Anita Awat Abdullah wears many hats. A wife and mother, she divides her time between her law practice and interior design firm. She also authored home design book, The Sutrasmara Home, and about two years ago, founded One Heart Foundation Malaysia. The inception of the foundation stemmed from her desire to create a better future for the nation and her children. “I wanted my daughters to know that life is more than just about pretty things, handbags and make-up,” says Anita, whose two girls, Natasha Firdaus and Natalya Firdaus, are the constant inspirational force in her life.
The main aim of One Heart is to raise funds for and awareness of the homeless in the country but it also extends assistance to the underprivileged community in general. Operating from a small office in Damansara Perdana, the foundation provides a wide range of aid encompassing food, medicine, education and microgrants.
Its two main food aid programmes are the 100 Meal Food Aid Programme and Free Breakfast Programme. The former takes place intermittently at Pusat Transit Gelandangan Kuala Lumpur near Bulatan Pahang, and provides accommodation for the homeless in the city. The latter involves about 145 underprivileged children from three schools in Sentul and is conducted in partnership with Singapore-based United in Service Adoration Illumination, which has contributed sufficient funds to support the programme for a year. “These students come to school without breakfast. How do you absorb anything [taught in school] on an empty stomach?” Anita comments on the initiative that provides simple nutritious breakfast daily.
To ease the burden of medical costs, One Heart, in partnership with Kiara Medical Centre, provides basic healthcare and early diagnosis for those in need. The Charity Clinic offers medication and treatment for common ailments such as blood glucose and blood pressure tests, counselling and general consultations and referrals. The medical staff also give advice on antenatal care, sexually transmitted diseases and birth control. Dr Sanjay Doshi, Dr Ronald Arun Das, Dr Michael Samy and Dr Abdul Munaff Gaffoor form the panel of the medical aid programme.
Currently, Anita and her team of strong women are busy with their upcoming fundraiser. The proceeds will benefit all of the causes under One Heart’s purview, including aid for the Sai Ananda Free Dialysis Centre in Selayang. The foundation had previously raised RM60,000 for the centre in a charity concert, which was used to upgrade the centre and purchase six machines. “We also received one [machine] from Nanyang Foundation but we have put that on hold because we do not have enough staff to man the machines. We cannot simply take things and not utilise them,” explains Anita.
Scheduled to take place on Sept 8 at the ballroom of the Tropicana Golf & Country Club, tickets are priced at RM2,500 per table of 10. “It’s going to be a simple, cosy yet fun night,” Anita enthuses. “Even if we only educate a small group of people on the importance of being kind and helping others, it would suffice as it will then resonate with others.”
Obtaining funding is the main challenge faced by the foundation. Anita herself has donated to the cause before, channelling her book sale proceeds, which amounted to over RM200,000, to One Heart. “People are kind. Some just take more time to realise this. You have to poke and probe a little bit more,” she jokes when asked about how she approaches people for donations.
Even if we only educate a small group of people on the importance of being kind and helping others, it would suffice as it will then resonate with others
She has a realistic perspective on the lack of volunteers, which is the other challenge the foundation is facing. While long-term, committed volunteers would be ideal, she knows that most people have other priorities in life. “It is not always possible to give 100% to one cause throughout your life. Volunteers are not being paid to do this and they still need income to survive. I understand that.”
For foundation secretary Shafina Syahrir, who has been Anita’s right-hand woman through the ups and downs, it has been an eye-opening experience. “[Prior to One Heart], I had never done this (volunteer work) before but everything must start somewhere. The learning curve was steep but we learnt along the way.”
The foundation’s efforts lead to its ultimate goal — the One Heart Land Programme, which aspires to build houses for the homeless in Malaysia. Currently, efforts are being made to procure a piece of land that will potentially house clusters of small-scale homes that will operate on a concept of communal space and self-sustenance.
“There are people who fall on hard times and not everybody is homeless by choice … The hardship [of living on the streets] may cause them to get tired of life and give up,” Anita says, adding that difficult times could befall any of us. “It is something everyone goes through but the difference is that they do not benefit from the support of family and friends,” Shafina continues.
On the journey leading to the foundation’s ultimate goal, Anita says decidedly, “If you want to help people and do the right thing, you must follow your heart. You will get there.”
This article first appeared on July 9, 2018 in The Edge Malaysia.