In the early days of the Movement Control Order (MCO), we had a chance to talk to Ainina from Gerak Malaysia, a collective of youths working towards improving the lives of vulnerable communities which include urban poor families, the homeless and refugees.

Please tell us a little about the work you are undertaking and why this is important?

I am coordinating for mutual aid specifically for homeless or street friends in Kuala Lumpur. So, this is a collaboration between me as an individual and Gerak Malaysia and also with Dapur Jalanan because, logistically we cannot go and distribute all by ourselves. Hence, we need to have Dapur Jalanan to distribute the hygiene kits for us. We distributed hygiene kits that consisted of a shaver, nail clipper, sanitary pads, sanitizer, and soap.

Apart from that, I am coordinating with a group of friends and students, mainly for families like refugee families because they don’t have enough money to pay rent and buy groceries. There’s also an NGO that I have been helping out to raise funds for undocumented families in Sabah, specifically in Tawau and Semporna. This is important because we see the collective efforts of people, I would really want to highlight that, it is all about people’s power. It’s all about how we actually … we, ourselves and how we organize ourselves to go out there and help people in need.

So, it is not just about helping people, it is beyond ‘I am happy’ and I am actually looking forward to discussing why mutual aid symbolizes the power of the people. This pandemic actually shows us that we actually can come and unite at the same time despite the bad communication issues done by the authorities. This is also because, for example, people are organizing everything themselves, people are doing mutual aid, hundreds and thousands were collected to actually cater to people’s needs. But, who is doing this? This is done by the people itself, by us, the normal people, by NGOs who have limited resources. At the same time, authorities are not doing their work properly. So, this is where we could see that people can organize, people can come together and unite without having any help from the authorities. It shows that we are not that dependent on the authorities because they are not functioning properly. This pandemic also shows us that power to the people can be centralised just because we can work together, to help people in need, to actually cater and attend to each other’s needs. It’s a shame that the authorities are not communicating with us well. Hence, they actually failed us in a lot of things.

What role has the government played/failed to play?

It depends. Maybe I would touch a bit on KKM per say because DG Dr Hisham is doing well. But, maybe on the ground, when people or our street friends were brought to Pusat Transit, the communication channels are very bad, between NGOs on the ground who are giving them food or distributing the basic needs. Because, now Women’s Ministry is under Rina Harun, and before this it was not under her, even among the government agencies or departments clashing between themselves on what to do and what not to do. I think the government has failed to communicate correctly and give clear instructions of what are the crucial needs of these marginalized groups. First is the communication, secondly is that, for me personally I wouldn’t acknowledge this government is the elected government in fact. Because they were not elected in a democratic way but since we are also on the ground, I can go against what they ask NGOs to do. I mean, for NGOs and people movements, we are used to not being dependent on the government or established agencies. For us, that’s not a problem. Whatever it is, we would attend to our work, we would do our work. When dealing with marginalized groups, we cannot expect them to survive on their own without the state giving what they need. Like refugees, undocumented children, people in B40 group, people who are earning daily wages (‘kais pagi makan pagi, kais petang makan petang’).

This is when communication is important for them to actually know and plan for their life and how to survive the day. I would also like to touch on supporting the states, the police and the military on the ground who are helping take people who have violated the Movement Control Order (MCO) to be fined or jailed. This act is again inviting violence.

Police have arrested people who are actually going out to just find something to eat. Not everyone can stay in the office or can work from home. Most of us need to go to the sea to have something to put on the plate later on working as a fisherman or maybe as a hard labourer (buruh kasar). So, the government’s failure in communication and strict law enforcements are very problematic.

What would you like to see happen in the new future?

I think we should assign leaders accordingly to their respective positions. What we have now is very bad. Bullshit-so-called leaders. I would like to not see them in future. A lot of things need to happen and I just conclude it, it is just not them. I would like to see people rise again and be more critical towards power. Having unaccountable leaders is not a good way of having a more democratic state. This pandemic shows us that we are here for each other, we are here for a very radical love to care for each other. That should teach us that power is not present when we, the normal people are in need. Those elitists, people in power don’t care for us. They care for themselves. So, who is with us here now is US. Means, normal people with normal people. The exact fight here that I would like to highlight is not among us, poor and poor or people and people but, it’s the elitists and the poor people. It’s again the power relation, everything is about power. The struggle is power. What are people in power doing for us now? We should not forget, we should have this as a lesson.

What kind of support do you need for this work? What has been the impact so far (number of people helped, etc)

For NGOs, we’ve been seeing or receiving a lot of demands but resources are limited ,financially. Again and again, it’s always the financial support. I’m actually very touched by the solidarity, where people have been retweeting, reporting, giving moral support to the team, the members. When people understand why mutual aid is important, it’s already a blessing. The message people have been sending out has been encouraging. Not everyone could afford to give RM 10 for every campaign. But, the support in terms of educating the public, parents, uncles and aunties, is really overwhelming. Solidarity that we can come together and understand that mutual aid is important because we are here for each other. People are here for the people. It is people power. There’s a lot of support already. Because we work collectively between teams, coordinating, I think we have reached more than hundreds of people. But, I do not have the exact number. And the impact also I would like to extend is not just numbers of people we have helped but also people that we have educated along the way. From the status of a friend that reaches out to thousands, the message that is sent has enlightened people that mutual aids are not temporary but, it should also strengthen the message that ‘we are here for each other’. That should stick. I think that is also the impact so far during this Covid19 pandemic.

Does this have a gendered element? Does it impact women differently from men?

Yes, obviously. I think a good article on this is Sheena Gurbakash’s article in which she pointed out that everything is gendered. We don’t have anything here that is not gendered. From as simple as household activities, most of the households actually depend on women to do house chores.

So, even like how Muhyiddin Yasin communicated to us, to the public, that ‘just stay at home, let the head of the family go out and buy groceries’. At certain points, or maybe divorced families, the head could be the mother. How the authority communicated this was that the head of the family is a male or the father. But, it could be the mom. So, what is wrong with that, right? And, with all these Mak Cik Kiah things, Doraemon. This is depressing. The lack of infrastructure and programs can be a deterrent, as Sheena had said, specifically help for women that has issues like childcare while placing the burden of caring on them may as well have made this impossible.

So, it’s very gendered. Women are more impacted. It’s not just Malaysian families, but also the refugee families. Females are expected to cook and settle the children. But also to attend to the financial needs. Sheena Gurbakash in her article said that women continue to be held back as long as gender stereotypes are perpetuated by policy makers. This crisis would have been an ideal opportunity to break free of the notion that women are dependent, rather than being people in their own right. As long as the policy makers continue to speak and think in gendered language, women will continue to be disadvantaged. I agree with this statement.

This will just summarise that what we have now is all very gendered, it’s all stereotypes against women. That is why women are more impacted by this. Maybe just simply let’s just go back to our family and see.“My mom is actually working from home, both my mom and my dad are working. But, my mom also caters to the household needs like hanging/drying the clothes, cooking etc.”. The burden, or the emotional burden, the labour, is more towards my mom because culturally, that’s what we do. The female in the end would always have more burden to carry.

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