The Tzu Chi free clinic held in Tacloban in the Philippines in May 2017 was veteran volunteer Loi Hui Thin’s last participation in a Tzu Chi overseas medical aid mission.
Towards the end of 2016, Loi started coughing incessantly and gradually lost weight over the months. After returning to Singapore from his trip to the Philippines in mid 2017, he went to consult a doctor who referred him to the hospital for further examination after viewing an X-Ray of his chest.
Loi then scheduled a visit to Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH) for a medical check-up, but the doctors were unable to find the root cause of his persistent cough. It was only much later in the year that he was diagnosed with end stage lung cancer. Due to the grim prognosis, Loi decided to forgo chemotherapy, and was transferred to Bright Vision Hospital in December 2017 for palliative care.
On 9th January 2018, Tzu Chi volunteers received an urgent notice of Loi’s critical condition, and took turns to stand by his hospital bed and chant the Buddha’s name to pray for him. At around 11:36pm that day, he passed away peacefully in the watch of the night, bringing an abrupt end to his 62 years of life.
In the six decades of his well-lived life, Loi left behind a beautiful legacy of walking in kindness and charity during the final 18 years of his life, serving as a role model for all.
A Heart of Compassion Sparks a Journey into Charity
In 2000, when Tzu Chi Singapore was raising funds for Taiwan’s 921 Earthquake relief, Loi Hui Thin and his wife walked into the former premises of Tzu Chi, which was located in the heart of Chinatown, to make a donation. Through the encouragement of Tzu Chi commissioner Cheng Shiu Hsiang (Ci Ju), Loi forged an affinity with Tzu Chi, and the affinity grew deeper over the following 18 years of his life.
During that time, there were not many male volunteers in Tzu Chi, and oftentimes, a single group of volunteers had to organise and run activities together. Through the invitation of transport and logistics volunteer Ong Tan Kok, Loi started volunteering with the transport team for volunteers making care visits to elderly residents who were living alone.
Then, the Tzu Chi International Medical Association (TIMA) held a free clinic in the Riau Islands, Indonesia, and Loi headed the logistics team in the medical aid mission. It was this first overseas medical mission that propelled him into Tzu Chi’s international medical aid work. For a good 18 years of his life, he was the team leader in charge of water and electrical installations and logistics during each of the free clinics. The team provided crucial and dependable support behind the essential work of the medical personnel.
Since the year 2000, Tzu Chi Singapore started participating in overseas medical aid missions, and over the past close to 20 years, the water and electrical installation team has expanded from its original two-member team to the current 40-plus strong team. From the free clinics held in Indonesia’s Riau Islands, such as Batam, Karimun, Bintan Islands, Tanjung Pinang etc., to those in Sri Lanka, Philippines and Cambodia, Loi had never failed to avail himself.
Water and electrical supplies are indispensable to the success of major Tzu Chi activities and events, such as the annual charity bazaar, Year End Blessing Ceremony and Buddha Bathing Ceremony. In each of these events, Loi could often be seen working quietly together with his band of brothers (fellow volunteers) in the background. As the first few volunteers on-site, and often the last few to leave, the team was strongly united in their efforts.
The Indispensable Efforts of the Logistics Team
Most of Tzu Chi’s overseas medical aid missions are held in less developed countries or remote regions where medical resources are seriously lacking. For instance, the free clinic may be set up in a poorly equipped hospital, a communal activity centre or even a school. It is common to find Spartan facilities, where electrical and water supplies are inadequate. As such, everything that is needed by the free clinic has to be either hand-carried by volunteers to the venue or rented locally, akin to creating a “temporary hospital” from the ground up.
In order to ensure sufficient and constant supply of water and electricity at the venue of a free clinic, the team of volunteers in charge of water and electrical installations not only has to survey the site in advance, but also needs to arrive on-site 2 to 3 days ahead of the main body of volunteers, to perform a wide array of preparation work. They work to connect the water pipes and hoses to the various treatment rooms in the makeshift hospital, such as the operating theatre, the dental treatment room etc., as well as connect cables to power generators, to ensure there is sufficient lighting in each room.
Such essential preparation work is not only laborious but also time consuming. It is only through the concerted efforts of the water and electrical installation team that the Spartan facilities can be transformed into complete and well-equipped sites for the medical teams to carry out medical treatments.
Lighting for the operating theatre is of utmost importance. But buying and installing original lighting equipment for surgical use is a costly affair that may cost up to thousands of dollars. In addition, the long-distance transport of the expensive lighting equipment also poses major logistical challenges.
Loi visited countless hardware stores, before settling on the most cost-effective equipment for each medical mission. With his ingenuity, he managed to put together a set of lights for surgical use that he and his team could assemble or disassemble within five minutes. His dedication and dependability had won praises from the medical personnel, including veteran TIMA dentist, Dr. Eugene Tang.
“With Brother Loi and his team around, we can work with ease and confidence,” said Dr. Tang.
“I never have to worry about the water and electrical infrastructure or logistics. He (Loi) was never absent from any medical aid mission. As long as the free clinic date was given to him, no matter when the departure date was, he would let go of his work commitments, and embark on the trip with the mission team. It is truly an amazing feat,” recalled Tzu Chi Singapore’s deputy CEO, Kenny Khoo.
Khoo has been with Tzu Chi for more than 20 years, and served as an important advocate and coordinator for overseas free clinics; Loi was his best partner in these missions.
“For the sake of Tzu Chi, he is willing to let go of everything else and serve quietly in his humble ways,” he added.
