The sporting community in Malaysia is truly a caring group of folks we should all be proud of. In good times, this community supports one another in training and racing. But when confronted with real tough times especially with the on-going flood situation, they step up with their efforts showcasing leadership, bonding and team spirit.
The Hulu Langat area in Selangor is deemed the cycling haven and a popular training ground among cyclists and triathletes for its undulating hills. However, the area was devastated by landslides and massive flooding which has wiped out many people’s lives and livelihood.
“Team Haug” husband-and-wife pair of Harum Delima Binti Mohd Noor and Knut Morten Bjorlien Haug, well known within the local triathlon fraternity, has been instrumental in initiating the flood cleanup. This is their story.
ToughASIA: What inspired you to initiate the Hulu Langat Bobcat Flood Cleanup?
Knut: This disaster hit so close to home, literally. Usually, when we see pictures of floods and landslides in the media in different states or countries – while upsetting – it also feels a bit distant. But this happened in our own city; it was almost unreal. The first day after the floods hit, we saw people calling for help and complaining about the slow response from the official channels. Harum had friends coming in from other states to help while we were going on with our normal life.
On top of this, it was Christmas, which – alongside other major holidays – is really the time for giving and thinking about your brothers and sisters. We both realised how absurd it was that we were preoccupied with clocking in training on Strava or looking good on social media, while people only half-an-hour away at many of our regular cycling spots had lost their homes and were crying for help.
On social media, Harum read that our running friend – Mohd Shahril “Arilarkin” was organising some people to help affected colleagues in Hulu Langat, so she asked if we could join.
When we arrived on Tuesday 21 December, we were not at all prepared for what met us in Hulu Langat, Selangor. From photos and descriptions from other flood sites, we gathered we would need buckets, mops, scrubs and detergents to clean dirty houses. We arrived at Arilarkin’s colleagues house with his other workmates from the Department of Statistics Malaysia (DOSM), however, it was not even accessible due to all the mud around it.
The front gate could not be opened. 30-40cm of sticky and heavy mud everywhere! We had only 2 buckets and 2 shovels with us, and I think we all thought that this was impossible. But we had to try.
So, we started shovelling mud into the buckets and tried to carry it away, then we realised there was nowhere to discard of the mud, because everywhere was mud. After 2 hours, we had finally cleared about 9 square meters, just enough to open the gate. At the end of the day, and despite finding a wheelbarrow, we had barely made a dent to the rest of the yard. We came home feeling hopeless. We could go back there for a month and I think we still would not have cleared the mud from the yard of one single house, let alone be able to clear the mud from inside the house.
It felt like banging the head against a brick wall and I was wondering if there was any point in going back. During the day, we had not seen a single heavy machine on the road passing by.
We derived the idea that perhaps, we could rent a machine like a Bobcat – something small enough that we could operate and that could reach inside people’s yards and roads.
After some searching through Google, we realised a Bobcat was perfect for the job. The first five companies I contacted were less than interested in helping, however, the sixth – Multico – was amazing. A big shoutout to their representative, Mr. Tan, who went out of his way to help us. And so the idea of crowdfunding was born.
ToughASIA: Can you describe your collective efforts?
Knut: We crowdfunded to rent the Bobcat. Initially, we thought to rent for a day, but then realised it would be great to have it for a week so we could help more people. We started at Batu 11 of Hulu Langat because that is where Arilarkin’s colleague was residing.
On site, the idea was very simple: just bring “Bobby” – our nickname for the Bobcat courtesy of Nik Intan – around and ask if anyone would like help. After a couple of days, we were very happy that the neighbourhood would come forward to ask us as well. Our goal is to help as much as we can and make a difference to those we help, which Bobby is key in achieving.
We try to have a rough plan for each day, but admit that often we have no idea what challenges we will be facing. Thus far, the volunteers have all been exceptional, showed initiative and leadership to solve problems in getting things done without any micromanagement.
While it was our idea to start this, we could not have done it with the shared ownership of Arilarkin and Shahrun Nadzree.
ToughASIA: Who joined you in this clean-up?
Knut: It has been amazing to see friends and social media connections coming forward in this initiative.
A lot of triathletes which is a big chunk of our friends stepped forward, but also people we have never met in real life before have come to join us.
