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Charity, People

Lonesome Elderly Left Life Savings Behind for Good Cause

96-year-old Lee Ya Mei has lived frugally all her life saving as much money as she could so as not to burden others when she passed on. Ten years ago, she entrusted her funeral arrangement to an acquaintance who is like a son to her. When she passed away in May this year, the acquaintance carried out her last wish and on her behalf donated her remaining savings to charity, leaving her love behind in the world.


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Upon learning the passing of Grandma Lee Ya Mei, Tzu Chi gathered eight volunteers from the South district to pay their last respect at her wake. (Photo by Ng Paik Eng)

In January this year, when the volunteers were ready to leave the Kreta Ayer People’s Theatre upon the conclusion of the Tzu Chi “Seeds of Hope” Bursary Presentation Ceremony, a senior lady came forward and handed them a bag. Inside it was a heavy Tzu Chi bamboo coin bank.

“I have not seen all of you for a long time,” she said fondly to the volunteers. “I saw you when I walked past here yesterday and, knowing that you will be here again today, I came quickly with this (coin bank). It took me a few years to save this up…”

The grandma, who expressed her wish to donate the money to Tzu Chi, was one of many elderly who enjoyed Tzu Chi’s company and care when the Foundation’s branch was previously located at Chinatown. Back in those days, Tzu Chi volunteers would organize a fun-filled “Elderly Care Day” every month at the Kreta Ayer Square while the Tzu Chi Free Clinic behind the branch office would open its door to the elderly every Sunday.

Most of the elderly who live in Chinatown came to Southeast Asia from China to make a living when they were young. Many have remained single and childless and live all by themselves.

Grandma Lee Ya Mei, 96, was one of them.

Grandma Lee came to Singapore when she was 17. When manufacturing took off in the 1960s, Grandma, then in her 40s, made a living by working in a plastic factory. She had been with the same company till her retirement. Upon retirement, she moved to Chinatown and lived with other single elderly who have no families.

All her life, Grandma Lee has lived frugally saving as much money as she could so as not to burden others when she passed on. She even entrusted her funeral arrangement to Mr Lee, an acquaintance who is like a son to her, ten years ago.

The 72-year-old was always just a phone call away whenever the senior needed help, big or small. The two were like mother and son, having developed a close relationship over close to 30 years.

In the beginning of the year, Grandma Lee fell down and suffered a femur fracture. During her five-month stay in the hospital, Mr Lee visited her every day to feed her and keep her company.

A Samaritan among the golden-agers

In the last tens of years, besides Grandma Lee, Mr Lee has also been looking after several other elderly who live by themselves. He visits them twice a day in the morning and evening. If any of the elderly fall sick, he will take them to see a doctor.

Every Sunday, Mr Lee will take several seniors to the Tzu Chi Free Clinic in Redhill for medical treatment. Occasionally, Mr Lee also forks out his own money to pay for their daily expenses and to buy them wheelchairs and clutches. Though people spread rumour that he does all these for the wealth of the elderly, Mr Lee has been unfazed and continues to look after them.

Although he had been successful when he was young, Mr Lee said that he had not been quite wise and had spent a lot of money on drinking and entertainments, until he met with a senior who enlightened him and even introduced a lady to him who is now his wife. He is very grateful to the senior and takes care of her like his own mother. Though he has faced many rumours in taking care of the lonesome elderly who he later met, he was willing to extend his love to even more seniors that needed care.

There was a grandma whose legs were amputated due to her diabetes. Upon getting consent from his family, Mr Lee had stayed at the grandma’s place overnight to look after her until she went back to China to live with her nephew.

Due to some coincidences, Mr Lee was once entrusted to help a deceased grandma who had no relative to arrange for her funeral. Upon seeing Mr Lee’s sincerity, her surviving friends started to request him to do the same for them when their time comes.

Since then, Mr Lee has developed a strong bond with the elderly, keeping them in company towards the end of their lives and helping them to leave the world with peace of mind.

Paying it forward

When Grandma Lee Ya Mei passed away peacefully in the hospital in May this year, Mr Lee carried out her last wish and used her savings to arrange her funeral and cremation.

Knowing that Grandma Lee had had always sought medical treatment at the Redhill Tzu Chi Free Clinic, Mr Lee came to Tzu Chi Singapore on 5 Jun to present Grandma Lee’s remaining sum of S$11,500 as a donation and kind gesture to reciprocate the kindness rendered to her in her silver years. He believes that Grandma Lee would feel glad knowing that the money she had saved over time will be used to help others.

We sincerely thank Grandma Lee and Mr Lee for their kindness.

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Mr Lee donating Grandma Lee’s remaining savings to Tzu Chi Foundation. (Photo by Low Hai Loon)


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