Afidah Ab Latif, founder and supervisor of Rumah Sinar Salam
Despite the government's continuous effort to give Chow Kit a clean image, the area is still synonymous with immoral activities.
Chow Kit is a notorious 'hangout' for drug addicts and sex workers.
But amidst public's scorn and gibe, there is a place called home for some of these women who seek repentance and want to turn a new leaf in their lives.
With the blessing and financial support from the Federal Territory Islamic Religion Department (JAWI), Rumah Sinar Salam (named after its patron, Yayasan Salam, which provides skill and management assistance), opened its doors last Dec 1, to women who seek to be rehabilitated.
Today, Rumah Sinar Salam has seven full time residents, with about 30 others who regularly drop in to seek counselling and assistance. Some 85 percent of these women are Malays.
WHY CHOOSE CHOW KIT
According to Afidah Ab Latif, founder and supervisor of Rumah Sinar Salam, several Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs) have previously established shelters elsewhere for women, but these were not effective due to their remote location.
But why choose Chow Kit as the location for Rumah Sinar Salam?
"This area has a notorious reputation. I purposefully chose this place because I believe that the shelter would benefit many of the unfortunate souls who linger here," explained Afidah.
She added that JAWI has given its blessings and has provided an initial RM100,000 grant for Rumah Nur Salam, located at No 6A First Floor, Lorong Haji Taib 3, 50350 Kuala Lumpur.
According to Afidah, she invited JAWI's Director Datuk Che Mat Che Ali together with officers from JAWI and the National Anti-narcotic Agency (AADK) to accompany her in her initial outreach programme around Chow Kit, in July 2007.
"When they saw with their own eyes the myriad of social ills -- including the drug addicts and sex workers -- that has infected the area, they immediately agreed to set up Rumah Sinar Salam.
"For a start, we accept the homeless, HIV sufferers, drug addicts and sex workers who want to turn a new leaf," said Afidah.
The shelter is quite willing to take in those who have repented and wants to work as full-time volunteers here, she told Bernama in an interview recently, adding that "they are the ones who know their friends best."
NO FREE MEALS
Rumah Sinar Salam is open to those who seek guidance and assistance, but they have to abide with its rules and regulations if they want to stay there.
"There is no such thing as a free meal here. We have rules and regulations to follow, they cannot simply come and go as they please. We want to supervise their movements so as to prevent them from lapsing into their former habit," she explained.
In addition to a fulltime volunteer and eight part-timers, there is a 'warden' who helps Afidah man the shelter.
Both the warden and fulltime volunteer are women who have turned over a new leaf and now wish to help their wayward friends.
Activities at Rumah Sinar Salam starts as early as 5am and only ends at 11:30pm, whereupon all the lights are then switched off.
"The warden will rouse the Muslim residents in the morning for their subuh prayers. We hold morning meetings with the residents to discuss matters pending, prior to going about with the day's activities.
"They all have a full schedule to follow everyday. We do not want to leave them idle least they start reminiscing on their old ways," said Afidah.
She also told the writer that she is also sourcing for odd jobs such as making crystal bracelets, potpourri or mini popiah, for the residents at the shelter.
Those who are fully rehabilitated and are able to carry on with their life can leave the shelter.
"The maximum stay here is a year. Even if they have left us, we will still monitor their movements and they can return should they need help," she added.
Besides full time residents, Rumah Sinar Salam also opens its doors to those wanting to seek advice and counselling. These 'Touch N Go' customers are welcome at the Home from 3.00pm to 11:00pm daily, Mondays to Fridays.
THERE IS PEACE HERE
Nor (not her real name), in her early 30s, who is from Sabah, chose to come to Rumah Sinar Salam to start a new life after her dreams of making a living in Kuala Lumpur were dashed when she got hooked on drugs.
Nor became so dependant on drugs that she resorted to 'selling' her body to sustain her habit.
"I got fed up with my life and wanted to repent and change for the better. It was not easy at first. My friends still spurned me at times. But I will triumph.
"I find peace here, I have learned how to perform the solat (daily prayers) and get advice," said Nor who embraced Islam a year ago. She hope to become a full time volunteer with Rumah Sinar Salam.
LUXURY BUT NOT HAPPY
For Linda (not her real name), 45, once labelled as a 'pimp' and was running a brothel, becoming a full time volunteer with Rumah Sinar Salam is her way of paying back for her past sins.
She got to know Afidah when the latter was doing her outreach social rounds at Chow Kit. She became interested at helping out.
According to Linda, despite her luxurious life then, she was still not happy.
"When I was detained in the lockup at IPK Bukit Aman for 60 days and interrogated on my involvement in immoral activities, I thought hard about my past life. It dawned on me that I must change my ways, I want to repent.
"At that time, I have not been performing my daily prayers for so long, but now I can do so with a peaceful mind," she added.
Linda admitted that she has encountered numerous challenges in becoming a full time volunteer, especially in trying to gain people's confidence.
Nevertheless, she is even more determined to prove her sceptics wrong.
"I have to work hard to earn that trust. Patience is indeed a virtue," she said.
OPPORTUNITY TO SERVE
Wan Kamariah Daud, 54, is grateful that she did not have to live her old age as a drug addict.
She has been in and out of the drug rehabilitation centre at Pusat Serenti for five times, the last being in 2001 at Pusat Serenti Bachok.
After she completed her rehabilitation programme, she volunteered for the re-entry programme and then joined as Pembimbing Rakan Sebaya (Peer Guide) at Pusat Serenti Bachok for three more years.
Wan Kamariah, who considered herself orphaned, had been using drugs since she was 16 years old..
She is steadfast in helping her friend who are still active drug users.
Her steely determination commensurate her position as warden of Rumah Sinar Salam.
"I feel gratified that I can help my friends who are still living in the dumps. I pray that they too can see the light at the end of the tunnel and not end their lives as drug addicts," said Wan Kamariah.
She added that drug addicts need a lot of determination if they want to quit the habit but stress that it is not impossible to do so.
"The only thing that drugs do is ruin our lives," she stressed.