Sokong Team
Fri Sep 01 2023

Shechinah Association: Sowing seeds of hope for the downtrodden

Human Rights
Poverty Alleviation
Disaster Relief
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A rebellious teenager from the discipline of an army father led Mr James Issachar into gangsterism while in secondary school.

His involvement during those years with the 'bad hats' of society revealed to him the despair and hopelessness among the B40 community, leading him to charitable work.

The Halfway House Initiative

"We realised when doing our charity work that taking people out of their troubling environment would help towards rehabilitation for drug addiction, gangsterism, domestic violence, family problems, and abuse.

"That was why we started the halfway house project," James explained.

Located in Johor Bahru, this is the third such establishment since the charity's 2018 inception. The Shechinah house is one-half of a semi-D on three floors, without any visible signage other than the van parked in the driveway with the Association's name and logo.

"At the moment, there are 16 residents that we are sheltering, and we help them get jobs whenever we can because they need to go out amongst society," James added.

Their stay duration varies, catering to their diverse struggles ranging from health concerns to personal security threats.

Delivery aid.jpg

"There have been drug addicts, but we are not a rehabilitation facility and have no expertise. However, they were determined to kick the habit and get out of the neighbourhood they were in.

"Some have been referred by the nearby Sultanah Aminah hospital who need regular treatment, while others were hiding from gang members," James said.

"We have an interview process, and potential residents have to complete a form for us to evaluate their situation and determine what we can do for them so that they can get back on their feet quickly," said Mr K Mathiventhan, vice president of the Association.

The former regional head of a bank said that the potential residents must reveal what they want to do with their lives before circumstances put paid to their aims.

The residents take it upon themselves to help around the house, from cooking the meals, cleaning, and doing general housework to undertaking minor repairs and maintenance when not at work.

"We have one resident who has had his leg amputated and has started working as a security guard and trying to get back fending for himself," James said.

"They all want to get back on their feet and see living here as a temporary measure to relieve some of the stresses that put them in their unfortunate circumstances," he added.

Shechinah doesn't just take them in and leave them to their own devices; besides helping them get jobs, the members offer counselling.

Prayer and Counselling

"We are not certified counsellors; we talk and listen to them a lot, but we don't instruct them what to do; that's not our purpose nor level of expertise, but we do ask them to think about alternatives they could consider," James said.

Counselling and prayer (by individual beliefs) are also encouraged and form one of the five Ministries (categories) under which Shechinah assists people and communities needing help.

Outreach and Development Ministries

Apart from housing and counselling, Shechinah runs multiple programs.

Rural Development

Targeting Orang Asli communities, the association has regularly visited places like Kampung Punan in Mersing, fostering education and relationships.

With Orang Asli Punan.jpeg

Until the Covid pandemic and subsequent Movement Control Orders, Shechinah went to the village weekly for four years.

"We had to stop going because of the MCO, but for four years before that, we went weekly to help them with provisions, and we taught English to the kids," said Ms Stephanie Sriranjini, Shechinah's treasurer.

"Going to the village was a joy; we bonded with them.

"It took a year before they became comfortable with us and began looking forward to our visits.

"I believe those weekly visits encouraged them to attend school," she added.

"I remember a girl who had never gone to school, and she was in her 5th or 6th year of primary school before she started going.

"I taught her and her friends basic English, and she passed her UPSR exam with a 'B' in English.

"That was an achievement for me and for her," said Stephanie, still clearly proud of what the girl had achieved.

Getting together with Punan folks.jpg

As marginalised communities, many Orang Asli villages are in dire need of essential services; clean water is a vital component of the health of any community.

"Kampung Punan has been a beneficiary of our efforts to obtain a supply of clean water into the village, and we are hoping to do the same with other Orang Asli villages," said James.

The water to Kampung Punan is from a well and a nearby river, which goes through a filtration system before reaching the 262 villagers (according to a 2017 census).

"Recently, another Orang Asli village contacted us to help with water issues, and we're going there to assess the situation.

"The village is called Kampung Pasir Salam in Ulu Tiram and situated on the banks of the Johor River and deep inside an oil palm estate.

"Since they occupied the area decades ago, they've never had clean water; their only water source is a stagnant pond," said Mr Raphael Murugiah, the Assocation's Assistant Treasurer.

Providing Food for the Poor

During the pandemic, Shechinah also organised soup kitchens coordinated by the Malaysian Red Crescent Society in the centre of Johor Bahru.

"But we no longer do that because other soup kitchens provide food for the homeless," James said.

Instead, Shechinah's food programme targets individuals, households, and Orang Asli communities.

Cooking for the community.jpg

Promoting Skills programme

Recognizing the importance of skill development, Shechinah partners with local colleges for vocational training to improve the chances of employment for at-risk youths, Shechinah works with colleges in Johor Bahru for vocational courses.

"Unfortunately, the drop-out rate is quite high," James admitted.

James had undergone vocational courses at the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), "forced into it by my father," he said. Still, it has turned out quite well for him as he now runs his own Occupational Safety consultancy.

To address failure rates among B40 children, in critical subjects, Shechinah runs a tuition centre in Kangkar Pulai teaching English and Mathematics.

"We now have 12 children," said Mr Geevanathan Munianday, a former CEO of a cement manufacturer who runs the centre.

Residents' Narratives

Several residents shared their stories, reflecting Shechinah's impact.

Meera, 42, earned RM7,000 monthly as a pharmacy assistant in Singapore but was laid off. A single mother of a 12-year-old child, she had to fend for herself, her child and her mother when her husband passed.

"It had been tough after losing the job because I had financial commitments that I could not settle, and I suffered severe depression because of this," she said.

Suicide was on her mind before Shechinah moved the three of them into the halfway house. She is much more settled and actively looking for a job, if possible, in Singapore.

Kumaraguru, 44, had been an alcoholic and suffered from a persistent boil on his back. Hailing from Tapah in Perak, he has been at the halfway house since March. He has given up drinking and now works as a security guard, doing odd jobs and assisting with the house's maintenance of the house.

Pravin, 34, who suffers from severe ulcers on both legs, was a ride-sharing driver until he fell into debt with money lenders and had his car repossessed. "My family settled my debts but kicked me out," he said. Pravin has been at the halfway house for one year and seven months. He works as a security guard but needs to have his ulcers cleaned thrice weekly at the nearby government hospital.

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A Call to Support

The Shechinah Association's remarkable efforts, underscored by inspiring narratives of transformation, are not without their financial challenges. The operating costs amount to RM13,000 per month, predominantly reliant on public donations. As a testament to community empowerment, those moved by their story can contribute through the platform, aiding the continuation of Shechinah's Ministries.

In a world often overshadowed by adversity, Shechinah Association's story offers hope—a testament to the power of transformation, compassion, and communal support. Through their multidimensional Ministries, they continue sowing hope, fostering resilience, and paving pathways towards a brighter tomorrow for the downtrodden.

Follow this link to donate to Shechinah Association:

by malaysiakini

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