JAKARTA: Heavy rain suddenly poured down when Ahmad Marzuki, an office boy in Jakarta, was on his way home from a late shift in April 2018.
He immediately ran to seek refuge and chanced upon a family of scavengers lying on the pavement, as a little baby cried. It was about 9pm.
“The woman said to the man, ‘Why can’t you do something? Our baby is hungry.'
“But the man replied: ‘What can I do? It is raining and we don’t have money…’,” Mr Marzuki recalled.
At that time, Mr Marzuki was only in the third week of his new job and had yet to receive his salary. He made a promise to himself to help the family once he received his first paycheck.
“I thought the encounter was God's way of reminding me: If you have something like a salary, you shouldn’t forget (to help others),” Mr Marzuki told CNA.
When he received his first salary of less than 3 million rupiah (US$213), he bought an electric stove and prepared meals meant for the family of scavengers he saw on that rainy night.
However, he could not trace the family later so he gave the food to the other homeless people he encountered during his search.
And from there, he started providing food to the needy once a week, usually on Saturday or Sunday night.
There is no fixed budget for the initiative, but Mr Marzuki, 33, sets aside about 25 to 30 per cent of his current monthly salary of slightly over 4 million rupiah to cook for the homeless. The minimum wage in Jakarta is around 4.2 million rupiah.
"ADDICTED" TO HELPING OTHERS
Inspired by his noble deed, Mr Marzuki's friends have decided to join him on his weekly distribution trips across Jakarta.
He did not approach them at first, out of fear of troubling them, but a friend discovered his weekly route at the end of 2019 and volunteered to contribute.
Each week, at least five of his friends would help him out, either to cook or to give out the free meals.
Some of his friends also offered their place to prepare the meals, since Mr Marzuki is living in a small rented room of 3m x 2.5m. "I have to fold the mattress so I have enough space to cook," he said.
They normally prepare food for about 50 to 100 people each time.
Rice and vegetables are usually included in the menu, while beef will be included during festive days such as Hari Raya and Christmas.
Every week, they go to different parts of Jakarta so that they can help different people.
Mr Marzuki believed it is best to distribute free meals at night because he noticed that those who appear to be homeless during day time are often professional beggars.
People who sleep rough on the streets at night are most likely real homeless people and this is the group he wants to help, he said.
Mr Marzuki said his experience so far has been pleasant, and he claimed that he is "addicted" to helping others.
He has never had a bad experience, he said.
“Once, a man saw us and immediately approached us. He asked me whether he could get some food while showing us his shaky hands. He hasn’t eaten the whole day.”
Another time, they went to an area in South Jakarta and wanted to give a woman food but she rejected.
She said she did not need it because someone else just gave her free food so she would rather someone else have the meal.
About five months ago, Mr Marzuki met a scavenger who has a four-month-old baby. The baby was so tiny, he said, so his group decided to provide them with a regular supply of milk powder.
“Now the baby has grown a lot. There is a personal satisfaction seeing the baby's growth,” he said.
MORE HOMELESS PEOPLE IN JAKARTA DURING COVID-19
As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on in Indonesia, Mr Marzuki and his friends still continue their charitable deed.
But to ensure their safety, they give the food without making small talk with the less fortunate people, unlike before the pandemic.
Mr Marzuki noticed that since the pandemic, there are more needy people as they keep encountering new homeless people.
“I just hope the pandemic will soon end because there are many people who have been laid off.
“Hopefully we will also be healthy, so we can continue to help each other.”
SHARING MAKES US FEEL WE HAVE ENOUGH: MARZUKI
As the son of farmers living in Lampung province on Sumatra island, Mr Marzuki grew up in a poor household.
After school, he had to help his parents earn a living by finding snails or trash to sell, leaving him with no time to study.
When he was in junior high school, he had to walk 7km daily to school.
An incident Mr Marzuki could never forget is when one day his parents were sick and he wanted to borrow money from his relatives.
Instead of feeling sorry for him, his relatives asked him how he could afford to repay them next time.
“They were my family but they didn’t want to lend me money. So I went home empty-handed,” Mr Marzuki said.
He then tried to seek help from the middleman who usually bought his snails, and finally got some money to pay for his parents' medical bills.
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His own life experiences motivated him to keep on helping others.
“When it comes to humans, they always feel everything is not enough. Regardless of how much God has given them, they will never feel it’s enough.
“That’s why we have to share with other people. By sharing, we will feel we have enough,” said Mr Marzuki.
Read this story in Bahasa Indonesia here.