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These Malaysians Combat Food Waste By Turning Surplus Food Into Meals For The Homeless

"They don't just appreciate the food, they appreciate having people to talk to and share connections with."

Cover image via SESO

According to a recent study, Malaysians throw away approximately 16,688 tonnes (16,688,000kg) of food on a daily basis

This is reportedly enough to feed 12 million people three times a day.

Image via DNAIndia

While statistics like this are alarming, it serves as a necessary reminder of just how many mouths we could feed each time we throw away the remnants of an unfinished meal.

With this in mind, some determined individuals have taken it upon themselves to reduce the amount of food wasted daily, while also directing it to communities that need it.

SESO (Save Environment, Save Ourselves) is a non-profit organisation that has been committed to combatting food waste and food poverty since 2017

Spearheaded by three friends and self-proclaimed 'foodies', the idea for the NPO came to founder and CEO Tan Shi Wen after a house party during her university days.

SESO Marketing Director Chee Si Ying, founder and CEO Tan Shi Wen, and operations director Nadia Sarah Anne Ismail Fadzil.

Image via SESO/Instagram

"I used to throw these house parties and at the end of the night, the drinks would all be gone but the food was never finished," she told SAYS.

An exchange with a homeless man, who fed the leftover food she gave him to his pet dog before eating it himself, left her feeling inspired.

Several years later in 2017, the 31-year-old corporate lawyer decided to turn the notion of SESO into a reality.

With surplus food from shops, supermarkets, and grocery stores, SESO volunteers work with what they can gather and turn it into three-course meals for their "street-friends"

Image via SESO/Instagram

With a "fine dining meets pop up mamak" concept, tables and chairs are laid out for the guests before they are asked whether they would like coffee or tea with their appetiser, dinner, and dessert.

Right in the heart of KL, at Jalan Tun HS Lee in Petaling Street, the homeless community are given a welcoming and dignified space to enjoy a meal and share their stories in good company.

Image via SESO

From a team of three feeding 30 to 40 underprivileged people, SESO now serves about 200 meals per session every alternate Saturday.

Image via SESO/Instagram

SESO's communal meal sessions have also impacted their street-friends in other significant ways.

"When we started out, they rushed and grabbed food. Now, they help set up the tables and chairs, line up, and wait for us," Shi Wen said.

Image via SESO

The founder also explained that after serving them food for a few months, the homeless community trusted that SESO was not planning to disappear any time soon. They then began to relax and enjoy themselves.

"They have adopted the culture. They don't just appreciate the food, they appreciate having people to talk to and share connections with," the founder revealed.

"A small difference can make a big difference," she added.

As a treat for their street-friends and "real life superheroes", SESO hosted a movie night on 25 April with a private screening of 'Avengers: Endgame'

Image via SESO

'An Evening With Heroes', which was part of their 'Captain Zero Campaign,' was an opportunity for their street-friends to enjoy the simple pleasures of an activity that many take for granted - a night spent at the cinema with friends.

Image via SESO

The event was co-hosted by Teddy Mobile Clinic, which provides free medical care at Jalan Hang Lekiu every Wednesday since 2015.

Dr Madhusudhan Shanmugan, known as the 'teddy bear doctor', said that his experience treating the homeless community reminds him that there is always more to a person's story than meets the eye.

"Many of them left their homes on their own will, to avoid being a burden to their families. Some of them have terminal illnesses. Don't judge them without knowing their stories," he told SAYS.

Dr Madhusudhan from Teddy Mobile Clinic with Shi Wen, Shereen, and Nadia from SESO.

Image via SESO

"There's so much talent on the streets. I know good cobblers, hairdressers, cooks. There's more to it than people think and some people just don't take the time to understand," said Amran, a SESO street-friend.

In an effort to continue spreading awareness of their cause, SESO will soon be launching a food-sharing platform called Foosh

"Foosh, like 'food sharing'", Shi Wen explained.

On the website, which will be launched this month, allows restaurants to post discounts and promotions for food that would be thrown away near closing time with the aim to reduce food waste.

"When you buy a meal on the platform, we'll donate a meal to SESO's partners and beneficiaries, which include orphanages and old folk's home. Anyone who really needs food," she added.

Find out more about SESO here:

If you're inspired to practice sustainability, check out this zero waste store Petaling Jaya:

Read about these other dedicated individuals who are committed to making a difference:

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