By Neal K
Not so far from the dazzling skyscrapers of the city lives a community of approximately 3,200 families, at the PPR flats in Lembah Subang, notorious not just for its run down, squalid appearance and feel but also for its gut-wrenching social ills. 80- 90 percent of its approximately 20,000 denizens fall under the hardcore poor category and the flats are now far from the safe havens they were intended to be for the city’s urban poor.
There’s palpable gloom hanging over the numerous blocks, where it’s common for families of more than a dozen dependents to squat in a small two-bed unit. One silver lining shining her light in her own way to bring a little joy and respite into the area is Elaine Surin.
Daughter of retired teachers, the Penangite credits her father for imparting his values to her. “He would never walk away from a beggar without sparing some change. I was also from very young exposed to serving at homes and orphanages,” explains Elaine about her decision to make social work a full-time commitment, a complete turnaround for one who had started her career in the glamorous world of being a stewardess with Singapore Airlines and then with Malaysian Airlines. Subsequently, she went into event management and other jobs but her heart was never far away from community service.
It wasn’t long before she found herself working for a home for abused children. “That was an eye-opener for me… a sort of catalytic moment when I started to question myself. While I loved my job at the orphanage, I also realised that it confined me to just that one place and I knew that there are many, many people, especially children out there who are in pretty dismal situations.”
Elaine has dedicated 20 years of her life to volunteer and social work with no pay and has dealt with a range of communities including the LGBT and Orang Asli communities. She has served beyond Malaysian borders too, in Cambodia and Thailand, but, realising there was more to do back home, returned to Malaysia.
Elaine’s heart and soul now lie with the community at the PPR Lembah Subang. At the moment, Elaine is a lifeline and comfort-giver: she is playmate, teacher, and friend to the children and counselor and friend to the women and men there. Almost every day of the week she walks all the eight blocks and is familiar with the families and their backgrounds. Pick a child or a woman and she can give you a detailed picture of their lives.
Walk even a short distance with her and you can understand how much she is revered there by the youngsters, senior citizens, women and men alike. Kids want to play with her or sit on her lap, a senior citizen stops his motorbike to say “Hello”, offering her fruit from his carrier basket and a heavily pregnant woman waves from afar. Without a doubt, Elaine has become a ray of sunshine in their lives, touching their hearts and lives in a magical way.
It is no surprise that Elaine is privy to their dark troubles and neither is it shocking to hear of the abuses, health scares and crimes resulting from neglect and poverty. We have heard them all before.
“I feel, blaming them for the state they are in will only drive them away,” says Elaine. “What’s the point in scolding a woman for getting pregnant yet again despite being poverty stricken? There are many layers to the problem that we have created and I believe it is in our hands to do something about it. What this desperate woman pregnant with her seventh child with her alcoholic jobless husband needs is not a lecture but means – clothes, food – for her current children and her unborn. The desperation is so bad. Education and admonishing can wait. She is battling suicide.”
Elaine wishes that more people will come out to give their time to these folk who are simply caught in a vicious cycle of hopelessness. “Where are Malaysians while our fellow urban poor are suffering? There’s so much that we as a society can do to empower them and it shouldn’t stop at just making the odd contribution. There are many abused mothers and abused children sorely lacking love and affection and it will be really good if more fortunate women, men, and young adults out there can come and counsel these people, spend time with them or share or teach their skills!”
There is no strict ‘job description’ for what Elaine does in a day at the Lembah Subang PPR, although there seems to be a regular pattern. She walks the blocks, makes house calls all the time, helps check in on children whose mothers are in hospitals, checks on families to ensure they have enough food…She is also available 24/7 “in case a gang fight breaks out or someone needs medical help and so forth”.
Elaine also arranges events and educational programmes using her support network. “When I see the children respond so enthusiastically I feel they have accomplished something. These children are often degraded by many, and feeding them with a little love, attention, and encouragement goes a long way in lifting their self-esteem and self-confidence.”
Is she seen as a menace by abusive husbands or gangsters? Elaine merely shrugs and says, “So far I’ve been blessed. Nothing untoward has happened. In my journey with them, I approach things from their eyes. Maybe that’s why. Besides, I don’t antagonise anyone. I feel the question of why have the men gone astray also needs just as much attention as the women and children who suffer as a result.”
The situation now begs the question how does Elaine fund herself?
“Not easy. I’ve no income and have to rely on good Samaritans. I’m grateful to have numerous friends who chip in by whatever means they can,” says the lady who takes public transport every day from her accommodation in Klang to get into Lembah Subang.
As for the PPR community, she gets assistance from friends, sometimes medical practitioners who offer their services for free, such as the time when two professors from UMMC visited to teach the children basic tasks such as brushing their teeth and washing their hands since cleanliness and hygiene are major problems.
After receiving considerable assistance from the previous member of parliament, Elaine says she continues to receive support from the present MP who has arranged for the Food Bank Project whereby a food truck appears from Food Aid every Friday with vegetables, fruits, and buns. Elaine is always present to ensure food aid’s supply is distributed and delivered accordingly. However, owing to strict criteria to adhere to, this project only benefits around 20 families, and the perishables provided can only last for two or three days.
There are many more desperate families, with numerous children, going hungry every day. “When I see children and adults rummaging the bins for food, my heart breaks. How can I do nothing?”
Elaine is currently hard at work trying to make Deepavali and Christmas meaningful for the PPR community and she is sourcing for food vouchers or any form of food for these festivities. Also toys, clothes, bedding, board games… just about anything that some people take for granted many a time but that can bring immense joy to others.
“With love, we can overcome anything. I believe in that. I’m not here to judge or condemn anyone. It’s not my place to do that. I have always known that I have to gain their respect and trust and at the same time not to impose myself on them. I come here because I’m aware of their plight and I want to do what I can within my capacity. Can you? Please…”
How to help Elaine’s work in Lembah Subang:
- Sponsor skill sets eg making accessories, floral arrangement, making soap, sewing, cooking, baking etc.
- Companies/factories/ businesses nearby Kelana Jaya, Subang, Ara Damansara can offer adults job opportunities. Elaine can set up a Job Vacancies Open Day event in Lembah Subang for people to apply.
- Groups or college students can help children with homework, a few times a week.
- Businesses can provide adults with work-at-home opportunities to help them earn an extra income
- Colleges can offer scholarships for the youth in any field of study
- Teach dance, music, drums, art & craft, football, athletics etc to the youth and children
- Sponsor English, BM and Maths tuition for the children, youths who have dropped out of school and uneducated parents
- Sponsor basic food like 10kg rice, 1kg milk powder for babies, 1kg milk powder for children, trays of 30 eggs, 425g tins of sardines, 2kg anchovies etc.
- Sponsor pre-loved mattresses, beds, cots, double-decker beds, stand fans along with the transportation costs.
- Donate towards helping children and their families with emergency groceries, buying meals for children, buying milk powder, transportation fees for children to go to school, medical bills in clinic/hospital, buying medication etc.
Do email Elaine at firstname.lastname@example.org on how you would like to help/contribute, with your phone number and she will be in touch.