Special Privileges and Odd Characteristic

Tremendous physical endurance, passive courage and good breeding are among the more admirable qualities of those living in splendour.

Such qualities require the separation of the weak from the strong. The poor are not even in this equation; they simply do not qualify to be rubbing shoulders with the elites.

Characteristics that are more typically refined – and of much greater cultural significance – than a liking for expensive alcohol or speaking with an accent are the bizarre national tendencies towards melancholy and scepticism.

The melancholy is often attributed to the physical environment, that interminable of sunny and humidity, and the scepticism is assumed to be a logical reaction to their psyche.

Memories of strife, betrayal, damning-emotional plagues and rejection are not easily erased. Not by these groups.

Such are the lives of the elites; they care not of the growing sentiments against them. They merely care about themselves.

Zashnain

An avid blogger, twitterer and photojournalist, Zashnain Zainal suffers from an incurable addiction to social work, helping marginalised communities since 1989. Nowadays he travels from the plantations of Malaysia to the slums of Thailand. He can be found at zashnain.com and @bedlamfury

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Forgotten, the child continues to beg in the sea of ignorance

Yes Bangkok is a city of contradictions and life is often brought about by extremes and radical ignorance. I’ve noticed that despite the wealth and knowledge of society, there’s very little motivation to change, that growth is a comatose element of Bangkok.

Elitism has grown fat from the ignorance and fear of a complacent society, not really caring about inspiring others to make those changes.

I was near a shopping mall, and saw a child begging on the street, surrounded by an army of shoppers and young people. No one took notice of the beggar boy, no one cares, after all the child is dirty, uneducated and poor. After all, he is, like many, a multicoloured contradiction to empathy.

a begging child ignored by all

a begging child ignored by all

Zashnain

An avid blogger, twitterer and photojournalist, Zashnain Zainal suffers from an incurable addiction to social work, helping marginalised communities since 1989. Nowadays he travels from the plantations of Malaysia to the slums of Thailand. He can be found at zashnain.com and @bedlamfury

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The lost child gnawing at the edge of reality

Children, roaming aimlessly, many with worries on their faces. Faces are drawn and haggard from homelessness and work. Even when human rights are championed by the protectors of humanity, the void of child poverty grows wider. Such fiendish hypocrisy is fed by the elitism of social causes, preferring trendy concerns over beggarism.

Everyday, young people are depleted of their hopes and dreams, living at the mercy of barbaric neglect and by a knowledge-bent, refined society. It is not as if we do not have the skills and resources to respect and acknowledge the rights of young people and children. Instead we prefer the madness of ignorance, the addictive sensation of being selfish.

We, humanity, are sucked into this agony of self-righteousness. We prefer the bliss of not being poor, or marginalized. Many children are made vulnerable because of our prejudice at their way of life, their resistance against the establishment and the fact that they are poor. We are the monsters that prey on the future of streetkids, we choose to abandon them to their fate.

Homelessness and poverty

 

Zashnain

An avid blogger, twitterer and photojournalist, Zashnain Zainal suffers from an incurable addiction to social work, helping marginalised communities since 1989. Nowadays he travels from the plantations of Malaysia to the slums of Thailand. He can be found at zashnain.com and @bedlamfury

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A soul seeking an end to the twisted path of misery

At night, he wanders the streets, either looking for a meal or work. He doesn’t work in an office, mind you, nor does he enjoy the comforts of an aircon environment. He goes through the garbage bins, armed with an empty sack, looking for empty bottles and any item to be recycled and sold.

He has no family, or more like he doesn’t like discussing something that brings about soul-piercing pain into his life. He sleeps alone, eats alone, and talks to himself, most of the time. He has stopped caring for the world around him; no pity for the society that barely looks at him. He knows his life is not worth the attention of the corporations, the NGOs, the masses.

He is only 17 years old. And he feels old.

A homeless boy, loss in slumber

A homeless boy, loss in slumber

Zashnain

An avid blogger, twitterer and photojournalist, Zashnain Zainal suffers from an incurable addiction to social work, helping marginalised communities since 1989. Nowadays he travels from the plantations of Malaysia to the slums of Thailand. He can be found at zashnain.com and @bedlamfury

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Visiting young friends in the plantation

The heat wave is stifling hot in Malaysia. My friends in Thailand report the same, though the humidity here is crushing – suffocating which drains the energy and leaves one hallow. My journey took me to a plantation, some 17 kilometers from a small town called Bagan Lalang. The palm oil plantation was almost in the middle of nowhere, the weather was terrible.

Surrounded by tall trees and ferns, I walked with my young guide, armed with a backpack and my mobile phone. Wasn’t much to see if you’re comfortable with the luxury of the city but I have always been fascinated with the rural environment. Swarm of insects accompanied us, must have been a few species united in a buzzing harmony. Thirst followed suit.

What trives in a plantation are the workers who break their backs in hardship and extreme poverty. Little do people know that the small community have no place to go. They live, they work, they eat, they bathe, they die in the plantations. Regardless of what you might have read, rural poverty starts in the plantations, the fishing villages, and the indigenous homes. These days many Malaysians employ migrant workers from South Asia and also from Indonesia – labour is cheap, the work is brutal and thus the locals avoid the hardship.

I visits two makeshift huts where out-of-school, marginalized young people live and work. Child labor is common in isolated places in Malaysia – whether urban or rural – life is tough for the kids. They appeared dirty and tired but greeted me with smiles and firm handshakes. That was my sixth visit so I recognized them but detecting a couple of new faces in the background. They are not only caught in the vicious cycle of poverty but also many are using drugs or substances (sniffing glue). Smoking heroin was their drug of choice. Why are the kids in such a dump? Simply because society doesn’t care enough about ‘troublesome kids’ especially adolescents who were taking drugs.

