The Unseen Tours of KL – A Sustainable Solution for Homelessness

Incitement is the implementing agency for the Volunteering International Professionals (VIP) Fellowship Programme 2017, a National Blue Ocean Strategy (NBOS) project monitored and overseen by the National Strategy Unit (NSU) of the Malaysian Ministry of Finance. More information about this collaboration between Incitement and the Malaysian Ministry of Finance can be found here.

The VIP Fellowship programme took place from August 19th till December 17th 2017. During these 4 months, a total of 10 social impact projects were implemented with the help of 50 international professional volunteers, touching the lives of 12,840 beneficiaries.

This is Impact Project 5: The Unseen Tours of Kuala Lumpur
This project provided real, sustainable livelihood and employment opportunities for the homeless people in Kuala Lumpur by equipping them with the soft- and hard skills needed to become professional tour guides.

Project location: Pahang, Malaysia (Kampung Chempian, Kampung Rensung & Kampung Ulu Ruai)
Host organisation: Viva Odyssey
Impact area: Community Empowerment
Website: yellowhousekl.comfacebook.com/YellowHouseKl


Key project outcomes

  • 53 individuals found employment after successfully completing the training programme
  • 3 new tours were created by the beneficiaries
  • The host organisation saw its tour bookings increase with 50%
  • 2 public events were organised
  • 18 partnerships with relevant organisations were established
  • 9 government partners were established

The Unseen Tours of KL is a unique, first-of-its-kind social innovation to permanently solve involuntary homelessness. This project trained the homeless people of Kuala Lumpur, between the ages of 27-55 years, to become tour guides. Yellow House KL (or one of their partner organisations) then employed the trained homeless person. The Unseen Tours of KL, in collaboration with the VIP 2017 Fellows, worked hard to address the following key issues:

  • Research by DBKL shows that in 2015 there were around 2,000 homeless people in Kuala Lumpur alone, a number which tripled compared to the year before.
  • There are currently no viable solutions out there that can reintegrate homeless people into society by providing them with jobs (most initiatives currently out there merely provide the proverbial band aid, such as food handouts).

Interested in participating in impact projects like Grow Tall as a volunteer? Sign up for Incitement’s volunteering team and you’re the first to know about the coolest, most impactful social projects.

The Unseen Tours of KL, with the help of the VIP 2017 Fellows, aimed to design and create a tour of Kuala Lumpur city, uncovering its unique, never before seen spots known to the street friends. As another objective, the project focussed on providing employment to a minimum of ten homeless people (or street friends, as Yellow House likes to refer to them) during the duration of the VIP Programme. The employment objective was targeted at providing these street friends with not only a stable income, but also new a sense of purpose.

The street friends know all the nooks and corners of this great city. They are comfortable because it is on the streets and they have the knowledge. It is something they can truly call their own.

VIP 2017 - The Unseen Tours of KL

There are a variety of nonprofits and causes whose mission is to reduce homelessness, but social initiatives like Unseen Tours, which provide tangible, sustainable solutions to this issue are, well, unseen…

Situated just a short thirty minute bus ride away from the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur (KLCC), in the quiet suburb of Ampang, the half brick and half wood village house is a place where people come together to share their skills, expertise, and enthusiasm with those in need in the local community. The Unseen Tours of KL is a walking tour created, designed and conducted by the street friends of Yellow House. The trails and tracks are unique, interesting and new. There is a lot to explore in the streets and places of Kuala Lumpur and no better way to experience this and to be guided by the street friends, who know the nooks and corners of Kuala Lumpur best.

The mission of this project was to help achieve financial stability for the street friends and urban poor. Homelessness carries a heavy stigma still. Society perceives the homeless to be lazy and unwilling. To thwart that image, Unseen Tours found the tourism sector to be the perfect vehicle. “The street friends know all the nooks and corners of this great city. They are comfortable because it is on the streets and they have the knowledge. It is something they can truly call their own”, Shyam, founder of Yellow House, the Host organisation behind Unseen Tours, explains.

The first step was to identify those who wanted to better their lives. Unseen Tours then trained the interested homeless people as tour guides, or assisted them to nd other suitable employment opportunities. This alone resulted in immediate financial independence, a life off the streets, and that sense of worthiness most of them had lost somewhere along the way.

