KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 1 — It sure looked like Malaysians bickered more than usual in 2014, with people turning against each other along political, racial and religious lines.
However, just as 2014 was drawing to a close, the worst floods in recent history struck the nation with more than 200,000 Malaysians displaced from their homes; 21 people lost their lives to date, according to Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar.
The disaster was made worse by the sluggish response of the authorities, both federal and state, which left many stranded without food or drinking water.
It was at this moment that Malaysians stepped up and took matters into their own hands. They left all their differences aside and helped to collect and distribute aid to flood victims.
A helicopter for free
Syed Azmi Alhabshi was one of them. Before the floods, he was vilified by Muslim hardliners for organising a pet-a-dog event which then led to him being forced to issue a public apology.
When the floods came in November, the social activist was asked to help the victims. One problem: He did not have a helicopter to ferry the supplies to those who needed them.
Syed Azmi then turned to Facebook to ask for a helicopter. And his call was answered by helicopter dealer Solaire Sdn Bhd which sponsored his trip to Marang, Terengganu.
“When you as a Malaysian, you ask for a helicopter and you get it, that gives people hope… that’s the kick-off,” Syed Azmi told Malay Mail Online over the phone.
Following that, Syed Azmi’s FreeMarket initiative started its collection drive and collaborated with other groups such as Syria Care and volunteer doctors from Imaret.
“That proves to people: ‘Come on, we can make a difference, simply by working together we can make a change’… That’s what we are telling people, you don’t need to wait for somebody to do it.
“I just want to prove to Malaysians that I have nothing, I don’t have money, I am not under any organisation, I’m not a politician, yet I can help people if I share my vision and plans,” he added.
Come together… right now
Just like Syed Azmi’s FreeMarket, the floods gave a number of organisations the opportunity to get out of their comfort zone and do something for someone in need.
Soup kitchen Dapur Jalanan, food supplier Kelate Flying Breakfast, and doctors’ group Malaysian Integrated Medical Professionals Association (Mimpa) were among those who operated flood relief efforts.
It was a similar story with Islamist group Ikatan Muslimin Malaysia (Isma) which had stirred controversy nationwide this year with its inflammatory racial and religious remarks.
Since the floods started, Isma has dedicated its resources to a 3,000-strong relief mission to the east coast of peninsular Malaysia together with its wings, and roped in several charity groups such as Ikhlas Foundation and Salam Foundation.
The mission, called “Briged Bakti Pembina” (Pembina Service Brigade) — named after its students’ wing — also included mobile clinics by Isma’s doctors’ group i-Medik. Through its relief fund, Isma is targeting a RM500,000 collection.
“We also receive contributions from the ethnic Chinese or Indian citizens. We are not racists. We want the harmony in Malaysia properly maintained based on current Acts and Constitution.
“Giving and receiving humanitarian aid is an instinct of every human, regardless of religion and race. Treasure it. Make it a catalyst towards the harmony between Malaysians,” the group said on its Facebook page this week.
Looking beyond the pettiness
For us Malaysians, 2014 has been truly annus horribilis: We had not only one, but three aviation disasters. The country is still recovering from the divisive 13th general elections. Racial and religious tensions are at an all-time high.
And for some, the floods gave them a chance to look beyond themselves. Beyond the pettiness and complaints.
“2014 has been a very tragic year for us, but it is also the year the Malaysian spirit really shone. We have experienced so much. We saw how everyone came together when two disasters struck Malaysia Airlines,” Hadi Khalid, a coordinator with Dapur Jalanan Kuala Lumpur told Malay Mail Online.
“When the soup kitchens were targeted, people came from everywhere to show their support. This is the Malaysian spirit, this is what keeps us going.”
Social movement Project Random Acts of Kindness (RAOK) — which has helped with flood relief the second time — pointed out how calamities brought Malaysians together.
“That is what I would say is the biggest impact: Seeing people of all walks of life come in to do this, not worrying whether they are rich or poor. They just came and provided something for these people,” said the group’s Michael Yip.
“At the end of the day, they are not here to seek publicity; they come, they find out what we are doing and they offer to help without worrying if they have enough money to survive themselves,” he added, referring to the volunteers joining in the #RAOKFloodRelief campaign.