Thursday, Dec 14th

Last updateWed, 11 Nov 2015 11am

Thursday, 14 September 2017 00:00

Single Mothers Find a Way Out

Written by  Low Siew Lian, Malacca / Translated by Lee Hui Yieng

Volunteers Kok Boon Lian and Low Bee Kiow, who have experiences in baking, complimented on Sujatha’s work. [Photograph by Tan Yen Pack]

Each year, Tzu Chi would present festive gift packs to its care recipients during their respective New Year celebrations. This year, instead of purchasing cookies from the markets, Tzu Chi engaged its care recipients to produce home-made cookies. From purchase of ingredients, cookie-making to quality control, volunteers were there to guide the care recipients, hoping that it will also become an alternate source of income for them in the future.


While everyone was relaxing or watching TV programmes at home on the National Day holiday, irresistible aroma of freshly-baked butter cookies permeated the air from the homes of Tzu Chi care recipients, Kaavitha and Sujatha in Alor Gajah, Malacca.

Volunteers from Cheng Community Zone were there to teach Kaavitha, who has committed to produce 100 jars of butter cookies, to use the second-hand oven, and at the same time, invited her family members to share her burden. The cookies were left to cool before they were carefully and neatly stacked into jars.

Sujatha, on the other hand, agreed to produce 100 jars of chocolate cookies. When volunteers noticed that the chocolate bars she was melting were too chunky and would take time to fully dissolve, they cut them into smaller pieces and shared that the chocolates should not be stirred to avoid the end product being coarse in texture. Sujatha listened attentively and nodded her head.

Besides Kaavitha and Sujatha, Tzu Chi Malacca also engaged care recipients from another four households to produce a total of 700 jars of cookies at market price for 350 Indian care recipient households for Deepavali. By so doing, volunteers hope to inspire the care recipients to make extra incomes to support their families’ livelihoods with their skills, and be independent.

Extra allowances from part-time job

Before the cookie-making on that day, 27 volunteers helped Kaavitha to spring-clean her rented home in preparation for Deepavali. Being a single mother, Kaavitha has been taking up cleaning jobs to support her five children, aged between 5 and 12. Traces of scribbles were seen on the walls.

Volunteers were seen cleaning up Kaavitha’s house, from washroom, kitchen, living room to outdoors, as if it was their own home. Besides them, a beneficiary student of Tzu Chi Study & Awards Scheme and two Chinese care recipients also volunteered to weed the grass and clean up the surroundings. They said, “Tzu Chi had helped us before and we are ready to help whenever needed. We always help others too.” Kaavitha’s children were also taught to wipe the windows, clear the scribbles on the walls, clean the furniture, and so on.

Volunteers also brought paint brushes to paint the walls of the living room and exterior of the house. Kaavitha chose a vibrant orange colour, and volunteers matched it by painting the room doors grey. Kaavitha was satisfied with the colour combination and the fresh look of the house, with new and colourful plastic mats that she purchased for the living room. She was grateful to the volunteers for their help. It made them feel the festive mood and her family even thought of bringing their mattresses to sleep in the living room!

After everything was in place, a group of volunteers departed for Sujatha’s house, which was within a five-minute drive, while Kaavitha started to make cookies with the help of volunteers and her sister-in-law. Volunteers ensured that the second-hand oven they brought was working properly before teaching Kaavitha how to control the temperatures so that the cookies would turn out crispier. They also showed her how to arrange the cookies in the jars so that they looked neat and would not break into pieces easily, as well as, prompted her to think about how many jars of cookies she needed to produce daily to meet her target of 100 jars on time. In a way, it helped Kaavitha to gain some basic concepts of financial planning.

Work from home

Sujatha, a single mother with leg length discrepancy, had undergone surgery due to breast cancer. She lives with her son, father and younger brother in a well-furnished single-storey terraced house. The Chinese-style furniture and huge decorative vases in the house were left by her elder brother when he moved out, leaving the younger brother to support the family’s livelihood.

Chew Yee shared that Kaavitha’s son is a beneficiary of Tzu Chi’s Happy Schooling Scheme. When volunteers first visited her home, they had the wrong impression that she did not need any help. It was realized later that she did not have any source of income and had relied upon her brother to provide for her family.

