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  • Joycelyn Lee

When You're Old and Grey...

The recent news about retired civil servants possibly seeing their pensions shaved down had us not just worried, but pondering what the future will hold for Malaysia’s ageing population.

(In short: pension sums of retired civil servants will be affected by a Federal Court decision on Pensions Adjustment Act -

It brought us back to an incident that happened at the Pit Stop last year, when we were running our food distribution service.

Like many groups, we serve on a first-come, first-serve basis and this causes many of our regulars to "book their spot" at least an hour before our food distribution starts.

But there was a new face in the line, and this lady was different from the rest - she had even brought her own stool. We found out later that she had actually driven to our location, parked her car and queued up.

This enraged some of our volunteers - you got car, can afford to drive, why are you lining up to take food for the poor? Our usual street clients, who were either homeless or took public transport, were not too happy either. In fact, they were the ones who pointed out this lady to our volunteer.

We had a chat with her, and to say that she was defensive was putting it mildly.

But she made some very valid points:

She was in her 70s.

She can no longer find a job, nobody would hire her.

She still needs to eat.

Her car is not new, over 10 years old - she said she bought it when she could still afford a car.

So far, yes, this would qualify her to be in our line. We serve those who are hungry, regardless of race, religion, status in life, and we know that anything can happen that would precipitate a fall in circumstances.

But in her defensiveness, she said something else - she said she always paid her taxes, so she deserved this service. In not so many words.

This raised our hackles just a little.

First off, we don't run on taxpayer money. We run on contributions, consultation work with companies where we can on ESG matters (which has hit zero) catering (which is also on hold due to a resource crunch). In short, we work to feed people. Hard.

In fact, we have worked harder in the last few years for much less, because of rising food costs and increasing donor fatigue. And we are not alone in this. Soup kitchens in Kuala Lumpur working more frantically to garner less resources and it is highly likely that in the near future, some of us may seriously consider the possibility not serving food anymore.

And then, along comes someone who thinks she deserves to receive food simply because she used to pay taxes?

The problem is, she's not necessarily wrong. Nobody deserves to starve, especially not if they've been a contributing member of society, a good citizen, so to speak.

But where does she go? Who can she reach out to for help?

What made it more interesting was this: this old lady still has pride - she doesn't see herself as one of our street clients. And the muttering around her, of our regulars from the street, also showed that they didn't think she was one of them either, and doesn't deserve "free food".

But here are the issues:

Where can or where does this woman then go, if we don't let her into the line?

Whose responsibility is she?

Ours? She seems to expect so.

But is it? Really ours?

Big picture wise, we would say no. And we would point to the need for a better, stronger social security safety net for our ageing citizens.

But then comes the ethical and moral dilemma. What do we, as a society, do with our ageing population?

How do we manage, or assist them, for the rest of their lives? We don't know if this woman has family, but based on our experience, all this talk of Asian family values is fast becoming a myth.

So, what do we do? What can we do? How do we proceed?

Now this: what if we were in her position? What would we do? Answers - and solutions - are most welcome.


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