Malaysia was once one of the top 20 countries that best managed the Covid-19 pandemic. However, after the Sabah election in September 2020, mass gatherings had triggered a third wave of COVID-19 spike. Furthermore, the highly contagious Delta variant landed in Malaysia recently. According to Dr Noor Hisham, this variant is far more contagious whereby an infected person could spread the virus to 5 to 8 people as compared to the original SARS-CoV2 that only spread to 2 to 4 individuals. As screening continues, more asymptomatic carriers are identified which reached 8000 confirmed cases for the first time and cases even exceeded 10,000 since 13th July. This uprise signalled that the war with the virus would not end soon.
The partial lockdowns prior to FMCO had already affected people’s income. According to the Malaysian Institute of Economic Research (MIER), the number of predicted job losses was between 951,000 to 2.4 million, which is approximately 2.9-7.3% from the 33 million population of Malaysia. Despite the loss of income, one still needs to bear their living expenses and afford food on the table. Since only sectors providing essential services are allowed to operate during FMCO, more businesses failed to thrive and continued to contribute to the high unemployment rate in Malaysia. This condition exerts a huge impact on the vulnerable populations including the poor, the disabled, the elderly and the Indigenous people, who usually do not have a stable income or rely on daily wages. Even middle-class income M40 families may find themselves struggling during this period. Food insecurities are happening more frequently than before and this exacerbates the inequality and poverty issues in Malaysia.
Furthermore, the pandemic had also exposed and amplified other social issues. Long-term pandemic control is overwhelming the healthcare system. As the infected rate increases, supportive medical equipment is gradually running out. The frontliners constantly face burnout due to long working hours throughout this seemingly never-ending pandemic. Apart from that, most students are facing significant learning loss due to school closures. Although online learning is carried out, students from less fortunate backgrounds often lack support for virtual remote learning due to connection issues, lack of devices, differences in learning speed, and so on.
Most people had hoped that 2021 would be a better year than 2020, where the condition would be under control and everything can revert back to the pre-COVID situation. However, the reality is tearing everyone’s hopes apart, and more people are striving to cope with greater mental stress. There is also an increase in suicide cases reported with an average of four suicide cases daily for the first three months of the year. Nonetheless, Malaysians are truly amazing as they realize the importance of supporting each other and staying united while going through these tough times. With this thought, three different movements were initiated since late June of 2021, namely the white flag movement (#BenderaPutih), red flag movement (#BenderaMerah), and black flag movement (#BenderaHitam).
The White Flag
The White Flag online social movement which is also known as the “Bendera Putih” is a movement initiated by the Deputy Head of Angkatan Wanita Amanah Negeri (AWAN) Kelantan, Ms Nik Faziah Nik Othman, in hopes of encouraging those in need to raise a white flag outside their home if they needed help. The FB post which was shared more than 20,000 times within a short span of 24 hours was definitely not what Ms Nik Faziah had expected when she made the post on Facebook.
Raising the white flag has become a way for low-income families to convey the difficulties that they are facing in the present day due to the long durations of lockdown. As a matter of fact, Malaysia has been in a state of complete lockdown since the beginning of May. Prolonged periods of lockdown have had detrimental effects on the economic sector causing thousands of people to have lost their jobs due to the pandemic.
While the White Flag Movement encouraged those struggling to reach out and ask for help, some are still sceptical about this idea and reluctant to do so. The reluctance to ask for help even in times of need was partially due to the fear of shame and also the constant gossiping that might come along with it. Having said that, the White Flag Movement has truly served as a beacon of hope to all Malaysians in such times of need and frustration. Raising the white flag should not be looked upon as a sign of defeat.
When the White Flag Movement started, people might not notice a family in need until a white flag was seen or reported, which means that these people could possibly be neglected.To better support the movement, a brilliant initiative – the kitajaga.co website was developed by a local developer house, Terato Tech and launched on July 5. This website allows the public to come together and access help or provide aid without the limitations of the movement restrictions. The webpage is also designed with simplicity in which blue pins represent the location of food banks while red pins show the location of the white flag raised. According to Chief executive officer Zara Aida Razali, there are already over 300 users requesting for help on the first day of launch. In response, more than a thousand users had registered to offer help on the same day, which showed how Malaysians are always willing to help each other.
