SHAH ALAM, MALAYSIA - At a storage site about a half-hour drive from Kuala Lumpur, a team of about 30 volunteers weigh, mark and stack box after box of donated food and personal protective equipment (PPE).
Altogether, it’s about 4.5 tons of much needed supplies, including face masks, coveralls, sardines and powdered milk. It’s all being organized before being sent to one of Malaysia’s most rural areas, Semporna, which has seen a surge in cases of COVID-19 in recent weeks.
“This is where we are putting all of our blood, sweat and tears to help the ones in Semporna, given their conditions at this point in time,” said volunteer Jenita Fawzi. "Cases are rising, and we feel that we would love to do what we can to help the situation.”
Semporna is a district in the eastern state of Sabah, Malaysia’s poorest. Statewide elections that were held last month are being blamed for the rising number of cases of COVID-19 across the state. In Semporna, where some live in remote communities accessible only by boat, thousands are under total lockdown.
“They don’t have access to things like pharmacies, shopping malls and things like that," said William Cheah, 48. “If you understand the geography of Semporna, some are even living in what we call sea villages. They have houses on stilts in the middle of the sea, and right now, a lot of them are not allowed to leave that village on stilts.”
Five years ago, Cheah and his wife, Chan Yi Lyn, 37, co-founded Kembara Kitchen, a social enterprise that provides food to the needy, sets up mobile kitchens to feed victims of natural disasters and in recent weeks, provided free meals to coronavirus front-liners.
“You do not need to be a very big person to have a very big impact if everybody comes together," Cheah said. “Even though everyone gives a little, the value we create in this time of need is very big.”
Zach Ho and his wife, Ivy, dropped off some powdered milk formula and Milo, a chocolate and malt powder.
“We feel that every contribution helps,” said Ho. “Even though it’s a very small amount, we hope that it helps the situation in Semporna.”
News about the donation drive was spread on Facebook. The supplies were flown to the nearest airport to Semporna before being distributed by government agencies and local nongovernment organizations.
Kembara Kitchen was focusing on getting supplies to Semporna but is starting to expand its donation drives to also help other hard-hit parts of Sabah.
Volunteer Tan Mei Ling, 58, is a piano teacher whose music school is currently closed because of COVID restrictions. She helped stack and organize boxes of PPE.
“I thought I would just come and help,” Tan said. “Since I was free, I couldn’t teach, so I just came to help. And it feels good.”