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Last updateWed, 11 Nov 2015 11am

Saturday, 10 January 2015 00:00

Cash-for-Work along Pahang Riverbanks

Written by  Koh Poo Leng, Pahang / Translated by Tan Heang Shin

Volunteers focused the cleaning effort along the 12 km riverbanks. They divided the cleaning area into eight sections and sponsored a work relief programme. [Photograph by Tan Ken Teik]

Debris along the submerged riverbanks of Pahang River was too voluminous to be cleared after the flooding; and villagers resorted to open air burning, which added a repulsive stench to the air. Six hundred Tzu Chi volunteers from KL and Klang then made a two-and-a-half-hour journey from Kuala Lumpur to launch a “cash-for-work” programme to clean up the neighbourhood together with the villagers.


 
At 434 km in length, the Pahang River is the longest river on the Malay Peninsula. Temerloh, which is situated towards the downstream of this river, is often affected by raging torrents and serious flooding. The recent flooding had badly affected the livelihood of approximately 700 to 800 Malays living along the 12 km riverbanks in the district.
 
After the flood, villagers returned home and placed their damaged furniture, electrical appliances and garbage by the roadside along the river. Volunteers of Tzu Chi KL & Selangor decided to concentrate the cleaning effort along the 12 km riverbanks. They divided the cleaning area into eight sections and sponsored a work relief programme.
 
Kuala Krau is a 45-minute drive from Pahang River, and due to the long and narrow riverbank, a cash-for-work programme was challenging. The Malay villages located on low land were affected by the recent flooding. In December 2014, the fast rising floodwaters inundated the villages for five days, leaving behind mud-filled streets, broken furniture and helpless villagers.
 
Mutual help and care
 
The water level had reached the rooftop of houses, and when the floodwaters receded, all villagers began cleaning up their messy homes. Tzu Chi also arranged for loaders to remove the foul-smelling debris strewn everywhere on the streets.
 
On January 10, 2015, 600 volunteers from Tzu Chi KL & Selangor arrived in Temerloh at 7 am, to help villagers living along the riverbanks of Pahang River to clean up their homes. They also encouraged the villagers to join in this second cash-for-work programme in order to restore their neighbourhood together.
 
Badrul Hisham, 44, who relocated to Temerloh from Semenyih, Selangor, because of his job, has been staying with his family in a traditional Malay house raised from the ground. He looked extremely exhausted as he was unable to have a good rest for the past few days due to the flooding. All his possessions were gone and he has to start from scratch.
 
The floodwaters had left water stains on the walls of the house that he rented for 12 years; and on the outside, loads of garbage had piled up and the stink was pervasive. Fearing an outbreak of disease, and despite his gout problem, he and his 17-year-old son started cleaning the house.  But, due to water shortage, the cleaning progress was slow; and he had to discard most of his soiled belongings reluctantly.
 
Just as he was feeling depressed, Tzu Chi volunteers showed up at his house. A simple “let us help you” offer from the “blue angels” (a name for Tzu Chi volunteers recognizable by their blue and white uniforms), had swept away his gloominess. “Actually, I was taken by surprise. Imagine a group of volunteers came to offer their help; and they were from a Buddhist organization, an NGO,” said Badrul smilingly.  
 
Although he never experienced the serious flood 30 years ago, he would never forget the flood this time. Flooding during rainy days is common for residents along the Pahang River, but he never expected the recent flood to almost completely inundate his rented house, totally disrupting his life.
 
“All furniture had been ruined and there were no jobs, everything was topsy-turvy,” said Badrul. However, life goes on as he needs to care for his family. Tzu Chi’s assistance had expedited the cleaning process and eased his pressure and burden. “I am aware of other villagers’ predicaments. Therefore, we should help each other, irrespective of gender and race,” added an emotional Badrul, upon seeing volunteers working hard to clean his place.
 
During the two-hour cleaning, they managed to shift out the large furniture and cooking utensils, clearly demonstrating the great teamwork and unity. “Thank you so much!” said a teary-eyed Badrul. However, his earlier worried look was soon replaced with a smile. Although he lost his beautiful home, he would pick himself up as the selfless-giving of volunteers had provided him with hope.
 
