Malaysians, UN agencies come together to provide Dignity Kits for refugees

UNHCR Malaysia received 5,000 Dignity Kits from the UN Population Fund, UNFPA at a ceremony in Kuala Lumpur

The Dignity Kits contain sanitary items such as soap, shampoo, toothbrushes, laundry detergent, reusable sanitary pads, sarongs, headscarves, and underwear. The Kits also include an information booklet on reproductive health and an MP3 player to help refugees who are illiterate
© UNHCR/Muhammad Affendi Abdullah


Kuala Lumpur, 21 September 2020 - When UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency recently made a call for volunteers to support an initiative meant to give refugee women access to hygiene items and safe sanitary practices, dozens of Malaysians quickly stepped up. 

One of the volunteers was Abu Fadzil from Kuala Lumpur. 

“When I heard that UNHCR needed help from volunteers, I quickly rallied my work colleagues to assist with this project as part of our company’s annual Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR),” said Abu Fadzil, who heads the Operations and Customer Service department at a destination management company.

UNHCR had recently received 5,000 Dignity Kits from the UN Population Fund, UNFPA, to be distributed to refugees and stateless communities in Malaysia. This was part of UNFPA’s response to the needs of women and girls of reproductive age in the time of a global public health crisis.  

UNHCR received 5,000 Dignity Kits from the UN Population Fund, UNFPA at a ceremony in Kuala Lumpur  © UNHCR / Fatin Farzana

Michelle Fong, who heads the Sexual and Gender Based Violence/ Child Protection (SGBV/CP) unit in UNHCR Malaysia said, “In any emergency, sexual reproductive health rights are often the most neglected basic need. When people are displaced, they carry only what is most essential. Sanitary items are usually not considered essential and are frequently left behind.”

The Dignity Kits contain sanitary items such as soap, shampoo, toothbrushes, laundry detergent, reusable sanitary pads, sarongs, headscarves, and underwear. The Kits also include an information booklet on reproductive health. 

UNHCR translated these information booklets into five languages most commonly spoken by refugees, and then recorded the content as audio files to help refugees who were illiterate. 

Abu Fadzil, together with 17 colleagues, volunteered their time to download these audio files into 1,300 MP3 Players, and prepared packaging for 900 MP3 Players, that would be distributed together with the Dignity Kits. Incredibly, they completed the task within 48 hours.

Raja Teh, a volunteer from Kuala Lumpur, mobilized her two teenaged daughters and their friends to help. Over an afternoon, the group downloaded audio files in Rohingya, Farsi, and Urdu languages into 200 MP3 players. 

“I feel it is important to expose my children to volunteering with marginalized communities, including refugees. This helps build empathy,” said Raja Teh, whose children were happy and proud to contribute. 

A team of volunteers helped to prepare MP3 players with audio instructions and information on the Dignity Kit  © UNHCR / Abu Fadzil

“Ensuring that refugees can easily receive important information is a crucial part of UNHCR’s work. This often means translating content into different languages and making sure information is available online. Increasingly, UNHCR also transfers the content into audio formats so that anyone can receive the information, even those who cannot read,” said Fong. 

“We are grateful to the dozens of Malaysians who stepped up to volunteer for this project. Preparing the audio content into MP3 Players was an important task, but not an easy one, and UNHCR alone could not have done it in the necessary time.”

There are more than 50,000 refugee women and girls of reproductive age registered with UNHCR in Malaysia who face limited access to adequate menstrual and reproductive health supplies and services. The Dignity Kits were distributed to refugee and stateless communities in West Malaysia, through various NGOs such as MERCY, SUKA Society, Rohingya Women Development Network, Women’s Aid Organization, and the International Catholic Migration Commission.

Syaedah a Rohingya refugee woman from the Rohingya Women’s Development Centre in Kuala Lumpur, was thrilled to receive the DignityKit. Syaedah found the MP3 Player with audio instructions in her native language extremely useful, as she had never had the opportunity to learn how to read. 

“I think this Dignity Kit will really help refugee women care for their sanitary hygiene in a dignified way. All the contents in this Kit are things that women need,” said Syaedah. “I would like to thank UNFPA and UNHCR for this Dignity Kit, and for thinking of our needs during this pandemic".