The Fellows designed modules and trainings for the street friends in order to transform them into tour guides. Before they could be trained, however, the street friends had to adhere to speci c criteria, namely being able to communicate in English and passing a drug test to ensure that they were on the path to recovery. Once those tests were out of the way, the street friends could participate in the trainings provided by the Fellows. With one such training, the Fellows focused on improving the communication skills of the street friends, so they could properly communicate with the tourists during their tours. The second and third training created by the Fellows focused on teaching the street friends about safety, health and first aid, so they are equipped to deal with possible emergencies or incidents, should these occur on their tours. These skill sets provided by the Fellows had the street friends ready to be employed as tour guides.

VIP 2017 - The Unseen Tours of KL

Together with the VIP Fellows, Unseen Tours made incredible social impact by getting 53 homeless people employed under the VIP 2017 Programme. This, in effect, means that in a period of just four months, and with the help of ve VIP Fellows, more than fty people who were homeless before the project, now have shelter and income. On top of that, Unseen Tours partnered with Sunway Putra Hotel who agreed to employ these street friends in their F&B department. A total of 41 homeless people were hired by Sunway Putra Hotel at the end of the VIP 2017 Programme, providing them with both a roof over their heads and a monthly income to sustain themselves.

I wasted my money, wasted my time, and lost my job. I lost everything because of it. And eventually, ended up on the streets. Yellow House gave me hope. I want to change my life now. I want a better future.

With the help of the VIP 2017 Fellows, Unseen Tours also made a long-term plan to launch a merchandise brand, called Merchandise With A Cause, which will be produced in collaboration with their beneficiaries, and will add onto their monthly income.

A car crash in 1999 took Abdul’s life to an unexpected twist of events. During the car crash, he lost one of his eyes, and both of his parents, leaving him and his only sister behind. Abdul was in his mid-twenties then; a time which naturally turned his life upside down completely. His sister met her current life partner and moved to Germany. Abdul was on his own now. “There was no one to guide me, I fell hopelessly in love with a girl, met a bunch of no-good friends, and eventually ended up doing drugs – a lot of drugs. I felt useless for a long time,”

Abdul explains. “I wasted my money, wasted my time, and lost my job. I lost everything because of it. And eventually, ended up on the streets. Yellow House gave me hope. I want to change my life now. I want a better future.”

This is just one of many stories of the homeless people at Unseen Tours, or ‘street friends’, as Shyam Priah, founder of Yellow House KL, prefers to refer to them. “It’s usually just one event, one mistake which they then can’t seem to get out of, leading them to slip down the road until the point of no return. But we all make mistakes. Who are we to judge?” says Shyam.

The VIP Fellows contributed immensely to this project. Most NGOs, including Yellow House KL, do not have a lot of funds to employ people full-time. Having a team of ve professional Fellows for a period of four months helped the Host organisation to ramp up its social impact, allowing for reduced dependency on government agencies in the long run.

Together with the homeless community, Unseen Tours of KL and the VIP 2017 Fellows designed and created tours of the city, uncovering its unique, never before seen spots amidst the hustle and bustle of the big city. These tours were not only created by the street friends of KL, but also conducted by them. One of those unseen places can be discovered if you are brave enough to go on The Haunted Tour with the street friends. Together with the Fellows, the street friends designed this tour speci cally for thrill seekers looking for creepy places to explore. A few buildings and locations in Kuala Lumpur are reportedly haunted by mystical beings and spiritual presence. Many urban legends have sprung up from these places, with numerous people claiming to have witnessed unusual activity.

Most of the beneficiaries were labeled as disgraces to their families. With opportunities like the one offered by Unseen Tours, the street friends were able to restore their self-esteem, redeem their position as worthy members of their families, and be active contributors to the Malaysian economy. The goal of Unseen Tours KL was to provide an employment opportunity to a minimum of ten street friends during the duration of the VIP Programme. The results more than quadrupled in only three months! For that very reason, the Unseen Tours of KL is on it’s way to becoming one of Malaysia’s most successful, most progressive social causes.

VIP 2017 - The Unseen Tours of KL

Learn more about the VIP 2017 Fellowship Programme: VIP.org.my

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