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Everything has its Affinity

After losing her job amid COVID-19, Susan Tan found refuge in volunteering for the mask sewing project and has since regained her confidence to pick up a new skill set and get ready for job hunting.

Susan Tan during the first batch of masks sewing. (Photo provided by Susan Tan)  

I have already started working from home for some time when Tzu Chi foundation first announced its mask sewing project. However, I was still doing a full-time job by working from home, and that left me with only a few hours at night on working days. With no experience in sewing, I was deterred from signing up to help with the mask sewing when I saw that the requirement was to make 50 masks within 5 days. However, I did envy fellow volunteers who were able to contribute their love and had wished that I could join the effort. It was quite demoralizing to be wanting to contribute yet not able to do so.

One day at the end of April, I was suddenly struck and badly hurt for being forced to resign as my company wanted to cut costs. In the aftermath of the incident, I kept asking myself why the management had taken such an inconsiderate action at such a timing. After being hurt and upset for a few days, I realised that I could find refuge in mask sewing as I had wanted to volunteer in the project but was not permitted by time. Being unskilled in sewing, I spent a lot of time learning how to sew the masks.

The sewing machine had been left idle for quite some time; hence, it took quite a fair bit of effort to get it running smoothly. My house was very quiet as each of us was busy with our own activity until this mask sewing activity got us working together. The first mask took me 1.5 hours to make, and that made me panic and worried that I might not meet the target deadline. However, our family came together and improvised the whole sewing process so that we could arrange the steps accordingly and assign task to each person based on our different skill sets. During the course, we had to repair our sewing machine many times and also resew the masks due to the lack of skills.

My mother had even moved her sewing machine from her bedroom to the living room so that I could have a more spacious and airier workspace. The electric motor of the sewing machine broke down one day due to overuse when I was sewing the second batch of masks. That made us panic and started asking every person we know to find out where to buy a new replacement set. I am very thankful to our sisters (volunteers) at South zone for offering me helpful advice, some even called me to assist me with the problems I was facing. While waiting for the new motor to arrive, my dear brother woke up very early in the morning to revert the sewing machine to manual mode so that I could continue with the sewing after I woke up. I was very touched by my family’s quiet initiatives so I told myself that I must sew some masks manually in return for their efforts.

When I was working on the last batch of masks which I had just submitted on 28 May, I overworked and injured my wrist on 25 May with unfinished masks and I was the main person operating the sewing machine. My family members who were helping with other non-sewing work courageously took over the sewing to complete the remaining masks. I adored their courageous spirit because they have strong compassion and understanding that we should do our best to support the workers.

Susan injured her wrist when she was completing the last batch of masks. (Photo provided by Susan Tan) 

After experiencing these few incidents, I reflected and realised that every event has its affinity. If we looked at it from another perspective, we will see that there is a silver lining in every cloud, some negative incidents may lead to positive outcomes. Nothing is impossible when we put in conscious efforts with a focused heart. One can pick up a new skill set and contribute with the newly acquired skill. So, I told myself that I must be prepared to acquire a new job skill for my next job hunting.

From operating an electric sewing machine to peddling the same sewing machine manually, I experienced the beauty of the world in the olden times when energy consumption was much lesser and the sound of manual peddling was so beautiful and relaxing, just like music to the ears. Hence, in the olden times, the environment was much cleaner and calmer.

Mechanical glitches can be fixed immediately with a replacement motor, but an injured hand takes time to heal after treatment, so does our spiritual health. I reminded myself that material satisfaction is easily replaceable, but spiritual health requires the right treatment and time to recover. Hence, taking good care of our spiritual health is very important.

I believe that there is compassion in everyone which can be exercised when the right opportunity is given. This mask sewing activity has triggered compassion in my family and brought our spirits together. With our improvised process and joint efforts, we managed to complete a total of 280 masks since 9 May over 4 batches.

The final batch of masks is completed, thanks to strong family efforts. (Photo provided by Susan Tan) 

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