Caritas Malaysia’s COVID-19 response

Caritas Malaysia is the office for the promotion of the social mission of the Catholic Church of Malaysia.

Jun 17, 2021

KUALA LUMPUR: Caritas Malaysia is the office for the promotion of the social mission of the  Catholic Church of Malaysia. It  consists of the Caritas/Human  Development offices of all nine  dioceses in Sabah, Sarawak and  Peninsular Malaysia. On Monday, June 7, Caritas  Malaysia organised a Zoom meeting with the diocesan offices.  The purpose of the meeting  was to:

a. exchange what we are  doing and to learn from one  another 

b. share information and  contacts of organisations we  have worked with; 

c. assess if there is a need for  help or training. 

Need to coordinate and  organise 

There are many ministries and  groups in the Church which are  serving different communities  but there is a lack of coordination.

Hence, there is a need to organise ourselves. Many of the attendees agreed that they have moved  from chaos during first MCO to  being more organised during the  subsequent MCOs. 

Due to the 10kn radius imposed  by the government, diocesan offices and parishes are working  with the Basic Ecclesial Communities (BEC) to collect and  deliver aid.

Strengthen parish structures

Many agreed that not all efforts  need to be initiated at diocesan level. Parishes have been given funds  to help them in their outreach.

All parishes must have structures for community outreach.

It is important for Caritas Diocesan Offices to establish and maintain communication channels for  aid and support with the parishes.

For instance, in Sabah, they are  doing a survey to find out the impact of COVID on the people, to  better respond to it.

Participation in SHAPE  projects (for disaster  relief work)

Caritas Malaysia shared that the  SHAPE projects organised by  Caritas Asia and Caritas Europe  is open for staff and volunteers of  Caritas Malaysia 

There are four training groups: 

1) Regional Emergency Support Mechanism, 
2) Online Platform,
3) Community Monitoring,  Evaluation, Accountability  and Learning, 
4) Community of Practice. 

SHAPE Project Committee
This project will build capacity  of staff and volunteers on disaster  and relief response and in turn they  will become resource persons for  the dioceses.

Communication channels
Many acknowledge the poor information system in the Church.

There is a need to have more resource material and personnel for  those in other language groups.  The offices need to talk with those  affected. 

There needs to be more platforms for sharing. One suggestions  is to use the Tuesday chat session  with Caritas Malaysia national office to share knowledge and experiences among dioceses. 

Mental health support and  resources
Staff and volunteers need knowledge on screening and referring  those with mental health issues to  healthcare professionals.  They also need to know first aid  in mental health to take care of  themselves and those around them.  They need to be given training and  mental health support. They are urged to use the materials and resource persons of the  various mental health ministries in  their respective dioceses.  Official letters for travel Many also find it difficult to travel  (inter district) as official letters for  travel are requested by authorities  during roadblocks. Below are some other areas which  the dioceses are involved in. 

Source: Caritas Malaysia

                             Collaborate with non-governmental organisations

Penang Diocese
In the Diocese of Penang, Caritas  Penang/Penang Office of Human Development (POHD) have  been collaborating with non-governmental organisations and parishes.

From MCO 1.0 through to just  before MCO 3.0, we have been  distributing food aid packages and  helping those experiencing domestic violence and depression, said  Caritas Penang/POHD Chairman,  Fr Joachim Robert. 

“During MCO 1.0, distribution  of food aid packages was mostly  centralised. However, due to the  stricter SOPs and 10km radius, it  was easier to work with the parishes and empower the Zones and  BECs.

“Parishes were also given an allocation of RM2,000 each to help  those in need in their area.”

They are also helping homes  and orphanages which are facing  a shortage of food, diapers etc as  donations have dropped. “Many parishes have taken up  this call by getting their Zones and  BECs to engage with the lonely,  depressed, the poor etc. 

“We have also previously  worked with Tesco here in Penang  where we settled on a set of goods  which we would pay for online  and Tesco would then pack that for  our volunteers to pick up and distribute to those in need,” he added.

Malacca Johore Diocese
Caritas Malacca Johore Diocese of Human Development  (MJDOHD) has set up a centralised COVID response system to  help cater to the mounting needs  of those affected financially by the  multiple lockdowns.

Director of MJDOHD, Hugh  Dason said the project to identify  the poor and needy within the Malacca Johore Diocese kicked off  during the first Movement Control  Order (MCO) .

“Every time there is a lockdown,  unskilled workers lose income.  With churches closed, many people  do not know who to see or where  to get help from, so MJDOHD created an online registration form,”  said Hugh.

This information was shared  across social media platforms,  welcoming the needy to apply for  aid. MJDOHD then disseminates  the information to the relevant parishes whereby the Parish Office of  Human Development Ministry and  the Society of St Vincent De Paul  follow up and do the needful.

