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Saturday, 21 October 2017 00:00

There Is Always Light at the End of the Tunnel

Written by  Low Siew Lian, Malacca / Translated by Goh Hwe Yong

Volunteer Lee Chew Yee always took the proper opportunity to teach Kaavitha to stand on her own feet. [Photograph by Lee Kin Chee]

When life is not merciful, some choose to give up, some choose to struggle on. Kaavitha’s husband chose the former. He left life’s problems for her to solve. Kaavitha finally managed to stand on her own to look after her family, after much coaxing from Tzu Chi volunteers who supported her in all ways.


Kaavitha, an Indian woman, had never expected that her husband, who had been her only support, would ever give up on life.

She came from Bahau, a small town in Tampin, Negeri Sembilan. At age 16, she was married and lived in Aloh Gajah, Malacca. It was not possible for her to work to earn for a more decent livelihood as she had to take care of the household chores and the children.

Her husband was a road resurfacing worker, earning a meagre wage. Life was very difficult; and he was always worried about getting the next meal. In June 2012, when he was pressured to pay his overdue rental for two months and he could not pay because his employer withheld his wage, it became the final straw on the camel’s back, and he committed suicide.

With his demise, his wife and his four kids, aged between two to seven, had to struggle on. To compound matters, Kaavitha was six months pregnant at that time, placing the whole family in an immediate dire situation.

On July 8, volunteers Tang Pui Yue and Ong Soon Yeon visited the family to assess their application for Tzu Chi Study & Awards Scheme. The family’s dire situation was obvious, and an emergency relief in kind was given. Community volunteers, including Wee Boon Fook, Kok Boon Lian, and others followed up with another visit. They observed with sadness that her kitchen was empty, and the children fought hunger with plain water. Kaavitha was polite but appeared at a loss.

The pillar of the house had collapsed; the family was simply struggling to survive. The immediate action needed was to solve the most urgent food problem. Only then was it possible to help them to be independent. So the volunteers shopped for grocery and milk powder to give to the family. Further problems surfaced when the volunteers was filing the application for living allowances for Kaavitha.

Applying for identity card

Kaavitha did not have an identity card because her parents, who were both illiterate, did not apply for her. Her husband was also illiterate, and both of them did not know that they had to apply for birth certificates for their children. When the eldest child enrolled for school, she could only show a letter from the doctor as proof that the son was a local citizen.

One day, Kaavitha who by now had built up great trust for Tzu Chi volunteers, showed them a letter from the National Registration Department. It was a reminder for her to apply for birth certificates for her children.

Only a proof of identity as a local citizen could serve as a guarantee of the right for her to live here, and for her children’s right to schooling. Yet at the time, she had to postpone making the application due to her pregnancy. A month after she had given birth to a baby, Tzu Chi provided her with transport fares, and guided her on how to attend to the matter personally at the National Registry.

“As Kaavitha is still young, she ought to learn to be independent. All she had to do was to ask her way to the place,” said volunteer Lee Chew Yee as she shared on why she let Kaavitha go to the National Registry on her own.

After a few trips to the Registry, Kaavitha finally succeeded in obtaining an identity card for herself and birth certificates for her children the following year.

Finding the way to live

Kaavitha still had problem paying rental for her house, as she had no source of income. Volunteers concerned weighed her situation and resolved to give aid in kind primarily, and then to look for her younger brother to help pay the rental. Even though her brother is not close to her, he agreed to pay the rental for a year because he was touched by the volunteers, for their help as strangers.

But due to unknown reasons, her brother stopped paying the rental. The owner again wanted Kaavitha to vacate the house. She had no choice but to do as asked. She found another house to move into, but the rental was slightly higher. To help furnish her new house, volunteers managed to find some furniture from Tzu Chi recycling centre. So they celebrated a simple 2014 Deepavali in their new house.

Kaavitha actually had not thought much about the future. She did not seem to realize her responsibility as head of a household. Volunteers felt it was very necessary to make her see clearly the situation she and her children were facing, and to think about what she could do to improve their livelihood.

Initially, volunteers advised her to look for a job, but to no avail. After many tries, the volunteers thought it was necessary to be stern with her. They spoke to her mother to help look after the house and her children, so that she could go out and look for a job. This time it was effective, and she asked timidly about where to look for a job. The volunteers then told her that she could choose to work as a rubber tapper, a house cleaning maid, a helper at an eatery to wash plates, and others.

