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Wednesday, 05 April 2017 00:00

Love Makes Life More Meaningful

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Loo Mei Fong is not calculative and spends a lot of time to ensure the care recipients are well-taken care of, both physically and emotionally. [Photography by Chin Fook Kuen]

Quiet-natured Loo Mei Fong used to have two jobs and work seven days a week, shuttling between her house and office only. Now, with her motorbike, she moves around every corner of Malacca not because of work or pleasure, but to give love and care to those who are underprivileged.


“Hi, good morning. Had your breakfast? Have you taken your medicine?” That morning, volunteer Loo Mei Fong took Tzu Chi care recipient, Thiew Chai Wan to a government department to pick up his new identity card. When Mei Fong saw the plastic bag of medicines Grandpa Thiew was holding, she helped to sort out the medications according to intake schedules, making it easier for the elderly man to remember. These are the little but mindful things that Mei Fong does every month.

At the same time, Indonesian care recipient, Jahir bin Masse was also waiting for Mei Fong to take him to the Welfare Department to collect his first cash aid. Earlier, Mei Fong had helped him to apply for cash aid from the Welfare Department but there were some difficulties with him being a foreigner. However, after a few visits, he finally managed to get it. In the meantime, Mei Fong intended to teach Jahir how to take public transport so that for future months, he could go on his own to pick up the cash aid.

Twice a week during her lunch break, Mei Fong would ride her motorbike to deliver lunch to Tzu Chi care recipients, and during her non-office hours, she would visit government departments and hospitals to resolve all sorts of problems faced by the care recipients. At times, she would take annual leave in order to accompany care recipients to settle problems or to go to KL for medical consultations. She is forever busy going places to seek the best solution for the care recipients; and nothing is too tiring or difficult for her.

Kindness is the key to life

Mei Fong is not a housewife but is from the working class. She does not drive but moves around on her motorbike. Somehow, she finds time and means to carry out Tzu Chi’s charity work. In addition to her off days and after office hours, she would make full use of her 16-day annual leave and her one-hour lunch break to look into matters of the care recipients. When dealing with governmental matters, she has to make several trips frequently, and this has taken up much of her time and energy. Even riding the motorbike under the hot sun does not deter her at all.

Prior to 2002, Mei Fong’s life was quite monotonous. As a workaholic, her life revolved around office work and part-time tuition work at home; and it is only a mere five-minute distance between her house and office. Hence, she was unfamiliar with the roads in Malacca and dared not move around on her own.

On September 20, 2002, Mei Fong bumped into a charity fair organized by Tzu Chi at Mahkota Parade. She was interested to do charitable work but being an introvert, she was hesitant to ask. When volunteer, Teh Saw Keow noticed Mei Fong loitering outside the charity fair, she invited the latter to join Tzu Chi. Mei Fong’s life totally changed from thereon.

Love is immeasurable

“No matter what position we hold, there is always an opportunity to learn. At different stages, we acquire different kind of experience. All these have helped me a lot when handling charity work,” said Mei Fong.

During the early days, whenever other volunteers invited her and provided her with transport, she would definitely make herself available for all the activities, be it fellowships, home visits, study group, institution visits, relief distributions or recycling activities. She was also prepared to take on any roles, from cleaning and washing toilets, to cutting vegetables and washing plates.

Actually, Mei Fong came from a well-to-do family with a domestic helper at home. After joining Tzu Chi, she got to see a totally different world. From charitable work, Mei Fong gets to meet the poor and impoverished directly and with that, she learns about impermanence and discovers her sense of direction for doing charity. That had subsequently set her commitment to go in-depth for home visits to care recipients.

As Mei Fong reminisced over the last ten years of home visit work, she felt a bit emotional and said, “Over the years, there were ups and downs. This was especially so for some long-term care cases, where because of certain reasons, the case subjects did not change for the better. At times, it was heart-wrenching and tormenting to let go of the cases. So with much sadness, we had no choice but to readjust our mental outlook. Master said, ‘In order for one foot to move on, we have to lift up the other foot.’ It was hard to let go sometimes but we had already done our best. So, we just wished them all the best. At least we had tried. So, we had no regrets.”

On the other hand, no word could describe the joy and emotions when the case subjects have improved and can stand on their own feet. Mei Fong emphasized that with the Master’s Dharma teachings guiding her, nothing is so insurmountable.

Initially, with her primary school standard of Chinese language, she was struggling with writing of home visit reports. But, she never gave up. Instead, she diligently referred to the dictionary to help her in completing the reports. She too experienced difficulties in interacting with care recipients, especially the older ones. She was thankful to the community team for giving her the opportunity to learn, starting from supporting the care recipients around her community, to gradually learning the skills in handling home visits. She shared her learning, “So long as we can treat the care recipients like family members, they could feel our sincerity. And as mutual trust develops, there will not be anymore communication barriers.”

