Ah Lay Leme and Ruth Zanja, a couple from Myanmar, finally felt blessed with great joy after being trapped in a desperate situation. The circumstances would have led the family to the end of the world if help from Tzu Chi volunteers did not arrive in time. To them, the joy of being able to live on as a family was to be dearly treasured forever.
Grateful for a renewed life
On February 19, 2017, several Tzu Chi volunteers visited Ah Lay and his family at their home. They brought along eggs coloured red according to Chinese tradition, cakes, noodle and fruits. Ah Lay was feeding Gratitude with milk. The younger of the baby twins looked weak and small. On the contrary, the other baby, Great Love, was adorably healthy and lively.
“I have not been able to eat and sleep well at all for the past months, not until this younger one is back with us,” said Ah Lay.
Ruth, who was at his side, said worriedly that while Great Love had gained weight to around 6 kg, Gratitude was a mere 2.8 kg baby. The volunteers consoled her that under good care of the parents, Gratitude should be able to grow into a healthy baby too.
After all the nightmares, it was most appropriate to hold a celebration for the reunion of the family. However, deep in their hearts, a trace of fear still remained.
Volunteers presented a cake decorated with the twins’ names and said, “Today, we shall have a belated ‘full moon’ celebration for the twins. We wish that they grow up healthily.” Ah Lay and Ruth were too moved for words.
Also at the celebration were a Burmese pastor and fellow church members of Ah Lay. Prayers were said to seek blessings for the babies and birthday songs were sung, filling the ambience with joy and merriment. Then, Ah Lay took out a letter and read it aloud in the Burmese language, which was translated into English by the pastor as follows:
“....For my family and me, there was no choice anymore; we lost all hopes of carrying on. But you (Tzu Chi volunteers) came to help us with medical fees and other needs. Words cannot express how thankful we are towards you; the kindness that you showed us is equivalent to parental love... I never knew such love existed among fellow humans until you came to us; I feel safe and secured now to have met kind souls like you; you saved our lives....”
The pastor then presented the letter to volunteer Hong Eng Hwa. On behalf of Tzu Chi, Eng Hwa wished Ah Lay and family happiness and peace hereafter.
A basic meal of rice with an egg daily
Looking back, Eng Hwa and his wife, Tan Hooi Poh, felt deeply touched for what had taken place on their path to helping a desperate couple. They embarked on the mission of caring and helping when UNHCR asked for Tzu Chi KL & Selangor to help the couple in early December 2016.
During their first visit, Eng Hwa and his wife noticed that Ruth was rather pale, while Ah Lay was worried and sorrowful. They discovered that Ah Lay was orphaned at a very young age. He had no siblings and lived alone, supporting himself through hard work. After much hardship, he grew up, got married and had a son. They worked as farmers and lived a poor but happy life back in Myanmar then.
In 2012, due to endless violence and conflicts in the village, Ah Lay sold all he had, and fled his country with his wife and their three-year-old son. It was a long way from Myanmar through Thailand to Malaysia.
He was hopeful that he could work hard and survive here in a new land, and he did. Days went by, their son grew up and attended primary school. Then, Ruth, who was hoping for a baby girl as companion to her son, became pregnant with twins. Ah Lay was overjoyed and worked even harder in preparation for the twins’ arrival.
However, at one of the routine maternity examinations, Ruth was found to have medical abnormalities at the end of her mid-term pregnancy, which threatened the lives of her unborn babies. Hence, she had an emergency Caesarean operation in November 2016 to save the 7.5 months old unborn twins.
“The twins were male, weighing 1 kg-plus and 1 kg respectively. They were nursed in incubators...,” Ah Lay recollected.
The twins had been in the incubators for almost a month. The elder of the two had learnt to suckle from the mother, gained weight, and was due for discharge. But the younger one was still too weak and had to remain incubated.
According to Ah Lay, the medical bill for his wife had cost him RM7,000. He had to borrow RM5,000 from his fellow countrymen to make up the sum. He was then told by the hospital that the bill for the twins’ use of the incubators was more than RM20,000. This huge sum was beyond his ability to pay, even if he had worked his whole life. Then, what about the babies? Ruth was so weak. The couple’s predicament seemed hopeless.
“All we had for every meal was just an egg given by our friends to go with rice,” said Ruth in reply to the volunteers’ suggestion of nourishment during her confinement period after delivery.
One huddle after another
Looking at their dire situation, volunteers immediately went into actions. They bought rice and other nutritious food items for the family. Since Ruth was so weak, the volunteers thought it was a good idea to teach Ah Lay how to cook nourishing meals for Ruth. They also showed Ah Lay how to bathe and take care of a baby when they saw that he was not doing it correctly.
Circumstances had forced Ah Lay to take no pay leave from work. This meant there was no income. So the volunteers reported his case and helped him to receive monetary aid from Tzu Chi.
