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A Revamped Home Uplifts a Family of Four

On April 16, volunteers visited Totoh’s house during the hours of high tide. Everyone felt very relieved that seawater no longer seeped into the house. [Photo by Tingai Wilson Simon]

“Look mum, our house is turning into a swimming pool!” exclaimed an innocent child who was unaware of the apparent danger, while the mother nodded helplessly and agreeing to the request to play in the water – just to keep the child awake.

Totoh bin Saramon and his wife, Salvia Aldamis, hailed from Kamung Mangkalinau, one of the many villages making up the town of Sandakan in Sabah. They have five children, ranging from ages one to eleven. Totoh is a fisherman while Salvia washes the laundry of the village head for a monthly token of RM120.

During the MCO period in May 2020, Totoh received relief aid from Tzu Chi for the very first time. Subsequently in February 2021, Tzu Chi volunteers visited Totoh’s village to conduct home visits with the intention of reaching out to the underprivileged families for another relief distribution. Salvia, being stateless and acted out of sheer desperation, borrowed her friend’s ID and put up her application. Needless to say, her application was rejected. Salvia was so disappointed and at her wits’ end on how to carry on providing for the family as both husband and wife now had lost their sources of income.

Luckily for the couple that their friend Minang helped to connect them to Tzu Chi Sandakan’s volunteer-in-charge, King Teck Ngie. With the latter’s help, the couple put up their application with Tzu Chi again.

On February 21, volunteers comprising Wong Shew Fun, Ooi Seok Cheng, Justin Wong and Cheong Ming Ken paid a visit to Totoh’s home to assess their situation. As the fishing village was quite remote and inaccessible by road, the volunteer team had to leave their respective cars quite a distance away and walked for about 15 minutes before Totoh’s home was sighted! To add to the challenge, the team had to walk on unstable, rudimentary wooden bridge made up of wooden slab and tree branches with wide gaps in between to reach Totoh’s house.

Totoh’s home was so dilapidated that it could collapse any minute, putting the family in extreme vulnerable situation. The volunteer team took turn to assess the house for fear of collapsing the structure.

The wooden “bridge” leading to Totoh’s house was made out of tree branches, wood planks and had big gaps between the pieces. Volunteers had to be extra careful walking on the unstable structure. [Photo by Wong Shew Fun]
The weather-beaten house stilts due to prolonged exposure to seawater and strong winds. [Photo by Kong Ngie Teck]

Salvia shared that the seawater would often seep into the house during high tides. And if that happened at night, she would then place planks over pails and basins for the children to sleep on. Once, the children even asked if they could swim in the “swimming pool”. Salvia reluctantly and helplessly agreed, lest the kids fell asleep.

First thing first, supplying building materials

On February 26, daily supplies were delivered to Salvis by Tzu Chi. [Photo by Kong Ngie Teck]

Practising great compassion, the volunteer team unanimously agreed to help rebuild Totoh’s home. On February 26, the couple was told of the great news when the volunteer team was back to distribute food supplies and daily necessities to some villagers. Salvia was so elated to learn of the news that she expressed her gratitude to the team with fervent thanks and praise to Allah.

On March 11, Tzu Chi volunteers once again visited Totoh’s home. This time, Shew Fun, accompanied by Omar Satra and Teck Ngie, discussed on materials needed and costing estimate to rebuild the home. In true spirit of teamwork and compassion, a consensus was soon reached between Shew Fun’s team and several other Tzu Chi community volunteers’ team leaders. To ensure the success of the project during the MCO period, it was then agreed that Tzu Chi would supply the materials while Totoh would enlist the help of several friends and relatives.

As Totoh’s home was quite a distance from the main road, the team had to give careful consideration to labour carrying heavy materials across the dangerous bridge as well as the safety of other villagers. As a last resort, the team then decided to change the mode of materials delivery. Instead of using labour on foot, they would use boats!

Totoh borrowed two boats from his neighbours to transport the building materials to his house. [Photo by Wong Shew Fun]
It took three rounds to transport all the building materials using the small boats. [Photo by Kong Ngie Teck]

Teamwork made everything possible

March 21 was the day of the challenging task of sending materials across to Totoh’s home. While the volunteer team waited at the outskirt of Kampung Mangkalinau with a lorry full of the building materials, Totoh greeted them with five other friends whom he had enlisted for help, along with two boats. All in all, it took them three trips to complete the task of mobilizing and delivering the materials, such as pillars, plywood, doors, zinc sheets, nails and other items.

Without wasting any time, Totoh and his friends rolled up their sleeves and got down to work the very next day. Meanwhile, Salvia prepared them some drinks and kuih as her way of showing her great appreciation. One of their neighbours by the name of Nazrin volunteered willingly to help. “I am their neighbour. I cannot help them in terms of finances, but I can help them to rebuild with my hands,” he said.

Volunteer Kong Ngie Teck would drop by occasionally to check on the progress of the restoration work. [Photo by Tingai Wilson Simon]

On April 5, the restoration work was still in progress. Tzu Chi made a second delivery of materials upon learning of the shortage. By then, Totoh’s family had moved back into the house even though it was not completed fully.

On April 11, several volunteers visited Totoh and his family again. To mark the house warming, a volunteer brought some fruit tarts as a gift. “My children had never tasted such delicious dessert,” exclaimed an excited Salvia. She then went on to express her heartfelt gratitude to Tzu Chi. “I can never thank Tzu Chi enough! Now my children can sleep tight even during high tides.”

This was attested on April 16, when volunteers Tingai Wilson Simon, Ngie Teck and Shew Fun visited Totoh’s family during the hours of high tide. The house was now safe and the family is spared from the danger of seawater seeping into the house. With calamities happening around the world, may we aspire to come forward and give a helping hand to those in needs.

On April 11, volunteers celebrated the completion of Totoh’s new home with fruit tarts gifted by a Tzu Chi donor. A beaming Nazrin was thanked by the team. [Photo by Wong Shew Fun]
Volunteer Kang Lian Hun (first from left) shared about the story of Tzu Chi’s bamboo bank with Nazrin, Totoh and Salvia, and encouraged them to collect recyclables as a way to give back to society. [Photo by Wong Shew Fun]
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