KUALA LUMPUR: “You can’t have ice cream now. It’s raining heavily and you could catch a cold,” advises Jacintha Steven, the founder of Lighthouse Children Welfare Home, to a wide-eyed seven-year-old as he tries to bargain his way to an icy afternoon treat.
An hour later, the rain finally lets up and so Jacintha makes her way to the kitchen and procures a whole box of coconut corn popsicles from the freezer.
In a flash, the dining table is packed with children of all ages (the seven-year-old boy from earlier on included), happily sinking their teeth into the frozen treat.
A popsicle for herself in her hand, Jacintha and her two dogs join the children before striking up a conversation about how everyone is coping with their school work.
This is a typical day at the home, and as the founder and caretaker of vulnerable children who come from poverty-stricken households and parents battling abuse and addiction, it is her duty to keep abreast of how the children under her charge are doing.
“Before we moved to Bangsar, we were living in Brickfields near the church. Whenever the church dealt with troubled families, the children would be temporarily sent to us while they sorted the parents out,” explains Jacintha, between bites of her ice cream.
The couple, who were then unofficial guardians for children from troubled homes, uprooted themselves and resided in Lucky Garden and had three kids of their own, adopting three more in the process.
Jacintha adds that it was quite a heartbreaking ordeal for her, in the beginning, to take care of kids from troubled homes as they were only allowed to stay with her for three months.
What’s worse is that they would often be miserable and express their reluctance at the very thought of returning to their families.
According to Jacintha, some of them would even “cling to the home’s gates, refusing to go with their parents” when the time came for them to leave.
But this inspired her and her husband to establish the Lighthouse Children Welfare Home in October 2004, effectively making them legal custodians for children who end up staying with them.
Since then, they have expanded to four homes in Bangsar, sheltering over 50 kids from as young as two to 24 years old.
Unfortunately, like many things that were affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, the home took quite a financial hit because all usual fundraising efforts had to be put on hold.
“Thankfully we managed to squeeze in a small fundraiser during the CMCO (Conditional Movement Control Order) in December,” smiles Jacintha.
“Bangsar Village was kind enough to offer us a booth for three consecutive weekends so we basically baked up a storm with the help of the older children.”
Using a recipe that Jacintha inherited from her mother, they all baked a Christmas must-have dessert — the home’s signature “Rich Fruit Cake” — as well as shortbread cookies and pineapple tarts.
The home also came up with other fundraising initiatives through cooking and catering for people who were unable to dine out.
“I’m grateful because we never went hungry. Food-wise, we were well taken care of by societies such as the Lost Food Project, Pit Stop Community Cafe, Kebun Kebun Bangsar and the Food Aid Foundation.”
However, full tummies were beside the question; the home still needed help in urgent matters such as rent for all four homes, staff salary, utility bills and medical supplies.
According to Jacintha, it costs about RM60,000 a month just to keep operations going.
Help eventually came, surprisingly, in the form of a vegetable.
“We received a whole load of brinjals, two boxes of it!” laughs Jacintha.
“The children are not very fond of brinjal, though, so I suggested we pickle it and sell it in jars. Happy that they wouldn’t have to dine on the slimy egg-shaped vegetable, they excitedly got to work.”
They sliced, diced and fried while Jacintha got to work on the masala paste.
She threw in a medley of spices; blended dried chilli, cumin, fenugreek, mustard seeds, ginger and garlic, and fried them in a good bit of oil before tossing in the necessary pickling bits like salt, vinegar and sugar.
Then came the final key ingredient, fried brinjal.
While the girls assisted Jacintha with the chutney, the boys were hard at work making caramel popcorn.
“Yayasan Feruni helped us by donating a popcorn machine, 200 jars and the necessary raw materials. All the kids got to try their hand at making popcorn, but the three boys who worked on it full-time were Khai Meng, Paul and Jun Ho,” says Jacintha.
She especially wanted Khai Meng to join this fundraising bit because he is quite the shy one and once told her that his ambition was to sell fruit.
“Some children are not very academically-inclined but I insist they learn a helpful skill. So I ensured he stayed on and made him practice making the popcorn till he was good at it.”
But Jacintha knows the home can’t just rely on donations alone.
“We are currently figuring out what to make that has a longer shelf life, on top of talking to restaurants to see if we can supply our homemade goods to them.”
By the time she finishes explaining her plan to keep the childrens’ homes running to FMT, a sleepy-looking face comes right up to her.
Jacintha immediately finishes off the last of her ice cream and rushes off to the kitchen, bringing out a bowl of comforting chicken soup on the way out.
She places it in front of the child, who is recovering from fever, and beckons her to eat up.
“Thanks, ma,” smiles the little one.
A jar of Lighthouse Children Welfare Home’s brinjal chutney goes for RM10 while a tub of caramel popcorn retail for RM7. If you’re interested in getting your hands on them, you can message them on Facebook or WhatsApp Jacintha at 0172534566 to place an order.