Focus on the circle of life


Instead of assuming that ‘enemies’ are out to destroy us, we should think of the many programmes and activities that show us to be a closely-knit community.

Zaid Ibrahim

IN Malaysia we spend too much time and money on politics, politicians and non-governmental organisations. Every day, our conversations are basically about the same issues, and they are acrimonious and unproductive endeavours.

This week, I would like to distract you from that path and highlight two unrelated pieces of news from Cambodia and Australia respectively that can at least teach us something useful.

Somaly Mam is the founder of Agir pour les Femmes en Situation Precaire (AFESIP – Acting for Women in Distressing Situations), which is an international foundation to save women and children in Cambodia and other parts of South-East Asia from sex traffickers.

Last week, she resigned as its president, which is unfortunate, but she will be remembered for her good work.

She is no Florence Nightingale and some of her fund raising activities are questionable; but the fact remains she has helped many girls in distress.

She is an extraordinary individual who single-handedly raised awareness about the inhuman activities of human traffickers in the area.

Her foundation has helped more than 100,000 girls and women to start new lives.

The money she raised has helped young girls free themselves from the clutches of human traffickers.

These girls have been trained in new skills so they can find work. Some have even returned to school.

Although her methods of raising funds using children (and concocting stories about their ordeals to gain public sympathy) are now well known, she has nevertheless succeeded in convincing celebrities and world leaders to help her cause.

There is no doubt that world attention to the problems of sex trafficking in this part of the world would be minimal if not for her efforts, and her success is a fine example of the impact an individual can make on society without even holding public office.

Somaly Mam’s own experience living in a remote village in Cambodia and seeing the hardships of the villagers during the reign of terror unleashed by the Khmer Rouge prompted her to do something to prevent young girls from being taken away from impoverished families and sold as sex slaves.

That she has succeeded should inspire others in Cambodia to continue her good work.

Down Under, something extraordinary also took place in Melbourne around the same time last week.

Six kidneys were simultaneously removed from six donors and transplanted to seriously ill patients who now have a second chance at life.

The great work done by the highly skilled surgeons and other specialists carrying out such a medical feat with military precision should make all of us proud: it demonstrates yet again the power of human generosity and ingenuity.

This all started a few months ago when a donor in Victoria called “Jack” agreed to give up one of his kidneys to save the life of another person, “Jill”.

The offer was made purely out of Jack’s care and generosity towards a person he did not even know.

The kidneys matched. Jill’s husband, not to be outdone by Jack’s generosity and kindness, also volunteered one of his kidneys to “Mary”, whose brother “Bill” then donated his kidney to “Megan”.

This eventually led to the six transplants last week.

The principle is simple: if you receive a kidney, then a member of your family reciprocates and donates a kidney to someone else.

The reciprocity is predicated on the feeling of love and gratitude, and thus is born what the Australians are calling a “Circle of Life”.

What happened in Melbourne is a tribute to humanity and a commitment to saving lives.

Such a programme would not be feasible unless the community has strong shared values, with strong bonds of friendship amongst its members.

Adequate financial support from the government is also required, as funding for such operations is necessary before the programme can be undertaken with success.

In Malaysia too we have many programmes and activities that show us to be a closely-knit community and a caring lot, but the trouble is we do not often talk about these programmes that much.

Instead, we have things like the Cadbury fiasco where porcine DNA was initially reported to have been found in some batches of products made by Cadbury.

Instead of trying to understand how such a thing came about, some of us immediately called for a boycott of all Cadbury products.

Some even suggested that the fiasco was a deliberate attack by the “enemies of Islam” and that Muslims needed blood transfusions to cleanse themselves of impurities. There was also a call for Jihad.

I believe that before we can start our own Circle of Life similar to the one in Melbourne, Malaysians as a community must first be able to converse and talk nicely to one another regardless of the problems we have.

There is no need to presume or assume that everyone out there wants to “destroy” us.

When we live in a multi-ethnic and multi-religious environment, there is bound to be “contamination” of one kind or another from time to time – it does not mean that anyone is deliberately trying to make things difficult for us.

Contamination can be caused by the use of certain raw materials in production. If so, we merely need to rectify the process.

There is no need to think that our “enemies” are deliberately contaminating our food.

Instead, we should focus more on saving lives and helping the community.

We need more individuals like Somaly Mam who are willing to make life-changing sacrifices for the community, or to become like the many kidney donors in the Circle of Life.


> Datuk Zaid Ibrahim, true to his Kelantan roots, is highly passionate about practically everything, hence the name of this column. Having established himself in the legal fraternity, Zaid ventured into politics and has been on both sides of the political divide. The former de facto Law Minister at one time is now a legal consultant but will not hesitate to say his piece on any current issue. He can be reached at [email protected]. The views expressed here are entirely his own.