Thursday, June 17, 2021

Sleeping rough and counting the days to some much-needed cash

73-year-old Akau Rabi travelled 90km from his village to Kuching to wait for the day he can collect his Bantuan Prihatin Nasional aid.

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Akau Rabi travelled to Kuching from his village in Sebuyau with a specific goal in mind: to collect his portion of the cash aid offered by the government to those in need.

Like hundreds of thousands across the country, he had been hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic and was in need of the assistance.

He did not know exactly when he would be able to collect the money, but came anyway.

Now, the 73-year-old is sleeping rough on the city streets with a piece of cardboard for a blanket at night.

“This is my third night in Kuching,” he told MalaysiaNow when met yesterday at the five-foot way in India Street, behind the Electra House building.

“I was told by villagers that the cash aid could be collected by the end of this month. But because there is no specific date on when the cash will be available, I decided to just come to Kuching to check on it.”

Akau made the 90km trip to the city armed only with a small hand luggage bag containing his wallet and some clothes – no mean feat for a man of his age.

“I cannot go back home because I haven’t received the cash assistance.”

But for him and many others in rural areas, the cash given to the B40 and M40 groups under the government’s Bantuan Prihatin Nasional 2.0 programme makes a difference.

And in Akau’s eyes, it’s worth sleeping on the streets for.

The money is usually credited directly into the bank accounts of registered applicants. But in the rural areas of Sarawak, many do not have access to ATM machines and cannot make withdrawals.

Those who do not have a savings account must travel to Kuching to collect the cash aid from the Inland Revenue Board.

Akau said the cheapest way to get from Sebuyau to Kuching is by unlicensed public vans, also known as van sapu. A trip this way costs about RM40.

Now that he is in Kuching, he intends to stay there until he has collected the money – about RM350.

“The only choice that’s left is to sleep in the streets.”

“I cannot go back home because I haven’t received the cash assistance,” he said.

“With only a little cash in hand, it would be difficult because I cannot afford to spend that much just on transportation to commute daily from Sebuyau to Kuching.”

But he can’t afford to upgrade his accomodation in the city, either.

“The only choice that’s left is to sleep in the streets.”

And with that, he beds down on the road for a fourth night, waiting and hoping for the morning when he awakes to find that he can collect the cash aid.

Then, finally, he can go home.

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