Eliminating Poverty: An Individual and Collective Responsibility

By Mohamad Amin Fikri bin Badrul Hisham 

The 2030 Sustainable Development Goals has been an ongoing agenda promoted by the United Nations to achieve their 17 goals. These goals plan to solve many social, economic and environment issues that the world is currently facing.

One of the goals that I would like to highlight is to end poverty in all its forms everywhere. Poverty is undoubtedly a huge crisis facing countless people today including Malaysians.

According to The Edge Markets, Malaysia’s absolute poverty rate as at 2019 is 5.6 percent. In other words, from the total 31.95 million people living in Malaysia, 1,789,200 people are experiencing absolute poverty.

To address the issue above, the government has identified households that live under the poverty line income (PLI). Based on the information they had, the government formulated programmes to improve their income such as through land development, double cropping for padi growers and replanting for the rubber smallholders, and low-cost housing programmes.

Another initiative is through encouraging small businesses by providing them small loans under a financial facility called Amanah Ikhtiar. Despite all of the above efforts, the results we are seeing have proven that it is not nearly enough.

Non-governmental organisations have also stepped up into the field by giving donations in the forms of money and clothing. While we do acknowledge that these charity acts assist low-income households in the short run, we must also acknowledge that these one-off donations are not sustainable for the long run.

Having realised this problem in my own country, I and my community from a local mosque have decided to try and make a change for the greater good. We know that we are a small group of people, but we are desperate for change.

In 2017, a friend of my mother who is helping with students wanting to further their study in Egypt heard about a female student who needed a scholarship to further her studies in the Al-Azhar University in Cairo. She was finding sponsors for that particular student so she can sustain her studies and basic necessities to complete her studies which was around four years in total.

Several people from my local mosque including my mother decided to take up the task and sponsor for her studies until completion. Even though at that point of time I was still a student finishing my remaining years in high school, I decided to make a small contribution of what I earned each month from my parents and gave it to my mother for sponsorship. From that day onwards, I unofficially became one of the sponsors. 

That was a huge turning point in life for me. It was my first time contributing a significant amount of money to sustain someone whom I have little knowledge about for a very long period of time.

When it comes to donations, Malaysians are well known for giving donations to our brothers and sisters from neighbouring countries such as Indonesia, Sri Lanka, or Thailand for very specific occasions such as Iftar during Ramdan, and meat during Aidil-Adha.

We have also seen several donations within our country during the same period of time. It is very easy to help people in need because there are so many of them these days.

With the COVID-19 pandemic resulting in a global economic crisis, life is getting harder by the day. I am very pleased seeing people helping each other these days, but sometimes it is just not working out for the long run. Handing out food to the people for only a month (during Ramadan) is not sustainable because right after that time frame, the same people we are helping out are becoming poor again.

Coming back to my story, a year has passed since the sponsorship began. The student had come back to Malaysia with great results in her studies and decided to meet with us to thank us for the contributions we made.

One major problem was, she had no way to meet us because she had already gone to her hometown in Pahang and did not have any transport to go and meet us in Kuala Lumpur. So, instead of her coming to us, we decided to go and see her in Pahang.

Unfortunately for me, I could not come with the rest of them to Pahang because I was busy studying for an upcoming exam. So, everybody except me, went to Pahang and got to know more about the student and her family. It was a joyous moment for both parties to be meeting each other for the first time.

Nonetheless, not everything was rainbow and sunshine, as we get to know the family we learned about the harrowing experience of a girl with her four siblings losing their mother and being left with a drug addict father. Other than the girl and her older sister, her three younger siblings were all put in a caretaker home after not being able to live with the father. All of them were still in school, one was still in elementary school, and the other two were already in high school.

At that moment, we realised the reason why Allah made us go to Pahang to meet her there. It was not for us to only meet her and make sure she was doing well with her studies, it was for us to take up a bigger challenge and help the family as a whole.

After the trip to Pahang, the group reached out to other people to try and find other willing friends or family to sponsor the whole family. The goal was to sponsor for a limited period of time until all of the five siblings reach the working age and are able to fend for themselves. This includes school fees, monthly allowance and other things they might need.

Fortunately, we were able to find enough sponsors for the family after sharing our personal experience with respective family and friends. 

Fast forward to 2021, three of the siblings are now working, and the remaining two are in college and high school. The experience has turned the whole team into a big family. We often invited the family to Kuala Lumpur and spent some quality time together. It created a special bond between all of us. Many of the sponsors have treated the family as if they were their own.

The original plan on funding a female student for her studies ended up being a tale of two different groups of people from two very different backgrounds.

Targeted based solutions if done right will certainly yield great results. In my case of sponsoring a family in need, after getting to know more about their background and providing exactly what they only need, is a huge difference than just donating to random families and eventually forgetting about them.

We need to have a system to identify these people in need in order for more people to step up and share their wealth for the greater good. We need to humanise these marginalised members of society to open the eyes of the public and alert them about the state of the country we are living in.

It is undeniable that we do have zakat and portions of our tax that we know are going in the way of charity. The problem lies with the distribution of the wealth itself. Personally, I do believe that if everybody pays their zakat and the money paid is distributed fairly to the needy members of our society, we don’t really need to do this. We won’t have many families that are living in very poor conditions and are deprived of their basic necessities.

Reality is, there are always flaws in the system and somebody needs to be addressing the issue. If the government is not able to deliver, we as responsible citizens should make a change. We do not need to go far, roam through our neighbourhoods and go and find people in need. Once we find them, do not only give them money or food. We should ask them about their problems, form a team, and try to figure out how to help these folks in the long run. Always keep in touch and never leave them. 

If we have enough people helping others in need in a systematic manner, I do believe we can achieve zero poverty, although it may seem to be like an impossible task. Well planned solutions are the way to go. The best way to do so is by implementing what we have learned about sustainable development, thinking about future generation, systematic planning and a dynamic process.

With these key features in mind, let us all strive in achieving the 17 goals of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals within our own capacity.***

(This article is a submission by a student based on class assignment for the course “Sustainable Development: Issues, Policies and Practices”)

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