Ah Lay and Ruth felt very thankful for what the volunteers had done for them. To their surprise, Tzu Chi and UNHCR even shared the payment of the twins’ medical fees. As soon as they were deemed fit, they were discharged from the hospital.
Then during the middle of December 2016, Ah Lay called Hooi Poh to tell her that the elder twin was fit to leave the hospital. He requested that the volunteers help him to settle the discharge procedure. Sensing that he was worried, Eng Hwa and Hooi Poh immediately put aside any work on hand and rushed to the hospital.
“When we arrived at the hospital, we could see that Ah Lay was very worried about not being able to get his baby home. It was not until everything was settled and we drove them home that smiles appeared on their faces.”
Hooi Poh still remembered Ah Lay’s happy face as he cuddled the baby in his arms. They were thankful and eagerly waited to take the other twin home.
In the days that followed, many unforeseen circumstances took place. First, Ah Lay lost his job as a restaurant helper. Then, the younger twin was found to suffer from cardiac and genital problems. He had to stay on in the incubator, and had to undergo surgery when he reached 2 kg in weight.
Under such predicament, the couple was greatly stressed and desperate. By the time volunteers saw him, Ah Lay was very weak, with despair written on his face. With the pastor as translator, Ah Lay told volunteers that he had pawned his only asset, his wedding ring, for a few hundred Ringgit. Of course the meagre sum was far from being enough. In tears, he said every time he left the younger twin after his visit, he cried. He said he felt as if he was on the verge of losing his senses as he could see nothing but darkness.
“I am prepared for the worst should there be no solution, and that is, to leave this world together as a family...,” said Ah Lay helplessly. All he wished for was a simple and peaceful life for himself and his family. Yet, fate held no mercy for him.
Eng Hwa was instantly alarmed by Ah Lay’s suicide contemplation. They reassured him that financial aid for the twins’ medical expenses was on the way, and that he should hang on for the sake of his family.
Choosing names for the twins
With Ah Lay being jobless, the family was in a desperate state with no food and insufficient clothing. Tzu Chi volunteers working on the case took immediate action of distributing monetary aid to the family. They also picked up for the family clean and fitting old clothing from the second-hand goods section at Tzu Chi recycling centre.
With volunteers’ frequent visits to the family, Ah Lay and family felt more at ease; and Ah Lay began to see hope. A fellow countryman of his also found him a job at a restaurant that required him to work for long hours from evening till early morning. He did not complain at all, but felt rather thankful.
Ruth was also regaining her health. The elder twin under her motherly care was growing well. Ruth was plying between home and the hospital to breast feed the baby in the incubator. After three months, the baby was fit enough for the scheduled operation. In February 2017, the baby was discharged from the hospital after a successful operation.
With the family finally reunited, hope for the family returned. Grateful for the help accorded to him by Tzu Chi volunteers, Ah Lay requested Eng Hwa and his wife to choose names for the twins. After discussing with fellow volunteers, they proposed the names of “Great Love” and “Gratitude” for the twins.
“‘Great Love’ means ‘the love of many being showered on him’, and ‘Gratitude’ means ‘sincere and endless thankfulness’,” explained Eng Hwa to the couple. He also added that Great Love and Gratitude constitute the spirit of Tzu Chi’s welfare work. The couple accepted the names in deep appreciation. The names are their way of expressing their gratitude to all who had helped them.
As Ah Lay blew the candle on the cake with Great Love in his arms, he said a prayer: “We will always remember Tzu Chi’s spirit, and we will teach our children that they owe their lives to Tzu Chi. May they follow the same path in future, and help others whenever and wherever the need arises.”
Ah Lay passed the baby to Ruth. Cuddling the babies, Ruth could not feel happier.
Emergency aid-in-kind to Ah Lay Leme’s family in December 2016. [Photograph by Hoh Wai Poh]
Tzu Chi volunteer demonstrated healthy cooking to Ruth Zanja, who was in confinement after giving birth, so that Ah Lay Leme could take care of Ruth’s meals. [Photograph by Hoh Wai Poh]
The source of happiness – one of the newborn twins who was healthy enough to go home. [Photograph by Hoh Wai Poh]
With the pastor (centre) as interpreter, Ah Lay Leme revealed to Tzu Chi volunteers, Hong Eng Haw and Tan Hooi Poh, his dire situation and state of hopelessness. [Photograph by Yong Mun Fei]
Tzu Chi volunteers accompanied Ah Lay Leme and Ruth Zanja in February 2017 to take the younger baby home after discharge from the hospital. [Photograph by Yong Mun Fei]
The twins, Great Love and Gratitude, differed in size and fate. [Photograph by Tan Kim Hion]
A happy mother was Ruth Zanja as she held her babies in her arms. [Photograph by Tan Kim Hion]
A group photograph with fellow church members, their pastors, and Tzu Chi volunteers. [Photograph by Hoh Wai Poh]