Postcards From Malaysia: Citizens Waving White Flags Get Help From Fellow Countrymen
Times have been tough since the Covid-19 pandemic gripped the whole world. Besides the direct effect of being afflicted with the dreaded infection – a percentage resulting in deaths, even those who have managed to escape being infected are feeling the brunt of the pandemic. Due to necessary social distancing measures, many businesses have been forced to close or have experienced a substantial loss of profits. This has also affected employees of such companies. Staff have either experienced pay cuts, late salaries, or just plain let go.
Of course, while many corporations may still be able to stay afloat until this pandemic is over, there’s no denying how dire the situation is for others. For some, especially those below the poverty line, not only have they been left jobless but also without a way to create income. What’s worse, because of lockdowns, Movement Control Orders (MCO), and then Enhanced Movement Control Orders (EMCO), even neighbours may not be aware of one’s plight and desperation during this time as we’re all locked away inside our own homes. Realising the very possibility of this, Malaysians have embraced a movement known as the Bendera Putih or White Flag movement in Malaysia as a way to allow those who need help show this to the people around them without having to physically beg or embarrass themselves.
The Woman Behind The White Flag Movement In Malaysia
A number of people have been mentioned as the originator of the white flag movement in Malaysia, actually. This includes political activists Ali Mayan and Rafizal Ali, both of whom were mentioned by Aiman Athirah Sabu, head of the National Women’s Division of Malaysia’s Parti Amanah Negara, to have been discussing the usage of the white flag as a way to signal distress. Apparently, the duo were discussing the number of suicides in Malaysia that had risen quite sharply in the past few weeks – most probably due to Covid-related depression, personal and financial problems, and just overall despair as many households find their food supply as well as cash dwindling down to nothing. The discussion was mentioned to have taken place on the morning of 27 June 2021.
However, one woman who has been credited as the one to popularise the idea is Nik Faizah Nik Othman, who is the Deputy Head of Parti Amanah Negara’s Womens Division in Malaysia’s state of Kelantan. In a Facebook posting dated 28 June 2021, Nik Faizah called upon Malaysian citizens who need help to hoist a white piece of fabric to indicate their predicament. Nik Faizah has said that the colour white was chosen not as a sign of defeat, but simply because it would be the most common colour of fabric that most households would have. At the very least, families with school-going kids could use a piece of the school uniform, or a popular white cleaning here towel that is cheap and owned by many. Malaysian singer Naim Daniel even suggested using a white plastic bag tied to a broomstick if white fabric was not on hand.
Well, whoever had the idea first, it is certainly a good idea indeed. To date, there have been many good news being shared by Malaysians about the needy getting help and home supplies as well as cash assistance as a result of the white flag movement in Malaysia. The movement seems to have inspired many Malaysians to help other Malaysians, as can be seen on Facebook when searching for the hashtag #benderaputih (bendera putih translating to “white flag” in the Malay language).
Malaysians All Around The Country Getting Help From Concerned Citizens
While the government of Malaysia is doing its best to help out citizens as much as possible, there are fears that some may be overlooked or that help might come too late. Thus, citizens, individual politicians, Non-Governmental Organisations and even corporate companies have taken it upon themselves to ensure that immediate help is disbursed where needed without having to wait for government assistance or jumping through bureaucratic hoops. This is the essence of the white flag movement in Malaysia.
News of citizens waving white flags receiving help started popping up soon after Nik Faizah’s post. Among the very first that went viral was of a man in Johor Bahru who shared how he had no more food at home and waved the flag as a last resort. Apparently his wife is 6 months pregnant while they also have another child to take care of. According to the man, in a report by Berita Harian dated 29 June 2021 (which somehow has been brought down), he flew the flag on the evening of 28 June, and help soon came pouring in until he had enough food stock to last the family a few months. He also said that some contributors have even helped pay his backlogged rent of RM800 (about USD200) for the previous month, while others chipped in to pay for 3 months of backlogged hire-purchase payments amounting to RM1200 (about USD400) for his car. With the help of kind-hearted strangers during these tough times, it does seem like the man and his family have been blessed with a fresh start and here’s hoping for better days to come for them.