The huts were in terrible condition, and clean drinking water was in short supply not to mention their lack of capacity to buy food. I believe in harm reduction principles and practices and thus my presence at their turf was merely to check on their health, make referrals, counseling and talk about addiction. I do what I can to equip them with life skills, and help them problem-solve on financial and family related issues – many still want to go back to their families but are unable to do so because of societal prejudice and the stigma.

They are responsible young people, the youngest being 15 years old and the oldest at 23. They divide responsibilities, look after each other the best that they can. So far so good. Spent hours talking and laughing with them. Enjoyed the moments despite the blistering humidity. I do what I can but lack resources to effectively improve their quality of life. Social work has always been my passion, a calling, the need to help the poor, the vulnerable and those damned by society because of ignorance and prejudice.

I left their homes, engrossed in my thoughts, always with the feeling that I could do more for them.

Zashnain

An avid blogger, twitterer and photojournalist, Zashnain Zainal suffers from an incurable addiction to social work, helping marginalised communities since 1989. Nowadays he travels from the plantations of Malaysia to the slums of Thailand. He can be found at zashnain.com and @bedlamfury

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Women sceptical of ASEAN

Thursday, 22 March 2012
Cambodian women have the most to lose from the planned 2015 ASEAN integration, a coalition of more than 100 Cambodian women said yesterday at the Cambodian Women Forum.
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Workshop participants listen to speakers at the Cambodian Women Forum yesterday afternoon. Women have the most to lose from ASEAN integration, the forum says. Photo by Meng Kimlong

Because Cambodian women are so poorly educated, when the job market opens up, competition from other countries like Thailand or Malaysia will adversely affect the unemployment rate of Cambodian women, attendees said.

“The ASEAN integration in 2015 will badly affect Cambodian women, particularly in such areas as economics, industry, unemployment and external labour migration,” Thida Khus, executive director of SILAKA, said.

“This is because of how poorly educated women are.”

The Cambodian Women Forum will be calling on ASEAN to reconsider the current integration plan for 2015.

Thid Khus said the Cambodian government should raise questions with ASEAN about how this integration will affect competition in the job market between the women in other ASEAN countries.

The forum also discussed labour issues and said that garment workers, karaoke parlour employees and domestic workers are the most abused, underprivileged women in Cambodia.

Soun Sokunthea, a garment worker in Phnom Penh, said worker representatives also intend to send a complaint to ASEAN about the abuse, ill health and low wages of workers making high-priced garments.

Tun Sreyphea, 23, a karaoke worker, said that problems in her industry were common across ASEAN.

“Guests use violence and rape workers. There is pressure from the shop owner and there is social discrimination,” she said.

“We want to see this changed in all ASEAN nations.”

Sou Sotheavy, director of Men and Women Network of Development in Cambodia, said Cambodia should aim to achieve the same standards as its neighbours, in line with the ASEAN “one community, one destiny” message.

Chheang Vannrith, director of Cambodia Institute for Cooperation and Peace, said his institute will conduct a civil society forum two days before the ASEAN summit to collect recommendations and take to the summit.

Zashnain

An avid blogger, twitterer and photojournalist, Zashnain Zainal suffers from an incurable addiction to social work, helping marginalised communities since 1989. Nowadays he travels from the plantations of Malaysia to the slums of Thailand. He can be found at zashnain.com and @bedlamfury

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She wanders the back lane, seeking to escape the abomination

Night. An endless orgy of multi-coloured neon lights, bright, flashing, erupting. Even at this ungodly hour the lights flow in a never-ending stream, across the tall buildings and down to the spiralling streets. The humidity is high tonight, despite living on the streets for years, she was never able to adjust – horrible heat, suffocating.

She moves cautiously through the main road, into the labyrinth. The back lanes provide an escape from the foul stench of the speeding vehicles. Though dirty, littered with broken furniture, uncollected trash and discarded bottles, she finds the back lanes to be safe. Safe from the abomination of night.

She was fortunate to have a meal today, during the lunch crowd, someone had given her enough coins. Begging on the streets during the peak-time had its advantages. She smiled thinking of it. The man had walked passed her, ignoring her out-stretched palms, but as if suddenly realising her, he walked back with a grim look. He dropped the loose change from his pocket into her cupped hands. She offered him a nervous smile of gratitude and he merely grunted in return. He was the kindness person she had met in a week. She bowed her head low, placing her palms together, touching them on her forehead. He disappeared into the sea of bodies, never to return. She sighed but continued to smile.

With the coins, she bought a bowl of noodles mixed with steaming fish broth. She remembered attacking the meal, chopsticks working furiously, pausing only to wipe the trickling soup from her chin. What a feast! Her stomach won’t be bothering her for a while at least till the night.

Snapping from her remembrance, she focuses on the present. The night. The back lanes. It was midnight but it was too early for her to sleep. She peeks at a corner, and a sudden burst of happiness erupts from her mouth. Her two friends are sitting at a pavement waving back at her. The backyard of a restaurant provides a single bulb, banishing away the darkness, basking them with light. She is happy to see her friends. She is happy that tonight she will not be alone.

Zashnain

An avid blogger, twitterer and photojournalist, Zashnain Zainal suffers from an incurable addiction to social work, helping marginalised communities since 1989. Nowadays he travels from the plantations of Malaysia to the slums of Thailand. He can be found at zashnain.com and @bedlamfury

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