“I don’t know what to do without you all,” said an elderly Tzu Chi aid recipient, Grandma Lee, who resides in the central district of Singapore.
The neighbourhood where Lee is residing was undergoing the HDB Upgrading/Estate Renewal Programme (including Home Improvement Programme, Neighbourhood Renewal Programme and Lift Upgrading Programme).
When Lee and her husband received the upgrading notice from the Housing and Development Board, they were very happy, but, at the same time, felt worried. The elderly couple were concerned that they would not be able to tidy and clean up their home on their own.
Refurbishment of toilets is a major project. During the project, residents are to use the temporary washrooms set up at the void deck of their HDB block. However, before the renovation works are carried out, the residents must “prepare” their homes for the renovation to ensure that the dust generated during the project would not dirty their belongings and affect their daily living.
For aged 70-plus Lee, the sorting, cleaning and tidying work before and after the home upgrading programme was a major concern and worry.
In 2014, Grandma Lee had a fall, which ruptured her pelvic bones. Her knees have also severely degenerated despite having gone through a surgery, and this has affected her mobility. As a stroke patient for many years, her husband is also unable to exert strength and move heavy items around.
The old couple do not have anyone else to depend on, because they do not have any family members around them. In the face of hardships, they could only seek help from Tzu Chi volunteers, who have been caring for them for many years. Thus, one of the volunteers, Lai Mo Kit, mobilised a team of volunteers to tidy up their home and “prepare” it for the renovation before the project began.
Finding joy in volunteering on a public holiday
28th October 2019 was a Deepavali public holiday. On this day, a team of Tzu Chi volunteers spent their free time attending a volunteer training class at Jing Si Hall in the morning, and a group of seven volunteers gathered at Grandma Lee’s home in Hougang in the afternoon, to carry out the tidying up work.
The small three-room HDB flat was very cluttered and filled with miscellaneous items that the elderly couple were unwilling to discard.
First, the volunteers sought the couple’s consent to remove large items, such as damaged appliances and furniture, from the house. They then gathered the remaining items one by one, and covered each of them with anti-dust plastic covers before securing them with adhesive tape.
The volunteers even placed a removable anti-dust plastic cover over the couple’s bed so that it could protect the bed from dust during the day and be removed at night.
While working in the flat, the volunteers tried to strike up a chat with Grandma Lee’s husband, who hardly ever smiled due to his low spirits and reserved nature. It took quite a while for them to finally see him smile—when they praised him for his hard work of growing potted plants along the corridor outside his home.
After the completion of the 10-day renovation project, Tzu Chi engaged painters to give the walls of the couple’s home a new coat of paint and even patched up the spalling concrete on the ceiling. In the afternoon on 16th November, the volunteers returned again to assist the couple in putting back the furniture, and also washing and organising their household items.
On seeing that the painting work was still in progress, Tzu Chi volunteer Li Yao Guang immediately chipped in to help the painters. It turned out that Li had done renovation work in the past, which is why he is familiar with the work.
"Serving people in need is a very meaningful thing to do!” said Tzu Chi volunteer Tan Lee Peng, who feels for the elderly couple that have no one to care for them.
Tan hopes to do more for the old couple and to give them a clean and comfortable living environment.
In 2004, Grandma Lee came to know about Tzu Chi when she visited a TCM free clinic, where she was treated by Dr. Lim Li Fong (who is currently a medical volunteer with Tzu Chi). As Dr Lim knew that Lee was having difficulties in life, she recommended Tzu Chi to her. Thus, Lee was very thankful to Dr. Lim.
Lee started receiving financial assistance from Tzu Chi after that and has since been visited by Tzu Chi volunteers every month. Tzu Chi volunteer Lai Mo Kit's long-term care for Lee has built a close bond between them, and Lee now treats her like her own younger sister.
Lai also accompanies Lee to Tzu Chi’s recycling activities and Dharma book study from time to time. Whenever Lee needs a listening ear, she will call Lai and confides her worries and troubles in her.
The friendship between Lee and Tzu Chi volunteers is as how she described,"Tzu Chi people are closer to me than my own family. They listen to my difficulties and arrange for help for us. I don’t know what to do without them.”