Some times in the face of adversity, it only takes a measure of kindness to change the lives of so many people. This was the lesson that I was reminded of on the day that we took time out of our fast becoming gastronomic tour of Melaka to stop by a nearby shelter for some of the children displaced by the internal strive in Timor Leste.
This side trip was never really in out initial itinerary but when one of the gang mentioned it during our lunch after arriving in Melaka, everyone thought that it was an intriguing way to better spend our first afternoon there. Once we finished our sizable lunch spread, we proceeded in our convoy of cars to the shelter currently housed in a section of the Sekolah Kebangsaan Convent Jesus Infant at Jalan Parameswara, Melaka. Once there, we were met by Lala Noronha who was the children’s guardian at the shelter who warmly welcomed our visit and took us to meet the children. Before we did that, we brought up the used reading materials and exercise books that one of us had brought with them to give to the children per an earlier request.
(L: The school where the shelter was located, R: Some of the children with Lala)
(Lala Naronha, guardian for the shelter)
Lala was one of the people who took note of these children’s condition and decided to do something about it. With the help of the Australian soldiers who were part of the UN peacekeeping force deployed in Timor Leste, they built a small shelter to house these displaced children in a safe environment where there would be protected by the conflict that was still raging around them. Our very own Malaysian Royal Armed forces who participated in the peacekeeping efforts during that time also lent them a hand to protect the shelter from roving bands of bandits who threaten the peace in the area. Our Malaysian peacekeepers were later rotated out and replaced by the Malaysian Police Force who continued to lend a hand to the shelter.
Not only did our armed forces there provided the shelter with necessary protection, they also provided medical assistance considering that many of the children at the shelter were very sick with several life threatening aliments. Tuberculosis, hepatitis and scoliosis were just a few of the aliments that these children were living with which with the limited medical resources available to them during those uncertain times threaten to worsen with time. Our Army medical personal did what they could do for most of them but those who were in serious condition had to be airlifted to better medical facilities for treatment. With the permission of the Timor Leste administration, some of the children were flown to Malaysia to get medical treatment in our local hospital. These are the children who currently reside in the shelter at Melaka today.
Many are still recovering from their treatment and still need to visit the hospital for follow up procedures. While these children are here, they were also enrolled in a local vocational training center for them to pick up the necessary skills that they would need to fend for themselves once they can return to their home country. While they are guest in our country, they are being looked after by Lala with the help of public contributions from private sponsors funneled through the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul - Melaka State Council Project Fund and from the sale of their own homemade handicraft made by the children in their spare time. Most of the money they receive goes towards the medical treatments of the children as well as to medical visa renewals that they have to pay every 6 months.
(Some of the handmade items made by the children - soap, candleholders & decorative boxes for sale)
As we toured the shelter, it was clear to us that the children were well looked after and had fairly well provided modest accommodations. They have a small library as well as a few donated computers with internet connection where they could reach out to their friends and remaining family back home as well as around the world through their own written blog which is reachable at http://timorlestenewgeneration.blogspot.com/. Their monthly groceries were mostly provided by the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul - Melaka State Council Project Fund as well as contribution from the surrounding population. While their basic necessities were currently met, they do still need some funds to pay for traveling and medical cost for the treatment that the children still need before they could get better.
(Surrounding scenes at the shelter)
For accounting reasons, the shelter cannot accept funds directly from the public but interested parties could send monetary contribution on their behalf through the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul - SSVP Melaka State Council Project Fund at the Melaka Public Bank Branch (Acct. No. 3142447201). They do welcome donation of items like exercise books and food items like Milo drink mix which to them are considered luxury items that the children would appreciate. I would definitely recommend interested parties to contact Lala Noronha directly at email@example.com to find out what items that the children would need. They also welcome visitors to the shelter to see for themselves how these children live and how we can help them. Sharing their stories was definitely an eye opening experience for me and reminded me how fortunate we were to be living in a relatively conflict free country that we do. For some of the group, it was also an enlightening experience to find out how much our armed and police forces make a difference when they were deployed overseas during UN peacekeeping efforts. With all the bad press that they sometime received, the outreach work that both branches do to the community around them have been too easily dismissed when they should be highlighted.
We left the shelter with new found awareness of the children’s plight and a pledge to return back with an oven toaster that they requested as the one that they had before has broken down. It was not much but it was something that the children would appreciate having. On my part, I promised them to write up a blog entry about them in hopes that their story gets told to those who come visiting to this blog and may be in the position to help them. When we have so much, it does the soul good to give back what we can to the less fortunate than us.