The following month, volunteers were pleased to find her working as a house cleaning maid, a job that earned her some income. They encouraged her to look for more households for the same work, so as to earn more. Then after some time, she became a rubber tapper as introduced by a friend of hers. However, as a rubber tapper, her income was unstable because when it rained, the trees could not be tapped, and so no income for her. When such situation arose, Tzu Chi would provide emergency aid in kind in addition to the government welfare aid in cash which she had started receiving earlier on.

In May 2015, Kaavitha started working as a cleaning worker under a cleaning agency in a government school. Since then, she had a steady income, and life for her became stable. Then by accident, she discovered that her employer did not pay EPF for her. Volunteers then taught her how to check her monthly pay slips and, if necessary, to bring any discrepancy up to her employer.

By now, Kaavitha had become more and more independent. Chew Yee was very happy for her. She commented, “A path is treaded to become a road. Fortunately, Kaavitha became very positive and heeded our advice. She is willing to learn from scratch. Had she gone to school, she would have been better than what she is today.”

Learning to manage a household

In the very early stage, volunteers noticed that Kaavitha was not managing her household well. She did not cook for her children and only made milk from milk powder provided by Tzu Chi, while other food items were stored at one corner.

Thinking that she might had been too sad to cook after her husband’s demise, or did not know how to cook at all, volunteers took the trouble to teach her how to prepare food and dishes.

As time went by, and after she had a steady job and learnt to manage her money, volunteers switched aid in kind to financial aid by transferring the money into her bank account monthly.

As she grew, so did her children. She started to plan for her children’s educational and tuition fees. So besides her cleaning job, she started to find ways to earn extra income. Indeed, she worked very hard.

You have changed for the better

On October 21, 2017, volunteers visited Kaavitha when she returned home from the school where she worked. She chatted much and shared what she had been doing… She was a changed person, confident enough to talk and share her views. Chew Yee praised her, “Oh, you are so different from what you were.”

Kaavitha responded with a happy laugh, and said she was happy that the volunteers had helped her to go out to face the world and challenge life.

She related, “When my husband was around, I never went out. I depended on him for everything. Nowadays, I am able to do many things and go to places on my own. I don’t want to look back, otherwise I would feel sad.”

Kaavitha had been passive and pessimistic in the past; all she cared for then was to have food to eat, and waited for help. Now, she is actively looking after her own family, and making plans to save for a house to buy.

She said that Tzu Chi volunteers and her family members were her greatest support. She told her family members that she would return Tzu Chi’s kindness; and she certainly did by making a donation from what she earned from selling cookies she made for Deepavali.

Although she is still in a needy situation and receiving financial aid from Tzu Chi, she has made the volunteers happy by learning to be independent enough to solve her problems. Her mother was also pleased to see her progress each day.

 

 

Tzu Chi volunteers in Malacca helped Kaavitha to clean up her house in preparation for the Deepavali celebration. [Photograph by Lee Kin Chee]   Volunteer Lee Chew Yee taught the kids to help in household chores to ease their mother’s burden. [Photograph by Lee Kin Chee]

Tzu Chi volunteers in Malacca helped Kaavitha to clean up her house in preparation for the Deepavali celebration. [Photograph by Lee Kin Chee]
 
Volunteer Lee Chew Yee taught the kids to help in household chores to ease their mother’s burden. [Photograph by Lee Kin Chee]
 
Kaavitha made cookies for sale to get money for her future plans. [Photograph by Low Siew Lian]   Volunteers made a Deepavali visit to Kaavitha. They were happy that life for Kaavitha and her family is hopeful because she has gained independence. [Photograph by Hong Geok Hui]

Kaavitha made cookies for sale to get money for her future plans. [Photograph by Low Siew Lian]
 
 
Volunteers made a Deepavali visit to Kaavitha. They were happy that life for Kaavitha and her family is hopeful because she has gained independence. [Photograph by Hong Geok Hui]
 
Illiterate she might be, but Kaavitha was respectful and willing to learn from the volunteers, and she grew stronger as time passed by. [Photograph by Hong Siew Geok]  

Illiterate she might be, but Kaavitha was respectful and willing to learn from the volunteers, and she grew stronger as time passed by. [Photograph by Hong Siew Geok]