RYTHM Foundation reaches out to people affected or infected with HIV/AIDS through free meals
Isha was eight years old when she began to exhibit feminine tendencies. She preferred to play with dolls and other little girls in her neighborhood.
“My real name is Mohd Hafiz Suhaimi but I am called Isha now. I took the name Isha because it was closer to my mother’s name, Aishah. I grew up in Kuala Lumpur and I have five siblings,” the 25-year-old began.
“I came out in the open after finishing my high school examination, at the age of 17. My mother understood what I was going through and did not try to make me be someone I didn’t want to be. She had one condition though, that I don’t undergo any kind of sex change operation. She had her reasons and so far, I have not gone against her wish,” she said.
Isha works as an outreach worker with Persatuan Kesihatan dan Kebajikan Umum Malaysia (PKKUM), an organisation that works with people infected and affected by HIV/AIDS including the transgender community.
“In my work, I deal mostly with hardcore drug users, sex workers, cross-dressers and transgenders, where I help to provide them access to healthcare, medicine as well as counselling,” said Isha, who now supports her mother, 49, a former sex-worker.
“You have to be really tough emotionally and mentally when dealing with these people because sometimes, they are not in their best health mentally and it takes a long time to gain their trust and confidence. You have to make them trust you that a trip to the government hospital is completely harmless and it is important that they seek treatment,” she added.
Isha recalled helping a homeless man in his late 40s who was suffering from chronic tuberculosis. She managed to persuade him to go for a check-up at a government hospital.
“I went along with him but before I could admit him, he ran away. I wasn’t angry at him for the wasted trip and effort because I understood that he must have been afraid,” she said.
With financial support from RYTHM Foundation, Isha and other PKKUM outreach workers cooked and packed vegetarian meals which were then distributed to the queue of people outside their centre, located in the notorious Chow Kit area in Kuala Lumpur.
The free vegetarian meal is to engage homeless people living with HIV/AIDS and increase their level of adherence to medication.
“There are a lot of homeless and jobless people in this area. We provide them free meals and use that opportunity to reach out, talk to them, gain their trust and encourage them to follow the free classes and capacity building sessions that we provide with support from RYTHM Foundation,” she said.
Isha said the classes which include craft making, cooking as well as providing information on human rights, sexually transmitted diseases and healthcare access are very important to the participants who often complain of being harassed by the authorities.
“Once we get them within our circle, we also help them to find jobs instead of begging on the streets or engaging in sex work,” Isha said.
“All I wish for is a world where there is no stigma attached to these people, they are humans first regardless of their profession or gender identity. We have to work towards stopping violence against sex workers. As long as we live in this world, we should help those who need our help,” Isha said.