Former Deputy Minister To The Rescue
Of course, as an elected member of Parliament, one is expected to help out the needs of those in their constituents. However, sometimes it is not so easy to spot all signs of distress. The white flag movement in Malaysia has definitely helped citizens in need get attention from the right people.
One of these people is the member of Parliament for Bukit Mertajam in Penang, Steven Sim, who was previously Deputy Minister of the Youth and Sports ministry. He was alerted about a few white flags flown in one of the housing areas in Bukit Mertajam, and promptly went to check. One of those whose story was particularly moving was that of Ah Soon, a food hawker. Because of multiple and continuous Movement Control Orders in Malaysia, Ah Soon had found it hard to earn a stable income when he was unable to open shop or due to too few customers when he was able to open. This led to debts for stall rental, monthly repayments for his motorcycle loan, house rent, and electricity and water bills – all of which have been unpaid for 4-5 months. He even had to sell his washing machine and electric fan to make ends meet.
It wasn’t that he didn’t try, said Ah Soon, but had grown extremely weary of the constant struggle. Ah Soon had confided in Sim that he was ready to jump off the Penang Bridge, as hopeless as he felt, and had even told his neighbours to take his motorbike once he’s gone. Fortunately, the white flag he put up outside his house as a last resort brought help in the shape of Sim. The parliament member helped pay off all his debts and helped secure a new hawker spot closer to Ah Soon’s house where he could start selling his food again (food operators are allowed to operate under the current MCO rules, specifically for take-away and delivery orders).
Sim also helped buy ingredients needed to jumpstart Ah Soon’s business again, and even currently has a standing order for Ah Soon to prepare 50 packets of food every day to be distributed to the needy. Of course, Sim gets a special discount, as Ah Soon says that it is for a good cause. It seems that Ah Soon is back on his feet again – another possible sad ending thwarted, thanks to the white flag movement in Malaysia and an elected officer carrying out his duties in ensuring the wellness of his constituent members.
“The Citizens Of Malaysia Is The Best Government”
As a result of the white flag movement in Malaysia, many regular citizens, celebrities, and corporations have come forward to help out wherever and however they can. This is why “The citizens of Malaysia is the best government,” says one Malaysian Facebook user. No shade to the government, of course, as they have just pledged RM300,000 as aid for each parliament constituent in Malaysia, regardless of political affiliation (and if you know Malaysia, you know that’s a big deal). However, it is heartening to see how ordinary Malaysians are helping their fellow countrymen in need.
There have been reports of many citizens receiving aid just as they were running out of ideas and resources on how to survive for the next few days. Most of these usually act out of concern for their children. One of these is a single father from Alor Gajah, Melaka, who made a flag from an old school uniform to seek for help for his children, aged between 9 and 17 years old. He had initially gone online to find out what assistance he could apply for when he saw information about the white flag movement. (Do scroll further down in the New Straits Times story for a video piece about an assistant engineer setting up a free food cupboard to help villagers – just another example of a kind-hearted citizen looking out for others).
In another case in Melaka, in the constituent of Kota Melaka, a family of five sharing one room in a former budget hotel had received help from the Kota Melaka MP, Khoo Poay Tiong. Receiving information about the white flag they had put up, the MP visited the family to distributed much needed aid. Khoo wasn’t the only Malaysian who had visited the family, though, as apparently they also received help from a few other concerned Melakans.
Meanwhile in Arau, Perlis 50-year-old Hajrah Ahmad and her husband, Azhar Mohamad Nor, 45, are grateful to have received foodstuff donated from people in the area after they decided to hoist the white flag. Their food supply as well as savings were dwindling as Azhar was unable to work at his construction job – where he earns daily wages – due to the MCO. Then, in another part of Perlis, this time in Padang Besar, state assembly representative for Titi Tinggi, Teh Chai Aan has extended help to an individual who waved the white flag in hopes of getting help for himself and his wife, who had just experienced a stroke.
