She rummaged through a soaked luggage bag filled with clothes that were salvaged, finally finding what she was looking for.

Holding it tightly, her eyes glossed over, “I only need my wedding saree, amma (dear). You can get rid of the bag now.”

This past week, numerous stories, images and videos were circulating social media platforms, depicting the devastation these floods have wrecked. Homes under water, families stranded for days, possessions completely ruined. Those two days of rain have robbed people all over Malaysia of more than we can imagine.

Team Uplift and FreeMakan, together with BAC Education, launched the Malaysia Flood Relief drive. They are collecting donations (in cash and kind), mobilising volunteers and conducting distributions in efforts to bring some relief to these flood-stricken communities.

On Christmas Day, the team ventured into Taman Sri Muda…

 

A Day in Sri Muda

If you’ve been keeping up with news on the floods, you could not have missed the harrowing images and videos taken at Taman Sri Muda. This neighbourhood, tucked away in suburban Shah Alam, experienced the brunt of these floods. Hundreds of families were displaced, losing possessions that spanned a lifetime.

As we drove past Kota Kemuning, entering into the boundaries of Sri Muda, our chatter ceased as we peered out the windows. We saw muddied cars parked along the roads, mountains of clothes piled onto the sidewalks, broken furniture stacked in every street corner. A sinking feeling began to form in my chest – what have these people gone through?

The wreckage collected at a street corner.

We gathered at Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Sri Muda to collect our gear and divide ourselves into groups. One of their community mobilisers, Mr Rama, thanked us profusely for helping out but he also took a moment to prepare us,

“Please do not be alarmed by how bad the situation is. These families are still grieving and are only just beginning to pick up the broken pieces.”

As Mr Rama continued to brief us, I took a look around me and marveled at how 80 volunteers decided to spend their Christmas, helping flood victims. I noticed how they each had a glint of determination in their eyes. We all knew the task ahead will not be easy but we would get it done, no matter what.

Mr Rama briefing the volunteers.

Nine of us were assigned to a house a few blocks from the school. We were told that they had already begun cleaning but needed more hands on deck. As we arrived at the house, I saw an aunty in her early 40s standing outside the gate, staring at piles of bin bags and broken furniture collected at their porch.

We introduced ourselves and asked if she’d like us to start with clearing out the bin bags and furniture. Her face brightened for a fleeting moment before it fell again, “Thank you so much for coming out to help us but please be careful when cleaning, the last thing I want is for anyone to get hurt.”

My heart grew heavier as she spoke. Her home was destroyed, yet the first thing she thought about was our safety.

After assuring her that we will be extra careful when cleaning, our team got to work. We began with the heavy-lifting.

We needed to move the piles of bin bags, broken furniture and wet mattresses to the end of the street, where a wall of wrecked possessions had formed.

As we walked back and forth, one of the other volunteers whispered to me, “This has changed my perspective of everything.” I immediately understood what she meant.

The families living at Sri Muda were hard at work, showing no sign of slowing down. Volunteers from all over the country had gathered to help them clean and rebuild. Young men of all races were working together to move muddied cars, ruined by the flood. Women were using all their strength to lift heavy furniture and bags.

Volunteers and families hard at work.

Malaysia had just experienced the worst floods in 70 years but her people were determined to salvage their livelihoods.

Although the people of Sri Muda were distraught, their sheer grit and strength were palpable.

We worked for hours on end, only pausing briefly to have a drink of water and replace our gloves. As the afternoon sun blazed and our shirts were seeped in sweat, our team began emptying out the kitchen and store room. I came across a heavy luggage bag, filled with clothes that were salvaged during the flood.

I asked aunty if she’d like to keep the bag. Her eyes flew open and she began rummaging through it. Finally finding what she was looking for, her eyes glossed over, “I only need my wedding saree, amma (dear). You can get rid of the bag now.”

There were many such heartbreaking instances throughout the day. A cracked wedding picture, drenched photo albums, broken toys, family heirlooms, prayer items and torn report cards. Some they kept and some they got rid of.

But how does one part with such things? How do you say goodbye to memories of your past and present, especially when the future seems so bleak?

Aunty, her husband, their kids and thousands of families across Malaysia had their whole lives swept away by these floods.

AsiaHeroes volunteers posed for a quick picture with a home owner.

Once we were done cleaning out the house, aunty and uncle thanked each one of us. “We cannot do this alone. Without volunteers coming out to help us, it would take twice as long to rebuild our lives. We are so thankful for all your help.”

Volunteers enjoying a hearty lunch after a day’s work.

As we made our way home, I came to the realisation that we were going back to our realities – washing up in our unaffected homes, eating Christmas dinner with family and going to sleep in our comfortable beds.

Those few hours spent at Sri Muda were only a glimpse into the lived realities of these flood victims. There is no escape for them. But like what aunty had said, they cannot get through this alone.

Malaysians and people from all walks of life have come together in this past week to ensure no one gets left behind during this disaster. They have mobilised search and rescue missions, conducted mass food distributions from places of worship, housed flood victims in their own homes and some have even dedicated their every waking hour to ensure aid reaches the most remote parts of the country.

We have displayed unity, solidarity and empathy during one of the darkest times in Malaysian history. We are living examples of what people power can accomplish in just a matter of days. But the work is far from over. As resuscitation efforts continue in the Klang Valley, areas in Pahang are still under water and in dire need of help.

Uplift and FreeMakan are extending their flood relief efforts to states all over Malaysia. The team is utilising its one-stop volunteering portal, AsiaHeroes, to mobilise a league of volunteers to deliver assistance and aid throughout the country.

Life might never be the same for these communities but we can work together to minimise the effects of their painful realities.

Denzel Washington once said, “at the end of the day it’s not about what you have or even what you’ve accomplished… it’s about who you’ve lifted up, who you’ve made better. It’s about what you’ve given back.”

Giving back at a time like this is what makes our lives whole. So, if you have a day or two to spare, sign up at AsiaHeroes.org to volunteer your time, helping flood victims rebuild and recuperate.