Disgraceful levels of urban poverty must be addressed

Petra Group pledges RM1 million for sustainable solutions in Klang as situation is ‘beyond a farce’

KLANG – The Petra Group has pledged at least RM1 million to fund sustainable solutions for the hardcore poor here, particularly those in the Indian community, which is among the nation’s most vulnerable groups.

Chairman and group chief executive Datuk Dr Vinod Sekhar said while the funding is aimed at addressing problems faced by impoverished Indians, other communities, too, stand to gain from the assistance.

The sum pledged is on top of the RM750,000 in food assistance for those severely impacted by job and income losses due to the Covid-19 pandemic

A girl carrying a bag of rice at a food distribution drive at the Sri Mahamariaman Hindu temple in Bukit Raja, Klang, on Wednesday. – SAIRIEN NAFIS/The Vibes pic, November 14, 2020

Vinod, a seasoned entrepreneur and philanthropist, said more funding will be poured into the parliamentary constituency to help resolve the long-standing plight of impoverished families, depending on the project’s efficacy.

Working closely with Klang MP Charles Santiago, the financial boost will be replicated in other places if it proves fruitful here, said Vinod, who is an advocate of good capitalism, where money-making corporations ensure society is the ultimate beneficiary.

He said a holistic approach to eradicating poverty is needed, and expressed hope that Klang can be a model of a successful sustainable programme that does not just “give a man a fish, but teaches him to fish”.

This requires identifying the root causes of the systemic failures that have led to a lack of education, employment and business opportunities, and contributed to malnutrition among children, which hinders the community from progressing.

Klang parliamentary service centre staff preparing food aid for distribution at the Sri Mahamariaman Hindu temple. SAIRIEN NAFIS/The Vibes pic, November 14, 2020

“We have to get to the heart of the problem before we can understand how to solve it,” said Vinod after attending a food distribution drive at the Sri Mahamariaman Hindu temple in Bukit Raja here on Wednesday evening.

“Today, I have committed at least RM1 million in heading towards a solution, and then, perhaps, more as we see how it develops.”

Urgent situation

While the funding will begin only next year, said Vinod, the Petra Group has already begun assisting with the food distribution carried out by the Klang parliamentary service centre.

The distribution on Wednesday saw RM300,000 worth of supplies handed out to 1,500 families, and this will go on for the next two months to ensure they have food on their tables.

Each family received about a week’s supply of food, comprising 5kg bags of rice, sardines, biscuits and instant noodles, and other items worth RM75.

Vinod said food handouts are not the main solution, but rather, a stop-gap measure to address an immediate problem.

“The problem we’re facing now is an urgent situation, where people are going to run out of money to feed their families, and they don’t know if they will have enough money to buy food for their children tomorrow,” he said, adding that this is why the Petra Group is looking at a long-term partnership with Santiago.

Although the idea of sustainable solutions is in its infancy, he indicated that it could lead to the creation of centres for skills development.

This, he said, may also help pensioners and retirees find job and income opportunities.

Food supplies worth RM300,000 were handed out to 1,500 needy families in Klang on Wednesday. – SAIRIEN NAFIS/The Vibes pic, November 14, 2020

Vinod said he has spoken to “many companies” that are ready to provide assistance.

“There’s a gap in connectivity, so maybe, what we need to do is find a way to build bridges to connect these problems with potential solutions.”

Poverty levels ‘beyond a farce’

Asked what compelled him to lend a helping hand, Vinod said the conditions faced by these families are “just ridiculous”, and that he is disappointed at the levels of poverty in the country.

“For a country like Malaysia to be in this situation is beyond a farce, it’s nonsensical. It shows how politicians are disconnected from the reality on the ground, with what the people actually need.”

He said the Petra Group’s initiative will hopefully serve as a clarion call to economic leaders, businessmen and those in power to do their bit to eradicate the disgraceful levels of poverty.

“My hope is that someone pulls their heads out of their butts and fix this.”

During the meet at the temple, Vinod spoke with several community elders, who touched on secondary school dropout rates, gangsterism, alcoholism and other social ills plaguing the community.

The sole community centre for Indians here, they said, merely teaches religious studies.

“While religion is important, they (community members) must have the skill set to survive, so that the education they get for religion will have meaning,” said Vinod.

Petra Group chairman and group chief executive Datuk Dr Vinod Sekhar at a food distribution drive held at the Sri Mahamariaman Hindu temple in Klang on Wednesday. – SAIRIEN NAFIS/The Vibes pic, November 14, 2020

Meanwhile, Santiago described Vinod’s support as “generous” and “very helpful”.

Without the assistance, the lawmaker said, his office would have needed to trim the list of aid recipients due to insufficient funds.

“We cannot solve their problem in its entirety, but for now, at least, we can ensure they don’t go hungry. In that sense, we really welcome the support by Datuk Vinod,” said Santiago, who opened a food bank some months back.

The Klang district, which includes the Kapar sub-district, has a population of just over one million, with more than half residing in Santiago’s constituency.

The MP expressed his appreciation that Vinod personally came here to see for himself the problems faced by constituents.

“He spoke of it with lots of empathy, passion and understanding of their problem, and his commitment is very welcomed so that we can do more for the people of Klang and elsewhere.”

BY : A. Azim Idris – THE VIBES

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