The havoc wrought by serious flooding in the Malaysian peninsula at the close of 2014 saw Tzu Chi volunteers on both sides of the causeway working hard in tandem; since 26 December 2014, efforts to extend humanitarian aid to the affected had commenced. On the 30 and 31 December 2014, a 43-man team of volunteers lead by Khoo Kean Yee and Huang Quan Lin braved the rains travelling late into the night as their bus lost no time in making headway into the districts of Maran in Pahang and Kemaman in Terengganu, where relief distributions had been planned.
Rerouting Plans to Extend Timely Aid
Separated by a 1,400m-wide stretch of water in the Strait of Johor, Singapore and Malaysia have long had deep historical, economical and cultural ties with each other. Among the volunteers in the Tzu Chi Foundation (Singapore), many come from Malaysia and are currently working or studying in Singapore.
In the spirit of concern for their fellow human beings in their hour of need, volunteers in Singapore assembled a 43-man team in just 12 hours and set off for Kuantan, the state capital of Pahang at 4pm on 29 December 2014. They distributed relief materials to the affected over two days and returned to Singapore on the 31 December 2014.
As the torrential rains in the east coast of Malaysia showed no signs of abating, Malaysian volunteers suggested that the Singapore team divert from their planned route in favour of a longer route that would take them to Segamat before reaching Kuantan. As the flooding was very serious, it proved difficult to get bus companies from Singapore to undertake the journey; fortunately with help from friends, a bus was eventually hired and under rainy skies, volunteers completed their eight-hour journey, arriving safely at the Mega View Hotel Kuantan.
At 9am the next day, the Singapore team met up with the Kuantan, Johor and Penang volunteers and assembled at the Pahang office as they prepared to set off for the two towns of Kampung Luit and Taman Maran Jaya in the Maran district. The townsfolk spoke only Malay, and this posed a problem for Singapore volunteers who were not familiar with the language. Hence, Malaysian volunteers thoughtfully ensured that in each team of five which went knocking door-to-door distributing cash relief, there would be a volunteer who was fluent in the local language present.
Neighbours Help One Another
The town of Kampung Luit experiences floods three to four times a year, and in 2007, suffered a flood of serious magnitude. Seven years on, it has been hit with disastrous floodwaters again. The townsfolk reveal that when the flood struck at 3am in the wee hours, they had fled in panic to the flood relief centres set up in the schools and mosques, carrying with them only bare essentials.
This year, the water level rose approximately four metres high in Kampung Luit. On the morning of 30 December 2014, the residents received news that the water level was receding and they started leaving the relief centres to clean up their homes. Tzu Chi volunteers knocked on every door, paying no heed to the muddy pools on the ground as they went about their way, their only thought to bring comfort and aid to the affected.
As the houses were scattered about town with some houses located in remote rubber plantations, and the area to be covered too, was large, the village elder arranged for ten “guides” to accompany every volunteer team so that no household would be missed out during the relief distribution rounds.
One of the guides named Zanudin, talked about how the townsfolk cared for one another. At the flood relief centres, they would cook a huge pot of rice and share it with one another. “I have not been affected (by the floods) and though my help is limited, I am happy to assist in whatever way I can.” Touched by the aid rendered by Tzu Chi, he expressed his gratitude on behalf of others in his town and expressed how he hoped that their friendship with Tzu Chi volunteers would continue on long after.
Language Is No Barrier When Love Speaks Volumes
Leader Khoo Kean Yee, originally from Penang, seldom uses the Malay language to communicate since he has been living in Singapore over the long-term. He jokingly wondered if the townsfolk could understand him as he conveyed the words of comfort from Master Cheng Yen to them. This has also motivated him to be open to learning and updating his skills in all areas, so that he can be better prepared to face different situations in future.
When Singapore volunteer Chen Su Shan and her team mates distributed supplies in Kampung Bak Bak, they had to stand by the roadside to do so as the waters had yet to recede. Seeing the residents stand by the road and unable to return to their homes, she was pained. Though she wanted to convey heartfelt words of comfort and sympathy, and share with them the concepts of earth conservation, the language barrier prevented her from doing so.
Volunteer Tan Xiu Zhen too, had to rely on others for interpretation. Believing that “love is a soundless language that transcends all geographical barriers,” she conveyed her feelings to the townspeople through warm hugs. Taking her cue from Master Cheng Yen’s words, that one can interact with others and give comfort through one’s body language, and that a warm smile can also bring comfort to others, she described her responsibility in the team as the giver of smiles and hugs. She felt grateful for the opportunity to be part of the humanitarian undertaking, which allowed her to see with her own eyes that natural disasters are a great leveller; no matter whether one is rich or poor, one can still be adversely affected by the same disaster. Therefore, Tan expressed that the right mindset to have is that of equality towards all when one is carrying out relief distribution.
