“It is tough working here, however, we are delighted just to have people caring for us,” Nguyen Thi Duen from Vietnam said to Tzu Chi volunteers.
She looked at the gift from Tzu Chi carefully and took a photo of it with her mobile phone to share the joy with her husband. Nguyen who has settled in Singapore for four years is hired as a cleaner by the community isolation centre in Tuas to maintain the cleanliness of the facility that can accommodate 1,628 people.
Just like other workers at the facility, Nguyen must work 9 hours a day. Fully geared in the thick Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for most of the time, these workers move around the facility that was converted from an iron factory, to complete their daily chores. When it is time for these workers to take a break, they are usually soaking in perspiration after removing their PPE.
Being particular about minor details
Beginning 15 May 2020, Tzu Chi Foundation (Singapore) collaborated with dormitory operators and government organizations to send 3 volunteers each day to serve at the facility on a rotational basis. During the 2-hour shift on each day, their main duty is to refill the pantry on the first and second floor.
A few days later, volunteers found that facility workers who rest on the third floor often needed to walk up and down to get their snacks from the pantry. In view of the inconvenience faced by the workers, Tzu Chi once again mobilized 18 volunteers on 24 May to set up a pantry at the shared corridor on the third floor.
Robert Tan, who usually rests on the third floor, gave affirmation to the thoughtful move and said, "We always had to go to the second floor to get something to eat. Now that you have set up a pantry for us on the third floor, it is much more convenient now, I don’t have to go downstairs anymore. That is awesome! Thank you all very much!”
Robert works as a security guard at the isolation facility. He needs to put on PPE to check the luggage of the residents who just check in. Chinese tea is his favourite drink which he consumes regularly. He found Tzu Chi’s Organic Jing Si tea suits him very well, “It tastes very good, this is no ordinary tea."
As a regular volunteer since secondary school years, the presence of Tzu Chi volunteers at the facility has given him a feeling of closeness and familiarity.
"It is normal to feel happy when you meet good people. Every volunteer who came are always smiling, I did not see any who came with a grumpy face,” said Robert as he sips his cup of tea.
Creating a comfortable rest area
Volunteers are mindful that the highest level is not a conducive place for the facility workers to rest as there isn’t any surrounding buildings to shade the glaring sun during noontime. Thus, besides setting up a pantry on the third floor, volunteers have also thoughtfully created a comfortable rest corner in the staff lounge by wiping and sticking up used papers on the windows to reduce the intensity of the sunlight, creating an ambience suitable for their noon break.
In addition to that, volunteers have also placed large fans, indoor plants, Jing Si Aphorisms posters, slippers and slippers racks to make the lounge more comfortable for the facility workers so that they can focus well on assisting the residents in the facility. This group of workers come from different parts of the world, besides a few locals, the rest of them are foreigners from China, South Asia and Southeast Asia. Volunteers learnt that some of the workers originating from China are not used to the lunch prepared by the facility, therefore the volunteers bought several bottles of Lao Gan Ma chili sauce for them to go with their meals.
The day was the first day of Hari Raya Aidilfitri. Deputy CEO of Tzu Chi Singapore, Khoo Kean Yee personally handed gift packages to each frontline worker to bring them some festive mood. In the gift packs consists of a tube of water-soluble vitamin C tablets, some healthy drinks, and an ornament with wordings of blessing.
Dharma sharing with frontline workers
When serving their duty at the pantry, volunteers met many medical workers who were interested to learn more about Tzu Chi’s background and operation. Some were interested in the charity activities of Tzu Chi, while others could resonate with the Jing Si Aphorisms that are hung on the wall, some even brought home a few bilingual Jing Si Aphorisms booklets to read.
Volunteer Yap Sook Ting was one of the volunteers on duty. She said that most of Tzu Chi’s activities have been suspended due to the pandemic, therefore, she did not wish to miss the opportunity to contribute at the isolation facility.
“I registered myself immediately as soon as I found out about this project. I am willing to do anything, at least I can contribute a little more. Even if it is just brewing a cup of coffee for them, offering them cookies or smile and cheering them up are some of the things we can do to relief their tension,” said Yap.
While serving at the facility, Yap seized every opportunity to interact with the frontline workers and invite the medical workers to join Tzu Chi International Medical Association.
Expressing gratitude to medical workers
Amidst the Covid-19 this year, Tzu Chi launched an online message board during Valentine’s Day to encourage the public to pen their gratitude and words of encouragement to the frontliners. By end of May, the message wall has accumulated nearly 170 messages. To boost the morale of medical workers, Tzu Chi had also put up posters with QR codes of the message board in the lounge, so they can scan them and read the messages during their breaks.
Lim Mee Nguk is a staff nurse at Tzu Chi’s Lakeside Family Medicine Clinic with 32 years of extensive nursing experience. Under the recommendation of Dr Edwin Lim, the medical supervisor of Tzu Chi’s Medical Mission, Mee Nguk applied to the Ministry of Health to help at the community isolation facility. Coincidentally, the service location she was assigned to happened to be the isolation facility which Tzu Chi is supporting.
"I see some familiar faces here, not just fellow volunteers from Tzu Chi, but also others from the medical field. I feel very happy. And sometimes they would ask me whether I am off (work/duty), or do I feel hungry, that makes me feel very warm at heart. There are also many Jing Si Aphorism posters around, I am motivated to keep on working after reading the Aphorisms,” shared Mee Nguk with joy on her face. She started her two weeks service at the facility on 18 May after undergoing a training.
"Besides having to work at a remote location, there is no air-conditioner here. (Due to the heat), the perspiration and body heat would turn into water vapor and blur the eye shield, making it difficult to see. Besides that, speaking while wearing a N95 mask requires one to speak louder than usual, and that is very taxing after a long while. But these can all be overcome with experience and the help from peers. I am not afraid of these migrant workers nor the duty itself as I have experienced SARS before. The most important thing is to be fully geared with preventive equipment and remind others who have not done so," shared Mee Nguk.
Mee Nguk also mentioned that her decision to serve as a frontliner had drawn reminders from her friends who are concerned about the well-being and safety of the elderly at her home who belongs to the high-risk group.
"As long as I adhere to the preventive measures and maintained social distancing with the patients and my family members, I can protect my family members. Master Cheng Yen once said that we should seize the opportunity to play our part and do the right thing,” said Mee Nguk.
Tzu Chi volunteers uphold the same mentality in protecting themselves and appeasing the emotions of the frontline workers. A cup of tea, a smile and a few words of encouragement can also bring positivity to others.