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Charity, Medicine

Who is Coming Over for the New Year Cleanup?

Before the Lunar New Year, many families were busy spring-cleaning their homes. However, this task was a difficult challenge for those plagued with physical or mental illnesses. Such was the case with Tzu Chi beneficiary Grandpa Jiang, who suffers from dementia and skin cancer. On 31st January 2016, eleven Tzu Chi International Medical Association (TIMA) members and 17 community volunteers arrived at the door of Grandpa Jiang, to help spring-clean his home so that he could celebrate Chinese New Year in a clean and pleasant environment.

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Two days after the spring cleaning, the Tzu Chi medical team returned to Grandpa Jiang’s house to hang up new curtains. Nurse Nancy Tan took the opportunity to present him with Mandarin oranges and early Chinese New Year greetings. (Photo by Li Jia Yi)

“Greetings for the New Year; we wish you good health! “ This  hearty and loving New Year greeting (by the Tzu Chi medical home visit team members) made Grandpa Jiang break into a wide joyful smile. Just two days ago, his home was in shambles. It was dirty and messy, and so uninviting that friends or relatives rarely visited. “Thank you all for your kindness, only you (Tzu Chi volunteers) can do this,” said Grandpa Jiang.

As Grandpa Jiang’s one-room flat was normally cluttered with the items that people gave him as well as the items left behind by his deceased parents, he would sleep at a corner near the door on a thin mattress. This situation was not conducive to his health, and so, the medical team that cared for him decided to spruce up his house just before Chinese New Year.

Clearing Out the Clutter ─ Cleansing the Heart

Tzu Chi volunteers started by first removing the clutter within the flat to the HDB corridor, where they sorted the items for disposal. There were more than a hundred expired cans of food and other packaged food items, some with expiry dates dating all the way back to the year of 2008! They also found 20 to 30 packs of toilet paper, some of which had bugs growing in them already. There was also a non-functioning refrigerator, and a rotting wooden altar found in his home. Volunteer Ye Ying Ling, a first-time participant in a home cleanup, was grateful to be of help and said, “Many elderly folks have a lot of rubbish (in their homes) which requires help from others to remove as they cannot bear to throw away their things.”

Zeng Ling Li (a new TIMA member) worked very hard that day carrying discards downstairs in the morning and helping to paint the house in the afternoon. Zeng had prior experience in painting her own house and said that she had initially thought it was just an ordinary cleaning exercise. But later, she found out that not only was the amount of clutter huge, the floors and walls also had to be given an extra coat of paint. She was glad that they (the volunteers) could come and give Grandpa Jiang’s home a revamp, which was very beneficial for him as his skin condition was not healthy.

For close to 10 hours, starting from 9am in the morning, the Tzu Chi team worked tirelessly to clear the clutter from Grandpa Jiang’s house. The most challenging task was attempting to “beautify” the walls and floor of the flat. Wang Jun Xuan scrubbed away hard at the floors trying to eliminate the stains and dirt. However, even after many rounds of detergent and water jets, she could only do so much. She had no regrets in expending so much energy at the task so that Grandpa Jiang could finally enjoy a healthier place he can proudly call “home”. She likened the stains and dirt on the walls and floor to the worries and troubles we carry in our hearts.  Regardless of how difficult it can be, we should seek to purify our hearts and minds as soon as possible. Otherwise, it would be even more difficult to eliminate these afflictions in future.

Volunteer Zhu Gong Xi borrowed a high pressure water jet from his company so that the floors, walls and ceiling could be cleaned more efficiently. Although he had lived with his family of six in a small apartment like Grandpa Jiang, he was shocked at the amount of clutter he saw in the one-room flat. “I believe that Grandpa Jiang would be very happy (with his home) after the cleaning,” he predicted.

In Grandpa Jiang’s estate, there are charitable organizations that offer support such as distributing daily necessities to the elderly. Zhang Ai Bin saw the amount of expired food Grandpa had accumulated and felt deeply about the matter. “Many elderly cannot manage their stock of daily necessities because they may be suffering from illnesses. Grandpa Jiang could easily have eaten the tinned food we saw today, unaware that it was past expiry and thus become sick.”

