Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Raven Murugesan touches the hearts of all Malaysians

Link to MSN

A simple act of kindness goes a long way.

What is an act of kindness? Do we really need to ponder what kindness is? Don’t human beings have an innate sense of kindness and compassion that outweighs logical reasoning?

Has the world forgotten about all the heroic deeds of ordinary folks? Strangers who save one another out of burning buildings; or people who do not know how to swim diving in to save a drowning child; or people who donate their organs to others just so they can live another day?

Screenshot of Raven

The above simple act of kindness by Raven Murugesan was shared on Facebook over 9,000 times as of 11PM last night. Raven had suggested to a Muslim cashier to drink and eat a little before continuing work at the checkout counter of a supermarket in Kepong. This occurred during breaking fast time and so only one counter was open at that time.

Many people are overwhelmed by the bombardment of racist and racial remarks made by certain quarters intended to aggravate the fragile interracial tolerance of the country. Even so, little acts of compassion such as the above transcend all barriers and offer a glimmer of hope in humanity.

“I cried when I read it. I was so thankful there are mindful non-Muslims”, said Samsiah Ismail, a Facebook user who was touched by the kind gesture and shared the post with her friends.

What Raven had done is very touching and speaks volume of our human character.

Raven Murugesan (© Carolyn Khor)

Sometimes even under extreme conditioning, it is still impossible to erase that benevolence which is almost instinctive and second nature to the human psyche. However, something must be really wrong somewhere when people start to behave otherwise.

Raven revealed that he has received more than 1000 friend requests over his Facebook account since his posting went viral today. Many positive comments can be seen on his page.

“Compassion, tolerance and respect are very important values to inculcate into the minds of our youngsters to forge unity”, said Raven, a 50 year old school teacher who grew up in a small town called Bukit Rotan.

Raven is strictly a vegetarian and currently teaches the Malay and English language in Kuala Selangor.

The rest of the interview is as follows:

What compelled you to react so kindly when most people might have overlooked that it was time for breaking fast?

R: As a teacher, that is a built-in mode. We must treat everyone as our family members.

What is your opinion on racial harmony in Malaysia?

R: I belong to the olden days of unity where I would sleep over for 3 or 4 days in my Malay friend’s house and vice-versa. We were one big happy family back then. If there is an Indian wedding, you can see all the Chinese and Malay youths working together to decorate the house. The excitement of friendship and the depth of unity were not molded by advertisement or promotions.

Socially, the environment was matured to allow children to mingle freely without prejudice. We get to peek and see into their living rooms and lives and they get to do the same to ours. I called my friend's Mak ngah as Mak Ngah and his Mak Andak as Mak Andak. My Chinese friends call my uncle Chittapa. This goes to show the close knit community we were back then.

Do you think that enough has been done in our education system to forge racial unity?

R: I have been teaching for 30 years, and have conducted hundreds of seminars. And in all the seminars, I have never failed to take the opportunity to tell the present generation what they have been missing. What we have now is a formally devised platform to integrate, which is not natural. It gives that ‘fake’ feeling. I personally feel that sections of our society have isolated themselves for various reasons.

Teachers should instill love beyond racial identification in every student. I guess at the end of the day, unity will always start from school.

When I was in Year One in 1970, my shirt was accidentally torn because one of my friends pulled it. My teacher, a Malay lady immediately called me and gave a brand new shirt which she said she had bought for her son. I never saw her as my teacher after that. She was my hero, my mum. That is what we need amongst our young teachers.

Are there remedial steps that we may take to halt the deterioration in racial relations?

R: I really do not know if there is a cure for it but what I believe is if more and more people realise that humanity is one of the most important thing in our lives to move forward, then in years to come, we might see wonders. There is humanity in each of us but at times it is dormant.

We should teach the children to respect the culture, language and people of other races.  Once we can cultivate respect and admiration, it will become a good platform to move forward. However, if we belittle other people’s culture and language, there will be no ‘X-Factor’ in the students to look forward to for any interactions with other groups.

Do you think that vernacular schools are a hindrance to national unity?

R: Many will say that vernacular schools are the problem but they are definitely not the problem. Back in the 50's vernacular schools were the order of the day, but the children of that era had wonderful relationship between them because the society was more relaxed.

We were taught right from the start the differences between government and political parties.
Vernacular schools do not propagate partisanship. So I guess all the talk about vernacular schools being the reason for racial disharmony is pure drama.

How you you think the media is contributing in forging racial unity?

R: Today, United States can accept an American of African origin because of its media. It started way back in the 60's where the media such as movies started to coin with the idea of non-white becoming the President. The media took the first steps in that direction.

In Malaysia, the reverse is happening. I guess the media needs to be more responsible on racial issues and not contribute towards more racial tension.