With that thinking in mind, Mei Fong would endeavour to pacify the mind of every case subject. To the older ones, take care of their physical and mental concerns; and for the younger ones, give them financial support and gradually help them to be independent so that they can take care of themselves and ultimately their family members.

Tan Soon Cheng, a staff with Tzu Chi Foundation who has dealt with Mei Fong for about ten years, commented, “She is always ever willing to learn and is prepared to search for answers. She would never reject new or unfamiliar cases even if it is time consuming or troublesome.”

According to Soon Cheng, in order to better understand the care cases she was entrusted to and even for the slightest doubts, Mei Fong would, if the case permits, personally go to the hospital to get more details; and occasionally, she had to spend a whole day before she could meet the doctor. For difficult and unusual cases, she even brought the case subjects to relevant departments for enquiries and assistance. She firmly believes that only with a thorough understanding of the case can she provide appropriate assistance.

Soon Cheng has great admiration for Mei Fong’s mindfulness. She said, “Sister Mei Fong spends all her time on charity, hardly any left for herself.” Of course, if Mei Fong hears this comment she would say, “Not every day. Furthermore most activities would end by 10 pm and once home, time is all mine.” She is not too bothered with how much she has contributed or how little is left for her. She is only concerned with what is in front of her.

Mindfulness makes the difference

With more experience gained, Mei Fong started to shoulder more responsibilities and cover home visit cases out of her zone. From different places, there could be different care recipients of various races and they may have different attributes and needs. She shared, “Later, I found that social resources have benefitted the poor families a lot. That kind of joy and sense of accomplishment cannot be easily described in words. That’s why I emphasize a lot in fighting for social resources.”

A few years ago, for the first time Mei Fong helped a case subject to apply for social resources and it is one case that she could never forget. She happily recalled that it was a 55-year-old care recipient suffering from final stage cancer. According to SOCSO rules, those aged 55 and above are not eligible to apply for SOCSO subsidy. However, Mei Fong felt that the care recipient was diagnosed with cancer before age 55, as evident from his medical records, and should be eligible for that. When she went to SOCSO office to enquire, the counter staff replied with a firm “No”. But Mei Fong did not give up. She asked to see the superior for further verification. However, citing beyond age limit as the reason, the answer was still negative. In fact, even the case subject felt unlikely and was unwilling to appeal.

But, Mei Fong was adamant and submitted on behalf of the case subject to the SOCSO court for consideration. Having learnt from earlier mistake, she gathered more evidence as required and finally managed to obtain compensation from SOCSO for the cancer-stricken care recipient.

Although the care recipient later passed away, the subsidy was converted to Survivors’ Pension, where his dependents became the beneficiaries. This meant a lot to the spouse, as the RM500-plus monthly aid had helped her to support the family financially.

This case has motivated Mei Fong to have a good grasp of the various social resources so that she could help the care recipients to fight for whatever social welfare they are entitled to. In the process of checking for details, she has realized the importance of “finding the right person”. She said jokingly, “Actually I don’t know anything. But my mother has taught me to ask if we don’t know. With more trips, asking more departments and more people, the answer will definitely be found.” Nowadays, with her experience and sharp mind, just by looking at the details of the care recipients she could, based on her past understanding of the care recipients, provide some advice on the channels to apply for social aid.

“The role of Tzu Chi is to complement the government’s effort. Depending on the individual background and whether social resources could be applied, not every care recipient will be given financial aid by Tzu Chi. Volunteers must be familiar with all these information. They should try to enlighten the care recipients not to be too dependent on social resources; and if possible, keep it for others who are more in need.” Based on her years of experience, this is the invaluable advice she could give to fellow volunteers.

Mei Fong also felt that at the monthly home visits, volunteers should be like family members, be more caring, mindful and observant towards the care recipients’ needs. They should also be able to evaluate, yet not too judgmental and most of all, be patient when looking for solutions. Mei Fong said, “Other than having compassion and empathy, we must have wisdom and know when to provide assistance in the most appropriate manner.” Tzu Chi may not provide long-term support for all the care recipients’ needs. For those case subjects who are capable enough, volunteers would appropriately lead and guide them to be responsible for the livelihood of themselves and their family.

Currently, Mei Fong is the person-in-charge of charity home visits, responsible for supporting four community zones and 62 cases. She does not have definite home visit cases, but from the monthly home visit reports gathered from volunteers, she would pick some special cases to follow up and solve the problems.

