SHE is a mother to hundreds and an inspiration to many. She believes in giving back as it gives her so much joy, and that is evident from the profound way she views the world and the sparkle in her eye as she talks about her charity work.
Miliee Kassim is the executive trustee of Kassim Chin Humanity Foundation. She and her husband Mohd Kassim Sulong have been recognised for their generosity. In 2012 they were among the people listed in Forbes Asia’s “Heroes of Philanthropy”.
Kassim, co-founder of accounting firm Deloitte Kassim Chan, passed away in October last year. Miliee carries on the work they started together.
“We deal in educating children because they are the future. Underprivileged children don’t get to go for tuition or do the things that middle class children do. So, what they do is stay at home or play with other kids or help out around the house while their mothers go to work. Some may even need to work when they’re not in school.
“Most of the parents we help are single parents – manual labourers, helpers and factory workers. They are not educated. So, the mother works very hard while the children are left on their own. The fact that we are operating in the low cost housing areas or the government flats means you will get all sorts of undesirable elements there as well. There is gangsterism and all sorts of other activities that children should not be involved in,” says Miliee.
The foundation works in four locations – in Puchong (Pangsapuri Enggang), two in Batu Caves (Pangsapuri Cempaka and Laksamana), and in Taman Tasik Semenyih.
In the morning, there is a kindergarten for the children. Most times the little ones come in on an empty stomach, so the foundation has found mothers in the neighbourhood to prepare breakfast for them. The foundation supplements these mothers’ income while getting breakfast and lunch prepared for the kindergarten kids. This eases the parents’ financial burden a bit, and they don’t have to worry about feeding lunch to the kids.
In the evening, there are tuition classes for children from Year 1 to Form 5. Anybody who lives nearby can come in for the free classes. There is no screening process for those who want to come for tuition or kindergarten, but space is limited.
However, there is a screening process for the food aid given to families in those neighbourhoods.
“That’s when we do a data collection to see if they really need the food we give out. If they don’t have enough money for food, the mother will have to work doubly hard and the children will be left on their own. We get the mother involved by saying that if the children don’t come for tuition, we will stop the food aid. So, the mother, one way or another, will force the children to go for tuition. This is how we monitor them.
“The food aid is given through their MyKad whereby they just go to Giant to purchase essential food items, and we pay Giant directly,” explains Miliee.
The Puchong centre has been open for 10 years now and the response to it is growing as parents find it harder to survive with the rising cost of living.
However, Miliee finds that the tuition classes are not packed because when times get harder, some of the kids have to work to supplement the family’s income.
The challenges are many, not just in dealing with the families that need help. There is also depleting funds to contend with. With the economy the way it is, companies are also shrinking their donations.
Nonetheless, Miliee and her foundation forge on.
“You won’t believe the number of times I wanted to give up, especially when faced with financial challenges because we are running centres and teachers need to be paid and food needs to be purchased. But, when you do charity work the amazing thing is that as you are about to give up something miraculous will happen. There will be people coming in who say I would like to donate something to your foundation. And then you say, a miracle just happened and I can carry on again. I am still amazed by that.
“We are still facing tons of challenges but I have learned to hope and have faith that things will work out no matter how many times I want to quit. Somehow it will work out because it’s not for me but for other people. I think the universe works in a beautiful way in that sense. We are a foundation that doesn’t have tons of money stashed up. We are living hand to mouth. Everything that is given to us, we make sure is given back.
“For anybody to handle that sort of situation, you will definitely have more grey hairs. But, I learnt to relax and pray. Having this foundation and doing this work has made me more prayerful, sometimes praying up to five, six times a day, saying please, I need help. At the end of the day, it gives you more joy. It’s something that money cannot buy. It’s knowing you have at least changed and touched some lives. To me, when I started this, I thought if I could just touch and change one life, it was good enough. Now, we have 500 children. Hundreds would have benefited over the past 10 years. At least we play a role. That’s good enough,” says Miliee.
The foundation was formed in 2009, but the charity work started 10 years ago. Now the Kassim Chin Humanity Foundation is planning to start a vocational school.
“When we started, the purpose was to give back. We have so many unfortunate children who are not getting what they deserve to get. We found that children from the Tamil schools have got lots of problems because when they finish Year 6, they can’t even speak English or Malay. That’s a big problem. How can you go to Form 1 if you don’t speak English or Malay? That is our main problem. When we found that out we said something needs to be done. In the beginning a lot of the kids after Year 6, especially from the Tamil school, had to go for a separate class to learn the alphabet and mathematics all over again, like a Year 1 student,” she adds.
Since the foundation started, the children it helped have all grown up. Today, one is a pharmacist working with the Health Ministry; one graduated as a chef; there is a final year electrical electronics student and one studying computer programming; and one is learning early childhood care at SEGi University.
“These are my babies who have grown up after 10 years. I feel like a mother seeing her children graduate. I have lots of kids,” says Miliee, giggling. She is full of mirth and love.
She has always found joy in children and prefers working with them.
“Children are fresh, young, vibrant, and you can mould them into better people. That’s where the future is. When I first looked at all this, I thought, if I mould a kid and if he can graduate and earn a good salary, he in turn can change his family. Then the parents will be relieved of some of the burden and they will change. So, I want to work through the kids. For parents, we do consultation, especially if they are in deep trouble. But basically our main focus is on the children.”
Miliee, who is proud to say she is now 58, has a batik printing company and a few premium companies. She doesn’t believe in slowing down. Her weeks are filled with meetings. She is also on the board of governors for a chinese primary school. She wants to do more and to travel more now that her three sons are grown up.
“I think with my knowledge and expertise, I can help people in other parts of the world, maybe help them to start up similar foundations using the same formula. The world is a huge oyster and I believe many people around the world would love to do this. Some may not know how to do it. Some may have lots of money but don’t know how to start. I’m more than willing to help out.”
She believes that despite the physical signs of ageing, seniors should enjoy life, keep busy and not set limits.
“Just think you can do everything. There’s nothing you can’t do. I think most older people feel that they are not wanted and not as useful, which is not right because as long as you are educated you can give back something one way or the other, and you have all the time on your hands. You will have all the patience and that’s what kids need; not necessarily your own kids, what about other kids? The unfortunate kids. Give, and you will find joy in it. You see their laughter and their joy, especially the four to six-year-olds in my kindergarten. It doesn’t take a lot to make them happy, and when they are happy, you are happy. That’s the key. What you sow, you will reap back.”