic, they noticed an urgent need for alternative livelihood options. This led to an initiative to empower targeted Orang Asal and peri-urban communities living near the 25,000 hectare UKBa crucial part of the Central Forest Spine and the primary watershed providing potable water to Ipoh. 

Movement Control Orders posed a challenge to those who would typically venture out to sell their products while others employed by nearby quarries and development projects were adversely impacted when work was put on hold. Assistance from HSG was put to good use in response to this situation. 

On key takeaways for the year, the GEC cites face-to-face meeting restrictions and lengthy feedback time of government agencies as hurdles that delayed implementation during already uncertain times. 

“However, we quickly adapted to the situation and continued capacity building by conducting all meetings virtually, communicating via WhatsApp and mobilising local leaders to action. As many Orang Asal lack phone and internet access, an officer from the Department of Orang Asal Development facilitated communications during the early MCO phase,” 
senior p
rogramme officer Sathis Venkitasamy explains. 

Having overcome all that, the results speak for themselves. 35 families or 139 people in Kampung Makmur recorded increased income from the programme, an indication of GEC’s step in the right direction. 

GEC felt that these identified communities would need additional support to empower it with new skills and enhance their livelihoods that were badly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. (We find that) the nature of HSG’s post-COVID strategy to support and empower communities is in line with local needs.

For the Love of the Malayan Sun Bear

When pandemic-driven movement restrictions orders were enforced, the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) was faced with a predicament. Its main source of income—ticketing sales—was lost. 

Dr Wong Siew Te, the founder and Chief Executive Officer, explains that said revenue would normally go to cover husbandry cost for 43 rescued ex-captive sun bears that call it home, including an average of RM26,000 per month for their food. 

The smallest of its kind and only found in Southeast Asia, the Malayan sun bears are unfortunately threatened by forest degradation, illegal hunting for body parts and poaching of their young for pet trade.  

Owing to HSG, the rescue and rehabilitation centre in Sepilok, Sandakan was able to feed 40 bears and three cubs, without further depleting financial reserves that had been dipped into during challenging times. 

Not only has the aid been helpful but also echoed the spirit of conservation as Dr Wong explains. Besides, conservation is not the sole responsibility of the organisation,” he begins by saying. Collaborations with the government and private agencies are essential to financial sustainability and growth of conservation efforts.”  

Indeed, as we share this world with other living beings, we are all custodians in some regard, with organisations such as BSBCC leading the way. In 2008, the wildlife biologist, tropical forest ecologist and sun bear expert, who has been fascinated with animals all his life, founded BSBCC. Six years later, the large forest enclosures that provide a natural environment, facilitating their rehabilitation into the wild, opened its doors to visitors.  

Though at the moment, BSBCC’s on-site visits may be temporarily replaced by virtual tours, the spirit and objectives of the centre—the only sun bear conservation facility in the world—is resounding as ever, as they tackle old problems threatening the lives of the species in new, no less challenging times. 

Conservation is a continuous effort regardless of the global situation. BSBCC has learned that it has to be dynamic in generating other forms of revenue to cope with unprecedented financial constraint.

A Crisis, Change and New Frontiers

One afternoon, Ayu (not her real name) and her three children walked two hours in the scorching heat to the nearest police station. With only RM20 in her pocket, the beatings she endured the night before in the hands of her husband was the final straw. Searching online led her to being referred to the Womens Centre for Change (WCC) and a social worker stayed in touch with her via phone right up to her lodging a police report, undergoing medical check-up and approved for interstate travel so that she and her children no longer had to be at the mercy of an abusive husband and father. 

Unfortunately, this isnt an isolated incident. 

Between March and May 2020, the WCC saw a near doubling of child sexual abuse (CSA) cases. Instances of domestic violence (DV) recorded an alarming increase too, making up 80 out of the 238 new cases handled. 

The World Health Organisation attributed an increased likelihood of physical, psychological and sexual abuse at home (particularly children already living in violent or dysfunctional family situations) to ‘movement restrictions, loss of income, isolation, overcrowding and high levels of stress and anxiety’. 

While dealing with escalating instances of CSA and DV, social distancing meant cancelling WCC’s major 35th anniversary fundraiser and budget reviews alongside a steep learning curve of operating remotely, all at once. As an organisation dependent on public donations to sustain work, it was badly affected monetarily and HSG assistance couldnt have come at a better time. 

According to WCC Executive Director Loh Cheng Kooi, the funding was well-utilised for a wide range of efforts, namely providing critical counselling for women and children, launching two online storybooks (Lisa and her Secret and Yusri and his Secret) aimed at children and teachers, ten awareness-driven webinars and 40 e-posters in BM, English, Chinese and Tamil as well as capacitating staff in handling and advocating cases in line with the new norm that included working from home with extended hotline hours.    

That said, the organisation has reinvented itself and emerged stronger. “In every crisis, lies an opportunity. HSG enabled us to transform our physical work seamlessly into the virtual world; and the results were resounding, way beyond our expectations,” says Loh summing up the key takeaway from 2020. 

Our work is no longer limited to Northern states. Via social media platforms, WCC reached nearly one million people of various ethnicities nationwide from June to December 2020 alone. We also noted the complementary role of vernacular webinars— for example, we receive more calls from Tamil-speaking women after a Tamil session.

A Time for Learning and Relearning

For 32 years, Kiwanis Down Syndrome Foundation National Centre (KDSF-NC) has provided its Early Intervention Programme for children with Down syndrome, from the age of two months to six years. It involves therapy, exercises and activities designed to address developmental delays. Students pay a heavily subsidised, minimal-fee and further deductions are available for those from low-income families. 

When COVID-19 hit, the centre had to close and its 34 students could no longer benefit from the sessions. Teachers and therapists had to upskill almost as quickly as decisions were being made. Hence, the KDSF Re-adapted Early Intervention Programme was born.

Concerning funding, public donations dwindled tremendously and all fundraising events came to a halt as mostsuch as the Annual Charity Funfairinvolved large crowd attendance. Seeing that it depended solely on public donations to sustain operations and programmes, Heng says that HSG helped maintain the full teaching team, upgrade internet infrastructure and technology equipment. 

As a non-profit, we have always been prudent in our spending and preferred traditional teaching materials over investing in technology,” 

KDSFNC Executive Director Angie Heng explains, citing realising the importance of the latter as one of the organisations key learnings for 2020. Luckily, some of the teachers utilised their personal laptops, reducing the cost of procuring more devices. 

Some other challenges were parents struggling to guide children through classes, giving up easily or lacking computer savviness. Teaching tools had to be improvised to suit what parents could find at home and therapists shouldered an additional role of guiding parents during activities. 

“Some parents are receptive to this new way of education but do not have enough gadgets to utilise among their school-going children. It would usually be our students that have to give way to (for example) their older siblings who attend typical schools or require it for exams,” Heng observes. 

Besides insufficient gadgets and poor internet connection, having parents watch over their shoulders throughout lessons and being unable to access teaching resources at the centre during restricted movement orders were but some of the hurdles. This experience brought to light the need to pay attention to the mental health of the facilitators. 

On the bright side, having to convert to e-learning revealed the possibility of reaching students outside urban areas, rendering it a year of learning and re-learning for the organisation and its students alike. 

With assistance from HSG, we were able to waive fees for students whose parents had taken pay cuts or were out of jobs—students who otherwise would not be able to continue their education (with us)