The end of the year was coming close, and Malaysians were likely ready to celebrate the coming of the new year. Despite Omicron, the nation’s COVID-19 crisis seemed to be on a gradual mend.
But then heavy rains came on December 16, 2021, and didn’t cease for several days. By the time the tragedy had made the headlines over the weekend, severe damage was already done.
Properties and vehicles were wrecked, people were stranded, missing, found deceased (48 bodies at the time of writing), and now tens of thousands of people are displaced.
It was a grim and bleak situation, but unaffected communities who were able to help quickly began organising fundraisers and volunteer efforts to relieve the flood’s impact.
Specialised companies like Aerodyne, a drone solutions provider in Malaysia, also volunteered their tactical drones to help with search and rescue, identifying escape routes, clogged waterways, and more.
Small businesses like car workshops and phone repair shops began offering free services to help those whose vehicles and devices were damaged in the flood.
As we at Vulcan Post aren’t equipped to help with more advanced flood relief efforts like the above, what we were able to instead offer was manpower.
Thus, my colleagues and I headed to Taman Sri Muda to help out the founders of S.I Home Shelter, a shelter for rescued cats and dogs. Here’s what we learnt through this volunteering effort.
1. You don’t need to limit yourself to charities if you want to volunteer.
Planning a volunteer drive is tough work, so it makes sense to reach out to established charities and join their already-organised efforts.
But larger organisations typically have to do more structured planning since they’re dealing with a big volume of volunteers. Therefore, they may not be able to adapt to your schedule or requests.
If that’s the case though, don’t give up on volunteering. Instead, you can find many other places that need your help, and you can go at your own convenience.
This enables you to help those whom the charities aren’t able to reach yet, and you can get to work much faster without waiting for an organisation to pass you the details.
We found out that S.I Home Shelter needed help through their social media, as their home (an extension of the shelter where they keep some other rescued cats and dogs) was filled with mud and silt that the flood waters brought in.
We volunteered at this shelter back in 2019, and we felt compelled to extend our help to them once again.
2. To help effectively, get an idea of what their situation is currently like.
A few important questions are: Have the flood waters in their area receded? Do they have electricity? What about the water supply? Do they need help with lifting heavy items, procuring necessities, or cleaning up the dried mud and dirt?
Everyone’s situation is slightly different, so while one affected group may need necessities more, another may simply need volunteer manpower.
Since we had spoken to S.I Home Shelter, we knew that there was still no electricity in their area. If we wanted to use any water jets, we’d need a generator.
They do have one but we later on found out why they aren’t able to always rely on it.
3. Come prepared with your own equipment, these are the must-have tools.
Aside from a water jet, other items we brought included buckets, small and large squeegees, dustpans, buckets/pails, a variety of scrubs, scrubber brooms, rolls of heavy duty large plastic trash bags, and soap/detergent.
You can get most of these at low prices from Mr DIY or Giant.
Coming back to the generator and power jet, we realised that the water jet wasn’t actually very handy due to the low water pressure.
This was where the trash bags, dustpans, and squeegees came in handy, allowing us to scrape up and dispose of the debris before further cleanup.
For smaller areas and items, we used a variety of long-handled metal scouring pads, brush scrubs (like for laundry), and sponges.
The long-handled metal scouring pads were really useful for scrubbing away dried mud in hard-to-reach places in cages, tables, and more.
Meanwhile, the brush scrubs were handy for more detailed work in the grooves of items like chairs, or for flat surfaces like dog bowls.
Rubber gloves and boots are a must. The surface of the gloves also is effective at rubbing out mud on certain surfaces.
4. Prioritise what you can help with.
Upon reaching the house, we took a quick look around to assess the damage. That walkabout was very overwhelming, the first floor of the house was a shell of what it once was.
Furniture was stacked in piles at the front porch of the house. Both toilet floors had a thick layer of mud sludge and smelled really bad.
There was a lot to do, and it took a moment to digest the sight in front of us.
The drains in both toilets were actually clogged due to the mud and silt. Since we didn’t know how to properly unclog them, we had to choose our battles.
The entry and exit of the home were difficult with the various dirty items there so we helped to clean those up first and move them out of the way.
For the toilets, the best we could do was manually remove the layer of mud and clean the floors without adding more water because there is no working drainage system.
5. Though some items are badly damaged, they may still be valuable to the owners.
Remember to ask before you throw anything out. Just because it’s dirty, broken, or in a pile of other “rubbish” doesn’t mean it has no more sentimental value left for the owner.
We made sure to check with the owners what they planned to keep, or where we could move the items to.
Then we placed the items into several bags and left them in designated spots so they didn’t get accidentally thrown out with the rest of the rubbish.
6. It’s fine to not have fancy power tools, manual labour is highly appreciated.
As mentioned earlier, we brought water jets but weren’t even able to use them in the end. But our hands and the basic tools we had at our disposal were more than enough.
In the span of 3+ hours, we still managed to clean up the majority of the mud in the house and on items.
At the end of the day, every small effort and help counts, even if you were just helping with rinsing or carrying buckets around. No role is insignificant in a scenario where teamwork is needed.
We were a small but mighty team, we could visibly see the difference we’d made in the shelter home.
Not only was it cleaner, but it was also less cluttered. Now, the owners would be able to move around a bit more freely and make use of the items that are clean.
Shortly before we left, a new group of volunteers came in. Now they could pick up where we left off and clean other areas.
While it was visually rewarding to see the physical impact of our work, of the dried mud being scrubbed and washed away from items and floors, what felt most rewarding was the community spirit we felt in coming together and extending a helping hand.
Pretty much every other volunteer we met at S.I Home Shelter that day was an individual who had simply come to help after seeing the shelter’s social media posts requesting aid.
As we worked together, we got to know each other better and the rapport we built lightened the mood and enhanced our teamwork. Someone even put on some cheerful music later on, which kept us motivated.
To Lu Yee, Nas, Rohana, and the other volunteers we cleaned alongside with at S.I Home Shelter, it was a pleasure to work with you to create a positive impact in this time of need.
That being said, there’s still a lot of work to be done. S.I Home Shelter was only one spot we tackled that day. Throughout the neighbourhood, we saw the roads absolutely littered with large, damaged items that the council hadn’t cleared yet.
There were also many smaller piles of rubbish all over. Those need to be cleaned up ASAP as they could spread bacteria and diseases.
But Taman Sri Muda isn’t the only affected area either. It’s gotten the most media attention for one of the worst flood-hit areas, but some other areas needing urgent help include Hulu Langat, Port Klang, Bukit Tinggi, and more.
Hopefully, this article can inspire you with your own volunteer efforts as you head out to make an impact (no matter how small or large) on the ground.
- If you can’t physically volunteer, check out our list of fundraisers you can donate to for flood relief here instead.