Where the poor help the poor

By Priscilla Prasena

Flat residents in Kota Damansara have decided to stop relying on the promises of politicians and NGOs.

KOTA DAMANSARA: “There were times when we survived for days on only water.”

That statement came not from an adventurer describing the ordeal of being marooned somewhere far from civilisation, but from a housewife explaining her life of poverty in Kota Damansara, just a five-minute drive from downtown Kuala Lumpur.

Devi Arumugam, 41, lives with her husband and three children in a PPR (Public Housing Project) flat in Section 8, Kota Damansara. A visit to her place would leave no doubt as to the extent of her destitution.

But instead of receiving aid from the government or some charitable organisation, she depends on help from her neighbours, many of whom are not much better off than her. It seems to be common practice among the poor at PPR Kota Damansara to help one another out whenever they can.

Devi’s husband, A Ganesan, was doing odd jobs until about two months ago. A series of asthma attacks and knee problems have left him unemployable. But even when he was working, Ganesan never could take home more than RM200 a month.

“We keep a 5-kilo bag of rice,” Devi said. “We use the rice sparingly so that it would last. We know we have to depend on it during those times when we have absolutely nothing to eat.

“Most of the time, we eat chapatti or bread. It’s cheaper that way.”

She said some of her neighbours would sometimes give her family groceries or food they had cooked.

“But my neighbours are also poor,” she said. “How can I expect much from them?”

Devi said that she could not afford to pay her children’s school fees. She also said the children would often skip school because of the high transportation cost.

She added that she often suffered water and power cuts because she could not pay the bills.

Living a few floors below Devi is another destitute woman. Hamisah Osman, who is 64 and diabetic, has lost her right leg. Now the remaining leg is also infected due to poor nutrition and an unhealthy environment.

Hamisah said her poverty had forced her to languish in her agony instead of seeking medical attention.

“I can’t even afford to pay for the transportation cost,” she said. “I only go for routine check-ups but even that depends whether I have the money or not.” she said.

Hamisah’s husband left her several years ago. She now lives with 15-year-old son.

Empty promises

R Malathi, who lives in the same block as Devi and Hamisah, said residents at the PPR decided some time ago to help out one another instead of relying on the promises of politicians.

“Political parties from both sides as well as NGOs have visited us many times, but all they give are empty promises,” said Malathi, who often gives grocery items to Devi and Hamisah.

She criticised the PPR management for being insensitive to the plight of poor residents in its insistence on timely payments of rent.

“When we are unable to pay our rentals, the water supply will be stopped, even if the water bill had been settled,” she said.

“The management does not even give leeway during Deepavali and Christmas, when water will get disrupted due to late payments.”

Perumahan dan Hartanah Selangor Sdn Bhd took over the management of PPR Kota Damansara last April 22.

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