She informed, “In the past, I used to explore on my own and do it myself. Now, my position is different and I have to look beyond. So, I would bring along fellow volunteers and give them a chance to learn; though I admit I am learning too.” Mei Fong understands the responsibilities associated with every position. Soon Cheng has also noticed that in the recent years, Mei Fong’s responsibilities have grown bigger and she has switched from playing a supportive role to a leading role.

Over the years, Mei Fong has plodded with her love and kindness to make a mark in her charitable work, overcoming all the numerous obstacles that came her way. She owes all these to the exemplary model of a former home visit volunteer, the late Wong Ah Lan. Initially, she had no idea about doing charitable work, but from the guidance and company of Ah Lan, she saw the latter’s tenacity and spirit in doing charity. Even towards the final days of Ah Lan’s life when she was frail due to illness, she was still actively involved. This has spurred Mei Fong to carry on with more vibrancy. She would never forget the words of Ah Lan, “When a case is reported to us, we must strive to understand the case thoroughly before rejecting based on superficial details. Once we have done our part, then we will not have regrets even if the case is not approved for aid later.”

 

 

Over the years, Loo Mei Fong has plodded with her love and kindness to make a mark in her charitable work, overcoming all the numerous obstacles that came her way. She owes all these to the exemplary model of a former home visit volunteer, the late Wong Ah Lan. Photo shows Mei Fong (3rd left) conducting home visit together with Ah Lan (2nd left). [ Photograph by Yong Siew Lee]   At the Home Visit Team committee meeting, Loo Mei Fong shared on how to tap the social resources in order to help the care recipients. [Photograph by Yong Siew Lee]

Over the years, Loo Mei Fong has plodded with her love and kindness to make a mark in her charitable work, overcoming all the numerous obstacles that came her way. She owes all these to the exemplary model of a former home visit volunteer, the late Wong Ah Lan. Photo shows Mei Fong (3rd left) conducting home visit together with Ah Lan (2nd left). [ Photograph by Yong Siew Lee]
 
At the Home Visit Team committee meeting, Loo Mei Fong shared on how to tap the social resources in order to help the care recipients. [Photograph by Yong Siew Lee]
 
Loo Mei Fong does not have definite home visit cases, but from the monthly home visit reports gathered from volunteers, she would pick some special cases to follow up and solve the problems. [Photograph by Lee Kin Chee]   Loo Mei Fong and Tan Soon Cheng (front left, in dark blue trousers) visited a Tzu Chi care recipient together. [Photograph by Lee Kin Chee]

Loo Mei Fong does not have definite home visit cases, but from the monthly home visit reports gathered from volunteers, she would pick some special cases to follow up and solve the problems. [Photograph by Lee Kin Chee]
 
 
Loo Mei Fong and Tan Soon Cheng (front left, in dark blue trousers) visited a Tzu Chi care recipient together. [Photograph by Lee Kin Chee]
 
Loo Mei Fong utilizes her annual leave to handle Tzu Chi matters. Photo shows her taking care recipient, Thiew Chai Wan to a government department to apply for a new identity card. [Photograph by Julie Yen Yu Chu]   In order to provide appropriate aid, Loo Mei Fong accompanied a new case subject to general hospital so that she could have an idea of the latter’s medical condition. [Photograph by Julie Yen Yu Chu]

Loo Mei Fong utilizes her annual leave to handle Tzu Chi matters. Photo shows her taking care recipient, Thiew Chai Wan to a government department to apply for a new identity card. [Photograph by Julie Yen Yu Chu]
 
 
In order to provide appropriate aid, Loo Mei Fong accompanied a new case subject to general hospital so that she could have an idea of the latter’s medical condition. [Photograph by Julie Yen Yu Chu]
 
Loo Mei Fong spends all her time on the Charity Mission. She would visit Tzu Chi office during her spare time to read up the file records of the care cases she is entrusted with, so that she could follow up closely. [Photograph by Yong Siew Lee]   During her lunch break, Loh Mei Fong would ride her motorbike to deliver lunch to care recipients. She would also visit government departments and hospitals to resolve all sorts of problems faced by the care recipients. [Photograph by Kok Ling Lin]

Loo Mei Fong spends all her time on the Charity Mission. She would visit Tzu Chi office during her spare time to read up the file records of the care cases she is entrusted with, so that she could follow up closely. [Photograph by Yong Siew Lee]
 
 
During her lunch break, Loh Mei Fong would ride her motorbike to deliver lunch to care recipients. She would also visit government departments and hospitals to resolve all sorts of problems faced by the care recipients. [Photograph by Kok Ling Lin]