An example of a food bank is the kEATChen Food Bank in Petaling Jaya. kEATChen is a cloud kitchen and food delivery service that serves gourmet Malaysian street food. To support the White Flag Campaign, they launched their food bank initiative on June 10. Here, basic necessities like rice, eggs, potatoes, sugar, milk, and cooking oil are given out for free along with some non-food items including face masks, sanitary pads, sanitisers, and diapers. An average of 200 to 300 food packets are distributed to people in need every day.
Ivan Chan, the founder of kEATChen, said that anyone in need is welcomed to pick up the food supplies themselves. He is happy to care for and support the community, especially daily workers and B40 families. On the first day of launch, people had formed a long queue to get their necessities, and two truckloads of supplies almost ran out instantly. To ensure the adherence to tight Standard Operating Procedures (SOP), kEATChen had set specific collection hours twice a day. Besides, around 20 food delivery riders who were struggling to feed themselves and their families were among those who benefited from the initiative. Apart from that, one of the kEATChen’s partners, Warung Abang Man, would also donate RM1 to the food bank for every order of RM10 and above was made. In this way, enjoying meals from them can contribute to a good cause too.
There are also many other food banks and food aids available in different regions to support the local people. This all-time spirit of helping the needy should be celebrated, but as pointed out by a former New Straits Times journalist Rohiman Haroon, these food support can only solve food shortage in the short term. To solve the problem from its root, addressing financial difficulty is the key. Although people are allowed to withdraw up to RM5000 from their Employees Provident Fund (EPF) to help relieve financial burden, it is not a sustainable decision to use these retirement funds. Rohiman, therefore, urged for better strategies and collaborations between the public and private sectors in order to provide more job opportunities and support these individuals to regain their source of income in the long run.
Initiative by Leona
In response to the White Flag Movement and the plea for help from those who are in need, celebrities, influencers have also come forward to offer help in terms of food and other essentials. A great example would be a fellow Sunway CIMP alumni, Kasih Iris Leona. Together with her cousins, Leona founded a fundraising initiative for underprivileged students and their families. Through her fundraising initiative known as bcuz_wecare, she was able to collect a total of over RM16,000 that were used to purchase Lenovo tablets and then distributed to the underprivileged students. Hygiene boxes, as well as food boxes, were also packed and distributed.
The Red Flag
While the purpose of the White Flag Movement is to offer help to those families in need, the Red Flag Movement aims to encourage pet owners who are struggling to buy food for their pets to reach out to their neighbours.
Pets give humans their unconditional love and companionship, and they should be treated as a part of the family. With that said, it is disheartening to see that more strays have been found on the street since the first MCO. According to the Ipoh Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, there was a 50% increase of abandoned dogs in Ipoh, Perak, where animals were either abandoned far away or sent to shelter homes. An NGO, Voice For Paws, also stated that abandoned dogs were mostly found at bridges, train stations, bus stops, or even the side of the road. Unlike strays, pet animals lack survival skills and would usually result in starvation, illness, terrible injuries or even death.
Some families really love their dogs, but due to financial difficulties, they have to shift from a landed property to a room in a high-rise building where pets are not allowed. Although feeling distraught, they had no choice but to surrender their pets. All these cases are increasing the workload and capacity of shelters. On the flip side, more pets have been adopted to offer companions during the lockdown. This is a concern to animal rescuers, as people may again abandon these furry kids in the future when life goes back to normal, which fuels the unhealthy culture of pet abandonment.
After being inspired by the White Flag Movement, the Malaysia Animal Association launched the Red Flag Movement. The president of the association, Aerie Dwi Andika, urged pet owners to ask for assistance from their neighbours and community instead of giving up their pets. Shortly within 5 days, an overwhelming 1800 requests had been made to the Malaysia Animal Association through several platforms to ask for aid in terms of pet food and supplies. Andika responded that they had their hands filled trying to fulfill each plea due to limited food supply and financial constraints to fund for postage and courier service as well.
