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The poster for ArtsFAS into 2021. – Pic courtesy of Yayasan Hasanah, January 25, 2021

If we don’t support our artists, who will?

Yayasan Hasanah throws a lifeline to artists struggling to survive, but are we losing the arts in Malaysia altogether?

TO still be able to immerse myself in a concert during this time, albeit in my own home, is such an immense pleasure. 

ArtsFAS into 2021 featured some of our country’s talented artists, many of whom have been struggling to survive over the last year. So, will we soon lose the opportunity to experience such performances?  

Currently, Malaysian actors, musicians, dancers and many more involved in the arts are being forced to abandon their calling altogether. 

As Dr Jillian Ooi of Rhythm in Bronze pointed out, “It takes years of personal journeying to express yourself as an artist. People say ‘we can revive the arts later’. But, if we don’t survive this pandemic as artists, we may not be able to revive the arts. The ecosystem will have collapsed.”

I spoke to other artists and organisers from ArtsFAS into 2021, to find out more.

Puan Zainariah Johari of Yayasan Hasanah wants future generations to learn of our arts, such as Mak Yong, through experience, not history books. – Pic courtesy of Yayasan Hasanah
Puan Zainariah Johari of Yayasan Hasanah wants future generations to learn of our arts, such as Mak Yong, through experience, not history books. – Pic courtesy of Yayasan Hasanah

Puan Zainariah Johari, Head of Arts, Culture and Public Spaces for Yayasan Hasanah, was inspired to create a platform where artists could raise funds to support their work and livelihood.  

The result was ArtsFAS into 2021, a virtual concert aired live on December 31, 2020 and still available on Youtube for all to enjoy.

“Yayasan Hasanah focuses on preserving, conserving and protecting Malaysian cultural heritage,” Puan Zai explained. 

“Throughout 2020, we have been supporting cultural artists, and ArtsFAS into 2021 was the culmination of that. 

“A fundraising drive was simultaneously launched on, open until 31st January 2021.  Yayasan Hasanah is contributing RM30,000, and all the donations will be shared amongst the performers.  

“Our arts are a mirror to our country.  It is the responsibility of all of us not to lose our heritage.  More must be done on every level to keep arts in the forefront, to keep them alive.” 

It was Endang Hyder’s personal struggle that alerted Yayasan Hasanah to the predicament of local artists. 

Endang Hyder graduated with a degree in Classical Music Studies from Queen's University. – Pic from ArtsFAS into 2021 of Belfast, yet is struggling to support her family during the pandemic.
Endang Hyder graduated with a degree in Classical Music Studies from Queen's University. – Pic from ArtsFAS into 2021 of Belfast, yet is struggling to support her family during the pandemic.

A popular violinist, Endang’s performance in ArtsFAS into 2021 was mesmerising. The harmonious, plaintive sounds of her violin washed over me like a cool, calming breeze. However, as she spoke about how the pandemic has affected her, the strain was evident on Endang’s face.

“I am a single mother with three children, and I also support my sick parents. When Covid-19 first hit, I lost all my bookings for 2020, and 25 of my students cancelled their classes. I had some savings, but then my father’s health deteriorated and they soon ran out. I had no choice but to sell my musical equipment to buy food for the family and medicine for my father.”

Endang was determined to continue performing for her fans, including almost 100,000 social media followers. Throughout 2020 she posted videos, lifting moods and spirits. However, it provided her very little income, and Endang was soon desperate.

“I knew I had to sell my violin, but it’s how I make my living. I hoped I could buy it back later, but had no idea how that would happen. There’s not much help coming from the government for artists. Nobody sees us.”

When Yayasan Hasanah offered to help with the concert, it was a lifeline.

“I was so grateful. My violin is worth much more than the money it would fetch. In the past, when I suffered some anxiety and depression, my followers reached out to me, saying, ‘Don’t give up!  Your music helped me through my depression’. Music carries you through the sad times, motivates you. You can’t put a price on it.”

Yet surely our government could value it more. Arts and Culture were allocated only RM15 million in the National Budget 2021, in contrast to the RM 85.5 million assigned for the revival of Jasa (the previously controversial Special Affairs Department). This comparison does little to reflect the true worth of Malaysian performers.

