URBAN poor families are finding it harder to get by as rising cost of living threatens to further erode their spending power.
Two families share their struggles of trying to raise children and survive with a household income of less than RM3,000 a month in Malaysia’s richest state, Selangor.
Suriani Aziera, 31 and lorry driver husband Mohd Fairus Yusof, 40, earn less than RM2,000 a month.
But the couple are determined to provide their six children, aged between three and 17 years old, with food and shelter, basic needs which have become increasingly difficult to attain.
They live in an inherited house in Kampung Batu Muda Gombak, where all eight members of the family use a motorcycle to get around.
“This is the old bike we use to get anywhere. I don’t have a licence but I have no choice,” said a teary-eyed Suriani during an interview with The Malaysian Insight.
“Police have stopped me before but let me go, knowing i’m poor,” she said.
Whatever it takes to feed the family
Married at 14, Suriani did not manage to finish school and is often forced to take up odd jobs to supplement their livelihood. She’s also had to take to the streets to beg for food and money.
“I have been insulted for begging for food to feed my children. They are my only treasure. I would enter into business if I know how to, but i can’t even bake cakes.
“So on top of the money I receive from my husband’s salary, I’ll beg. I’ll go to the Cheras mosque and get help from the non-governmental organisation, Soup Kitchen.
“There are also wealthy individuals who have come to our aid before,” she said.
Suriani and her children head to Kuala Lumpur every night to get donations in terms of food, milk and baby diapers from charitable organisations.
She also tries to sell products from direct-selling beauty company Avon.
Her eldest daughter, Dayang Syaheera, 17, has stopped school to help support the family. She recently attended an interview for a job in a supermarket, and is hoping she got the job.
“I stopped schooling last year. Previously i took care of our grandmother, and now I want to help mom to increase the family income.
“I’m waiting for the call to work now and I hope it would be soon,” she told The Malaysian Insight.
The other six children are all in primary school.
With the money she manages to take home from doing odd jobs and begging, the RM1,200 monthly salary from her husband and the RM400 a month from Zakat Selangor helps to cover the food expenses for the entire family.
On June 2, The Selangor Islamic Religious Council revealed that the number of poor families have increased by 2,207 from 44,393 in 2015, to 46,500 in 2016.
According to the religious body, the main reason for the increase was due to the rising cost of living as well as due to the fact that the state experienced mass lay-offs when employers tried to reduce operational cost.
Struggles of a single mother
For single mother Nurulazila Ismail Ista, 39, higher food prices have forced her to ration food for herself and her six children in order to make rent for her flat each month.
“After giving birth, I stopped working as a bank clerk and became a tutor at a tuition centre here. The flexible working hours allows me more time to take care of the children,” she told The Malaysian Insight.
She takes home RM3,000 a month, which is barely enough for the family of seven.
“I recalled there was one time it was hard for us. Diapers, milk and others were too expensive. My youngest child could only drink sweetened condensed milk,” she said.
All her six children are still schooling, including two who are at a private Tahfiz school in Perak.
After paying her monthly apartment rental of RM1,000, RM400 for car monthly installments, she uses the rest of her salary for food and schooling equipment.
Nurulazila also receive RM500 in zakat donations and child support from her ex-husband. An Ampang-based charitable organisation also provides her family with additional school aid and educational programmes for the kids.
“Alhamdulillah for the zakat donation, but it is still not enough. I was also lucky enough to be given some kind of assistance from a welfare home which I am registered,” she said.
Nurulazila said her children’s education is her topmost priority.
“My principle is that no matter how hard life is, the education of our children should not be neglected. But I don’t pressure them to excel, but only encourage them to do the best they can.
“Our luck may not be that good but at least I can avoid my children from having a worse future. So I need to prepare their future through education.
“I don’t want any of them to neglect their studies. Their future must be brighter than mine. I don’t have wealth or assets but at least I have my children to keep me going on living,” she said.