She further suggested that when they conducted medical house visits in future, the team should observe if there were any expired food items in the beneficiaries’ homes. She shared that they had spoken to the charitable organizations who had just arrived to distribute items to the residents, suggesting that they could speak to the residents to find out what they really needed, or visit their homes to find out exactly what items they required. “……Many grassroots organizations care for the elderly living alone. Only by having an in-depth understanding (of their situation) can the problem of the elderly accumulating too many unwanted items be prevented. (This problem) can even end up affecting the hygiene of their living conditions.”

Going with the Flow, Gaining Acceptance

Grandpa Jiang had previously undergone brain surgery and needs the Tzu Chi medical Home Care Service team to attend to the small wound he still has. Nurse Nancy Tan had started working on his case since late September last year. When they first started visiting him, Grandpa Jiang would sometimes decline to allow the medical team into his house saying, “I (still) have medicine, you don’t have to come.”

When the medical team gave him a month’s worth of medicine, he finished it all in two weeks. Worried that he would overdose on medication, they decided to change their schedule to visit once every two weeks instead. Grandpa Jiang is reticent about his life so the team tried to make small talk with him. They told him that he was free to approach them if he needed help. Seeing that he has skin cancer and yet uses harsh soaps to bathe, they also advised him to use milder types of soap on his skin. Subsequently, he bought a new mobile phone for himself and asked them to help top up its account value as well as to teach him how to use it.

As his home environment was a mess and very unhygienic, from October to December last year, the team patiently and unceasingly persuaded him to allow them to clean up the place. Grandpa Jiang would repeatedly refuse to let them discard anything or to spruce up his home. However, nearing the end of 2015, when he requested Tan to help him turn on his television set only to discover that it would not work, he was happy to agree when she took the opportunity to ask him if he wanted a brand new one. Tan continued, “Why don’t we help you spring clean; you have many expired cans of food, (the house) is so messy and many of your lights are spoilt. Chinese New Year is coming soon, (if) we spruce up the place, you can have a clean environment to live in.” Much to her surprise and delight, he finally agreed.

“Do you (still) want to keep this card? And these old letters too......” Tan was again pleasantly surprised to see that Grandpa Jiang was happy to agree that they be discarded. During the clean up, volunteers would take care to seek permission for everything they wanted to throw away, including plastic bags that had cockroaches in them. Tan further said that the next step was to apply to the welfare authorities to have their workers clean Grandpa Jiang’s home every two weeks as his aching waist hampered his efforts to upkeep the flat.

After cleaning and painting, the volunteers carefully installed a shelf so that Grandpa Jiang could have a new altar, and carried in a new television set and mattress. Upon entering his newly scrubbed home, he remarked that it looked more spacious now. Pleased at the positive changes, Grandpa Jiang even performed a short display of Tai Chi for the volunteers before they left his home.

No profuse thanks were necessary on the part of the elderly gentleman. His radiant and appreciative grin said it all!


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On 31 January 2016, Singapore TIMA members and Tzu Chi volunteers went to beneficiary Grandpa Jiang’s one-room flat to help spring clean his home. (Photo by Pua Poo Toong)

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Grandpa Jiang’s tiny apartment was filled with clutter as he had accumulated many donated items and those left behind by his deceased parents, thus he could only sleep in a space near the doorway. (Photo by Pua Poo Toong)

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Though volunteers discovered that many of the plastic bags harboured cockroaches, they would still seek Grandpa Jiang’s permission for every bag they wanted to discard. (Photo by Pua Poo Toong)

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Volunteers sorted out the expired food packages and tinned cans, some of which had expiry dates from the year 2008. (Photo by Pua Poo Toong)

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Volunteers busy at work transporting rubbish and recyclables they had taken from Jiang’s flat. (Photo by Pua Poo Toong)

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Volunteer Zhu Gong Xi borrowed a high pressure water jet from his company so that the floors, walls and ceiling could more efficiently be cleaned of dirt. (Photo by Pua Poo Toong)

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Ye Ying Ling was a first-timer in helping to spring clean a beneficiary’s house, and noted that many elderly needed help to clear their house of clutter as they could not bear to throw away anything themselves. (Photo by Pua Poo Toong)

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Volunteer Zhang Ling Li (second from right) busily helping to clear the house. (Photo by Pua Poo Toong)

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Volunteer Zhang Ai Bin (left) felt a wave of emotion when she saw the huge amount of expired food items that Grandpa Jiang had accumulated. (Photo by Tai Kai Pik)

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