In a small house in Port Dickson, Negeri Sembilan, 23-year-old Muhammad Haidir Rodzi recalls the day his father began showing symptoms of the dreaded Covid-19 virus.
It was May 26, a Wednesday, when Rodzi Tahar developed a fever. At first the family thought it was a normal fever, but three days later on May 29, Rodzi was screened for Covid-19 at Hospital Port Dickson.
The following day, his results came back positive for the virus and he was transferred to Hospital Tampin.
Still reeling from the rapid turn of events, his family was shocked to receive a call from the doctor the next day informing them that Rodzi had died.
But even as Haidir and his siblings struggled to process the news, they were dealt a further blow: their mother, Nazita Idris, began running a fever and quickly developed a cough as well.
She tested positive for Covid-19 on May 31 and soon, she too succumbed to the virus.
Nazita was 45 when she died. Rodzi was 55.
Now, months later, Haidir and his siblings are still trying to come to terms with their loss.
There are five of them altogether – Haidir, Muhammad Hairie Rodzi, 20, Nurhairieka Rodzi, 18, Muhammad Haiqiel Rodzi, 13 and Muhammad Khierzamani Rodzi, who is just seven years old.
They, too, were screened for Covid-19 and tested positive for the virus. But unlike their parents, they experienced only light symptoms and were able to self-isolate at home.
Their 75-year-old grandmother, Faridah Md Shahar, came to live with them after their parents’ deaths.
They have been receiving assistance from many quarters including the social welfare department as well as through charity and donations from both individuals and NGOs.
“Many have been coming since hearing news of our parents’ deaths,” Haidir told MalaysiaNow.
“Some have given assistance in the form of cash and others, especially our neighbours, have been giving us food.”
The gestures have been a welcome relief for the siblings as only Haidir and Hairie are currently employed.
Haidir works as an operator filling tanks of cooking gas while Hairie is a security guard. Their combined wages, added on to the RM250 they receive as charity, the RM300 they get from the social welfare department, and their father’s monthly pension of RM565, is enough for them to scrape by.
Nurhairieka meanwhile supervises the schooling of their two youngest siblings, Haiqiel and Khierzamani, who are following their classes from home.
The five of them are among several thousands who have lost parents or guardians to Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic.
Women, Family and Community Development Minister Rina Harun said in the Dewan Rakyat on Monday that 4,422 pupils at schools registered with the ministry had lost parents or guardians while 154 were completely orphaned.
She said such children could be placed at centres under the welfare department if they have no guardians or relatives able to take them in.
But psychologist Suriati Sidek said it would be better for these children to be placed with foster families instead of at welfare homes.
Speaking to MalaysiaNow, she said children need a family environment for health social and emotional development.
“When they are part of a family institution, even an adopted family, they will feel loved and cherished as they would have been by their own parents,” the senior lecturer at the International Islamic University Malaysia added.
“But the welfare department must make sure that they are placed with appropriate families to ensure their well-being.”
Back in Port Dickson, Haidir clings to the last instructions given to him by his mother.
As the eldest child, she told him, he must look after his siblings.
“No matter what, we will stay together,” he said.