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Tuesday, 21 June 2016 00:00

Willing to Do Recycling, Joyous to be Tested

Written by  Yong Siew Lee, Melaka / Translated by Lilian Chew

The strong and healthy Teo Soo (left) has partnered Benny Lee for almost three years. They have developed a good understanding between them. [Photograph by Yong Siew Lee]

In Tzu Chi Melaka, two aged volunteers, Teo Soo and Khoo Kim Choo, used to be recycling truck attendants, who worked well with the driver, Benny Lee. However, from this year onwards, and due to her illness, Kim Choo has chosen to stay at the recycling centre to do sorting, while Teo Soo, despite her vertebral injury, continues with outdoor recycling activity. Both have found joy by serving in Tzu Chi.


The petite Teo Soo and Khoo Kim Choo, who were both cleaners, slowly pushed the refrigerator onto Tzu Chi’s recycling truck while Benny Lee, standing on the truck, helped to lift it up. Amazingly, these three have a combined age of more than 200 years!

For the past years, the trio had been recovering recyclables along Melaka streets several times a week.

Women can be mightier than men

In 2000, Benny started getting involved in Tzu Chi’s recycling mission and subsequently became an employee of Tzu Chi Melaka. In mid-2013, he had a change of role from handling general affairs to driving the recycling truck. As his work is carried out during weekdays, few volunteers can be his attendants.

Both Teo Soo and Kim Choo are recycling volunteers at Air Keroh Recycling-cum-Education Centre, who used to help out with the sorting of recyclables. As such, they had often bumped into Benny who would be busily handling all the work by himself.

He then invited both sisters to be his truck attendants and they joyfully agreed as they have a restless nature, and the thought of driving around to do good deeds while enjoying the sceneries had appealed to them. Despite the sun and rain, their passion had kept them going and they carried out their work wholeheartedly.

Initially, there were male volunteers, who came forward to help. However, with the huge volume of recyclables, coupled with the hot and humid weather and heavy workload, they dropped out. But the two grey-haired and petite sisters persevered and stayed on the job for more than two years.

“If he can do it, so am I,” exclaimed Teo Soo. When her husband passed on a few years ago, and with her daughters either married or working outstation, she was alone by herself. Other than reading newspapers, watching television and feeling sleepy, she had nothing else to do at home.

Due to boredom, she reported herself at the recycling centre daily; and her children supported her decision to be a Tzu Chi volunteer. Due to her illiteracy, she has focused on recycling activity and not home visits, and she was happy and at ease.

Kim Choo, on the other hand, is a widow raising two children single-handedly following the demise of her husband. Hence, she volunteered as a truck attendant only on public holidays or weekends.

In recent years, with her children busy with work, Kim Choo took the opportunity to do some recycling. However, towards the end of 2015, she suffered from knee arthritis which affected her movements even with injections. She then resigned from her job and had nothing much to do at home.

Fortunately, volunteer Ng Saw Hua ferries her to and from the recycling centre where she can continue sorting recyclables. Although it takes Kim Choo tremendous effort to reach the ground floor from 5th floor with a walking aid, she has seized every moment to contribute and has never thought of quitting.

Teo Soo, who is strong and healthy, continues to be the truck attendant going round to collect resource materials.

It is one’s duty to contribute back to society

At 9 am on June 16, 2016, the slightly bent 157 cm tall Teo Soo looked agile getting off the truck. Carrying a stack of plastic bags, she hurriedly sorted the recyclables piled up in front of an Indian volunteer’s house months ago into different bags. From her back, no one would ever guess she is 76 of age. In fact, she sustained a vertebral injury last year and had rested for one full month.

“I would now take lighter weight without forcing myself!” Teo Soo said laughingly.

The strong and healthy Teo Soo was seen dragging recyclables almost her height. She would put them at the side of the truck for 62-year-old Benny to stack them neatly on the truck.

