Care and Company for the Elderly

In 2019, Tzu Chi Malacca implemented a “Caring for the Elderly” programme aimed at providing regular care to care recipients, seniors living alone and volunteers above the age of 65. The programme commenced with a spring-cleaning session at care recipient Hung Guek Lin’s home, in addition to attending to elderly volunteers,Low Song Kew and Sah Eng, who live alone.

“Good morning, everyone. Thank you for lending your time to our cause. We have implemented the ‘Caring for the Elderly’ programme that is tailored to meet the needs of our elderly care recipients and other elderly people. Chinese New Year is around the corner, so we will be visiting 76-year-old Hung Guek Lin. She looks forward to the festive season and is eager to decorate her house with festive ornaments, but is limited by her declining agility. We will be helping to spruce up her house in anticipation of a joyous Chinese New Year,” explained volunteer Lau Bok Lan, who briefed the 16 participating volunteers on the purpose of their visit and their respective roles.

“Remember to seek permission from Guek Lin before cleaning any part of the house, especially her bedroom,” stressed volunteer Tan Chye Choo. Chye Choo, who is in charge of the programme, alerted fellow volunteers to several important pointers to take note of when carrying out the task of the day.

Chye Choo and her team had gathered to discuss the structure of the programme in advance, besides developing the relevant forms and checklists to complement the planned activities, which were sent to the participating volunteers the day before the clean-up activity to remind them of their respective roles and the tools to prepare.

Volunteer Tan Chye choo reminding fellow volunteers of the important pointers to take note of when carrying out their tasks. [Photograph by Yong Siew Lee]

The volunteers preparing to pose for the group photo with Hung Guek Lin. [Photograph by Yong Siew Lee]

The volunteers were assigned various tasks, including trimming Guek Lin’s nails and cleaning the toilet, kitchen and living room of her house. A small team of volunteers was in charge of decorating the house with fish-shaped ornaments and lanterns crafted by hand from red packets, in addition to cleaning and reusing artificial flowers that were stashed away to create a festive atmosphere, much to Guek Lin’s delight.

“I like celebrating Chinese New Year the most because I look forward to your visit every year. It brings me joy to no end,” she enthused.

Standing back on one’s own feet

“I would have been left for dead if it weren’t for Tzu Chi’s help. Being bedridden was agonizing. But all is well now,” said Guek Lin gratefully.

Tzu Chi volunteers started providing care to Guek Lin in July 2012, when she became bedridden after a fall due to complications from a stroke. She lives with her son, whose meagre income is barely sufficient to sustain their livelihood. Her condition worsened when she refused medication and was influenced by her superstitious beliefs to seek divine intervention instead.

To prevent her condition from deteriorating, eight volunteers were assigned to fetch Guek Lin to her acupuncture treatment sessions and to keep track of her medication intake to ensure that the illiterate mother-and-son pair complied with the prescribed dosage. After three months, she finally regained the ability to walk on her own without the support of her crutches.

Guek Lin not only signed up as a Tzu Chi donor, but also adopted a bamboo bank as her way of repaying Tzu Chi’s kindness. She felt indebted to the volunteers’ attentive care and strived to be self-reliant as she was reluctant to trouble the volunteers.

Initially, she politely rejected the volunteers’ offer to clean her house, insisting that her son is capable of managing it himself. The spring-cleaning session was only made possible after Bok Lan spoke with her son.

“Every Chinese New Year, besides busying myself with the pre-festive preparations, I will join Tzu Chi for the reunion dinner. I love celebrating the festive season with the volunteers!” exclaimed an elated Guek Lin as she reminisced on the year-end distribution event she attended a few days ago.

A while ago, Guek Lin experienced swollen legs, but the swelling eased after two acupuncture treatment sessions at the Tzu-Chi Free Clinic. The volunteers even brought along medical supplies when visiting her to teach her how to treat her wounds. “Thank you. I promise to pay due attention to the wounds on my legs. I won’t let you down or cause you any worry,” she declared in all seriousness.

Sincere service above all else

At one point, Guek Lin led Chye Choo to a corner and asked softly, “How much do you charge for this cleaning service?” to which the latter replied with a cheery grin, “We are doing it for free out of our love for you. Rest assured it is free of charge!” Bok Lan echoed Chye Choo’s sentiments, claiming, “We are helping you out of goodwill. Money is not a concern.” Guek Lin hesitated and tried to negotiate by saying, “No, let me at least offer you red packets as a token of appreciation.” As she attempted to return to her room to retrieve the red packets, the volunteers held her back and demanded in jest, “Give each of us a big hug instead!”

Guek Lin gladly obliged, hugging each of the volunteers in turn and planting a playful peck on their cheek, eliciting a chorus of laughter from the volunteers. “I have never even hugged or kissed my own mother. I must greet her with a hug and a quick peck on the cheek when I go home. Being on the receiving end of a hug is a new experience for me. It made my day,” said new volunteer, Tan Siew Kim.

