NOTHING is free in this world, or so the saying goes. Clearly, the person who uttered those words hadn’t been to a FreeMarket.
As its name suggests, this unique market, which is akin to a fleamarket (albeit with a major difference), and the brainchild of one Ahamad Emran Anwaruddin and social activist Syed Azmi Alhabshi, is the place to go to if you want things for free.
Sounds too good to be true? Well, you’d better believe it!
It’s slightly after lunch hour and a scorcher of a day. I breathe a sigh of relief as I push open the door and enter into the air-conditioned office of an advertising company in Section 7, Shah Alam, the venue of my meeting today with Ahamad Emran.
A youthful-looking man clad in black T-shirt and black jeans, his short hair neatly coiffed, smiles in greeting and I instantly recognise him as Ahamad Emran from the photos I’d seen during the course of my research prior to this meeting.
Ushering me to the top floor of the building, I eventually find myself in what appears to be a meeting room complete with an oval table in the centre. There’s no one around except us. Settling into our respective seats, Ahamad Emran wastes no time before launching into an explanation into what the project is all about.
“I can understand why some people may think there’s a hidden agenda. But I can assure you, it’s really free. You can take anything you need without having to pay a single sen. The only thing you have to do, if you’re interested in an item, is to ask politely and say ‘thank you’ upon receiving the desired item.”
The last FreeMarket event was held recently in Seremban at Kompleks Belia & Sukan in Paroi. The next one is slated for Feb 24 in Perak at Flat Ashby in Ipoh. The following day will see another FreeMarket, this time organised by the residents of Taman Putra Damai in Petaling Jaya, Selangor.
FreeMarket, whose simple concept is essentially to give away items so others can make use of them, started when Ahamad Emran stumbled upon a post on Facebook about Pasar Percuma (meaning free market in Malay) held in Dataran Merdeka about five years ago.
He “borrowed” the idea and localised it for the community in Shah Alam, beginning with an experimental FreeMarket in front of the office building. The response was encouraging.
Eventually, it evolved into a group effort with the new team comprising Ahamad Emran himself and six other people — Fadly Daud, Hafiz Kamal, Hayati Ismail, Sarah Lee, Syarifah Athirah Al Tirmidhi and Syed Azmi, whom he met via a Facebook group. The activist happened to be doing a charity programme in Taman Tun Dr Ismail (TTDI), where Ahamad Emran lives.
“I chatted with him and decided to organise the FreeMarketTTDI. Syed Azmi injected his idea into it where instead of having people just taking stuff, what they needed to do instead was to ask nicely and say ‘thank you’. It sounds like a really simple thing but actually, it can have a big impact on society,” recalls Ahamad Emran.
The FreeMarketTTDI received an even bigger crowd and the team was asked to organise more FreeMarket events.
“There’s only so much we can do as a group as we all have our respective day jobs. If people only want us to organise, we can’t have many events. So we encourage others to have their own FreeMarket too. If they believe in this cause, then by all means, organise it. You can even do it at your home,” says Ahamad Emran.
The group, which is driven by the aim of spreading kindness, fostering unity among the public, preventing wastage and saving the environment, has since organised numerous community events in addition to their FreeMarket events, mostly for the marginalised and those in need. The first event they organised was the village game Jom Turun Padang Sukaneka Rakyat in TTDI.
So what can one find at FreeMarket? Almost everything, it seems.
Anyone can contribute and can give anything as long as the items are not illegal, says Ahamad Emran.
“Illegal items such as pornographic material, pirated CDs or DVDs are not allowed. The most popular giveaway items are clothes, shoes and books. And there’s also random stuff as well, such as TV and Playstation.”
What were the first things you gave away for free? I couldn’t help asking, my interest piqued by the whole concept.
There’s a pause as Ahamad Emran ponders the question. Chuckling, he replies: “Oh, I gave away keychains, hats and gifts I got from other events. I have to admit, it’s hard to give away things that you love. But you’ll soon find that once you give, you’ll want to keep on giving. If I keep everything, buat menyemak (it’ll just clutter the space)!”
Since FreeMarket first started, the concept has spread, thanks largely to social media, more specifically Facebook, and there have been other FreeMarkets organised around the country, including Sabah and Sarawak.
The Facebook page serves as a tool to announce forthcoming events and also as a platform to educate both contributors and customers on the etiquette pertaining to such an event.
Last year, there were seven recorded events happening monthly. But, shares Ahamad Emran, certain parties didn’t advertise their event because they were scared that too many people would turn up! “You know lah, free stuff kan?”
It’s quite a challenge to convince people that everything really is free. Also, adds Ahamad Emran, there have been occasions where people got greedy and would come totting big bags so they could cart away more things, some of which they probably didn’t even need.
“It’s a challenge to educate these people on the good values of minding their manners, asking nicely and saying ‘thank you’. Yes, things are free but you need to ask yourself, ‘do I really need it?’ I don’t want things to go to waste,” says Ahamad Emran, his voice firm.
He also expresses concern over those who abuse the name FreeMarket by asking for money and donations.
“There are also people who suggest we charge a bit, maybe for entrance fee. But we’re not a profit-making organisation. It’s never our intention,” he adds, expression earnest.
On a more positive note, Ahamad Emran recalls one of his more memorable FreeMarket events. It took place in Petaling Jaya and was a collaboration with the Malaysian Federation Of The Deaf.
“Those who wished to take anything from their (the deaf) booth had to learn to communicate using sign language. That was really something,” he shares, smiling, adding that in addition to giving away free items, FreeMarket also welcomes any kind of free services.
“One time, there was this boy who came with his chess set. All he wanted was for someone to play chess with him. That was really cute,” recalls Ahamad Emran, smiling broadly.
KEEP DOING GOOD THINGS
Ahamad Emran attributes his passion for doing good to his parents whom he confides had inculcated the practice of sharing and giving since he was young.
Smiling, he adds that being a part of the FreeMarket project has also made him a better person on the work front, revealing how he now finds himself incorporating the values that he has learnt from the project into his day job in advertising.
“I always make sure that there’s heart and soul in what I do for my clients and I’m more mindful of how a client’s product can benefit others,” shares Ahamad Emran who’s been in the design industry for 14 years.
His eyes takes on a faraway look as he confides that he hadn’t always been a social butterfly growing up. Being part of the FreeMarket project has helped him to improve his social skills.
“I remember giving away my technical pen set which I used when I studied Art. Someone came and asked for it and just like that, a rather interesting conversation about art ensued. It was such a nice feeling, especially for a shy person like me,” admits Ahamad Emran, grinning sheepishly.
So, what’s next for you? I ask as we near the end of our chat.
Again a pause before the 38-year-old concludes: “I’m not getting any younger. My time can be anytime. So I wish to continue doing good things and getting continuous pahala (reward). At the same time, I want to inspire more people to do good as well. It doesn’t matter what — as long as it’s a good thing, keep doing it.”
Visit www.facebook.com/groups/FreeMarketMY/ for details.