AkashA, a seven-piece World Fusion Music band based in Kuala Lumpur. – Pic courtesy of Yayasan Hasanah
AkashA, a seven-piece World Fusion Music band based in Kuala Lumpur. – Pic courtesy of Yayasan Hasanah

AkashA’s rousing, rolling rhythms open ArtsFAS into 2021, melding ethnic and acoustic instrumentals into addictive melodies. Kumar Karthigesu, a founding member of AkashA, a vibrant seven-piece World Fusion Music band based in KL, spoke of his concerns.

“We have gone from 30 shows per year, to none. Our musicians have turned to selling nasi lemak or driving Grab. At least one won’t return to making music for a living. Our online attempts were well received by audiences, but we spent more than we made.”

The Temple of Fine Arts dance performance for ArtsFAS into 2021. – Pic from ArtsFAS into 2021
The Temple of Fine Arts dance performance for ArtsFAS into 2021. – Pic from ArtsFAS into 2021

Jyotsna Prakash from the Temple of Fine Arts, is sympathetic to other artists’ difficulties.  A self-described sanctuary for the arts, the Temple of Fine Arts’ performance in ArtsFAS into 2021 showcased the multiple genres of music and dance taught there.

“Our 60 teachers have all been on reduced salary, but are doing better than private teachers and full-time performers. Certainly, no young person will embark on a career in music or dance now, yet the arts are important to the lives of so many. Think of the orchestra playing on the Titanic as it sank. Their music was the last thing people heard, and it mattered. We need more awareness of the significance of art in our survival.”

Baritone Dodi Mohasdi Hj Mohammad trained under renowned Malaysian baritone, Cha Seng Tiang and Florence based opera singer, Massimo, as well as attended Wigmore Hall in London. – Pic courtesy of Yayasan Hasanah
Baritone Dodi Mohasdi Hj Mohammad trained under renowned Malaysian baritone, Cha Seng Tiang and Florence based opera singer, Massimo, as well as attended Wigmore Hall in London. – Pic courtesy of Yayasan Hasanah

Dodi Mohasdi Hj Mohammad, a Terengganu born lyric baritone, has put his whole life into his art.

“I was in London, working on a series of events combining music and fashion. I had invested everything into it. At the end of November 2019 I returned to Malaysia, planning to go back to launch the events. Now I am battling to survive.”

For Malaysian artists, the pandemic has meant so much more than losing work – they have been wrenched from their career and the outlet for their passion and talent. 

Gamelan ensemble Rhythm in Bronze have been championing to conserve Malaysia's musical heritage and raise awareness of the richness of the Malay comtemporary gamelan. – Pic courtesy of Yayasan Hasanah
Gamelan ensemble Rhythm in Bronze have been championing to conserve Malaysia's musical heritage and raise awareness of the richness of the Malay comtemporary gamelan. – Pic courtesy of Yayasan Hasanah

Dr Jillian Ooi of Rhythm in Bronze feels it keenly. With no work, the Malaysian contemporary gamelan ensemble has had to borrow money for rent. The thought of having to sell their instruments brings tears of horror and despair to Jillian’s eyes.

“You have a bond with your instrument. Already we are physically distanced from our gamelan set, as they can’t be taken home. It’s painful, not being able to touch it. I feel like I’ve lost my musicality, and it hurts. It’s not good for a gamelan set to lie silent.” 

Her feelings are more than sentimentality. “Food and water may keep us alive, but the arts make us fully functioning human beings. Homo sapiens uniquely use the arts to communicate and express ourselves. It is essential to our species.” 

Watching Rhythm in Bronze perform on these majestic instruments, you can understand her passion, almost feel the magical synergy between each player and their instrument. 

If we are to preserve such arts, arts that define us as human beings, we need to take action to support our artists. To contribute to the ArtsFAS into 2021 fundraising appeal, go to

And to experience these performances, as well as Hands Percussion, Geng Wak Long, No Noise Percussion, Rukayah Shukri and Former MAS Crew, see ArtsFAS into 2021 at – The Vibes, January 25, 2021

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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)