Charity work wasn’t something that Anne Rajasaikaran, CEO of the Budimas Charitable Foundation, had always thought of pursuing as a career but her work in other companies eventually led her to this. She tells us: “It all started off with me having to work in MAA and previously I was in oil and gas, insurance company and then I ended up in a CSR project. So from time to time we were called to help out and I was the appointed person to work on the collaterals and the advertising to let people know more about the device so that we can raise more funds. That was how I started working in Budimas.”
From there, she worked full time and grew a team from just two staff members to 35. They were also able to build a home in Senawang in the decade that she has been with Budimas and has done plenty for the urban poor in Malaysia, having developed three big programmes to aid them. Here, Anne tells us more about her work, a day in her life and how she overcomes challenges.
Tell us what a day in your life is like.
I get up early and I do my workout. I attempt to walk around my house, simply because I think it’s my greatest coping mechanism so that it prepares me for the day. I come back and do a little bit of stretching and yoga, get my kids ready and then they’re off to school and then I’m out of the house by 9am. I just work all the way until lunchtime and I check how my staff are doing and sometimes we have lunch meetings as well. It’s over at 6.30pm in the evening and I catch up with my friends, or I go back home and I just chill out for a bit or read something. In my schedule, I must read something. This was the year I said that I was going to finish at least 15 books this year. I’ve finished about eight books right now. I try to sleep by 10pm.
What made you decide to pursue the work you do in charity?
It was an accident. I never grew up thinking my biggest ambition in the world would be to be a charity and NGO worker, although now I can think of it, I think it’s really cool because what I do is changing the world and people’s lives.
What are the programmes being run at Budimas?
We have three main programmes – the home programme, feeding programme and the education programme. The aim of the home programme is to provide children a shelter. So in Malaysia, the charity homes ones registered under kebajikan are very few so we support them financially and let them run their homes. We run an audit with them, and advise them how they should use their homes or save on their resources so that you can operate on that.
With the feeding programme, it all started off with us in Kapar, Klang where we met a few students who were small and undernourished. We were surprised that such a situation actually still existed in Malaysia. Kapar is a small town, and there were no phone lines back then in these areas. We got to visit a few of these areas where the situation was really bad because they just didn’t have enough to eat. We met mothers who had really small and undernourished children whose growth were stunted because they didn’t have enough nourishment and food. Instead of being in class, they were waiting in the school canteen for food scraps so they could eat.
From there, we brought it up to the board and decided to do a trial to feed 30 children. The school canteen operators would feed the children for RM1.50, which would give them a nasi lemak, Milo and fruit and send us the bill. Many parents were happy to allow their children to go to school and we had to convince the children to go to class and get the food during recess. From 30 children, we grew to 3,000 and now we feed close to 6,000 children across Malaysia.
We wanted to focus on education and we came across a group of orang asli children who were stuck in their villages and didn’t want to venture out. We brought libraries over to them. Working with the Jabatan Kebajikan Orang Asli, we had a location in each of these kampungs and we built a library for them. The library also serves as a community centre. They hold all sorts of classes like engineering and English, and we even paid a librarian to be there to open the place six days a week. That’s made a lot of difference because instead of them roaming around picking up bad habits, they were spending their time at the library.
Your most rewarding moment?
Every time a child makes it somewhere, passes an exam or receives an award at school, I feel like that’s the biggest win for us. It’s when a child comes up to us and they’re able to speak, say their name and tell us what they want to become and what they’ve learnt in school and have ambition.
Some of our kids in Budimas Orion whom we’ve raised since they were four years old, have actually entered university and become SUKMA students and sports people, winning in their lesser categories. I think that’s been really exciting for us because I always imagined that for children who have very little, we gave them a little and they still made it. How else could they have made it up there?
How do you overcome the challenges you face?
One of the worst ones that I always tried to overcome is the misconception about NGOs. Malaysians were not very educated about NGOs up until about five years ago. We still had people calling and asking us why we were feeding the children chicken or why we were serving them Milo because isn’t it expensive? So it took a lot out of us as a team to explain to them that they are human beings and that Milo is not luxury. It’s a need for someone who didn’t grow up having proper nutrition in life and it’s okay for them to eat chicken.
I would often play around with these people and ask them what they would eat. These people think that if you’re poor, you should not have a mobile phone or nice clothes. You should only wear old clothes, you cannot have Astro. I felt like we went through a lot to educate people when we want to do something. For example, I’m not giving them an Apple iPad, I’m giving them a tablet, especially during MCO when we ran a donation drive for devices. We need to use it because it has become a necessity but for me to change their mindset, especially the people who have a lot, and who donate who think that we’re not channeling the money property.
For example, nobody will go to school and they don’t walk to school, so donors need to pay for a bus to take them to school. I have had donors who called me to tell me to let the children walk. It has been really hard for me to overcome, but over the years I think Malaysians have gotten much better.
What is next for Budimas?
Since the pandemic, things have been very interesting. We threw a lot of the plans we had in the beginning, out of the window. Now we’re trying to generate more funds towards children who were left behind during the MCO period because some of them really couldn’t do their online classes. We’re trying to speak to home caretakers to see if they can buck up their tuition and catch up on exams. We’re also still running the device donation drive to ensure that all of these kids at least have access to a smartphone so that they can watch their lessons.
For the feeding programme, we’ve picked up on it because school’s been out so we have these funds that are already allocated to them so we’re trying to see what else we can do. We’re running a lot of exam school camps so that these children are educated and are able to eat.
Find out more about the Budimas Charitable Foundation and how you can help. Visit Budimas for more information.