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Marlina Mohamed Yased’s daily routine is probably familiar to many parents: Waking the children and getting them ready for school.

However, that’s not all on her morning to-do list.

Apart from ensuring her youngest child — Marlina’s kids’ ages range from 9 to 26 — has his breakfast before leaving for school, she also feeds nine other kids — with milk and cereal bars — from rental flats around Lengkok Bahru area.

It’s a new initiative that she started in May with two goals: To give these kids a healthy breakfast, and to encourage them to continue to attend school.

It’s one of Marlina’s projects as part of a support group called Healthy You & Me (HYM) that she started in Lengkok Bahru with her next-door neighbour, Elisa Devi Govindasamy, 37, in Sep 2021.

Milk fridge opens at 6.10am

Students collect their milk from this fridge outside Marlina’s flat. They ‘mark attendance’ on the whiteboard next to it. Image source: Joey Wee.

Every morning at 6.10am, Marlina, who works at a social service centre, would wait outside her two-room rental flat, looking out for the kids.

“All they have to do is show up with their school uniform, carrying their school bag, and they can have a milk packet and cereal bar of their choice,” she shares.

After collecting their breakfast, they mark their attendance on the whiteboard hanging on the side of the fridge.

Why so early though?

“I thought it would be better to have an earlier time to allow the students to collect their milk, because some of them have to travel a few MRT stops to get to school,” explains Marlina.

“They can choose between Milo, regular milk, chocolate milk, or strawberry milk. But so far it seems like the strawberry milk isn’t popular among the kids,” she adds with a laugh.

The idea of distributing milk to the students actually came from her 9-year-old son, Rafieq, says Marlina proudly.

“One time, Rafieq told me how even though he only had a packet of milk during recess, he still had enough energy for the whole day. From that, I realised what a packet of milk can do for a child,” she explains.

From that, Marlina had the inspiration to provide packets of milk to less-privileged students, to ensure they won’t go hungry in school (they seldom have pocket money) and to encourage them not to skip classes.

Marlina’s children and husband are also very supportive of the work she does.

“One time, Rafieq accidentally drank a Milo packet from the fridge. When he realised what he did, he came back home from school with a fresh Milo packet to replace what he took,” Marlina recounts proudly.

More than just milk

The dried and frozen food outside Marlina’s flat. Image source: Joey Wee.

Apart from milk and cereal bars, Marlina also has a freezer and cabinet outside her flat containing frozen and dried products, including chilli padi, instant noodles, potatoes, sausages and canned food.

“Although these food items aren’t the healthiest, they are easy to cook and that makes it more accessible,” Marlina shares.

Community fridges that distribute free food to residents are a more common sight these days. So, I asked why HYM decided to do its food distribution right outside of Marlina’s flat.

She jokes: “It’s because there’s no space downstairs!”

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Chuckling, she shares the other, real reason: “When it is right outside my house, it is much easier to bond and have a connection with those people picking up the food. I can chat with them to see how they are doing!”

“Since the void deck is also a public space, some people could feel shy about collecting the food ingredients that they need. I think they are more comfortable coming up to a more private area to collect food,’ Marlina added.

Most of these families receiving the food assistance from Marlina are part of HYM. And Marlina doesn’t ask too much about the different family backgrounds — she just shares what she has, based on what they need.

“Most of the time, we just chat with families that reach out to us. This initiative is run on trust,” Marlina shares.

Talking about trust, does this mean that the fridges are left unlocked outside her flat? Isn’t she afraid of pilferage?

Marlina laughs: “No, because I have a padlock on the fridges!”

Why the name?

A poster that Healthy You & Me has created. Image source: Joey Wee.

Created by Marlina and Elisa for the parents of Lengkok Bahru, HYM has 25 members now.

“Just text me if you want to join,” laughs Marlina. There is a WhatsApp chatgroup for the members too.

In Nov 2021, Elisa had to have a hysterectomy – a surgical procedure to remove the uterus.
Being a single mother on a long term visit pass, she struggled with medical bills. At first, she couldn’t afford the $8,000 she needed for the operation, which made her turn down the surgery at first. Thankfully, a doctor at a private hospital did the surgery for her pro bono.

She was thankful for how things turned out but Elisa realised that she might not be the only one facing healthcare worries. That was when she decided to start HYM with Marlina.

The support group aims to improve access to health and healthcare services for vulnerable families and the rental flat communities in Lengkok Bahru. Marlina and Elisa do so through educating families on healthcare and helping them to connect with healthcare services.

The members also meet up for regular physical activities such as swimming and cycling.

Elisa recounts when she first moved into her flat at Lengkok Bahru, they were struggling financially: “My ex-husband and I were not employed at the time, and I had to struggle with feeding my two children.”

She recounted one time when she literally had to scrounge in her flat for money. “I managed to find $6 worth of coins, so I went to the market, I bought rice and selar fish to make some rasam for my family. At the time, I was just so glad I could feed them.”

“If HYM existed last time, I wouldn’t have to worry about food,” Elisa says with a laugh.

Hoping to do this long term

(From far left) Zubaida Ali, Elisa Devi Govindasamy, and Marlina Mohamed Yased outside of Marlina’s flat. Image source: Joey Wee

“I think this project is great as it treats people with dignity, and I think it is a good alternative to community fridges for people who are self-conscious,” says Zubaida Ali, 61, a member of HYM.

Currently, the food supplies and chillers are donated to HYM by the community and donors who have discovered HYM’s TikTok account.

However, Marlina says that with their current funds, she estimates that the food rations would run out in the next two weeks. In fact, the food ran out last Wednesday (May 24), but she managed to replenish it with a last-minute donation.

It’s to raise funds that the duo decided to go on TikTok.

“We decided to use Tiktok because it is a trending app,” says Elisa, who manages the Tiktok account.

They started their Tiktok account in April and hope that they would be able to reach out to the public more easily.

@healthyyouandmelb #healthyyouandme ❤️ #foodie 😋 #community 🤝🫂 #lengkokbahru #milo 😋 #fyp ♬ original sound – Healthy You & Me LB

“If you would like to donate, you can reach out to us on our TikTok account and website. Since we do not have a bank account for HYM, we are open to receiving food donations too,” Marlina says.

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