A New Beginning

by Ian Chai
Cyberjaya, Malaysia

A New Beginning

Racism is a worldwide problem and Malaysia is no exception, especially since we have three major races — Malays, Chinese and Indians. The vast majority of the people who lived in the slums of Kampung Damansara Dalam (KDD to us) were poor Malays. While the Malays who run the country have in recent years implemented affirmative-action programs to help spread the wealth around, the middle class is still predominantly Chinese. These programs are often viewed by the non-Muslim Chinese as stealing their wealth to give to the Muslim Malays. As a result, the Chinese tend to set up charitable organizations that help poor Chinese only, assuming that the government will take care of the Malays. (Of course, some don’t care if they are taken care of or not.)

A few months ago, a major fire broke out and a third of KDD burned down, and hundreds were made homeless. The authorities let them take over some abandoned police quarters.

A group of people in a predominantly Chinese church decided to go over and find out if they could help. They found that many politicians had gone and made promises and showed their concern in front of the TV cameras, but hardly anybody gave them any actual help.

The place was in bad repair, having been abandoned for two years. Some units had missing doors or windows, or had holes in the walls. There was no furniture, water or electricity. So they were sleeping on hard floors and shivering from the night air, which can get cool even in equatorial Malaysia. There were only about 40 units, so two or three families had to share each one.

The Chinese pastor went to talk to the Malay headman and asked what they could do to help. The headman told him about their predicament, but did not expect anything. After all, the politicians of his own race had not done anything. So they were truly astonished when 25 Chinese and one Indian brought 150 mattresses — two for each family!

Since then, that pastor and his church members have brought plywood to put up walls to stop the cold night wind, organized classes to teach the children English so that they can get ahead in this modern world, and done other things to help them get back on their feet. They continue to go back every Sunday afternoon to help.

This kindness has brought an unprecedented melting of the racial and religious barrier, to the point that recently the Malay-Muslim principal of a nearby school, which was badly in need of repainting, asked if “some of those church people could come help?” Imagine that — Islam and Christianity are two religions which traditionally have been blood enemies, and yet this Muslim man can now feel comfortable asking a Christian church for help!

So in contrast to the terror of “ethnic cleansing” between Christians and Muslims of the Balkans, here we see cooperation, and the start of a new, more hopeful, era.

Originally published as HeroicStories #89 on Nov 25, 1999
Available in The Best of HeroicStories, Volume 2.

4 thoughts on “A New Beginning”

  1. This is a particularly touching story. Since it is now twenty years later, can you get any update on how this community is faring.


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