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Bringing Festive Cheer Through Spring Cleaning and A Reunion Hotpot

The Chinese traditionally welcome the Lunar New Year by engaging in the integral activities of spring cleaning and gathering around the hotpot for a meal together. This year, as a result of the combined efforts of Tzu Chi volunteers, Madam Hu and her three children were able to experience the cheer of the festive season in a newly spick and span home environment, and enjoy a reunion hotpot together for the first time in their lives.


Spring cleaning the house before the Lunar New Year is a traditional Chinese custom. A week before the arrival of the Year of the, fourteen Tzu Chi volunteers armed with brooms and ladders, spruced up the living quarters of Madam Hu so that her family of four could welcome the 2013 Lunar New Year in a clean and comfortable environment.

Seeing the volunteers arrive, Madam Hu was delighted. “Normally we would also clean the house to welcome the arrival of the Lunar New Year, but it would just be a simple swipe of the broom or mop. Therefore I’m very grateful for the volunteers’ help,”she said with a wide smile.


Volunteers used a relay method to move the discarded items out of the flat, where other volunteers were waiting with trolleys to transport them downstairs. The items were later sold to a recycling merchant. (Photo by Lee Foo Tien)


More than ten volunteers worked diligently as a team to clear away the junk and scrub the floors and kitchen clean so that Madam Hu’s family could welcome the new year in a clean and comfortable home environment. (Photo by Lee Foo Tien)

From Caring to Cleaning

Madam Hu is 64 years old this year and lives with her two daughters and a son. Her daughters stopped schooling at a young age due to the family’s financial situation. Both daughters display slower than normal learning abilities and are single; they also have their own health problems and have never worked before. Since the demise of Mr Hu from cancer, the family lost their pillar of financial support and found themselves mired in hardship. The family came into contact with Tzu Chi in March 2012 after a neighbor sought help for their plight.

Being the only one who had received formal education, the financial burden of the family fell on the son. The eldest daughter, Mei Hua, then started to collect discarded items to assist with the household expenses after being told that cardboard pieces and other discarded items could be sold for money. She would conduct her“treasure search”in the vicinity of the neighbourhood every day, accumulating a week’s worth of discarded items before selling them to a recycling merchant.

“Every kilogram of cardboard can only fetch ten cents; in a week I can earn around $20 to $30. It’s not much but it does help a little with our expenses.”Thus were Mei Hua’s simple intentions.

Without much knowledge of recycling, Mei Hua would pick up all sorts of discarded items, including junk that could not be recycled. Over time, the items cluttered up the place and collected dust; the narrow space in the living room was barely enough for one person to pass through, and sitting down was virtually impossible. Tzu Chi Volunteer Zeng Jin’e who had been conducting home visits on Madam Hu for a period of time could not bear to see the family living in such squalor.

“Whenever I saw their living room, which was bursting with discarded items, I would feel the urge to clear it for them. With still ten days to go before the Lunar New Year, now is really a good time to carry out spring cleaning so that they can celebrate the New Year much more happily and in better health.”


Not having much knowledge of recycling, Madam Hu’s daughter, Mei Hua, brought home junk items alongside the recyclable ones and cluttered up the hall. Eventually, only a narrow pathway was left for walking. (Photo by Lee Foo Tien)

An efficient Spring Cleaning process

The first step in the spring cleaning on 2 February in 2013 was to help Mei Hua sell off the discarded items. The original plan of attempting to transfer the items from one volunteer to the next in line, was ditched due to the limited space in the living room. Eventually, it was decided that the volunteer who stood inside the house would pass on the items to those standing outside, who would in turn, cart them downstairs with a trolley. At the bottom of the block, other volunteers would then help to load the items onto the recycling truck. Back and forth they went, till the truck was fully loaded an hour and a half later.

Aware that their progress was slow, the volunteers discussed among themselves, analyzing the process and method employed in their first attempt to transport the discarded items. Finally, it was decided that they would bring all the items to the ground floor, then sort them out while waiting for the truck to arrive. This proved effective as the loading process was completed within an hour and volunteers could embark on the task of house cleaning.

The volunteers cooperated to clear the items, sweep the floor and scrub the kitchen clean. The normally quiet household was momentarily transformed into a hub of activity. Volunteers also replaced the burnt out light bulb in the hall and washed the light covers so that the family could have bright lighting available once more.

Volunteer Wen Mei Ling who was helping to clean the house of a care-recipient for the first time, was carefully washing plates and wiping them dry one by one. She then arranged them neatly in place. “If you treat this as your own house, you will naturally carry out the task with care,”she said.

Seeing the volunteers whole-heartedly contributing to the cleaning efforts, Mei Hua joined them in cleaning the kitchen while her brother Guang Jun lent a hand to volunteers cleaning the hall. Working together hand in hand, it felt like a family of brothers and sisters were spring cleaning their own home.


Watching how much effort the volunteers put into sprucing up his home, Madam Hu’s son, Guang Jun, was moved to help volunteers transport the discarded items downstairs. (Photo by Lee Foo Tien)

Bring On the Sweet Dreams with New Mattresses

In the six months that Madam Hu was in their care, volunteers not only helped with the family’s personal grooming and gave them haircuts, they also brought Madam Hu to the Tzu Chi Free Health Screening and Medical Clinic for a medical checkup. With a fear of hospitals linked to her late husband’s passing, it took the volunteers’ persistent reassurances and patient explanation before Madam Hu agreed to the checkup. Coincidentally, during the checkup it was discovered that there was a problem with Madam Hu’s cornea and she was immediately transferred to hospital for treatment. It was a timely move that saved her eye from further deterioration and permanent visual impairment.


