Mr Phua has been living with his son and two grandsons since his wife passed away six years ago. He also has a grandson who stays at a mental rehabilitation centre due to his need for long term treatment.
Without a mistress to do the housekeeping, and the four men being in poor health, the house was full of junk and scraps. Mattresses and cupboards were old and ragged and the kitchen, bathroom and corners of the walls were all filthy. A foul smell also lingered in the air.
“We were really concerned for the family when we saw how messy and filthy the house was when we visited in January. At that juncture, we expressed our intention to clean the house for the family, but they declined adamantly,” recalled volunteer Phay Ley Leng.
Mr Phua suffers from frequent asthma attacks recently, and his second grandson has a weak immune system due to his dialysis treatment. Worried that the undesirable living conditions will take toll on the health of the family members, the volunteers were persistent and eventually convinced the senior Phua to let them clean and paint the house.
With many things to be taken care of, such as painting the ceiling, walls, iron windows and wooden door, replacing kitchen cabinets and wardrobes, scrubbing toilet bowl and floor in the living room, bedrooms, bathrooms, etc., the volunteers designed a duty roster and it took two full days over the weekend of 24 and 25 Sept to bring a new look to the Phuas' house.
“Grandpa, what is this? Do you still need this?”
“I don’t need it anymore, that is what I picked from the streets.”
Mr Phua used to work as a karang guni man and has a habit of collecting stuffs. Clothes, cloths, mails, medical bills, summon tickets, even old book purchase lists of his grandsons were among his ‘personal collection’. The volunteers retrieved every item from the many plastic bags in the house and sorted them out according to “Grandpa” Phua’s wishes and let him decide what to do with them.
The volunteers were shocked to find there were many bedbugs in the mattress the senior picked from the streets, and the food-filled kitchen was infested with cockroaches.
Armed with masks and gloves, the volunteers put in much effort to clean the bedrooms, toilet and kitchen. The toilet bowl which had turned black and yellow was sparkling after the scrubbing; oily kitchenware and stove were washed and cleaned thoroughly to uncover their original white color; the iron windows and furniture were also dusted completely and the house became clean and bright again.
To prevent the bedbugs from multiplying, the volunteers took pain to boil the family's clothes in hot water before doing the laundry. They also bought new beds, pillows and blankets for the family so that they could sleep comfortably.
Not having their house repainted for over 20 years, the old paint was peeling from the ceiling and the walls had turned yellow and dull with dark patches everywhere.
On the first day of housekeeping, the volunteers applied a layer of base paint on the ceiling and walls before covering it with a second layer the next day so that the paint won’t peel off easily.
Many of the volunteers were painting house for the first time. Though clumsy in the beginning, they quickly got the hang of it but many still got themselves tainted with paint on their hair, hands and clothes.
Despite doing housekeeping for the first time, new volunteer Huang Bing Sun was very adroit and dexterous; hardly could one tell that he was nursing an injury on his leg. Taking part from beginning to end, he shared his elation: “Yes, my leg hurts but I never thought of giving up because what we did has brought happiness to four people, an impossible feat if we had been selfish and only thought of ourselves.”
The Phua family was very touched by the dedication of the volunteers. Despite being men of few words and not in good health, the son and grandsons of Mr Phua also did their parts under the guidance of the volunteers. They had become closer to the volunteers over the two days and
their faces were beaming with smiles, which was a rare sight to behold.
Although not good at expressing himself, the eldest grandson said, “I feel hot even though I do not do any work so it must've been very tough on you for working so hard these two days. It is very unusual for you to do all these for us as we are not related to each other. We will make sure that we do our own housekeeping every few days in future to keep our house clean and tidy so your efforts will not be in vain.”
Sitting around the Phua family, the volunteers sang the heartwarming Tzu Chi song 'One Family' with sign language, making eyes of the senior Phua turned red. “I am very happy today," he said happily in Hokkien. "I would have been happier if my wife was still around to look after us.”
Though it was a strenuous and tiring weekend to give the Phua family a clean and tidy home, the volunteers felt that it was all worth their efforts when the worried-looking “Grandpa” broke into smiles.
The Tzu Chi volunteers will continue to keep the family company, and may they cherish their home and head towards a better life.