Fortunately, pet shops and individuals had stepped in to offer resources to support the Red Flag movement. J Jay Pet Station, a pet shop located in Kota Damansara, had been trying their best to fulfill help requests in terms of pet food, hay, cat sand and other accessories. Similarly, Wet Nose Pet Shop in Damansara Perdana also set up a food bank for pet owners facing difficulties in feeding their pets outside their premises. They hoped that these contributions would encourage pet owners to ask for help and continue taking care of their pets rather than abandoning them.
For individuals who want to support the Red Flag movement, they can also consider supporting these animal shelters which had financially struggled to take care of the increasing number of strays throughout the movement control order. For instance, the SPCA in Tawau had been seeking for public donations to cover their large expenses for the daily cost of pet food up to RM300 per day that feeds more than 500 dogs and cats. To add on, their expenses also include medical expenses, premises rental fees, utility bills and worker’s salary.
The Black flag
Contrary to the White flag and Red flag campaign that aims to promote a good cause, the Black flag is a social media movement that calls on social media users to post pictures of black flags across various social media platforms such as Instagram and Facebook. The black flag movement has been used as a way to protest against the Perikatan National (PN) government for allegedly being unable to contain the rise of the COVID-19 cases.
Anwar Ibrahim, the PKP president has tweeted the black flag emoji to show his support for the movement. However, he is not the only one in the country who has done so, other prominent figures such as the MUDA co-founder Amir Abd Hadi said that the public should not be afraid of putting up black flags. Setiawangsa MP Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad, Muar MP Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman, lawyer Samantha Chong as well as activist Michelle Yesudas are among others that have publicly shown their support for the movement.
Although notable public figures have shown support for the movement, the local police have also opened investigation papers regarding the Black Flag campaign citing that it contains seditious elements. In an interview with Berita Harian, the Bukit Aman Criminal Investigations Department director Datuk Seri Abd Jalil Hassan stated that the case was being investigated under Section 4(1) of the Sedition Act 1948 of the Penal Code and Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1988.
🏴🏴🏴— Anwar Ibrahim (@anwaribrahim) July 3, 2021
Our frontliners are still working vigorously to combat against Covid-19 and it has definitely affected everyone’s life in different aspects. With the rise of the White Flag and Red Flag movement, people managed to get help or send help in order to support each other and their pets. With the black flag movement, people have a channel to express their dissatisfaction in hope for better management towards covid-19. Without realization, these movements allow people to feel more connected and united to go through this tough time virtually.
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and long durations of lockdown have not only taken a toll on one’s physical health but also one’s mental health. It is crucial to reach out and ask for help when needed instead of bottling and suppressing one’s emotions. To reach out and ask for help is not a sign of weakness but to be vulnerable and is a sign of strength, confidence, and resourcefulness. Everyone needs help from time to time.
Listed below is a list of mental health hotlines if there’s a need to have a person to talk to.
KL: 03-7956 8145 (24 hours)
Ipoh: 05-547 7933 (4pm to 11pm)
Penang: 04-281 5161 (3pm to midnight)
Befrienders is a not-for-profit organisation providing emotional support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, to people who are lonely, in distress, in despair, and having suicidal thoughts – without charge.
- MALAYSIAN MENTAL HEALTH ASSOCIATION (MMHA)
Contact Number: 03-2780 6803
Malaysian Mental Health Association provides support via their phone line on any mental health issues. MMHA also has qualified mental health professionals ie. clinical psychologist, and counselors providing psychological support services. Financial subsidies are readily available to ensure that necessary therapy and support is given to anyone who needs it.
- SUNWAY STUDENT LIFE COUNSELING AND WELLNESS UNIT
Contact Number: 03-7491 8622
24/7 Mental Health Crisis Hotline: 018-3893220.
Alternatively, students can also walk in and approach staff in the Student Life Office for assistance. Some of the services provided include individual or group counselling, mental health screening and psychological assessment, workshops and talks, and other counseling resources.
Written By: Sumitra Cheong and Cheam Chee San
Edited by: Maki