“If you like doing Tzu Chi’s work so much, why don’t you just move there and live there?!”
A husband got upset and reproached his wife when he saw his children crying for their mother, who had returned home late one night after participating in a Tzu Chi activity.
The mother is Lam Foong Kew, who is currently a Tzu Chi staff and a certified commissioner of the NGO. In the early days when she joined Tzu Chi, her husband would be unhappy whenever he could not find her at home after returning from work. In addition, her family could not accept and understand why she had turned vegetarian.
At that time, Lam could only volunteer with Tzu Chi “in secret”. She would secretly keep her Tzu Chi uniform in her bag before leaving home to participate in an activity or volunteer at the NGO, to keep her husband from knowing what she was doing. And, before her husband returned home from work, she had to reach home. She would take off her uniform and change her clothes so that he would not know about her “secret work”.
In the face of disapproval from her upset husband, Lam would always argue back, and the couple often quarreled with each other, causing much disharmony within their family. It was a common sight to see them giving each other the cold shoulder. Once, during a heated argument, her husband was so enraged that he tore their marriage certificate into pieces!
However, despite all these challenges and difficulties, never once did Lam ever think of quitting Tzu Chi. “If what one does is the right thing, one must persevere in doing it,” she said, resolutely.
The key to influencing others is changing yourself
Before joining Tzu Chi, Lam was a typical housewife. She used to think that she was just a simple woman and would sometimes feel a sense of inferiority. “Every day, I would just cook the three meals, take an afternoon nap and watch the TV,” she shared.
One fortuitous day, she walked into the former premises of Tzu Chi Singapore in Chinatown and discovered about the NGO. It was then she learned that one does not have to be very rich to help others; she could simply save a little bit of money into a Tzu Chi Bamboo Coin Bank every day and then donate her savings to the NGO’s charity fund. Lam also learned that going vegetarian is also a way to help people, so she decided to adopt a vegetarian diet.
Thus, with these simple kind thoughts, she persevered on the Bodhisattva Path despite many setbacks and difficulties.
Later, Lam learned to juggle her family, work and Tzu Chi’s work. She takes her family’s feelings into consideration while serving as a volunteer, and this gives her husband a peace of mind. If her husband goes home early, she will return home early, too. If he has to work overtime, she will take the opportunity to help out in Tzu Chi in the evening.
Apart from adjusting her schedule, Lam also transformed her attitude and behaviour. In the past, during a conversation, whenever she felt that her views were right, she would keep arguing until the other party had nothing to say. Now, she knows how to humble herself and try to see things from the perspectives of others.
Lam revealed that in the past, she used to be a timid person who was afraid of the dark and terrified of ghosts and death. A few years ago, her mother-in-law happened to be hospitalised during the seventh lunar month, a period of time when many Chinese people would avoid going to certain places, including a hospital. But Lam was not affected by the taboo, and she often went to the hospital to visit her mother-in-law and take care of her, treating the latter like her own mother.
Gradually, perhaps after seeing the change in her attitude and behaviour, her husband, who used to resist everything about Tzu Chi, started supporting her work in the organisation. Now, he will have breakfast together with his wife before driving her to Tzu Chi to work. He has also transformed his attitude and actions, and is now a very different man. Seeing how busy his wife is with her work, he often takes the initiative to help with household chores.
Learn humbly to unleash the power of good
Lam, who is a senior citizen now, has transformed from a simple housewife to a working woman who can operate a computer. She is currently the administrative staff in charge of Tzu Chi Singapore’s Continuing Education Centre. At work, she humbly learns from other staff, who are mostly many years younger than her.
In addition, she lives out the spirit of lifelong learning by taking various courses at the Continuing Education Centre, such as Chinese tea art, flower arrangement, Guzhen, etc. As she is very passionate about tea art, she went to Tzu Chi in Taiwan in 2013 to complete the advance course in tea art and became a tea art teacher after that. Even her husband, who preferred to drink coffee than tea, started drinking tea because of her influence.
In fact, Lam can be spotted at various Tzu Chi activities. Besides being a tea art teacher, she was also an emcee at a Buddha Bathing Ceremony in the community, presented sign language songs at Tzu Chi’s Seventh Lunar Month Prayer Ceremonies, as well as helped to decorate the activity venues.
“I want to be a wise woman who is able to take good care of my family as well as (work for the good of the world),” said Lam with a firm determination.