It is an understatement to say 2020 is not going as planned. Anticipated for more than two decades as the era in which we would achieve the Malaysian ideal of Vision 2020, few people could have foretold a novel coronavirus would change the very fabric of life as we knew it.
For Hanna Alkaf, the first few months of the year must have been a rollercoaster of highs and lows. In January, her debut young adult novel, The Weight of Our Sky, won the Freeman Book Award for Adult/High School Literature. The US-based award, inaugurated in 2016 to recognise literary endeavours that foster understanding of East and Southeast Asia, was international acknowledgement of the trials faced by obsessive-compulsive teen protagonist Melati as she navigated the May 13 riots of 1969.
That dark chapter of Malaysian history largely gathers dust beneath the rug it has been swept under, apart from when its spectre is summoned for political gain or public compliance. Publication of The Weight of our Sky in 2019 coincided with the 50th anniversary of the riots and garnered rave reviews for its candid depiction of twin taboo subjects: the violent incident itself and mental illness. Hanna was one of the first Malaysian writers to prominently explore the former in literature.
It might be this same gumption that led her to launch the #KitaJagaKita movement, though she dismisses the notion. “All I did was compose some tweets,” she says.
When the government initiated the Movement Control Order (MCO) on March 18 to break the chain of Covid-19 infections, the economic repercussions were immediately felt. Shuttered non-essential businesses resulted in layoffs or income loss, particularly for daily wage earners, while migrant and marginalised communities, as well as non-government organisations (NGOs) that relied on donations, found themselves scraping for money or necessities. A hike in demand also saw a shortage of supplies such as personal protective equipment (PPE), masks and face shields for medical frontliners.
Helplessly watching the news unfold, Hanna decided to channel her frustrations towards something productive. She posted a list of organisations that required urgent aid with the hashtag #KitaJagaKita on Twitter. Andrew Loh, a friend who was part of the Pulang Mengundi team that organised the return of voters to their hometowns for the 2018 elections, reached out to say he would like to join the #KitaJagaKita efforts.
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