With regards to Loi’s sudden departure, Khoo could not help but feel a pang of sadness for the great loss of both a friend and a good partner in overseas aid missions.
“He serves as a role model for us. Whenever we need help, he is the one who always steps up to the plate. It is really not easy to find someone who is willing to shoulder responsibilities,” shared Khoo.
A Big Heart that Serves Selflessly
Over a period of 18 years, Loi had been involved in more than 40 Tzu Chi free clinics overseas. A fellow volunteer who had been involved with him in the water and electrical works right from early days, Tan Kok Seng, shared that, as a plumbing and electrical technician, Loi drew a modest income, while his wife is a full-time home-maker. And in each of Tzu Chi’s free clinics, Loi always had to make an extra trip to the site: the first trip was to survey the site, while the second trip would be with the actual mission team. Thus, the expenses he incurred would be double that of other volunteers. Besides, a lot of the water and electrical-related equipment purchases were paid out of Loi’s own pocket.
Tan truly admired the big-hearted and generous nature of his late team-mate. He added with much emotion: “Seeing so many people visiting Brother Loi when he was seriously ill and hospitalised, we know that he had forged countless friendships over the years.”
In the eyes of his team-mates, Loi was a modest and soft-spoken gentleman.
“He was our team leader, but had never lost his cool at anyone. No matter how busy, if there was a problem, he would surely solve it together with you.”
Whilst reminiscing his departed friend, Tan’s eyes brimmed with tears, bearing silent witness to the love he has for his brother and friend.
Though a man of few words, Loi was a very thoughtful person. Tzu Chi’s documenting team’s volunteer, Lai Tong Heng, said that when Loi knew that both of them shared the common surname in Chinese, Loi specially bought a mug printed with their surname for him, to his delight. A few days earlier when he was visiting Loi in hospital, the latter did not forget to remind him: “When you are feeling unwell, please seek treatment promptly and do not follow my example.”
Volunteer Tan Lee Hua had joined the logistics team since he started volunteering with Tzu Chi in 2009, and was deeply grateful to Loi for his care and support.
“Brother Loi always led first by example. I am really grateful for his contributions and very happy to follow his leadership,” shared a grateful Tan.
Serving as a Role Model for Posterity
Tzu Chi volunteer Lee Teck Hock started his involvement with overseas medical missions in 2015, where he met Loi.
“I remember that during a free clinic in the Philippines, I was experiencing some discomfort in my abdomen and had no appetite. While I was resting in a vehicle, Brother Loi offered me a bowl of hot soup, and I was very touched.”
He could sense the gentle love of the soft-spoken man and a spirit of giving his best in everything he does.
“In Tzu Chi, we must put our best foot forward in all that we do, until our final breath. We should not come with a casual attitude of ‘just taking a look and leaving after that’. We must experience with our hearts and not slacken in our effort. Otherwise, when our time is up (to leave this world), it will be too late in wanting to do something,” shared Lee. The sudden departure of Loi stirred up many deep sentiments in him.
Over the course of a few nights, numerous brothers and sisters from the Tzu Chi family came from all over the island to pay their final respects and pray for their departed beloved Brother Loi. On the night of 11th January, over 300 people braved the winds and rain and gathered within the small funeral hall, taking turns to express their eulogy for their dearly missed brother and sharing warm memories over a short video created for him.
The day after the hustle and bustle of the Year End Blessing Ceremony, 14th January, marked the final farewell and funeral of this much-beloved brother. Some 300 people walked with the funeral hearse of Loi on the final leg of his journey in the afternoon on that day.
Loi Hui Thin was born in relatively good family circumstances, with 10 siblings. He started working from 16 years of age, and was a baker’s apprentice before switching to water and electrical works later on. He joined Tzu Chi in 2000 and became a certified volunteer in 2008.
He was put in charge of the water, electrical and logistics team for many years, and had always lived by example. The many team members who toiled along his side shared that in their line of work, they always got up before daybreak, and performed many laborious tasks that involved moving or carrying things, which were all energy-sapping work that would take a toll on their physically tired bodies. Moreover, during each medical aid mission, they had to take on any challenges that surfaced.
There were many instances that they were so tired that they would automatically fall asleep the moment they sat down or rested. However, everyone worked with a deep sense of joyful fulfilment. Privately, the team often gathered to catch up over coffee, and even went on holidays together. The happy memories of working hard together, and their frequent gatherings are etched deeply in the hearts and minds of everyone.
Loi’s wife, Mdm Tan Mui Choo, is also a Tzu Chi volunteer, and has spent many years in the busy kitchen of Jing Si Hall serving as a volunteer. A virtuous and industrious woman, Tan scrimps on herself to help maintain family expenses, and had been a silent supporter behind her husband these 18 long years as he dedicated himself to Tzu Chi’s missions.
Tan watches Dharma Master Cheng Yen’s speech programme, “Life Wisdom”, daily and stores the wisdom of the Master’s teachings deep inside her heart. She has managed to strike a balance between her family and volunteer responsibilities all these years. Be it preparing food and beverages for major Tzu Chi events or preparing lunch for volunteers and staff on weekdays in the Jing Si Hall, she has always been quietly serving. Their only son has grown up to be an independent, filial and sensible young man, allowing his parents some sense of relief.
Loi’s selfless giving spirit had allowed his life to shine like a brilliant light, serving as an exemplary model for all other volunteers. We pray that his next incarnation into human life will enable him to continue his most beloved path of Tzu Chi’s medical aid missions.