It is hoped that construction site workers like Azhar as well as other daily wage earners in the state of Perlis, Kelantan, Terengganu, Pahang and Perak will be able to go to work soon with the number of Covid cases going down and the EMCO have been lifted in these areas.
Celebrities Involved In The White Flag Movement In Malaysia
Meanwhile, local Malaysian celebrities and social media influencers have also been going full force in ensuring the needy get aid during these difficult times. Some, like comedian Harith Iskander, actor Sharnaaz Ahmad, and rap singer Altimet have mobilised their own distribution teams to send out food and other necessities to homes flying the white flag.
In fact, perhaps inspired by these celebrities, regular individuals have also helped to support the cause, as is the case with Altimet’s donations. Due to the current EMCO, the general public is not allowed to cross district borders, or even go beyond a 10km radius from their homes. Realising that this would hamper Altimer’s donation distribution, despatch riders from food delivery company Oda Makan donated their time and energy to help send out the care packages to recipients. That’s right, the riders helped to send the aid packages for free! This at a time when even the riders themselves are making less income due to less available delivery jobs. Talk about selflessness!
For Sharnaaz Ahmad, he also had additional contributions from other businesses, including Seafood Runner, who donated 100kg of fresh fish to be distributed by Sharnaaz’s team for the needy. This is, of course, on top of donations from the public, which had allowed Sharnaaz’s team to distribute 200 pack of basic food items in less than a week. It’s really inspiring to see how one person’s act or idea can inspire others!
Meanwhile, others like singer Naim Daniel and celebrity chef Kalidevan Murugaya of Chef Dave Vegan Journey, have either opened up food banks or contributed heavily to food banks at main collection points.
In fact, some, like Naim Daniel, have donated not just food stuff but also other necessities like soap and female sanitary pads, realising that these are also essentials that the needy might not have funds for at the moment.
Over in the towns of Cheras and Bangi in Kuala Lumpur, a dental practice with clinics in these two areas has set up a food bank in each premise as a way to help the needy. Members of the public who may need anything from these two food banks, including baby diapers and baby formula, are welcome to contact the clinic to ask for assistance. It’s certainly heartwarming to see those who can afford it helping out those who might be down on their luck at the moment. Kudos to the dental practice, Klinik Pergigian Syafeera Bangi and Klinik Pergigian Syafeera @ Bandar Mahkota Cheras for helping the community.
Similarly, a man in Bangi has set up a food bank where members of the public may come to get any item they might need. Another man helping out families in Ampang and Damai Perdana in Kuala Lumpur, identified as Eric Tham, along with his friends have helped distribute 200 packs of food stuff to needy families. and In other Facebook postings, we have also seen many food businesses offering free food to anyone who might need a decent meal. There is no doubt that these acts of kindness are sure to be saving lives all over Malaysia.
These are just a few of the many Malaysians helping out other Malaysians in any way they know during this tough time that can take its toll on anyone. It started as a way to counter the rising number of suicide cases, and in less than a week the white flag movement in Malaysia has shown those affected that there is still hope, indeed, and we’ll get through this together. As the movement’s hashtags say:
#kitaadakita = we have each other
#jiranjagajiran = neighbours helping each other
#rakyatuntukrakyat = from the people for the people
From an avid magazine reader in her teens to a writer and editor today, Zurien honed her skills at various publications including CLEO, K-Zone, Prestige, The Malaysian Women’s Weekly, LISA Malaysia, MSN.com.my, GLAM Junior, Going Places, kayak.com, HerInspirasi.com, Harper’s Bazaar Malaysia, Tropicana Magazine and Convergence by Malaysia Airports. Zurien hopes to inspire readers to enjoy the best of travel and lifestyle experiences at Gadabout.