After the session, Guek Lin was pleasantly surprised to find her house looking as clean as new. It delighted her even more to be able to reunite with several familiar faces amongst the volunteers, including Low Song Kew and Zhang Yu Lan.

Guek Lin was initially worried for Song Kew as she observed the latter giving her all in performing various tasks, but her doubts were cleared after noticing Song Kew’s nimble movements.

“Keeping active works wonders for your health. Try not to lounge around too much,” advised Song Kew, as she demonstrated some impressive moves with flexibility and suppleness that rival that of youngsters.

Low Song Kew demonstrated her flexibility in a bid to motivate Hung Guek Lin to lead an active lifestyle. [Photograph by Yong Siew Lee]

“Age is never an obstacle. I will continue to help others for as long as I am able to. It brings me a sense of gratification that is worth more than a hefty fortune. Helping others is the source of all joy. I make it a point to extend help to all regardless of age. It pleases me to see Guek Lin happy. Whenever we come to visit, I would offer to massage her feet,” mused Song Kew.

On the other hand, Yu Lan has turned 80 this year, yet she hardly shows any signs of slowing down and even appears younger than her actual age, prompting fellow volunteer, Chong Nick Sein to tease her, “What is your secret to staying youthful?”

Yu Lan, who has 11 years of volunteering experience under her belt, revealed her recipe for lasting vitality by responding with a knowing smile, “Nothing is impossible with a positive mindset. Not to mention committing to performing kind deeds diligently.”

Nick Sein chimed in, saying, “We are fortunate to still have the opportunity to give of ourselves. As we age, we should remind ourselves not to take our capacity to serve for granted, and seize every moment to give selflessly.”

This was the first initiative under the “Caring for the Elderly” programme. The day ended with the volunteers taking a group photo with Guek Lin, besides presenting her with a card for remembrance. The volunteers then mounted the group photo on the wall as a memento of the precious memories shared together.

“I was deeply influenced by the ancient Chinese classics I read in my younger days that extolled the virtue of caring for all seniors as you would your own elders,” said volunteer Lee Choy Yean contemplatively towards the end of the activity.

Choy Yean lives apart from her mother, hence she could only hope that her own mother is equally well-taken care of, in the same way that she herself attends to the elderly under her care. She concurred that caring for the elderly is the responsibility of all, and aspires to set an example for others in caring for the elderly.

Keeping the camaraderie alive

After cleaning Guek Lin’s home, some of the volunteers made their way to Luo Song Kew’s house to clean the ceiling fan and light fittings. Song Kew is unable to reach them by herself without the assistance of her daughters, who have moved out, spurring the volunteers to do the cleaning on her behalf.

The volunteers assisted Low Song Kew (2nd from right) in cleaning her ceiling fan, besides offering to massage her feet. [Photograph by Yong Siew Lee]

Upon learning that Song Kew is skilled at making trousers from recycled fabric for her family, the volunteers sought her assistance to tailor custom-made trousers for Guek Lin that would allow room for the wounds on her legs to breathe.

“Leave it to me! All I need is some fabric.” Song Kew promptly agreed to the request and gently declined the volunteers’ offer to extend further help. “Thank you very much, but nothing else needs cleaning here. You should be spending your precious time helping those more in need instead,” she said with a kind smile. The volunteers gifted her with a card for remembrance and a few mandarin oranges, evoking a festive greeting from her in return. “May you find fulfilment in devoting yourselves to Tzu Chi, and be blessed with good health and lasting happiness.”

Following that, the volunteers adjourned to volunteer Sah Eng’s residence. Sah Eng, who is 85 this year, had been actively involved in recycling work for many years, but is no longer able to, owing to recent health concerns and transportation limitations. However, she is fortunate to have Song Kew, who lives nearby, constantly looking out for her. She was overjoyed to see the volunteers and thanked them profusely for their companionship.

Sah Eng was quick to express her concern for Master Cheng Yen after learning of Bok Lan’s trip to Taiwan to participate in a Tzu Chi event. Sah Eng used to attend volunteer training sessions but her advancing age has limited her commitment. Nevertheless, the well-being of Master Cheng Yen and fellow volunteers has always been on her mind. “Do come and visit during Chinese New Year!” she reminded the volunteers.

Sah Eng was delighted to see volunteer Low Bok Lan. [Photograph by Yong Siew Lee]

The idea of the “Caring for the Elderly” programme came about in November 2018, during a workshop on Lean Management conducted by YC Lee (2nd row, middle). [Photograph by Yong Siew Lee]

The “Caring for the Elderly” programme was inspired by a workshop for Tzu Chi Malacca led by Taiwan Tzu Chi Hospital Advisor of Lean Management, YC Lee. The workshop participants were coached on utilizing efficient resource management tools to outline organizational plans and goals for the year ahead. The “Caring for the Elderly” programme and recycling efforts were designated as the core initiatives planned for this year.

Under Lee’s guidance, the volunteers prepared various checklists, name lists and work distribution lists to facilitate manpower planning and workload allocation in an effort to ascertain that everyone involved would understand their roles and perform their tasks efficiently.

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