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Saturday, 28 July 2018 00:00

The Most Intimate Care in the Worst Environment

Written by  Yong Siew Lee, Malacca / Translated by HY Yong

Kong Pui Choon thanked Ng Kim Poh (middle) and other volunteers for cleaning up their home and sending items like mattresses to improve their quality of life. [Photograph by Yong Siew Lee]

The elderly Kong brothers lived in a terraced house filled with recyclables. When volunteers visited the home, they found out that the elder brother, Kong Pui Choon, who had a stroke, and the younger brother, Kong Ah Chye, who has a slight mental disability, were living in a poor environment. Volunteers not only took the brothers to seek medical treatment, but also repaired and reorganized their home.


On the morning of July 4, 2018, Kong Ah Chye, who was shabbily attired, walked into a vegetarian eatery to pack some food. When a customer saw him, he suggested to the owner of the vegetarian restaurant, “You can approach Tzu Chi for help.”

Shortly after the customer’s departure, a Tzu Chi volunteer, Ng Kim Poh stepped into the shop. Upon seeing him, the vegetarian shop owner enquired, “Can Tzu Chi help this family? Their home is crammed with recyclables...”

In fact, Kim Poh remembered Ah Chye. He had seen the brothers riding their bicycles to collect recyclables. As the address provided by the staff of the vegetarian restaurant is near volunteers, Lee Soo Leng and Lee Sok Cheng’s residence, Kim Poh immediately asked the married couple to join him on a visit to the Kong brothers to further understand their situation. That marked the beginning of a positive relationship between Tzu Chi and the brothers.

All talk but no action

When the three volunteers arrived at the Kong brothers’ home, they saw weeds and bushes in front of the house; it was like a small “jungle”. Both sides of the house were full of recyclables. Inside the house were also loads of recyclables, leaving only a small space in the living room, where the brothers would eat, drink and sleep on some cardboard paper. Next to it were many disposable lunch boxes and foul-smelling leftovers.

The Kong brothers are living on their own with no one to depend on. After the demise of their parents, their brothers and sisters passed away one after another. They were left with a younger brother, but he had his own family commitments. Hence, 74-year-old Pui Choon could only live together with his fifth younger brother, Ah Chye, in the terraced house left by their late eldest brother, and relied on scavenging recyclables for a living. Half a year ago, Pui Choon had a stroke due to his high blood pressure, and this affected his mobility. Since then, Ah Chye had no choice but to attend to some matters pertaining to their daily life, including buying all their meals.

When Tzu Chi volunteers first approached the Kong brothers to offer help, Pui Choon was doubtful and kept a wait-and-see attitude towards them. This was because he had been disappointed many times in the past by many people who approached them saying they wanted to help. He said to the volunteers, “You can’t help me. Nobody has actually done anything. It’s all talk.”

However, having observed Pui Choon’s love for his younger brother and the distressed situation of the two elderly people, volunteers decided to find a way to help them. Kim Poh reported the case to Tzu Chi, and upon discussion and obtaining the approval, Tzu Chi will start subsidizing the brothers’ living expenses in August. They also found it crucial to help them manage the messy condition in their home. Volunteers then suggested that to Pui Choon, but he refused. It was only after much persuasion that Pui Choon finally agreed to allow the volunteers to help repair the leaky roof of their house.

Moved by volunteers’ sincerity

On July 22, Tzu Chi volunteers visited the Kong brothers again and checked for water leakage inside the house. They discovered that the water pipes were rusty and there was no water in the house. The brothers could only clean themselves with a wet towel by using a water hose outside the house. Once again, volunteers persuaded the brothers to allow them to help. Feeling the volunteers’ sincerity, Pui Choon felt bad if he was to turn down their kind offer. Hence, he agreed to let them clean up his house, though a bit reluctantly.

During the visit, volunteers also realized that Ah Chye’s feet were scarred, with traces of bleeding. It turned out that not long ago, he accidentally fell into a ditch and fainted. Kim Poh and Sok Cheng then took the brothers to Tzu-Chi Free Clinic for medical treatment.

After seeing the doctor, volunteers took the Kong brothers for lunch at the vegetarian restaurant that reported their case to Tzu Chi and mentioned the incident to the owner. When the owner heard that Tzu Chi would start providing financial aid to the brothers from August, she decided to contribute to the good cause by paying for their meals from July 25 to 31, together with contributions from some kind-hearted diners.

The repeated visits and care of volunteers touched Pui Choon’s heart. He said, “You are better than my parents.” Upon returning home from the Free Clinic, he happily accepted the volunteers’ offer to clean up their home.

Let’s work together

On the morning of July 28, volunteers arrived at the Kong brothers’ home. Dividing their cleaning duties, they helped to clear the recyclables, classify the recyclables, dispose the garbage, cut trees, remove the weeds, and repair the roof.

“Ah, there are beehives!” exclaimed Soo Leng when he found a few large beehives under the plastic chairs he moved out from the “jungle”.

“Wait a minute, there is a lizard on your back!” A palm-sized lizard was on a volunteer’s back. Another volunteer then grabbed it and sent it away.

The little hiccups did not hinder the volunteers from giving their best. After one and a half hours of intensive hard work, they restored the house to its former glory.

After cleaning up the exterior of the house, the volunteers quickly assisted in cleaning up the living room. They showed the items to the brothers to check before deciding on what to do with them. Volunteers also wiped the furniture in the living room, as well as, delivered mattresses and clean second-hand clothing to the brothers. As Ah Chye was feeling unwell that day, after cleaning up the living room, the volunteers decided to clean up the rest of the house at a later date.

