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Sunday, 25 June 2017 00:00

Joy Comes after Hardship

Written by  Loh Siew Chien, Malacca / Translated by Connie Yew

Leo Choo Thong has been participating in recycling activities for about seven years. [Photograph by Hong Geok Hui]

Leo Choo Thong has some items, like old 1998 newspapers, used envelopes, and so on, well kept in his transparent plastic folders. These ordinary-looking items are his treasures as they carry with them meaningful memories of his life. He had sailed through tough and rough tides, and now, he is leading a new life participating in charitable activities.


On June 25, 2017, despite a drizzly morning on a public holiday, Tzu Chi volunteers turned up for the monthly Recycling Day as usual. After putting up the banner, they started to sort out the recyclables in a cheerful mood.

Leo Choo Thong, aged 66, dressed in his T-shirt, short pants and a cap, came to the recycling point at Taman Sri Krubong on his old motorbike. After greeting one another, he joined volunteer Tioh Yoke Kian to collect recyclables from nearby residential areas. The first stop was Choo Thong’s house, where he set up a small space to store recyclables collected from the vicinity and sent over by his neighbours.

The skinny and tanned Choo Thong was swift in collecting and loading the recyclables onto the truck. After collecting from about ten houses, they returned to the recycling point. Choo Thong passed some recyclables collected to volunteers for sorting, while he stacked up the recyclables that had been segregated properly to save space, before they were sent to Tzu Chi recycling centre in Taman Bukit Cheng.

Choo Thong is a person of few words and always concentrates in his tasks quietly. Occasionally, when other volunteers cracked some jokes, he would also join in. Yoke Kian, who has known him for almost ten years, has witnessed his positive changes along the way. It is evident to volunteers who are familiar with him that he smiles more now.

When someone jokingly asked him as to why he was so willing to devote his time and effort for recycling, without getting paid, he replied with a sincere smile, “I have already advanced my wages!”

The beginning of a meaningful life

Yoke Kian recalled that way back in January 2008, Tzu Chi received a report from the school of Choo Thong’s daughter. Upon home visitation, volunteers discovered that he had been playing the role of a mother too to take care of his four young daughters since his wife succumbed to cancer some years ago. The family was in need of financial aid. After due evaluations, Tzu Chi started to provide monthly financial assistance to pay for the children’s transportation and miscellaneous school fees. This had relieved Choo Thong’s burden and the children could continue their education without any interruptions.

Back then, Choo Thong’s face was full of sadness and worries over his children and the family’s livelihood. However, with constant care from Tzu Chi volunteers, his reclusive children began to assist their father in doing household chores. Choo Thong also gradually walked out of his sorrow. Two years ago, he was finally relieved from the burden of raising his children as all of them had completed their studies and found stable jobs. They no longer needed help from others, and Choo Thong chose to reciprocate the kindness he had received by serving the community.

Yoke Kian is pleased that the family could be independent now, and that Choo Thong is leading a more fulfilling and meaningful life participating in recycling activities. It was about seven years ago that Choo Thong joined the ranks of recycling. He humbly said, “I am just doing what I can since I have the time and a healthy body.”

Other than recycling, Choo Thong also frequents the recycling centre in Taman Bukit Cheng to help with weeding, repairing jobs, and so on. He would also undertake other tasks that require manual labour, such as, moving things, and traffic control. Volunteer Kiang Gwek Swee greatly praised his positive attitude because he would not hesitate to help as long as he has the time. She remarked, “He is truly a grateful person who counts his blessings and treasures every opportunity to do good.”

Forever grateful

Volunteers paid the family a visit when Choo Thong’s daughters, who worked outstation, returned home. They noticed two Jing Si Aphorisms on the wall, which Choo Thong obtained from a charity sale held during Tzu Chi’s year-end blessing event. He has been practising the values of gratitude as conveyed by the Aphorisms.

Choo Thong also happily showed the volunteers some newspaper cuttings and used envelopes that he kept in plastic folders. They included a news article published in 1998, on Master Cheng Yen and Tzu Chi, and envelopes that were used to present Tzu Chi study grant to his children.

He always remembers how his relatives, friends and members of the public had extended their kindness to help him sail through his difficult time. He might not express his gratitude in words, but he has been reciprocating the kindness with actions.

When Choo Thong said in a light mood that his life is smooth going now, his youngest daughter, Leo Siew Wen concurred, “Dad’s days of hardship are over. The future will get better!” She was glad that her father has made many friends in Tzu Chi. She and her sisters have been supportive of what their father is doing.

Due to the hardships he had endured, Choo Thong could empathize with others better. He is willing to lend a helping hand to others, like how he had received help in the past. He is also happy to learn on the path of charitable giving and to sow blessings for his future.

 

 

Leo Choo Thong had to take care for his children single-handedly since his wife succumbed to cancer. Picture shows a family photo taken as remembrance of his eldest daughter’s excellent performance in her UPSR examinations. [Photograph provided by Leo Choo Thong]   Besides recycling, Leo Choo Thong is always ready to help as a labourer as and when he is needed. [Photograph by Alex Tan Ah Lek]

Leo Choo Thong had to take care for his children single-handedly since his wife succumbed to cancer. Picture shows a family photo taken as remembrance of his eldest daughter’s excellent performance in her UPSR examinations. [Photograph provided by Leo Choo Thong]
 
Besides recycling, Leo Choo Thong is always ready to help as a labourer as and when he is needed. [Photograph by Alex Tan Ah Lek]
 
Leo Choo Thong would turn up regularly for the monthly Recycling Day. [Photograph by Loh Siew Chien]   Tioh Yoke Kian, who has known Leo Choo Thong for almost ten years, witnessed the positive changes in the latter. [Photograph by Hong Geok Hui]

Leo Choo Thong would turn up regularly for the monthly Recycling Day. [Photograph by Loh Siew Chien]
 
 
Tioh Yoke Kian, who has known Leo Choo Thong for almost ten years, witnessed the positive changes in the latter. [Photograph by Hong Geok Hui]
 
Group photo of volunteers Kiang Gwek Swee (1st left), Tioh Yoke Kian (1st right) and Leo Choo Thong’s family. [Photograph by Hong Geok Hui]  

Group photo of volunteers Kiang Gwek Swee (1st left), Tioh Yoke Kian (1st right) and Leo Choo Thong’s family. [Photograph by Hong Geok Hui]