Due to her health issue, Sujatha could not work fulltime. So, she tried to run a small business selling “nasi lemak” (coconut milk rice) near her house. However, she had to end her business owing to objections from her neighbours.

She expressed, “I really like doing business. I can support my child, sick and retired dad, and help my brother with the money earned.” Thus, she showed a keen interest at the volunteers’ idea to make festive cookies for the Indian care recipients. She started making cookies the day after volunteers fetched her to get the baking ingredients on August 26. When volunteers revisited her on August 31, she has completed 70 jars of cookies, waiting to be coated with chocolate and decorated. As some of the ingredients were insufficient, she requested volunteers to help purchase them and added that based on her estimation, everything would be completed within two weeks.

“Every year when Hari Raya and Deepavali are approaching, I would make cookies for my neighbours and friends who have helped me. It’s not for business purposes. This time, although Tzu Chi paid for the ingredients and the making of 100 jars of cookies, I know there are others who are in a worse situation than me; and I am happy to make cookies for them.”

Volunteers Kok Boon Lian and Low Bee Kiow, who have baking experiences, complimented on Sujatha’s work. They also shared some tips on arranging and packing the cookies, which Sujatha appreciated.

Sujatha had initially thought that they would not be able to spend on Deepavali celebration this year, as her brother has just started a new job and his motorbike was broken. She never expected to be given an opportunity from Tzu Chi to earn some allowances through her own efforts.

She said, “All my clothes were given by others but I wish I can afford to buy new ones for my child. I am very happy that with Tzu Chi’s help, I can make cookies, buy some festive stuff and new clothes for my child. Otherwise, I don’t know how I could afford these.”

Before leaving their homes, Chew Yee urged Kaavitha and Sujatha to think of other opportunities to make some money with their baking skills. For example, they could make samples for their friends, neighbours and their children’s teachers to try, and probably there would be some orders.

On September 14, volunteers visited the families again to get the cookies for distribution. Kaavitha revealed that she was only able to complete the order at 2 am that day, while Sujatha was waiting for the last jar of cookies to cool completely before sealing it. She had to trouble her neighbour to help buy more chocolate at a farther place as she ran out of it.

Both families were pleased when they received the “wages” from Tzu Chi and donated RM50 each. Kaavitha shared that she had just received a call for cookie order, while Sujatha expressed her joy holding so much money for the first time. She could use some for the festive celebration and save the remaining.

These cookies will be delivered to the care recipients prior to Deepavali, together with festive gift packs. As the festival approaches, love too is felt!

 

 

Volunteers took Kaavitha to buy baking ingredients. [Photograph by Zhuang Fu Qiu]   On August 31, 2017, twenty-seven volunteers went to Kaavitha’s house to help her with spring-cleaning prior to Deepavali. [Photograph by Lee Kin Chee]

Volunteers took Kaavitha to buy baking ingredients. [Photograph by Zhuang Fu Qiu]
 
On August 31, 2017, twenty-seven volunteers went to Kaavitha’s house to help her with spring-cleaning prior to Deepavali. [Photograph by Lee Kin Chee]
 
Volunteers cleaned up Kaavitha’s house as if it was their own. [Photograph by Tan Yen Pack]   Besides cleaning up Kaavitha’s house, volunteers also painted the walls of the living room and the exterior of the house. [Photograph by Lee Kin Chee]

Volunteers cleaned up Kaavitha’s house as if it was their own. [Photograph by Tan Yen Pack]
 
 
Besides cleaning up Kaavitha’s house, volunteers also painted the walls of the living room and the exterior of the house. [Photograph by Lee Kin Chee]
 
Volunteer Kok Boon Lian shared with Kaavitha on cookie arrangement and packaging. [Photograph by Tan Yen Pack]   Tzu Chi volunteers visited Sujatha’s house on September 14, 2017, to get the cookies. [Photograph by Low Siew Lian]

Volunteer Kok Boon Lian shared with Kaavitha on cookie arrangement and packaging. [Photograph by Tan Yen Pack]
 
 
Tzu Chi volunteers visited Sujatha’s house on September 14, 2017, to get the cookies. [Photograph by Low Siew Lian]
 
Both families were very pleased with their efforts and donated RM50 each. [Photograph by Low Siew Lian]  

Both families were very pleased with their efforts and donated RM50 each. [Photograph by Low Siew Lian]