They would then move to the next street to collect cardboards from the owner couple of a mini market. The couple praised Teo Soo: “Normally the elderly would stay at home and look after their grandchildren but she still continues to do good. Such zealous Tzu Chi spirit!”

After leaving the mini market, they would rush to an industrial area to continue with the collection of recyclables.

Yasin Wahad, a Factory Manager, commended: “She is very good at recycling. I am very happy to work with her. All of us are very fond of her and are willing to help her.” He admired her spirit and even helped her to carry the materials onto truck.

Teo Soo believes in friendship as no man is an island. Therefore, one must perform meaningful deeds to contribute back to society. In October 2007, she was introduced to Benny’s wife, Ng Mei Eng through a colleague.

Since then she has become a Tzu Chi donating member and has passed her donation to Mei Eng every month. She read from newspapers and publications that many women felt happy doing recycling hence she was encouraged to do the same.

Once, when Mei Eng went to her house to collect her monthly donation, Teo Soo disclosed to her, “I like to be a Tzu Chi volunteer. Can I?” It was her hope to serve society after retirement.

With Mei Eng’s arrangements and encouragement, she happily and tirelessly carried out recycling during holidays and weekends. One year after her retirement in 2011, she committed herself fully to the recycling mission.

No thought of retirement

“Though I can do it on my own, it entails strenuous effort. Fortunately, I have them to help me,” Benny was referring to the sisters. He has practised by example, that is, he would handle all the heavy and dirty chores; and he would not allow the sisters to do any unfit work.  In addition, he is always mindful of their resting hours.

When Kim Choo stopped going round with the truck, Benny felt lucky that Teo Soo is still around and both of them have developed a great understanding. Even when he was on leave, the truck could still operate as usual as Teo Soo can work well with the relief volunteer and lead the way.

When they returned to the recycling centre, Teo Soo would fill up any short-handed role and complete them. When she was done with tidying the used clothes, she would move to flatten the aluminium cans. She would work from 9 am till 4 or 5 o’clock in the late afternoon. To her, she was earning money previously but now she is “earning joy and merits”.

With her limited movements, Kim Choo, would help to sort paper at the centre. Despite her limitations, she still wants to serve due to the immense joy. Her only regret was that she could no longer “follow” the truck anywhere nowadays.

Benny said, “If willing, anything is possible.” Both Teo Soo and Kim Choo, who were having lunch at the recycling centre, nodded in agreement.

When asked, “When are you retiring?” They all replied in unison, “No retirement but to continue until we are unable. Doing recycling makes us healthy, and at the same time we are contributing back to society, as well as, gaining inner joy, so why should we stop?”

Teo Soo, a self-starter, always diligently helps other recycling chores after tidying the recyclables brought back by her with the truck. [Photograph by Yong Siew Lee]   Yasin Wahad, a Factory Manager, admires Teo Soo’s high spirit. [Photograph by Yong Siew Lee]

Teo Soo, a self-starter, always diligently helps other recycling chores after tidying the recyclables brought back by her with the truck. [Photograph by Yong Siew Lee]
 
Yasin Wahad, a Factory Manager, admires Teo Soo’s high spirit. [Photograph by Yong Siew Lee]
 
Khoo Kim Choo (right) was staying at home after she resigned from work. Fortunately volunteer Ng Saw Hua has offered to ferry her to the Air Keroh Recycling-cum-Education Centre to help out with sorting work. [Photograph by Yong Siew Lee]   Khoo Kim Choo has knee arthritis which affects her movements. But she still helps with sorting out papers at the centre. [Photograph by Yong Siew Lee]

Khoo Kim Choo (right) was staying at home after she resigned from work. Fortunately volunteer Ng Saw Hua has offered to ferry her to the Air Keroh Recycling-cum-Education Centre to help out with sorting work. [Photograph by Yong Siew Lee]
 
Khoo Kim Choo has knee arthritis which affects her movements. But she still helps with sorting out papers at the centre. [Photograph by Yong Siew Lee]