On 11 July, 30 Tzu Chi volunteers from Singapore and Taiwan, while in Cambodia to conduct the Blissful Life seminar, followed their Cambodian counterparts to the outskirts of Phnom Penh to visit a 66-year-old visually impaired care recipient whom they fondly call Grandma Pouvsoun.
Phnom Penh, the capital city of Cambodia, is within the province of Kandal which borders Vietnam. As it is now the longan season, upon entering the outskirts of the city, one can see lots of longan flowers and fruits hanging on the trees planted by the households.
After the cars stopped by the road side, the volunteers got off and walked through the courtyard of a local household to get to where Grandma Pouvsoun lives. It is a small hut of two square metres. The walls are made of patches of straw mat and the roof, thin iron sheets. Though simple and unfurnished, the hut looks sturdy.
Love and warmth from overseas visitors
Local Tzu Chi volunteer, Su Xiao Hong, took the lead and entered the hut to greet Grandma Pouvsoun. “You have many visitors today, Grandma,” she told the senior.
The senior was sitting on her bed, straining her eyes to see better while she reached out to grab Sister Su’s hands. The other volunteers quickly went forward to greet the senior and offered her bread while local Chinese volunteer Feng Wei Sheng handed her a bottle of water worrying that she might feel thirsty eating just the bread. Moved by their warmth and kindness, Grandma Pouvsoun thanked the volunteers repeatedly as she shook hands with each of them giving them her blessings.
The presence of the Tzu Chi volunteers and the items they brought along, together with their laughter resounding in the tiny space brought the small hut to life.
Cambodian volunteer Jie Ling was sitting by the bed, talking loud into Grandma Pouvsoun’s ear as she has a hearing impairment. Observing the frail elderly, Sister Jie Ling’s eyes soon brimmed with tears at her plight, and that moved Sister Su to tears too.
The overseas volunteers may not know but the beaming senior was actually a stark contrast to her former self when the Cambodian volunteers first visited her in March. According to the local volunteers, she looked worried and was tearful then.
Sinoun, a local volunteer, lives in the same area as Grandma Pouvsoun. Both Sister Sinoun and Sister Su participated in the Tzu Chi entrepreneurs' camp in Taiwan in March this year and were deeply touched by Tzu Chi's ideals. Upon returning to Cambodia, Sister Sinoun brought up Grandma Pouvsoun's plight to Brother Su Ying Long and Sister Su Xiao Hong, who later organized the home visit to her humble abode.
The opportune encounter with Tzu Chi
During their first visit in March, volunteers discovered that the senior had lost her eyesight. The hut she lived in was rundown with no windows and the roof was full of holes, making it difficult for her to find shelter when it rains. It doesn’t help that March is the coldest season in Cambodia and with her thin clothing and blanket, she was often left shivering in the cold.
She didn’t talk much in the presence of the volunteers, and was tearful all the time.
“How do you survive in this cold weather?” Sister Su enquired with much concern.
“I just wish for dawn to break quicker so that I won’t feel so cold,” replied Grandma Pouvsoun. Holding on to her cold hands, the volunteers couldn't help feeling sorry for her.
The following day, the volunteers returned with a straw mat, a blanket and a pillow for the senior. Caressing the soft blanket with her hands, Grandma Pouvsoun still didn’t say much except for words of gratitude to the volunteers. Her face was again full of tears.
On the third day, the volunteers returned to the hut again with rice and basic necessities. This time, the familiar voices of the volunteers brought much happiness to the senior. Realizing that the volunteers had brought along living necessities, she said to them, “You have given me much and I really feel rich now. Please just distribute the rice to my neighbours because they need it too.”
Despite leading a difficult life and without knowing if the volunteers would be back to help her again, the senior was still thinking of helping her neighbours. Such noble thoughts deeply impressed and touched the volunteers.
Sister Su would still choke with emotions when she recounted the incident. “She is blind and can’t make her own living. If no one gives her food, she will have to search for it on her own with no certainty of finding any. She suffers so much herself and yet she still thinks of helping others.”
The concern showered upon Grandma Pouvsoun eventually won the confidence and faith of the senior, prompting her to share with the volunteers her fateful life.
Grandma Pouvsoun was born in 1945. Her family was not rich but they led a happy life. A civil war broke out in Cambodia in 1975, and both her husband and children perished under the cruelty of the Khmer Rouge regime. She has since been living a lonesome life with much hardship. She eventually moved in to her sister's, setting up a simple and unfurnished hut for shelter in the courtyard.
According to her neighbour, Grandma Pouvsoun had always been hardworking and independent. However, she became blind after the operation to remove her cataract went wrong. She lost her job and her ability to lead an independent life, having to rely on her neighbours for meals. It was natural that sometimes she had to go hungry.
Seeing she is still healthy, someone in the village suggested that she beg for subsistence at the market. But that was not too plausible as it is very dangerous to move around on the road when one is blind.
The unkind ones also make cruel remarks about her, making her feeling helpless and upset over her past ability to lead an independent life.
A new home of love from Tzu Chi
After their first visit to Grandma Pouvsoun, the volunteers decided to rebuild her hut as it was too dilapidated. They reached a consensus with her sister's family that they would use whatever material salvaged from the existing hut and whatever else that was needed would be funded by the volunteers. It was hoped that the family would have their kindness inspired to participate in building a new home for grandma.
A new hut thus came into being in May, giving Grandma Pouvsoun a more sturdy shelter.
When the volunteers from three places arrived on 11 July, Grandma Pouvsoun’s sister was working in the field. Her daughter-in-law, Soung Sokha, disclosed that Grandma Pouvsoun had been living with them for 15 years. The family can now have their peace of mind as the senior has new clothing and can cook rice for herself, which greatly reduced her reliance on the family.
“Thank you very much for relieving our burden by helping to look after my aunt,” Soung Sokha expressed her gratitude towards Tzu Chi. The volunteers from Singapore quickly returned her gratitude with a deep bow in appreciation of the family’s commitment and love for Grandma Pouvsoun over so many years.
“Don’t forget that we are your family too!” Singapore volunteer Jeff Chang gave Grandma Pouvsoun a warm hug. The wide smile on her face reflected what she felt at heart at that moment.