Kim Poh also made an arrangement with a recycler, whom he had worked with for many years, to collect the recyclables, and the sum collected was passed to Pui Choon. Another volunteer, Han Bee Dan, assisted in contacting Southern Waste Disposal Company (SWM) and requested them to arrange a truck to help clean up the garbage free of charge.

Bee Dan has been involved in Tzu Chi for many years and had assisted in handling many cleaning-up cases. But the condition of the Kong brothers’ house still surprised her in many ways. She exclaimed, “This house has been around for more than 40 years and is one of the worst I have ever seen. We still have a lot to do, and the team will continue to follow up and provide care.”

As Ah Chye’s wound was red and swollen, Bee Dan drove him to the Tzu-Chi Free Clinic for treatment. A Tzu Chi staff, Ong Kee Boon, arranged for volunteers to assist Ah Chye, who had not taken a bath for a long time, to take a bath before treating his wounds. They also replaced his clothes with those they had prepared for him.

It is actually a beautiful house

“I used to come across the Kong brothers quite frequently. In the past, some Tzu Chi donors wanted to report their condition to Tzu Chi, but Grandpa Pui Choon refused their help though he had agreed initially. Only when we went to visit them personally that we found out how bad their situation was.” On that day, Sok Cheng and Soo Leng helped to clean the house earnestly so as to give the Kong brothers a clean living environment.

Apart from assisting with the cleaning up themselves, the couple also invited Yan Choon Lan, who lives nearby, to help out. Choon Lan had noticed the mess of the house when she went for her exercise in the vicinity. She felt for the two elderly brothers, for not being able to clear the clutter themselves. That, coupled with the demise of an elder in her family recently, made her empathize with the elderly brothers. She then decided to offer her help.

She said, “I did not expect my first cleaning experience to be this extensive. We have been working on it for so long, but only managed to clean up the outside of the house!” Although drenched in sweat, she was happy to see the clean environment for the elderly brothers post cleaning. Her husband joined her by helping to trim the tree branches around the house.

Lin Shi Hing, who has lived opposite the Kong brothers for more than 20 years, had never seen the house this clean and beautiful. He remarked, “It’s very clean now. What a surprise!” He revealed that when he saw so many people turning up at the house that morning, he had guessed that they were there to help the elderly brothers with clean-up. “Otherwise, how could two people do it?” he said.

“More than 30 people came to help!” exclaimed Pui Choon as he counted and happily repeated this exclamation, while giving a thumbs-up to the volunteers. He was especially grateful to the volunteers who repaired the roof.

He said delightfully, “The Ministry of Health officials actually warned me about the mess – I should clean up or I would be fined! But how could I do it alone? Even if I did it, I couldn’t finish it in three months! So, thank you for helping me!”

“Previously, there was no space to move. Now, when people pass by, they will say that this house is beautiful!” Pui Choon smiled broadly as he imagined how the passers-by would appreciate his house now. He was absolutely elated and kept thanking the volunteers, wishing them, “Be happy forever!”

“We have solved the leaking problem that Grandpa Pui Choon was most concerned about, and cleaned up the area outside the house and the living room. Next, we must work on gaining his confidence in us to allow us to continue cleaning up other parts of the house. Also, other than continue to take them to the Free Clinic for medical attention, we must educate them about personal hygiene.” Kim Poh will discuss the follow-up arrangements with the team to give the Kong brothers continuous care for their life, body and mind.

 

 

On July 25, Ng Kim Poh (1st left) and Lee Sok Cheng took the Kong brothers to Tzu-Chi Free Clinic to seek medical treatment. [Photograph by Yong Siew Lee]   On July 28, more than 30 Tzu Chi volunteers helped to clean up the Kong brothers’ home. [Photograph by Yong Siew Lee]

On July 25, Ng Kim Poh (1st left) and Lee Sok Cheng took the Kong brothers to Tzu-Chi Free Clinic to seek medical treatment. [Photograph by Yong Siew Lee]
 
On July 28, more than 30 Tzu Chi volunteers helped to clean up the Kong brothers’ home. [Photograph by Yong Siew Lee]
 
The Kong brothers had been living in this house for 40 years. [Photograph by Yong Siew Lee]   After half a day of cleaning, the environment around the house was restored. [Photograph by Yong Siew Lee]

The Kong brothers had been living in this house for 40 years. [Photograph by Yong Siew Lee]
 
 
After half a day of cleaning, the environment around the house was restored. [Photograph by Yong Siew Lee]
 
Yan Choon Lan (right) felt for the two elderly for living in a harsh environment. Thus, she joined the volunteers to help clean up the house. [Photograph by Yong Siew Lee]   Volunteers cleaning the living room. [Photograph by Yong Siew Lee]

Yan Choon Lan (right) felt for the two elderly for living in a harsh environment. Thus, she joined the volunteers to help clean up the house. [Photograph by Yong Siew Lee]
 
 
Volunteers cleaning the living room. [Photograph by Yong Siew Lee]
 
Kong Pui Choon expressed his gratitude by giving a thumbs-up to the volunteers. [Photograph by Yong Siew Lee]   Volunteers invited a recycler to collect recyclables from the house. [Photograph by Yong Siew Lee]

Kong Pui Choon expressed his gratitude by giving a thumbs-up to the volunteers. [Photograph by Yong Siew Lee]
 
 
Volunteers invited a recycler to collect recyclables from the house. [Photograph by Yong Siew Lee]