“This year, we have drawn in  more people from our community to help with the project,” said  Hugh.

In addition to funds coming from  the public and the parish ministries,  Caritas gives grants to these frontliners (14 SSVP conferences in the  diocese and six POHD ministries)  to help sustain the escalating needs  of this project. Other frontliners  who may apply for financial aid are  BECs. As part of intentionally living our faith, BECs are encouraged  to help under the “neighbour help  neighbour” project. — By Gwen  Manickam

                         Growing your own food initiative for the B40 group

Sibu Diocese
Eta Ting, the Director of Caritas Sibu, explained that food  is the common denominator for  all. 

She shared that the Diocese  of Sibu is planning a sustainable  “grow your own food” project  among B40 called Grow Our  Greens (GOG) Project: 2021.  The project will start in Sibu  town near the cathedral.

“We have been doing food distribution since the first lockdown  in March 18, 2020. We should  be working towards sustainable  food subsistence for daily consumption,” she said.

Eta then shared on the principle of sustainability — to teach  people to plant vegetables instead of giving them vegetables  (food). 

When they grow their own  greens (vegetables) to be selfsustainable, it is primarily for  their own daily consumption but  it can also be for sale depending  on their intention and space.

Caritas Sibu plans to teach and  train them to plant the vegetables  and be responsible eco-friendly  stewards to care for creation and  for protection of our Mother  Earth and future generations.

They can also share seeds and  green plants and other items after  harvesting as eco-gifting. It can  be like a Pass It On project to the  next stakeholder.

This would then be a journey  of Eco-gifting in love, solidarity,  sustainability, protection, interconnectedness, interdependence  and co-existence of humanity  with nature, living in fraternity  and solidarity.

“Every stakeholder should be  a proud owner testifying that the  GOG Project is a sustainable narrative, she added.

Kuala Lumpur Archdiocese
Teo Kar Im, Director of  the Archdiocesan Office for Human Development  (AOHD) said that some parishes have set up food banks  in their parishes.

“AOHD basically coordinates with all the parishes  and helps to fill in wherever  necessary. For example, there  was a need for 100 bags of  rice, we helped to supply  them,” she further explained.

                                              Communicate care and concern directly

Miri Diocese
The Diocese of Miri reached  out to several longhouses and  showed their care and concern by  communicating directly with the  community.

In the beginning, the volunteers  were afraid to engage with community members as they feared  contracting the virus. 

Miri Caritas Director, Fr Sylvester Ngau Juk explained how  during the recent floods, with the  help of a middle man, he was able  to send food aid to the affected  longhouses.

However, by taking the necessary precautions, they are now  more prepared to help the community.

Fr Sylvester said that there are  many ministries of social concerns/services in the diocese. He is  hoping to unite all these under one  umbrella.

At the moment, he is in the midst  of forming his diocesan team. First  on the agenda, will be ensuring that  every parish has a Caritas team.

                   Catholics and Muslims working together to help the underprivileged

KAMPUNG PANDAN: The Parish Ministry of Ecumenical and  Interreligious Affairs (PMEIA) of  the Church of the Sacred Heart  of Jesus in Jalan Peel, in collaboration with Persatuan Inspirasi Mualaf Malaysia in Kampung  Pandan, held two joint projects to  bring joy to some underprivileged  families in Kampung Pandan, before the start of MCO 3.0.

According to Dr Florence John,  the coordinator of PMEIA, the  first joint project with the Muslim  group was for “Aidil Fitri Gift of  Love 2021”, held on April 24 that  benefited thirty B40 Muslim families in Kampung Pandan area. “

Both groups gave household  rations comprising 11 food items  amounting to total 600kgs, with  each family receiving 20kgs each.”

Florence added that our team  of 10 members with three members from the Muslim group  came there with the foodstuffs  packed into 30 bags, then broke  into smaller groups of three each  to hand over the foodstuffs to the  assigned homes whilst adhering to  the SOPs.

The second joint project with the  same Muslim group was held on  May 31 and benefited 50 families  in Pangsapuri Pandamas 2, Blok F. 

The ‘project of love’ touched the  hearts of recipients where 50 bags  of rice, totalling 500kg were distributed.

The PMEIA members were  glad to have worked with Persatuan Inspirasi Mualaf Malaysia  in these two joint projects that  certainly brought some cheer to  the 80 families during these uncertain times. It is heartwarming  to see Malaysians united together  in doing our part to reach out to  those in need while the country is  battling the pandemic.

Florence said parish priest Fr  Edwin Peter always encourages  the PMEIA members to engage  with peoples of other faiths to create mutual understanding and unity amongst all Malaysians. — By  Bernard Anthony

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