Volunteers brought Madam Hu to the Free Health Screening and Medical Clinic for a body checkup. TIMA’s Dr. Ong Chin Kian also took a dental mold from Madam Hu so that she could be fitted with dentures. (Photo by Phay Ley Leng)


In caring for Madam Hu over the past six months, volunteers made house visits, providing haircuts and personal grooming services to Madam Hu and her two daughters. (Photo by Phay Ley Leng)

The other goal of the spring cleaning exercise was to replace the family’s old mattresses. During the medical checkup, the doctor informed volunteers that the younger daughter, Mei Ye, had scoliosis. Aside from congenital factors, volunteers discovered that the family’s shared mattress had not been changed for more than 30 years. The tattered and torn mattress had two very obvious spots where the material had sunken in and the base of the bed was coated with a layer of dust. An old calendar from 1986 was also found stuffed at its base, evidence that the bed had not been cleaned for many years.


Upon discovering that the tattered mattress in Madam Hu’s flat had not been changed for more than 30 years, volunteers went the extra mile to get four brand new single beds for the family. (Photo by Lee Foo Tien)

Upon seeing that the volunteers had prepared four new single mattresses for them, Madam Hu’s family were delighted. Especially Mei Hua, who told volunteers that she could feel the warmth of their kindness just by sitting on the mattress. Mei Ye was moved to comment, “I’m very happy that I finally can have my own bed!”Her pure joy was obvious to all.

In half a day, the living room was transformed from a crowded storehouse of discarded items, to a spacious and bright area, bringing cheer to all who beheld it.

Madam Hu cheerily said, “I feel good, now I don’t have to stay cooped up in my room, I can sit in the hall, walk around it and even jog at home!” Volunteer Zeng Jin’e replied, “Visitors can come over for New Year visits now.”

Jin’e took the opportunity to advise Mei Hua, “See how happy your mother is. You should just pick cardboard and newspapers; don’t bring home all types of items. Store the items in a corner of the kitchen and not in the living room.” Mei Hua agreed, saying “I’ll only keep the items I need and not the unnecessary ones.”

Volunteers also prepared glutinuous peanut dumpling soup for everyone. At the encouragement of volunteers, Guang Jun knelt down and offered a bowl to his mother to express his gratitude. Madam Hu was deeply touched by the action. The atmosphere was merry as everyone gathered around eating sweet dumplings. Before leaving, volunteer Luo Wen Qing passed a wad of notes to Madam Hu and informed her that the discarded items had been sold for more than $200. Madam Hu beamed and replied that family could look forward to having a happy year ahead.


After a half day’s hard work cleaning the flat, everyone sits down to enjoy a bowl of glutinuous peanut dumpling soup prepared by volunteers. (Photo by Lee Foo Tien)


With encouragement from volunteers, Guang Jun knelt down in front of his mother and offered her a bowl of sweet dumpling soup to express his gratitude. (Photo by Lee Foo Tien)

Bonding Over Reunion Dinner

“Gongxi, gongxi, may you have a pleasant and auspicious year ahead!”Volunteers appeared at Madam Hu’s doorstep on the evening of 22 February 2013, the thirteenth day of the Lunar New Year, carrying pots and cooking ingredients, all ready to wish her a happy new year.

Madam Hu’s family was used to simple fare; a plate of fried rice would be considered a delicacy. Seeing this, volunteers decided to organize a New Year hotpot for them so that they could experience the atmosphere of a family reunion and cement the bonds of family ties.

That day, the Hu family took pains to wear their best clothes and groomed themselves neatly for the occasion. Madam Hu and Mei Hua even made a trip to the hair salon to get a new hairstyle. Volunteers busied themselves in the kitchen with the preparation of hotpot ingredients and even made Vegetarian Five Spice Rolls, desiring to let the family know that vegetarian food can be just as delicious and tasty.

In addition to the reunion hotpot, volunteers also came prepared with a vegetarian version of Yu Sheng (raw fish salad). Everyone present wished each other blessings and good fortune in the coming year in the hopes that the coming year would be better than the last. Then Madam Hu’s family, her neighbours and volunteers gathered around happily to enjoy the food. While sitting down for a chat after dinner, Madam Hu did not forget to thank those who came over to celebrate the New Year with her family. “So many people have come over today, it’s really lively here. It’s such a good feeling to have reunion hotpot together!”

This Lunar New Year, nothing was more touching to Madam Hu than the moments when her children hugged her. When volunteers invited Madam Hu’s children to extend New Year greetings to their mother, Mei Hua took the lead in giving her mother a hug and a kiss, followed by her sister, Mei Ye. Guang Jun was too shy to hug his mother, but at the encouragement of volunteers, it was Madam Hu who took the initiative to hug her son instead. One hug soon followed another; with a simple hug, the relationship between mother and son became closer. The warm ties that bound parent and child, unspoken over the years, was brought to the surface as tears of joy rolled down Madam Hu’s face.

Despite only knowing the volunteers for less than a year, Madam Hu’s family already regards them as family members whom they can rely on and see Tzu Chi as an organization that works to benefit humanity. Madam Hu and her daughter also donated a portion of the proceeds from selling off discarded items to Tzu Chi in the hopes that they can benefit those who are even less well off than themselves.

With the improvements in their living environment, one hopes that Madam Hu and her family can look forward to the year ahead with open hearts and minds. The Tzu Chi volunteers also gave their blessings to the family, that they may have the means to help themselves and others, and together, walk a path filled with blessings.


At the conclusion of the spring cleaning exercise, the flat was transformed into a bright and spacious living quarters. The Hu family happily posed for a picture with volunteers to capture the moment. (Photo by Lee Foo Tien)


During the festive new year period, volunteers paid a visit to the Hu family and prepared a New Year hotpot so that they could experience the atmosphere of a family reunion. (Photo by Hang Li Bin)


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