Are Penangites Caring Enough?

Link to MSN

Carolyn Khor

The five-foot walkway is often utilised by eateries and hawker stalls to provide seating for their customers who happily munch away, totally unaware why this should be disallowed in the first place. This poses an inconvenince for many people, especially for people with disabilities.

Most traders are of the opinion that they are just earning a living, and that the government should allow some leeway for them to sustain their livelihood. Such is the miserable condition of our society. Food outlets usually set up additional tables outside of their shop premises and some even occupy the pavements and auxiliary lanes. Street vendors are no different.

Despite the Penang council's effort to provide proper booths with facilities in complexes like food courts and markets, roadside traders quite adamantly insist on flouting local regulations, citing reasons like the loss of regular customers and problems with accessibility if they moved elsewhere. Most offenders simply pay the fines and are not particularly concerned with whatever warnings or summonses that they are being issued with.

The question is what sort of living environment do we want?

Facilities for those with physical limitations should be priority for all involved in town and urban planning, from the architects to interior designers. Buildings and walkways that are constructed to accommodate people with disabilities reflects a caring society. Providing accessibility and proper accessories for people with disabilities is a collective responsibility the society should undertake, failing which, creates unnecessary frustrations that tend to lead to chain reactions.

Such cumbersome situations are easily felt if for instance, someone close to us gets involved in some unfortunate mishap and are unable to move around independently even for a brief period. Confining loved ones to the house or a home is simply not the solution.

Penang is still way behind in terms of facilities for disabled people. Older buildings like the Town Hall, where many events are held, are not equipped with ramps or elevators. Among some of the complaints from those caring for wheelchair bound people are that sometimes, even if ramps were provided, the material used for the ramps are slippery and that makes it hard to advance the gradient.

One of the first public places renovated to be disabled-friendly was Gurney Drive and Esplanade. Incidentally, large trees, street lights and even telephone booths block the walkways with roots bursting out from beneath the sidewalk tiles. Fixtures that are meant to keep out motorcycles also keep out wheelchairs and prams. Inconsiderate drivers who park haphazardly also obstruct pathways meant for pedestrians and people with disabilities while selfish people utilise reserved car parking spaces and toilets meant for special people.

Although measures have been taken to install disabled-friendly features in public places, most are placed without sufficient deliberation. Some places have ramps with bends but do not provide enough turning radius to enable the wheelchair to move comfortably, especially those who manoeuvre around by themselves using manual wheelchairs instead of the motorised ones, which cost a lot more.

Caring for disabled people does not stop there. Hearing-impaired and mute people can function just as well as other able-bodied people and should be given equal employment opportunities. Some corporate companies do employ people with disabilities as workers, especially in jobs that do not require much communication.

Carolyn Khor

Joblink’s Centre, a Penang-based organisation created under the registered body of the Society for Aid to the Handicapped sources sub-contract jobs from companies that are labour intensive. So far, about 35 trainees from Joblink, age ranging from 17 to 45 years do simple and light work like assembling files and electronic parts. These trainees have different degrees of disabilities and are diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy, Down Syndrome, Autism and other intellectual shortcomings, and are not suitable for open employment. About half of the trainees are in wheelchair.

Yvonne Ruffell, the honorary secretary for Joblink and a volunteer says that most of the trainees come from low-income groups, and that the government subsidises each person with disability with RM300. The trainees also get paid for their work at the centre which operates from Mondays to Fridays.

As Joblink is a volunteer organization, Yvonne hopes that more people would step up to help or give financial assistance.

“We need people with experiences in psychology, physiotherapy and occupational therapy,” she said.

Mohd Tajudin Mohd Kassim, from Rapid Penang, says that there are currently 200 disabled-friendly busses in Penang. Disabled friendly busses come with low floor, ramps, safety belts and a special buzzer.

“We are expecting another 80 disabled-friendly Scania buses this year,” said Tajuddin who is manager of Commercial and Communications.

“We look forward to providing the best service to all Penangites, especially the disabled community”, he said.

However, he added that while engaging with the disabled community, he had received complaints that the bus-stops were not disabled-friendly enough.

“The local council may want to look into building curbs that have the same level as the bus entry points,” he elaborated.

So, while we blissfully enjoy our food on the curbside or kaki lima, we should also spare a thought on why these pathways were built in the first place. Are they meant for hawker stalls and customers? Or are they meant for the safety, comfort and ease of mobility of walkway users?

Restaurants and eateries need to realise that blocked corridors and sidewalks should remain as free space while the local council can do more to ensure that enforcements are carried out effectively. Many disabled people would like to be self-reliant and independent, but we, as a society need to be more thoughtful and attentive while going about our daily lives. Caring for one another is definitely much better than only caring for ourselves.