While most people celebrate their birthday with loved ones, Nasaruddin Bin Jaafar spent his 30th birthday on Feb 19 walking the streets of Ipoh distributing food and first-aid items to homeless individuals. Since it was coincidentally Chinese New Year, Nas, as he is known to friends, also included an “ang pow” in each goodie bag. Modest it was but Nas hoped that with a few Ringgit in hand, these “friends” who had no one to celebrate the Lunar New Year with would still feel a little festive cheer.
It is said that if you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day but if you teach him to fish, you feed him for a lifetime. To Nas, even though he may be feeding the homeless as and when he is able to, he is not giving them a fish. Sharing his vision, Nas said, “I’m actually creating an ocean, which not only sustains but refreshes. They can swim, build their boat and head to the shore. It will be the source to survive and move forward.”
This may sound mighty ambitious for a single person to handle but Nas has already drawn up a 3-step social entrepreneurship programme, named #Project101. Describing himself as a full-time social entrepreneur, Nas, who holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration (Hons) from Universiti Utara Malaysia, may be funding his one-man project by himself with a little help from friends and well-wishers off and on, but he is working hard on making it self-sustainable so as to reach out to more marginalised people.
Having experienced homelessness in Kuala Lumpur for four months, Nas knows first hand what it is like living in the streets. Recalling that dark episode, Nas said, “I had spent four months caring for my dad when he was ill. Upon his demise, all my resources were drained. I was left with nothing but I have no regrets as I was happy to be there for my parents during the final leg of their lives. They adopted me when I was just two months old and that was the least I could do for them.
“I moved to Kuala Lumpur to look for a job but it was not as easy as I had thought. Without income, I had no where else to go but the streets with only a bottle of tap water to sustain me daily.
“Luckily, I was different from my homeless friends. I still had a laptop and could earn money by doing freelance graphic designing. When I returned to Ipoh, I realised that Ipoh similarly has its own homeless problem and it didn’t seem as though anyone was helping. Compared to the homeless community in Kuala Lumpur, homeless individuals in Ipoh are scattered all over. That was the impetus for me to establish #bantuONE (pronounced as ‘bantuan’ and means assistance in English).”
With the general idea to help the homeless, Nas soon realised that a different approach was required. He said, “When I first started out, there were about 80 homeless people. Today, there are some 120. What we need is a permanent solution. As such, with my personal experience, research, plus skills as content marketer and advertising designer, #bantuONE, established in October 2013, implemented different strategies in solving the homeless issue in stages, by first changing the public perception on volunteerism and humanitarianism to include them as part of the cause, plus instil the positive habit of donation. Ipoh, my hometown, is the testing ground for #bantuONE and if successful, this module could be applied to other states.
“These days, I am not merely feeding the homeless, but am also gathering information and building a database, one that would enable me to help them better themselves. Who are they? What are their capabilities, skills, strengths and weaknesses? Who is lying and who is not? Who is a substance abuser? There are 1001 questions that the homeless will never answer directly because of fear. Instead, by being a friend, they share their stories with me. I try to help, for example, by matching them with a suitable job if and when the opportunity arises.
“The homeless community is made up of so many different individuals with varied backgrounds. Therefore, a blanket assistance will never work.”
For the moment, Nas is shoring up finances through his own graphic design business and plans to venture into eCommerce (ipohbazaar.com), flea market and food bazaar, which will all be manned by the homeless, orphans and single mothers. His free time is spent tutoring orphans once a week and conducting team building activities to boost their creativity and build self-confidence. Said Nas, “These are the three communities that I would like to reach out to. What would really help at this point are corporate sponsorship and volunteers.”
But what does Nas get out of all these? He explained, “I was brought up in a family that stressed on the importance of relationship. A person would normally draw a family tree to describe his family but I need to draw the whole forest. I am fulfilled when I put a smile on the face of the homeless. It drives me on.”
Note: An edited version of this article [Helping the down and out rise again] was published on 22nd Feb, 2015 in the now-defunct The Malay Mail.