My goal for people is that no one should ever go hungry
I wanted to take some time off and do some work for the community, so that is when FFFA started, back in 2014. I am Nizar and I manage both Food for Change (FFC) and Free Food For All (FFFA). At that time, it took me a while to look for actual organisations that were making a difference to people’s lives. Willing Hearts was the only one giving food aid and although I love what they do, they do not provide halal food. Based on my estimation then (and now), a good 75 - 80% are actually in need of halal food. I started thinking, why do we not have organisations providing halal food to those in need?
So I started to use my hard-earned money to actually fund this. I started FFFA on 4 November 2014. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I would give 500 packets of food away. At that time, I started giving away a simple meal of nasi lemak set with otak-otak. By December 2014, about 6 weeks into the program, people were approaching me for help. At that point in time, I decided that the name of my non-governmental organisation (NGO) is to be called ‘Free Food for All’. I wanted for the food to be halal but the food has to be distributed to everyone, not only Muslims.
In February 2015, I registered the charity and in June 2015, we obtained the charity status. From November 2014 to June 2015, I was funding everything out of my own pocket. There were a lot of resources required and sometimes, I had to hide some facts from my wife because a large chunk of my savings was used to fund the aid. The public fundings coming in were still very slow as people were still doubtful, so I had to fund the aid on my own. I think I only stopped funding FFFA last year, around August or September 2020. Do you know that I don’t take a salary? But of course, for things like fuel and transport, the company pays them for me. I’m the only guy who handles the partners, runs the engagement and does fundraising. But now I have a bigger team to help me. It is good to take the company to the next level. Although there are fulfilling parts, it is quite tiring where it concerns friendships. Not everyone understands my intention or purpose of setting up FFFA. Sometimes when I catch up with friends, I would talk to them about the charity and the people in need and they would think I was asking them for money.
There was once a boy whose parents had passed away and he was adopted. He felt angry about his situation. However, his foster parents were nice people. In front of his foster parents, he spoke roughly. He was probably about 13 years old. But when I spoke to him, he completely changed. He spoke good English and told me, “I don’t want to let them know that this is my preferred language.”. I asked why and he simply replied, “I would rather appear dumb than let people know I’m smart.”. I probe further on what he loved and enjoyed, expecting him to enjoy things like computer games and soccer as most boys do. However, he revealed that he enjoys writing poetries in English. When I told the foster parents about it, they were shocked.
This is where we, as FFFA, come in. We try to bridge the gap and disconnection that may exist even in families at times. For foster parents, when they talk to the child and are unable to get the response they want to hear, they will feel that they have failed or what they are doing is not working. But there is always a solution. This is an example of the work we do behind the scenes (different from those that you see on Facebook feed). A lot of those are done by me personally. Honestly, it can be very tiring because everybody assumes that I can sort out their problems.
FFFA does all of these. Normally, people see me as the guy who can fix everything, so there is a huge burden on me. For example, a friend of a friend would say, “Eh, I know Nizar.”. I would then try to help these friends. They do get very clingy and update me if they have found a job. I would say, “Yeah that’s great!”. But then they would need my help further, for instance, to buy furniture. I would respond that that is only possible if they are under the FFFA scheme and if they agree to receive help from social service. However, if they are not and don’t want to be labelled as somebody getting help, how will I get the resources they ask for, such as a washing machine, a bed, a television, a stereo or a microwave oven? Naturally, if I were to get such resources, I would be giving them to those in need. You can’t have the best of both worlds. You want to be able to be proud of having a job, but you also want someone to help you behind the scenes quietly. I can understand that life situations can be very difficult sometimes. However, the data of anyone who gets help will be revealed (which is understandable, as they want to prevent abuse), so there is no way I can help someone and not reveal who they are. However, when I am unable to help that person, there goes the reputation I have worked hard to build.
It bothers me because I value friendships and relationships. I’m extremely exhausted as my health is in poor condition. People refuse to understand my plight but what can I do? I can’t say no. But I think it’s still better than not being able to help anyone at all. Sometimes even though I complain about certain situations, I get very restless when nobody calls me for help. I just hope I can manage the help I want to give. At times, I do feel like I can’t do the things that I like. My hobby is to collect coins, but I just don’t have the time to do so. I have to look after other people and their problems. I spend a long time on phone calls and emails. My diabetes makes my condition worse. I sometimes think that if I didn’t have FFFA, I would just go bonkers. Yet, the aid that people need comes at a time when I lost my mobility. I can’t even stand without someone helping me. So I question myself sometimes, “Where did it all go? What happened?”. Most of life happened in a flash and suddenly, 20 - 30 years had gone by. No matter what, even though I might get burnt out with volunteering, the next day, I get better and want to go back to it again.
Over time, I learnt how to manage my clients’ expectations. If you tell them upfront about your expectations, they will say you are unapproachable. Yet if you don’t tell them upfront, they would think you can do wonders. Sometimes, doing wonders for them is not what they need. There’s a difference between what they want and what they need. You see, if somebody is hungry, what they need is food and company to keep them happy. They don’t need a luxury watch, for example. But surely, they want one, right? Thus, there is a need to manage their expectations.
