Hadijah Neamat, a Malaysian mother who was trying to cope during the coronavirus quarantine, put a shred of white linen outside her window as an appeal for assistance.
During a prolonged lockdown in Malaysia, the #benderaputih (white flag) campaign has gathered traction on social media in an attempt to inspire people to help others in need.
A neighbor stopped by shortly after Hadijah, 73, raised the flag to bring her food and other goods.
Hadijah, who lives in a highly crowded district of Petaling Jaya in Selangor state near the capital, Kuala Lumpur, said, “I imagined it would be foreigners who would come to help, like affluent people, ministers, or prominent individuals.”
“But they said ‘We are neighbors. If someone puts up a white flag, of course we need to be concerned’,” she added, saying she was surprised by the act of generosity on her doorstep.
Hadijah’s husband, Mohd Rusni Kahman, 59, has a disability and has not been able to work since losing his job last year.
“Sometimes I just stare into space… If I don’t have work, what will I do? I can’t just rely on my son,” he said.
Malaysia has reported more than 785,000 cases of COVID-19, the third-highest tally in Southeast Asia, and has been in lockdown since June 1.
The pandemic has put a particular strain on low-income families, with reports of many forced to ration food.
In response to the white flag campaign, neighbors, businesses, politicians and even celebrities have stepped in to donate.
“It takes a lot of courage (to display the white flag)… Because it’s actually telling everyone that you… can’t manage,” lawmaker Maria Chin Abdullah told Reuters.
“But I think I take it positively – it’s something that this country actually needs because we can’t cover everybody. So it’s good that… you indicate that you need help and we’ll come to you,” she said.