A safe space for homeless kids

JOHOR BARU: She could have turned a blind eye and continued living a comfortable life but Camelia Arifin (pic) decided to provide a safe haven for homeless children.

The move came about 10 years ago when Camelia, then the manager of a property company, volunteered to help feed the homeless with her husband and a group of friends.

“We noticed that there were many homeless children on the streets, some of whom were wandering around without any adult supervision. I couldn’t just look away when I could clearly see the plight of these children. I knew then that I had to do something about it,” she told The Star.

Camelia, 38, and her husband Muhamad Fitri Abdul Rashad, 42, then started working towards setting up a shelter to house homeless and neglected children.

“I left my job that year and about a year later, my husband also quit as an engineer.

“We started by opening a one-stop centre in Larkin Perdana, where homeless children could drop by to have hot meals, rest or use the toilet. We also provided free classes for them,” she said.

Three years after the couple started the facility, they were able to upgrade it to a shelter which they named Fitrah Qaseh.

“We sold our two-storey house in Pulai Indah to fund our first and former shelter in Kampung Melayu Majidee. We also started some small businesses to support the shelter in the beginning,” she said.

They began with 10 children in the shelter. Today, their effort has grown to include three centres – one in Bandar Baru Uda and two in Taman Dato Onn – housing 85 children from as young as a few days old to 17 years old.

The couple, who do not have children of their own, depend largely on public donations to run their centres.

Camelia also noted that they received more cases during the Covid-19 pandemic, up to seven in a day even.

“We had only about 60 residents in the shelter before the pandemic but in just a few months, the number shot up to about 100.

“Some were sent here by their parents who could no longer take care of their children due to drug addiction or other problems while others were sent by their relatives.

“A few of them were later taken home by their families after the Covid-19 situation improved,” she said.

Camelia said among children seeking shelter at Fitrah Qaseh were those who were abused by their own families, whose parents were drugs addicts and convicts as well as those abandoned by their parents.

“We have received all kinds of heartbreaking cases – from young teenagers who were raped and impregnated, toddlers with drug addiction and children who came with bruises.

“They should not have to go through all this alone and we hope that Fitrah Qaseh can give them a chance to a better life,” she said, adding that a few of the shelter’s former residents had made it to university.