MANY Malaysians are still reeling in shock and disbelief over The Sunday Star’s expose last week.
For those who missed it, the report was about the condition of care for a number of profoundly disabled residents in a government-run home for the disabled in Kuala Kubu Baru (KKB) in Selangor.
Journalists who made a surprise visit to the live-in centre called, “Taman Sinar Harapan”, made a most startling discovery.
They found the place filled with the stench of urine and faeces. More than a dozen residents were stark naked and lying miserably on the wet floor.
Some others, they continued, were chained on the bed and locked behind bars to prevent them from hurting other residents.
This was a horror story I had only heard of in the past.
I somehow refused to completely believe them. And I certainly never expected such a thing to occur in our society in this day and age.
Nonetheless, outraged by the news, all I could think of was to take out my frustration on Datuk Seri Sharizat Abdul Jalil through the Short Messaging Service.
I was surprised. Within minutes came a reply from the Minister for Women, Family and Community Development Ministry acknowledging my SMS and apologising that she could not attend to my concern immediately.
Then came another one soon after.
This time it was a special invitation from her. The Minister asked if I would like to join her on her official visit to the controversial home within 48 hours.
I was delighted by Sharizat’s response.
To me, it was a clear sign that the Minister was not only deeply concerned over the situation but that she also wanted to be open about it – hence her personal invite to me as a columnist who has always made it my business to speak out without fear or favour about matters affecting Malaysians with disabilities.
True to her gesture, there was no prior “warning” or “debriefing” before my arrival to KKB.
The only intervention on the Government’s side was to arrange for my transport to and from the centre and appointing a senior welfare officer as my escort.
I was immediately awestruck with the outside surroundings of the home.
The ambience with all the greenery and wide open space was a perfect environment for people with learning disabilities to enjoy.
The inside was pretty much well set up as well. The marble floor where the-harder-to-care-for residents lived was also virtually spotless. Only the washing area where residents were cleaned up was wet.
Datuk Seri Sharizat made sure to go into every ward in the home to carry out her investigation.
At one point I noticed one male official stopping the Minister from entering a section where the profoundly disabled male residents were housed.
He was concerned because this was the area where some of the residents would often disrobe themselves – even though the staff tried to help them keep their clothes on.
But Sharizat refused to be discouraged. She (and I) just went in so that we could see for ourselves what the real situation was.
At that point, the Minister appealed to the press to stop taking pictures in respect of the profoundly disabled residents’ privacy.
As far as I could see, the need to don clothes for some of the residents made no sense to them, and even appeared uncomfortable.
The most moving scenes came during the Minister’s personal encounters with several of the residents. Many of them quickly reciprocated with smiles and even tears when Sharizat reached out to touch or hug them.
One disabled lad with all smiles refused to let the Minister go!
One elderly bedridden man whose entire body was twisted obviously because of lack of physiotherapy and exercise beamed from ear to ear when the Minister reached out to greet him.
I started to immediately think of the many able-bodied public outside the centre who refuse to touch a handicapped person for fear that his or her disability would be transmitted on to them.
It was obvious that more than anything else, what most, if not all the residents really lacked was a simple word called “love”.
What a big difference it would make if only familiar faces like their family members who had abandoned them there cared to drop by for a visit.
Volunteers – individuals or in groups would also make a difference if they could spare some time to spend even a few minutes with the residents.
Such opportunities would contribute tremendously for each residents’ psyche.
Because after all when you think of it, each and every KKB resident is no different on the inside than you and I. And just like us, they have the same feelings and wants as every human being – even though they have problems in communicating their needs.
A wealth of positivity came out of the special visit to the KKB Centre.
The Minister, after speaking thoroughly to everyone involved, from the staff, caregivers, medical experts and others will personally chair a special committee made up of experts in various fields including NGO groups to improve the quality of life of residents of all such homes in the country.
That first meeting is scheduled to take place before the start of Ramadan.
PET+BLOGSPOT is the official online blog of the Malaysian Animal-Assisted Therapy for the Disabled and Elderly Association (Petpositive).
Our blog which was first established in October 2007 currently has more than 25,000 hits. Kindly take note that views expressed in this blog are not necessarily those of Petpositive.
You may also visit our Webpage by browsing: www.petpositive.com.my