Treasure the Blessings of Peace and Safety
Zanaria one of the townsfolk of Kampung Luit, stuck her head out suspiciously when volunteers knocked on her door. Volunteers chatted with her and found out that she had three young children and suffered from depression. After she heard volunteers convey the words from the Master, she raised her thumbs repeatedly and said, “Bagus, bagus (good, good)!”Feeling the concern from volunteers, Zanaria gradually opened up and began smiling. When volunteer Huang Li Zhu gave her a hug before she left, she even returned the favour with a warm kiss.
With the hot sun beating down their backs and wearing heavy waterproof shoes, Singapore volunteers were tired, yet they were aware how fortunate they were. Li De Du, a first-time participant in the relief distribution exercise remarked “When I entered the house of Zubir, a guide and also a victim of the flood, my heart sank. I asked myself if this were my house, would I be able to accept it? In comparison to Zubir, I am really fortunate.”
Originally from Perlis in Malaysia, Wang Li Fang has been away for more than 20 years. When she was a child, her grandmother’s house was often flooded, so she could empathise with the townsfolk’s plight, especially the panic they felt while fleeing the floodwaters. Seeing how the townsfolk willingly accepted their lot in life even though their lives were hard, she could not help but notice how different they were from her, as she would complain even over trivial matters. She said, “Singapore enjoys a favourable climate, but we still need to be vigilant even in times of peace; we should interact more with each other and show more concern for others so that society will be in harmony.”
Donating Financial Aid Received
On 31 December 2014, 12 teams made up of Singapore and Johor volunteers arrived at the heavily hit district of Kemaman in Terengganu. Many residents there expressed that though the level of flooding was bad, it was even worse last year. With the experience gained in last year’s flood disaster, the residents knew to move their belongings to higher ground, though it was inevitable that some of their furniture would be destroyed. When volunteers arrived at their doorstep bringing with them words of comfort from Master Cheng Yen, bags of daily necessities and RM500 worth of cash relief, the residents’ hearts were warmed by the care shown by their fellow human beings. Many were so grateful that they even donated a portion of the cash relief to help others.
At Kampung Kubang Kurus, the floodwaters still pervaded many areas and when volunteers came a-knocking, they discovered that many of the residents had just returned home from the flood relief centres and were busy cleaning up.
Volunteer Zhang Ai Yu bumped into Fatimah and her son at a dilapidated wooden house by the side of the road. Having just returned from the flood relief centre, her son had a look of resignation on his face as he stared at the empty hall and the mud-filled kitchen. Having spent five days at the centre, she rushed home the moment she heard that the waters had receded; yet she did not have the courage to step inside when she reached the front door.
“I’ve lost everything, I’m so afraid that once I see the situation at home I will faint!” Having just moved here a year ago, it was the first-time that Fatimah was dealing with such a serious flood. She cried upon hearing volunteers read out Master Cheng Yen’s message. Though RM500 meant a lot to her at that moment, she did not hesitate to donate RM100 back.
During the two days of distribution, volunteers saw how even though the residents had prepared for the flood, they were still impacted by the disaster. Singapore volunteer Dai Ming Han shared that seeing how the residents remained optimistic, he realized that this was in fact how one should practice Right Mindfulness and never waver from the Right Way in the face of adversity.
A Humanitarian Undertaking With a Huge Takeaway
Though the water level had receded in Kemaman, some areas remained flooded. As many of the residents were still housed temporarily in the flood relief centres, the distribution exercise was shortened to a half-day activity.
As leader of the volunteer delegation and also Deputy CEO of the Tzu Chi Foundation (Singapore), Khoo Kean Yee shared that having taken part in previous humanitarian missions, he was well aware that it was difficult to avoid last-minute changes on the ground. Though the conditions were not right and volunteers could not reach the most serious disaster-stricken areas to distribute relief materials, he was grateful that volunteers focused on learning from the experience and built upon their friendships formed with volunteers from a neighbouring country. In addition, he expressed his thanks to Malaysian volunteers for making the opportunity possible for their Singapore counterparts.
Before leaving for Singapore on the return journey, everyone put their palms together and prayed sincerely for the flood victims in the hope that they can regain normalcy in their lives as soon as possible. The short one and a half days spent on the humanitarian mission was only the start, as Singapore volunteers have started on the next undertaking of fundraising for the flood victims, hoping to inspire love and care in the hearts of others even while they solicit charitable funds.
Ong Soh Chin