Tzu Chi volunteer and hospital social worker Mok Chee Peng kicked off the informative training session by asking the 340 Home Visit volunteers a thought-provoking question, “How would you feel if you are told your kidneys have failed and you need dialysis?”
“Why Me? Can I still work? (It’s just so unfair!)” A flood of worrying and fearful questions must have entered the volunteers’ minds as they momentarily experienced the fears and worrying questions that plague every kidney patient’s mind, the moment they receive the morbid pronouncement from their renal specialist.
Mok, an experienced social worker in the area of nephrology (renal) social work at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital, shared his invaluable experience on the symptoms of kidney disease and the emotional needs of kidney patients during his talk. He reminded volunteers of the importance of empathy in helping to alleviate patients’ sufferings by providing much-needed emotional support and required assistance.
Volunteers must be able to listen empathetically to patients’ concerns and allow patients to confide or give vent to their troubled thoughts. On top of that, volunteers are encouraged to be creative in suggesting coping skills and activities that will help to improve patients’ overall emotional well-being and enable them to lead better quality lives.
Volunteers should also assist patients in coming to terms with their conditions and find solutions to their problems so that they can continue on their difficult journey to recovery with confidence.
“With much empathy, kidney patients will be in a better emotional state,” said Mok. As patients will often need a lifetime of dialysis, there will be times that they will be upset and depressed. Therefore, continued care and support is needed from volunteers.
“By gaining a deeper understanding of kidney patients’ needs, we will naturally know how to comfort and assist them (in their difficult journey),” added Mok.
He also shared his personal encounter with a 60-plus-year-old kidney patient who was so depressed that he wanted to end his life. Upon learning of the elder uncle’s dire straits, Mok stepped in to help the man find accommodation. After the patient began receiving kidney dialysis, he gradually emerged from his depression and even shared his experiences with other kidney patients to encourage them.
Kidney Patient Turned Volunteer
Before Mok’s invaluable sharing, an inspiring video story of Chen Hui Lan (from the Da Ai TV programme, “Tzu Chi in Malaysia”) was shown to the audience. Chen is a kidney patient in Malaysia who used to receive Tzu Chi’s aid.
After Chen contracted kidney disease, she and her husband fell into dire financial straits and sank into despair, leaving both of them emotionally drained. The couple had frequent fights, and Chen’s husband even contemplated giving up on her and the family. As her future seemed very bleak, Chen even allowed her husband to leave her in order to free him from suffering along with her, and the thoughts of her two young children’s uncertain future pained her deeply.
Just as the couple hit rock bottom, Tzu Chi volunteers entered into their lives and provided loving care and aid for eight years. Moved by the volunteers’ love and care, the couple started serving as Tzu Chi volunteers. Through their volunteering experiences, the couple began to find new meaning and fulfilment in life and experienced freedom from the baggage of despair.
“After joining home visits (to needy families), it occurred to me that it is important that we live our lives with honesty and integrity,” said Chen’s husband. When he saw that many people or families were worse-off than him and his family, he decided to stop accepting Tzu Chi’s aid. While caring for aid recipients who were kidney patients, Chen was able to empathize with them even more and helped to alleviate their suffering.
After watching the video, Yanti, a volunteer who hails from Indonesia, commented that Tzu Chi volunteers came at just the right time to help the family. She also shared that when she brought her father to Singapore to seek medical treatment, they had no one to turn to for help. She felt that the sick really need someone to journey by their side; as such, she resolved to serve in Tzu Chi’s Missions of Charity and Medicine to help the underprivileged sick in the community.
Lu Xiao Yan, another volunteer in the Charity Mission for almost two years, recalled a 40-plus-year-old kidney patient that she had visited. The patient was living in a double-storey HDB flat, a fact that led Lu to doubt if the man really needed financial assistance. It was only after conversing with him, that she discovered he was laden with heavy debts that he had borrowed to finance his children’s education. This discovery alerted Ms Lu to the truth that one should not be too quick to judge others, because what one sees may not necessarily be the truth. Hence, she has learned to be more mindful in seeking to understand others’ needs and situations first.
When the patient learned that Tzu Chi could provide him some financial assistance, the frown on his face was wiped away, and he was moved to the brink of tears by the compassion of Tzu Chi Singapore. After her home visit experience, Lu was even more determined to continue on the Tzu Chi path. When she first started doing home visits, she was not sure of what to say during her conversations with aid/care recipients. Today, she is able to hold their hands and comfort them. She also hopes to inspire some of the aid recipients to join her in volunteering for Tzu Chi.
Every Volunteer is Indispensable
Tzu Chi Singapore has started to implement the eight new measures of the Mission of Charity as laid out by its Taiwan headquarters. One of them is to get every volunteer involved in charity work. Hong De Qian, a senior volunteer leader, said in his speech that on the monthly “Tzu Chi Charity Day”, volunteers would meet at specific locations and then proceed with home visits after a short briefing. He stressed the importance of showing respect to aid/care recipients, and added that after the home visits, the volunteers would meet again to share what they have learned or observed.
In her talk, Tzu Chi Singapore’s social worker, Karen Lim, said that the volunteer in charge of each case would follow it through till the end. She further added that each volunteer would not be given more than three aid/care recipients in order that they could better focus their time and effort in providing a deeper level of care to each aid/care recipient.
Deputy CEO of Tzu Chi Singapore Zhang Xue You said in her speech that though the aid Tzu Chi provides to the needy is limited, the volunteers can give them unlimited love and care. Lian Mei Er, a Home Visit team leader from the South Zone, is determined to live out this conviction. She said, “Charity work is fundamental to Tzu Chi. The South Zone takes care of 152 needy families, and every month, volunteers have to organize three home visiting days.”
Lian further elaborated that the South Zone handles the most number of charity cases and its Home Visit team leaders have to assess over ten new cases every month. In addition to conducting home visits, the volunteers have to write a report for each visit, attend meetings, etc., which require a lot of time and effort.
“I would feel stressed sometimes, but when I see how the aid recipients really need our help, I persevere in the work,” shared Zhang Meng Yuan, another veteran Home Visit volunteer in Tzu Chi for the past eight years.
After the South Zone started organizing the “Charity Days”, many volunteers in the Zone have participated in the home visits. Kenny Khoo, another deputy CEO of Tzu Chi Singapore, shared in his speech how he had accepted the role of a volunteer-in-charge without hesitation despite having a busy schedule. He encouraged all to courageously take up responsibilities in the Charity Mission, as every volunteer is indispensable, and expressed hope that the efforts of Tzu Chi volunteers would bring more love and warmth to society.