Scavengers who put all of us to shame…in London

Posted on March 7, 2011


This posting has nothing to do with a posting I read in the opposition blog Sarawak Report early this morning because I couldn’t sleep. Well, maybe just a little.

In my posting yesterday, I spoke about the lack of entertaining orators among the elected representatives in Sarawak.

The same, however can’t be said about some of the politically-inclined websites related to Sarawak politics. Especially the websites inclined towards the opposition.

These websites are a major source of entertainment for Sarawakians like me, especially the PKR-funded Sarawak Report blog (or more aptly BashTaibAndFamily Report), which has also raised the bar in terms of organisation and focus.

Anyway, since I’m not very organised and not very focused, I’ll aspire to reach the bar of this particular opposition blog one day.

And maybe I will also try to get someone to help me set up base in London or Ottawa where I can post my postings in self-proclaimed exile or from where I can set up a pirate radio station to broadcast my opposition propaganda.

‘Scavengers who put Sarawak to shame’ is a bit different from most of the typically straightforward articles in the opposition Sarawak Report blog. Sorry. My mistake. It’s actually typical. (Maybe I shouldn’t blog so early in the morning, next time!)

First paragraph includes the words ‘Taib’ and also ‘Mahmud’ and includes a perceived or real problem in Sarawak. The typical story.

Well, since the opposition Sarawak Report blog posts from London, where our beloved protesters and our self-proclaimed exiles work from, I picked an article about scavengers from that town to give another perspective on the story.

This story is from a newspaper in the UK called The Independent and it tells of scavengers in London town, who scavenge for food and who are part of a movement over there. Amazing, isn’t it?

The article, ‘Freegans: The bin scavengers’ offers an interesting insight into how developed nations are progressing and should offer developing countries a new sense of confidence that we too could achieve that same level of enlightenment, someday.

My posting is not meant to look down on the hardships of the people highlighted in the opposition Sarawak Report blog, because I believe we all need to do something to help our fellow Sarawakians lead a better life for themselves and for their children.

The people highlighted are most probably migrants from the rural areas, who have not been able to adjust to the pace of life in the city of Kuching, which is Sarawak’s largest city.

Even though I say it’s the largest city in Sarawak, for Londoners, they would probably laugh if we called Kuching a city because the city’s so small compared to their own and there’s hardly any traffic jams or people crowding the street, compared to their own city.

That’s the reason that CHANGE needs to be introduced at a pace that our people can cope with. CHANGE must take into consideration how we can help the majority of Sarawakians cope with a more developed Sarawak.

People don’t starve to death in Sarawak. Our people are not chronically poor. If you live in the middle of the rainforest here in your longhouse, you’d be perfectly fine living off your organic garden and your organic chicken and the rainwater you collected and the low carbon footprint and all that.

You just start to feel poor when you feel like wanting to get satellite TV and a karaoke set and the latest smartphone and the coolest jeans and the most expensive liquor and the fattening fast food and the trendiest hair colour and the big car or motorbike. That’s when you feel poor in the longhouse!

Poverty doesn’t hurt your stomach in rural Sarawak. It just hurts your pride.

But if our rural brothers and sisters want to make that move to the city, just like some of our forefathers did just a generation ago, they must have and must be provided with the necessary skills to adapt to city life.

Otherwise, they’d end up being the story of the day in the opposition Sarawak Report blog.

* This particular news item from the Guardian newspaper in the UK  is dedicated to all those people in the opposition Sarawak Report blog (especially those currently residing  in London) who care so much about the poor in Sarawak:

Sweeping the homeless – and charity – from Westminster’s streets

A plan to stop charities distributing food in the area west of London’s Victoria station seems a symptom of a broken society

Stephen Bullivant, Friday 4 March 2011 12.55 GMT

If the “big society” means anything, then Victoria on a Monday night might seem a strong contender. At around 10pm, a minibus rolls up loaded with crates of sandwiches and still-warm hard-boiled eggs, urns of tea and homemade soup, bags of fruit, and sacks of donated clothes and bedding. Also inside are three of Mother Teresa’s nuns, the Missionaries of Charity, and a handful of others – university students, young professionals, retirees – drawn from across Greater London. After a short prayer, food, clothes and (perhaps most importantly) conversations are distributed to dozens of the borough’s rough sleepers and most vulnerable.

This service is just one of many such volunteer-led initiatives, faith-based or not, doing what little it can to alleviate the depth of poverty and loneliness in one of the richest cities on earth. Just as Mother Teresa herself did in the slums of Kolkata, the Lambeth-based Missionaries of Charity saw a need, and responded to it. They receive few, if any, government and council grants or subsidies. Those helping them – including, I am proud to say, several of my own undergraduates – make no expenses claims. The Victoria system is, moreover, very efficient: those who need it, know when and where to come. And on other nights of the week, the same caritas (a word which, let us not forget, means “love”) is provided by different groups.

Surely, this is the “new culture of voluntarism, philanthropy, and social action” that the prime minister claims is his “great passion”? Yet it may also be, if members of the Tory-controlled Westminster council have their way, about to be outlawed.

The proposed bylaw would forbid a person either “to lie down or sleep in or on any public place”, or “to distribute any free refreshment”, within the confines of a large charitable no-go area west of Victoria station. Offenders could face fines up to £500. Lest that all seems a bit draconian, a handful of exemptions to the “distributing free refreshment” rule are mercifully proposed: these include sporting events (in case the London Marathon needs to be diverted slightly?), and businesses offering free samples of their wares (though only next to their own premises).

Westminster reportedly has the highest concentration of rough sleepers in the country. Banning them is certainly one way to make the problem go away: at least as far as the next borough. But I doubt if there are many spare hostel and sheltered housing beds in neighbouring Kensington and Chelsea. And as Victoria’s dispossessed are displaced once again, what is there to stop a domino effect of councils effectively outlawing homelessness?

The justification for banning charity, meanwhile, will be familiar to all those who help, however infrequently and inadequately, the homeless. Feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, and even welcoming the (asylum-seeking) stranger, apparently merely encourages them. (That’s the bit that Jesus forgot to mention.) Giving money to the poor keeps them in poverty. Just as it is the benefits system that creates unemployment, and not unemployment that necessitates benefit, so too – by the same callous logic – it is charity that produces homelessness, not homelessness that gives rise to charity. Yet delicious though their soup is, and pleasant company though they undoubtedly are, it is not the Missionaries of Charity who are keeping people on the streets.

According to Cameron, “We do need a social recovery to mend the broken society”. Reading Westminster’s proposed bylaw – a symptom of a broken society is ever there was one – I’m convinced he is right. But if that is indeed “what the big society is all about” then his fellow Tories have, as my mother would say, a funny way of showing it.