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The Joys of an Unpaid “Employee” at Jing Si Hall

A 70-year-old elderly lady has chosen to spend her golden years as a “white-collar worker” in the Finance Department of the Tzu Chi Foundation (Singapore). Though an unpaid volunteer, her working hours are no different from those of the staff.

SG20190305 CUA ZMZ 023Loke’s daily task in the Finance Department of the Foundation includes processing donors’ records and donations. (Photo by Chan May Ching)

“Life is impermanent. We never know if we will wake up the next day after falling asleep tonight. So I seize the opportunity to serve, because being able to serve is a blessing!” said Loke Soon Keng.

Loke is a full time Tzu Chi volunteer who spends almost as much time working at the Jing Si Hall as any other full-time Tzu Chi employee. Apart from Thursday and Sunday, she reports for “work” each day at the Finance Department of the Tzu Chi Foundation (Singapore).

SG20190305 CUA ZMZ 005Loke travels from Punggol to Tzu Chi’s office in the Jing Si Hall in Pasir Ris by bus every day from Monday to Saturday, except Thursday. (Photo by Chan May Ching)

Clad in her blue and white Tzu Chi uniform, Loke, who has a petite figure and greyish white hair neatly tied in a bun, always appears clean and neat. Fondly known as “Ci Hao shi gu*” by the younger staff, and she is no stranger to all at the Jing Si Hall.

“Loke always works quietly at her desk every day. I didn’t dare to approach her at the beginning as she gave me the impression of a stern and serious senior,” recalled Loh Cheau Lian, a fellow staff member of the Finance Department who often has to interact with Loke on work matters.

*“shi gu” is a polite term used to address senior female volunteers in Tzu Chi.

Finding the joy of learning in giving

Loke has been volunteering at the Finance Department since 2014. Her duties include processing donor record lists, data-entry, cross checking acounting data, printing receipts, etc. Every day, she focuses her eyes on the computer screen while sitting up straight in her seat as she types. There is always a long ruler on her table which she uses to help her read the text and data more easily. She does the repetitive task tirelessly each day.

At the age of close to 70, a senior citizen like Loke should be enjoying her time with her grandchildren and relaxing in her golden years. Yet, she has chosen to become a “member of the white-collar work force” by taking on a 9- to-5 “office job”.

Loke, who only has a primary school qualification and is not very fluent in Chinese, learns hard each day while she works. Not only does she now know how to use Google search engine, but she has also learned how to type Chinese characters. She is never tired of learning and thinks that every new task assigned to her is an opportunity for her to learn something new.

Loh gradually changed her impression of Loke as they worked together each day and helped each other out at work. The younger staff member also feels inspired by Loke to seize every opportunity to contribute while she is still able to do so.

“She is a senior who is willing to learn and to accept guidance from others. She also makes you feel warm at heart at appropriate times,” remarked Loh.

SG20190305 CUA ZMZ 037Loke often interacts with Loh Cheau Lian (right) on work matters. (Photo by Chan May Ching)

Loke has poor vision as she suffers from age-related macular degeneration (AMD). However, she still chooses a desk-bound job and opines that she is “earning” (knowledge) every day she works. Lim Siew Hwee, a senior staff in the Finance Department who has known Loke for more than 20 years, commented that a volunteer like her is indeed very rare and hard to come by.

“She is a very responsible person. She is also very self-disciplined and has a good rapport with many,” said Lim.

Lim added that she was impressed by Loke as she would not only do her job blindly, but would also actively share her thoughts and suggestions whenever she discovered any glitches in the workflow.

SG20190305 CUA ZMZ 024Loke offers valuable assistance in the Finance Department. (Photo by Chan May Ching)

A Human Resource staff of Tzu Chi Singapore, Liaw Chue Ping, who lives next to Loke, said that they often bumped into each other on their way to work in the morning and travelled  to Jing Si Hall together.

"I find that she is treats her job seriously even though she is only doing volunteer work. When I was chatting with her in the bus yesterday, she expressed her concern about finding someone to cover her duties during the week she is on leave. She sees her job as a duty that she has committed herself to. Such an attitude is really hard to come by,” shared Liaw.

In 1990, Loke came to know about Tzu Chi through her sister, Loke Soon Heng (a Tzu Chi Commissioner), and subsequently joined the ranks of volunteers. In the early days, Loke could be found participating in Tzu Chi’s institutional care visits, charity home visits, fundraising for disaster relief and overseas free clinics. After joining Tzu Chi for close to 30 years, she has witnessed the various sufferings in the world, as well as experienced the ups and downs in her own life.

SG20130831 GNA WJX 003Loke Soon Keng and her husband, Leong Weng Chai (right), together with their son, Leong Kar Tsing (second from the left) and daughter-in-law, Dieok Siew Ee, are all serving as Tzu Chi volunteers. (Photo by Ong Chun Suan)

Despite facing many hurdles in life, Loke views all the setbacks as tests, and she will feel relieved and grateful each time she manages to sail through another challenge. She adopts a positive attitude each time she encounters an obstacle in life, be it in her personal life or at work. She feels that these hardships are essential in helping a person grow, and that only by undergoing each of these tribulations can one improve and ascend in life.

Loke said that everyone has their own habits and attitudes, including herself. Whenever she encounters any conflict with others, she will think of Master Cheng Yen’s teaching: “A mirror is used to reflect ourselves, not others.”

“So, if we find that a person is in the wrong, we don't have to follow his ways,” she said.

Nobody can determine how long he or she will live. But we can expand and broaden our life. Loke chooses to serve with joy every day and to cultivate and grow spiritually among people. Be it a sunny or rainy day, as long as she is volunteering in Tzu Chi, it is a day that she has “earned” for herself.

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