KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 7 — During last month’s Christmas holidays, the Federal Territory Ministry held a high-tea and open house, where the homeless were invited.
To make the event at Dataran DBKL even more special for the less fortunate guests, the minister, Datuk Seri Tengku Adnan Mansor, chose to give them presents.
But the kind gesture sent out the wrong signals when some of the homeless excitedly unwrapped their gifts only to find kitchen and electrical appliances.
Pertiwi Soup Kitchen founder Munirah Abdul Hamid said although the initiative was much welcomed, she was surprised electrical appliances were handed out as gifts to the homeless.
“It was a nice gesture and although I think those gifts might have been sponsored, we must understand these people don’t even have a place to stay, let alone a place to operate their coffee maker or cooking stove,” she said.
“Some of them came up to me and asked if I would like to buy the appliances as money would have been more valuable to them.”
Munirah said she was contacted by a ministry officer on Dec 19 to discuss what gifts were appropriate for the homeless.
“I suggested food for a few days or maybe even clothing. Other than that, no,” she said.
She said invitations went out to non-governmental organisations about a week before the event.
“We received emails, asking each NGO to bring only about 100 homeless persons,” she said.
“We had to hand out little cards to the homeless for them to write their names and MyKad numbers and bring them to the open house.”
Munirah said the homeless did not understand the concept of exclusivity and many wanted to attend the event.
“Some came without invitation and so the food was insufficient. I suggest the ministry have it on a fair platform with inclusiveness the next time because if not, then they are being selective,” she said.
Tengku Adnan said the event was not only for the homeless but was open to the poor and squatters.
Of the 2,000 invitations sent out to the poor and needy, 300 were allocated for the homeless.
He said the gifts were not only for the homeless, and they provided items that were beneficial and could be used on a daily basis.
“Normally we (the ministry) would hand out cash at our open houses, as previously done during Chinese New Year and Deepavali celebrations,” he said.
“But this time around, because it was Christmas, we decided on giving gifts instead.”
Tengku Adnan said it was the first such event for the Christmas celebrations and he expected there would be shortcomings.
“We understand and appreciate the feedback from NGOs but since it was the first time, it was also a trial-and-error experience for us,” he said.
“Next year, we will improve and give something else to the homeless.”
He said he knew the homeless would trade in their gifts for money but said: “They can do as they please but we will learn to improve on this.”
Tengku Adnan said he was aware some guests took more than one present as the gifts were free to those who attended.
He said the 2,000 gifts were sponsored by Yayasan Wilayah Persekutuan and included home appliances for adults and soft toys for children.
He said he was also aware of the shortage of food.
“I know more than expected came but we did not stop them from coming. However, the food was catered for 2,000 guests and there was not enough for more,” he said.
“But I am happy with the outcome as everyone had fun and I am satisfied with the support of the NGOs.”