Testimony of “Great Love”
 
The various chores of picking and carrying were not a tough job for Mohammad Zulhilmi, an 18-year-old student awaiting his SPM (O-Level equivalent) results. He learnt about the cash-for-work programme from volunteers who helped clean up his house, which was also affected by the flood. He immediately rushed to the school with his parents and registered for the programme.
 
“The flood was very serious this time round as my house was also affected. I am joining the work relief programme not only to clean my house but also to help others. With or without the daily wages, our neighbourhood will be back to normalcy very soon if we do it together,” said Zulhilmi. The young teenager also hoped to revive the local economy through his time and efforts.
 
He admitted that, had it not been for the work relief programme, the villagers would need about a month to restore the neighbourhood. Even though it was their first meeting, the volunteers’ kindness had made him feel like family. He holds Tzu Chi in high regard and joyfully declared, “It is alright not to know each other but when we work together, we are family.” 
 
Upon returning home with volunteers, the whole family was touched by the clean exterior, and in particular, the wooden planks that were laid on the ground to form a temporary footpath across the treacherous mud. Volunteers had also tidied up their house.
 
Zulhilmi’s father, Muhammad Sufandi bin Jawaluddin, was full of praise for the programme. Through participation, they earned some money to settle their meals and clothing, and cope with the school fees before schools reopen. The daily wages was timely in solving their most pressing needs. This was the first time he joined in a large scale cleaning work, as it was no easy task cleaning his own house and helping others as well. But after participating, the sense of satisfaction was indescribable, especially when he found his house already tidied up by others.
 
A local resident, Din, was delighted with volunteers’ willingness to help clear the damaged items. He then happily shared with volunteers on the families, particularly the lonely elders, who needed help, so that volunteers could mobilize their manpower and resources effectively. 
 
 
Through the cash-for-work programme, 600 volunteers and flood victims had jointly worked together to re-establish the disaster areas. At a time of such dire straits, tangible aid was delivered and the comfort provided by volunteers had brought peace to the villagers’ hearts. With no racial and language barriers, volunteers had blended well into the crowd and stood by the victims in unity with genuine love and sincerity.
 
 

 
Fish farming is the main source of income for the communities on the long coastline of Pahang River. [Photograph by Soh Teck Hing]
  Tzu Chi had arranged for loaders to help clear the foul-smelling garbage and discarded sundries on the streets. [Photograph by Lim Chin Tong]

Fish farming is the main source of income for the communities on the long coastline of Pahang River. [Photograph by Soh Teck Hing]
 
Tzu Chi had arranged for loaders to help clear the foul-smelling garbage and discarded sundries on the streets. [Photograph by Lim Chin Tong]
 
Volunteers stood in line to move the damaged items to the roadside. [Photograph by Leong Chian Yee]   Badrul had been walking unsteadily due to gout. The cleaning work seemed a strenuous task to him. [Photograph by Soh Teck Hing]

Volunteers stood in line to move the damaged items to the roadside. [Photograph by Leong Chian Yee]
 
 
Badrul had been walking unsteadily due to gout. The cleaning work seemed a strenuous task to him. [Photograph by Soh Teck Hing]
 
Zulhilmi, an 18-year-old teenager (1st right), had participated in the cash-for-work programme with friends and was fully committed to it. [Photograph by Soh Teck Hing]   Zulhilmi laughed heartily when presented with the cash relief. [Photograph by Soh Teck Hing]

Zulhilmi, an 18-year-old teenager (1st right), had participated in the cash-for-work programme with friends and was fully committed to it. [Photograph by Soh Teck Hing]
 
 
Zulhilmi laughed heartily when presented with the cash relief. [Photograph by Soh Teck Hing]
 
Din (2nd right) was delighted upon seeing volunteers clearing the damaged items. He then shared with volunteers on the affected families, particularly the lonely elders, who needed help, so that volunteers could plan for the resources effectively. [Photograph by Leong Chian Yee]    

Din (2nd right) was delighted upon seeing volunteers clearing the damaged items. He then shared with volunteers on the affected families, particularly the lonely elders, who needed help, so that volunteers could plan for the resources effectively. [Photograph by Leong Chian Yee]