I have had some memorable moments in my journey with FFFA, some good and some sad. I do meet all sorts of people in this movement, some who are for or against charity. My most memorable encounter is with this JC teacher who has passed away. This is a personal blow to me. He contracted a flesh-eating disease and his family left him. He went back to living with his father in a small flat. He had various limbs amputated and life became hard for him. He needed food aids from us. He especially loved dates. Once, he wanted some dates and I bought them for him, but I did not manage to pass them to him in time. He passed away before I could do so. He also wanted Pocky biscuits. I was upset with myself that I could not pass them to him in time. This was a moment in my life which still saddens and chokes me up. I do remember another memorable happy moment.
In December 2016, I organised a food programme where we fed 10,000 multiracial people at a mosque. That day, someone took a photo of me standing with the imam of the mosque and a few other brothers from different faiths. I thought to myself at that moment, only in Singapore can we have such an eventful moment together in a mosque despite the differences in our races and beliefs. A Thai brother at that time was surprised when he saw us and I told him we do have events like these. I think we should have more such multiracial food aid events.
Today, we have a home delivery system where people merely order food online and the food is sent to their homes. Food seems accessible for many of us. As such, every year, tons of food are wasted. All of us should agree that no one should go hungry. Hunger should no longer be an issue in Singapore. There is something wrong with our society if people go hungry. The measure of one’s wealth should not be on what he has but what he is willing to give. Because a man who amassed his wealth is borrowing from someone else actually. Look at how much money we earn that goes to paying the bills each month. That is an example I can give you.
A personal struggle I have is when family members do not understand what I do. I see what I do as a life goal. Perhaps I must rest more to get to my goals later. I am stubborn and want to get things done fast. What keeps me going is the fact that there is someone out there who needs my help and if I fulfil it, I get to deliver the social impact that quenches me. I am used to looking through Facebook and seeing who needs my help. Helping others uplifts me. If you don’t want to feel hungry, feed someone. If you don’t want to feel thirsty, give someone a drink. No one becomes poor by doing charity. If you have faith, belief in a higher force. This couldn’t be truer. The more hardships I face, the more charitable acts I do. I use my own personal money to help others, not just for FFFA. We have done a lot this year and I am looking to do more when the opportunity arises.
When things don’t go our way, we feel down, especially when it concerns our health. When I think of or see my favourite food, chicken rice, I tear up because I don’t think I deserve that chicken rice if I didn’t help anyone. I will swallow it with a lump in my throat. I feel contented if I had a social impact, otherwise I don’t think I deserve the meal. All religions teach us to feed others and help others.
Running FFFA has taught me that the social impact one has on others is important. The ripple effect of throwing a stone will reach all shores. One person that comes to mind is Mdm Rima whom I mentored. She is now a village headwoman who can fill up the fridge at Block 162, Yishun. Most people are still afraid to ask others for help, even in asking for near expired cans of food. Wouldn’t it be nice if FFFA has its own brand? I can stretch my dollars like that. I feel that the biggest failure I would have is if I am unable to lift FFFA off the grounds to go beyond greater heights. I am searching for like-minded people to come together to meet common social goals. Collectively, we are stronger.
There are different kinds of people around in this country. Some people blame the government when they can instead take actions and make a positive difference to others. I would rather cook soup or porridge and go down to the beaches and feed the homeless than waste my time blaming others for a certain social situation. I used to buy them medications such as ointment and axe oil in case they need them. These were some social activities I used to do before FFFA. Those days were definitely fulfilling. Today, with a proper organisation, there are a lot more protocols to follow.
How has FFFA changed me? It’s easier for me to speak my mind than previously. I am affected when people are affected. We have to take care of the people receiving the food. Their capacity is lesser than ours. The recipients should be our focus, not the donors. That has always been my main aim. Some people donate to look high and mighty. Sometimes, I feel disappointed with close family members or friends. Most times, people who don’t know me are willing to donate large amounts while the people I know are full of talk but carry out no action. I lost friends through my journey with FFFA due to differences in thinking. I was in shipping and had large cars. When I did FFFA, some family members thought I had become rich due to FFFA. I do not need such family members whom I have supported in their hard times but neglected and shunned me when I committed my all to FFFA. On the other hand, I am also blessed to have family members who are not close relatives. They and their siblings have consistently helped and supported me since 2015. I am definitely grateful for their continuous support.
At Free Food For All, we provide free meals that are nutritious and tasty to those in need and who qualify for one of our assistance programmes. We provide relief by fulfilling a basic human need for food and empower our beneficiaries to take action and raise themselves out of poverty.
We aim to rekindle the kampong spirit through fostering strong ties between neighbours and the community.
Free Food For All is a project for the Community, by the Community. Ending hunger is no longer a matter of means but rather a matter of will. As a society, we are capable of ensuring that no one in Singapore has to go hungry again.