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Youth Helps Impoverished Families In Penang’s Third Poorest Area

Being a youth today is quite an opportune moment. The Movement Control Order (MCO) has brought out the best of changemakers in Malaysia. Today’s empowered youth are not only aware of social issues but they are also actively coming up with solutions and being part of the solution to bring about change at a local level.

Tan Wei Siang is an example of an awakened and empowered youth. The 20-year-old Penangite witnessed the plight of families living in the low-cost flats in Taman Free School. The said area is an old neighbourhood built by the city council in the 1970s and known for its high-density low-cost flats where residents only pay RM97 per month for rental. According to Wei Siang, this neighbourhood is the third poorest area in Penang. 

Wei Siang is no stranger to the simple life as he understands what the less fortunate have to go through. He too experienced life with minimal wealth.  

My father is a food stall worker at Lorong Kulit flea market and my mom is a housewife. We live with our extended family, my aunty and uncle in Penang’s heritage area. – Tan Wei Siang

Moved by the impoverished state of residents in the area, Wei Siang took matters into his own hands and he started a youth-led initiative called ‘Care For All’ providing food baskets to the residents in Taman Free School. At the onset of Care For All, Wei Siang knew that he needed to work with local authorities in order to reach the masses. 

Care For All works closely with MPKK Taman Free School (the local council) to mobilise our efforts. We have a team of 25 people and the team from MPKK is led by YB Jagdeep Singh, Penang State Executive Councillor for Housing and Town & Country Planning. – Tan Wei Siang

Creative Ways To Raise Money In A Pandemic 

When the lockdown was imposed in March 2020, Wei Siang and his course mates organised a series of three E-sport tournaments to raise funds for food baskets. Using the participant’s fees and additional donations, Wei Siang was able to purchase 800 food baskets which were distributed to old folk’s homes and B40 families around Penang. 

Each food basket consisted of 5kg rice, cooking oil, sugar, flour, salt, bihun, sardines, baked beans, coffee and crackers – bare essentials to help families get by. 

When MCO was re-imposed in January 2021, Wei Siang and his team of volunteers decided to target Taman Free School residents for their food basket donations. He wanted to be more strategic in his efforts to alleviate hunger and meet the needs of people. To date, Care For All has helped 993 families in the Taman Free School area alone. 

Many of the residents in the Taman Free School area are single mothers, the elderly and the disabled who lost their source of income due to the pandemic. – Tan Wei Siang

It is no surprise that those from low-income groups were hit the hardest as a result of lockdowns, unemployment, job loss, pay cuts and movement restrictions disabling them to find work. Additionally, with little to start with, low-income groups have minimal or no assets or savings and those holding informal jobs (eg. cleaners, odd jobs workers) do not have social security safety nets to fall back on[1]

According to the Department of Statistics Malaysia, absolute poverty increased from 5.6%t in 2019 to 8.4% in 2020[2]

Every Food Basket Is A Life Saved 

While data confirms the severity of the economic impact on Malaysians, it is real life stories that move changemakers to do more. Wei Siang shared a story of an elderly woman whom he visited. 

Before donating the food baskets, we went to their houses to enquire about their conditions and asked what they needed. I couldn’t help but feel sad about their living conditions. A 65-year-old aunty who lived alone had to pay her electricity bills and sold all of her jewellery. Yet, it was still not enough. – Tan Wei Siang

Wei Siang is aware that food basket donations are just a temporary measure to help the needy. In the future, he plans to empower hawkers in Taman Free School to earn a sustainable living to support their families. Care for All also has future plans to organise more E-sports tournaments to raise funds for B40 families all over Penang. 

In his change-making journey, Wei Siang draws inspiration and motivation from other youth leaders, namely YB Syed Saddiq, MP of Muar and ex Youth and Sports Minister. 

He (YB Syed Saddiq) is my mentor. I was inspired by how he helped the people of Muar with his food basket donation and how he gave up his salary to raise funds. I rang him up and asked him for some advice before starting Care For All. – Tan Wei Siang

When asked what type of advice he would give to today’s youth, Wei Siang strongly encourages youth to do whatever it takes to build a better Malaysia. 

If we really want to see change happen, we should help those in need in our own capacity and capability. Don’t wait for change from the government – start where we are. – Tan Wei Siang

Special thanks: All photos published in this article are from Wei Siang’s personal collection.

Written by: Rachel Tan and edited by the Wiki Impact team.

Explore Our Sources:

  1. Simler, K. (2020). From vulnerable to pandemic poor. World Bank Blogs. Link.
  2. Department of Statistics Malaysia. (2020). Household income estimates and incidence of poverty report, Malaysian, 2020. Department of Statistics Malaysia Official Portal. Link.

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