.......... It must be about 9-9.30 pm on Saturday 24 July when, after some time playing with the cat, the little boy wandered off along this row of restaurants.
As if of one mind, we looked at each other and the message was - we must find out what this child was doing here at this time of night. We got him to our table, saw his book of donation tickets for a school-orphanage and noticed that he had sold only 3 tickets. So these five Singaporeans, an Australian, a Brit and two Malaysians bought up the remaining tickets. He wanted to give us a CD - that was what the $10 ringgit was for. We asked him to keep it instead.
Just before he left, Oi Bek (a Singaporean) said to him in her best Malay, "Jaga duit ini baik-baik, jangan nanti hilang." as she pressed into his hand a couple of red notes saying, "Ini untuk makan awak, ya?" Translation: Look after this money carefully, do not lose it. This is for you, to get some food.
After that, you could say we should be looking for a halo around each other's heads; but we were feeling lumps in our throats and trying to hold back a tear or two because this loving child should be under a safe roof somewhere, doing his studies or playing with his pet cat. Why is he here?
After the girls left on Sunday I took out one of the tickets.
Out of curiosity I decided to google this Pusat Tahfiz Amal(PTA). As I clicked from one item to another my heart sank deeper and deeper. I got into several blogs describing encounters with students from PTA selling posters, calendars and CDs all over the Peninsula especially in Kuala Lumpur and Shah Alam - and even as far as Sabah! Most of the bloggers were concerned about firstly, the safety of these children who ranged from 9-15 years old; secondly, was the PTA a front for some other nefarious activities? I also came across newspaper reports but let me itemise the nitty gritty.
1. On 29 December 2006, five children were killed and three were injured in an accident which involved the children's PTA van and a stationary vehicle along the North-South Highway near Sungkai, Perak. They were on their way 'home' to Kedah after a 'Donation Drive'.
2. Shahriza Abdullah of Utusan Malaysia reported on 31 December the Chief Minister of Kedah Datuk Seri Mahdzir Khalid as saying that the relevant authorities like Jabatan Kemajuan Islam Malaysia (JAKIM) and the police should carry out a thorough investigation and to issue directives for immediate action.
3. Malaysia Today on 20 January 2008 recorded an official letter of complaint from Sameer Khan bin Shajehan Khan regarding the mismanagement of orphans in PTA to the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development.
4. Opat Rattanachot of Utusan Malaysia , reporting from Sungai Petani on 7 January 2008 wrote about some students aged between 8-12 and in school in uniforms asking for donations from the public. He spoke to one of them who explained that they were doing this to help finance their PTA who had given them a home, food and education.
5. Blogger Shahrul Azmi (http://shahrulazmi.blogspot.com ) posted on 19 August 2009 another encounter with students from PTA. When he contacted by phone Majlis Agama Islam Kedah (MAIK) he was told PTA had closed. When he asked for official documentation he was told to leave his number for someone to speak to him.
He then made another call to Jabatan Agama Islam Selangor (JAIS). He managed to locate the bureaucrat who told him amongst other things, that JAIS "don't give any permission to Pusat Tahfiz Amal on collecting donation." and "JAIS cannot do anything coz there is no enactment allowing them to take action." He then advised the blogger to report the matter to the police. The blogger felt that that was his (the bureaucrat's ) job. And rightly so!
6. AND just a few weeks ago on 24 July 2010 we met this child 'working' on behalf of PTA up to 10 at night.
IT HAS BEEN ALMOST FOUR YEARS SINCE THE TRAGIC ACCIDENT THAT KILLED FIVE INNOCENT YOUNG CHILDREN FROM PTA. NOTHING HAS CHANGED.
This Ramadan, the well-heeled and well-off will once again look forward to breaking their fast at Ramadan Buffets at the many Restaurants and Hotels in all the main cities and towns where they're quite happy to stump out from $28 - $75 per head for the privilege of Iftar away from home. As they glide from table to table stacking up their plateful of grub, they can rest assured that the comestibles are absolutely halal.. I have seen on TV the religious bureaucrats checking the hotels' kitchens, refrigerators and store rooms to ensure the halal-ness of the food and they have also issued a list for the punters to scrutinise!
Aaahh - if only the same dedication and exertions can be exercised on behalf of those children at PTA so that this childand others like him shall never ever have to walk the streets, night or day, touting for donation-sales for their school-orphanage.
These dismal shadows, if left unchecked will evolve into a cancer, not only for PTA. These children and all other oppressed, abused, and poverty-stricken children need a safety net. Malaysia is not a poor country and Malaysians are generous people.
But the men in suits, the men in their baju Melayu and songkoks, the men in their turbans and jubahs, the men in uniform and the mass media are too busy fondling their mobile phones, their tasbirs (prayer beads), their credit cards and their own self-esteem.
(The words 'fondling their own self-esteem" are borrowed from John Pilger.)