In addition, DOSM gave their staff special leave for a period to help under their “Stats Relief” plan. So, they have been our collaborators; it was after all us who joined them on our first day there. Every day the crew is different, and every day they impress us!
ToughASIA: What have you achieved in this clean-up?
Knut: It is still ongoing, but we have cleared probably thousands of kilos of mud from both outside and inside houses, and shops.
The flood caused a lot of other issues too besides mud, so we helped take down structures, fix broken pipes, declog drains, but where “Bobby” shines is on clearing roads and open spaces.
Seven days into this clean-up, we have helped more than 15 sites. Some are quite fast, some are really tedious and many feel impossible when we first started. So, we try to stay positive and be happy about any little progress we make.
Sometimes we realise we are helping people who have no one else to help them, and some are unable to help themselves. We hear and see a lot of heartbreaking stuff, so we try to accept that we cannot fix everything and try to not get too affected. But sometimes, it gets very difficult. We try to do so much that those we help should be able to manage the rest themselves though, and hopefully soon be able to move back to their homes or resume their businesses.
ToughASIA: What are the most memorable moments?
Knut: To start from the beginning, the first special moment was the result of the crowdfunding which actually shocked us. Neither of us have done this before so we were not sure how to go about it. Would anyone give us money straight into my account just based on our word?
Most people who wanted to donate – ourselves included – had probably already donated to other initiatives. Plus, it was just before Christmas – people were going on vacation leave, I could think of so many reasons why it would not work, but we had to try.
So, Harum put together our little request package and we decided to only send it out to a few of our closest WhatsApp groups first, to gauge the response. But within minutes of sending it out, we got our first donation of RM500, we almost fell off our chairs!
It was surprising that the first donations came from people we hardly knew. Within the first day we collected almost RM12,000!
That was incredible and we felt so humbled and grateful that people believed in us. On the other hand, we also felt the responsibility to do this well, to really make sure we live up to the trust given us by so many people.
The volunteers who have joined us have really surprised us – some travelled from as far away as Tanjung Malim to join our initiative. And now we have a steady amount of requests from people who would like to join. I think many out there have wanted to help but did not know how and at least within our group of connections, now there is a way.
The most memorable and most important thing has been seeing the relief in the faces of the people whom we helped. They were in disbelief yet happy to learn that we offered our help without any agenda, without any affiliation, and we did as much as we could for free.
I think it is hard not to feel defeated when you have lost everything that was inside your house or shop and on top of that, you cannot even access it to start cleaning and throwing things because you there is deep mud both outside and inside.
We truly believe that we have reached our goal, which was to make a small difference to some people and restore some hope.
Furthermore, “Bobby” has grown to be a local celebrity there. We also have some of the guys in the vicinity using him in the evening, to make sure he is utilised maximally.
The project has not been without problems though; we have had 3 flat tyres and got stuck in a hole once. However, we have overcome any challenges and have received free services from the local shops each time which we are so grateful for.
ToughASIA: Have there been any other learnings or experiences you would like to share?
Knut: Firstly, it was a surprise how difficult it was to deal with mud. It is so sticky and heavy, almost impossible to clear by hand. We had no idea until we tried and nearly gave up. But then we thought about how desperate this must be for the people there, and we thought there HAD to be a way we could help.
Secondly, it has been important for us to share what we are doing as repayment to all those who are helping us. It is a fine line of sharing photos and videos though, as we really do not want this to look like it is about us.
The focus of this experience was on people helping people and we hope that shines through – the amazing power of people being there for each other. It has inspired us, I hope it has for others too.
We also heard that some other groups tried to rent Bobcats now, but now they seem out of stock.
ToughASIA: Will there be any follow-up to this clean-up initiative?
Knut: As of now we are just taking things one day at a time. We think we have almost done all we can do at Batu 11 now, so are thinking of moving further in. We have some guys checking on the situation and we will try to assess the conditions to see if we can be effective. “Bobby” is great for flat firm surfaces, but is not big enough to tackle more challenging conditions.
We have tried to go off-road, but often we have to give up that idea as the wheels started to dig into the ground and he was close to getting stuck. However, we still have plenty of money left, so we will consider how to use it to make the best possible impact for those who need it the most.
Finally, we would like to thank everyone who has supported this project! Thank you for caring and thank you for choosing to do something to help.
Know of any other inspiring stories by our sporting communities in the ongoing flood disaster? Please write to firstname.lastname@example.org.