COMMEN T The phone rang again for the umpteenth time a month into the launch of Malaysiakini’s ‘Buy a Brick’ campaign. A nervous voice came on asking to speak to the brick person.
“Hi, this is Lynn, the brick person...”
“Okay, hello! I’m not sure what to say. You see, I am studying in Perak. I want to buy a brick. I’m not rich. I have no money but I think it is important for me to do this.”
More often than not, I am completely lost for words. The boy is 22 years old. He told me that he is studying and working part-time to collect money for his brick and needs more time.
“I have already collected RM700. You wait for me, okay.”
I promised to wait. I put down the phone and allowed a wave of tears to wash over me.
Malaysiakini does not belong to us, but to the public.
Having started this campaign with gusto and optimism, we were initially thinking about just moving to a new place so that we could grow our operations. However, we were about to be shown the true sentiments of the Malaysian public. This was not something we were entirely prepared for.
On Nov 15, 2013, the first day we launched the campaign, RM22,000 poured in and we filled up over 50 pledge forms. Today we have over 600 people who have come forward to help the cause.
However, the jewels of the campaign are in the individual stories.
A better place
An elderly man wrote in and asked if he could place the names of his late father and mother-in-law on the brick. I assured him that this was not a problem. He said, “I want them to be remembered in a good place. Malaysiakini is a good place.”
We have had senior citizens who can hardly walk climb up our stairs, come into the office and sign cheques for the campaign. One woman, immaculately dressed and well in her 70s, said, “This is a horrible place to work, so dangerous, you guys need to work in a better place...”
She goes on to share how she does not read anything other than the news from Malaysiakini . Before she left she said, “Don’t worry, you will get your money. The public will support you.”
Indeed, the public has showed up for us loud and clear. We have four corporate organisations who took up the bigger sponsorship but wanted us to be discreet about their contribution. Almost 70 percent of the funds raised were from individuals from all over the world. We have had Malaysians in Germany, Sweden, Australia, Singapore, Japan, United Kingdom, United States, and India supporting the cause.
Some of the supporters are thrilled that we are doing this; they make unannounced appearances at the office to take a picture with their brick. We are happy to have our supporters visit the Malaysiakini office. However, the visit always ends up the same.
A supporter came with his son. Both, especially the father, were so wildly excited to be in the premises of Malaysiakini . “I am a huge fan,” he said time and again. “I want my children to understand the importance of independent media... I am buying a brick for each one of them.”
The wild excitement will slowly give way to heavy silence when we take them on a tour of the office. Half of them leave shell-shocked and finally understand why having a new place is so important. Half of them leave saying things like, “I cannot believe you all work like this, the place is so cramped... and all those great news... from here?”
It is not that bad, I assure them. We are a family, a close-knit one. When there is the warmth of the family, all else fades into insignificance.
But through this campaign Malaysiakini is forced to realise that family is beyond the confines of our office walls. It includes the public who were relying heavily on what they believe in as the truth. We understand that our jobs have nothing to do with our own survival but for the preservation of a public which believes in us.
At the stroke of midnight
We see this with all the letters and hundreds of phone calls we received. One supporter wrote, “Thank you so much for executing my requests with such efficiency and your lovely note.
“We on our part would like to express our deep appreciation for your effort in establishing a truly free media. We are aware that so many of you are working under very difficult circumstances and still persevere.
“What is more encouraging is that more and more young journalists are getting more and more mature in the breath and depth of their reporting...
“As such, Malaysiakini has also become a very much needed platform for bringing up high-quality journalists in Malaysia, thus upholding the integrity of journalism in the country.
“Finally, to be able to do our little part towards your huge endeavour for a free press in Malaysia, the honour is really ours.”
As the clock ticked to 00:00 on New Year’s Day, a doctor from a remote part of Malaysia decided that he wanted to spend his new year banking in RM1,000 for a brick. I was moved beyond words.
Many people banked in money that day and we hit our first million target on Jan 1, 2014. The whole office was thrilled. We could not have received greater news.
Fifteen days into the new year and we have raised an additional RM100,000 from the public. We are truly grateful for every sen we receive and we will not give up on our ambitious RM3 million target.
We must say that we have been terribly lucky in finding our building’s interior designer, Ambrose Poh, and brick engraver, Ashley John. Both came to us without as much as an invitation. Both have been an absolute pleasure to work with. Both are huge fans of Malaysiakini as well.
Ambrose has worked with us over six months. He has spent countless hours working with the Malaysiakini team in understanding us and trying to invent a space that will accommodate best our varied personalities and the personality of the organisation.
Ashley John is truly a miracle worker. We have called him and asked him to get bricks engraved on short notice and he has never once disappointed us. Diligently, every week, he and his workers would bring into the office - the bricks carefully wrapped in plastic cling wraps.
For a greater good
I have only ever organised two birthday parties, one of which turned out to be a flop. I could not really breathe when I was made to manage the fundraising and overall building projects.
However, I will forever be indebted to Malaysiakini founders Premesh Chandran and Steven Gan for having faith in me. They gave such an important task to someone with no credentials or experience in the field except for the fact that I myself love Malaysiakini with all my heart and want the absolute best for my colleagues who have have taken centre-stage in my heart these past few years.
We struggle so much in the world wearing masks and being what we think the world wants to see. So few and rare are the opportunities to be real. In Malaysiakini , we are allowed to be real. And because we are allowed to be real, we thrive magnificently.
For this fundraising, my secret allies have been my bosses and colleagues. They have risen to the occasion and I have said this many times before, should I send out an email asking for help, within three minutes one of my colleagues will reply.
We sit together, we talk, we share our fears, we share our personal stories, we get ill together, we hold each other’s hands in the dark, we pull each other out of exhaustion, we cheer each other on - this is everything Malaysiakini. Many of us here have made personal sacrifices for what we believe to be a pressing need in the country.
We have missed parties, we have put holidays on hold, we have chosen to stay back late to the exclusion of a social life, we have our families missing us, we know each and every one of us has made personal sacrifices for a greater good.
We collectively know that what we do, we do in good faith and with hope that someday our children will reap the fruits of our labour.
We know none of what we do today is about us as individuals. We know that the only way to save this country is to make sure that the public is given the right to independent news.
Extension of campaign
To date, we have made a collection of RM1.1 million. We thank each and every one of our supporters who are rooting for us to have this campaign end in a raging success. For us, it already is. What we have received is much more than we expected.
We initially set a target of raising RM3 million by today - Jan 15, 2014. However, due to numerous requests, we have decided to extend the campaign until the 1,000 bricks are sold.
We currently have 624 bricks sold. Another 376 bricks and we will have a great ‘wall of appreciation’ at our new building. So, let’s do this. Let’s build something great together!
And we will see every one of you at our office-warming party once we have moved in later this year.
For more information on the 'Buy a Brick Campaign', click here .
LYNN D’CRUZ is project manager of Malaysiakini .