by David C.E. Tneh
My story begins in the summer of 2019 in New York City, months before Covid-19 hit the U.S. I was then a visiting fellow at NYU under the auspices of the U.S. State Department. Things were running well with the programme and, having never ventured this far geographically, very exciting for me.
My fellow American friends had warned me about not venturing out alone into the streets at night as getting lost in the vast city was very common. As it turned out, it happened to me when I took a wrong turn after coming home from a seminar.
What happened next forever changed my life. I stumbled upon a young homeless lady (in her early thirties) and her two dogs on the bustling streets of the city. My heart sank as I watched her put her cardboard up against the sudden cold and joined shortly by her husband, a young man around 35. After chatting with them, I promised to help them in whichever way I possibly could. Homelessness is a major issue in this city of 8.5 million people and I doubted if I could really render any help to them as I had just another 3 weeks before I had to return to Malaysia. I remembered watching documentaries about an NGO in Malaysia assisting the homeless in Kuala Lumpur and it was the grit, tenacity and perseverance of the volunteers that inspired me.
The following day, I teamed up with two friends, and together, we interviewed the couple to know more about their story. We collected food, clothing, blankets, and some money, which we passed to them before we left for our respective countries.
Upon returning to Malaysia, another chance encounter, this time with the destitute Myanmar migrant community near where I lived, led to a literacy project for the migrant children that started in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic and has continued until today. For this project, I roped in ten of my students to give online lessons to the migrant children, and words can never describe how proud I am of them and how they have helped another needy community in our nation.
My two short experiences with the homeless, destitute and marginalized has brought a complete change in my perspective and thinking as an individual.
These are not self-gratifying stories about myself but rather a self-realisation that there is no rest for the suffering and the threads of life all connect us to one another. In this tapestry of interconnectedness, we are bound to one another. I invite everyone to cast aside your doubts and to continue to do your bit to assist all those who need help. Let hope, faith, and love be your guide as your journey from the waters of doubt to the calm assurance that your act of kindness, no matter how small, means the world to the person receiving it.
About the Author – A Malaysian, Dean of the Faculty of Creative Industries, Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman (UTAR), Malaysia, and awardee of the 2019 Study of the United States Institute, institutional fellowship by the US Dept. of State to New York University-Steinhardt. David dabbles in the creative arts, a keen reader and is interested in creativity in education. When he writes, it is predominantly touches on identity, memories, and culture. He can be found at http://www2.utar.edu.my/staffListDetail.jsp?searchId=04156 and at https://my.linkedin.com/in/david-c-e-tneh-9407243a