“Ah...!” The shovels dropped to the ground. The screaming sound of female volunteers echoed in the room as they fled in all directions upon seeing more than 20 cockroaches emerging from their hives in the grass and making their final escape towards the wall. Such “surprises” made the seemingly simple clean-up task “challenging”, not knowing what was awaiting them at each corner of the houses.
The two houses located at the end of a fishing village were built by the government in 2013. Their occupants are 58-year-old Kee Cheng Siot, and her husband, Yusof bin Abdullah, respectively. The couple have lived separately due to constant squabbles arising from Cheng Siot’s inability to clearly express her needs.
Cheng Siot’s diabetic condition has resulted in a blurred vision and amputation of her left leg. Her husband, on the other hand, suffers from hyperuricuria, which affected his mobility. Thus, besides cooking their meals, other house chores were left unattended.
Outside the houses were banana trees and sugar canes, as well as PET bottles and rubbish scattered on the grass. The poor maintenance of the houses not only made them breeding grounds for mosquitoes, but also caused discomfort to the neighbours, not to mention the health hazard.
Volunteer Tee Aik Heng related, “When I received the report from the iron factory owner, I struggled for two weeks before arriving at the decision to conduct a home visit. After seeing the occupants’ living condition, I knew that we have to help the couple to clean up their living environment.”
The volunteers, however, did not act abruptly. Instead, they sought consent from the aid recipient’s sister- and cousin-in-law prior to the clean-up activity.
Unleashing team power
On the morning of April 20, 2019, 45 volunteers from Sekinchan and Klang arrived at Bagan Sungai Besar to join the local volunteers in the home cleaning mission. The local district council also despatched trucks and bulldozers, besides lending some cleaning paraphernalia to help with the cleaning work.
After Aik Heng’s briefing on the task assignments and reminder to seek the couple’s consent before discarding any items, the volunteers proceeded to the houses armed with shovels, brooms, utility knives and other cleaning tools.
Even before entering Cheng Siot’s home, the volunteers were greeted with odours. The small living space was dim with limited natural light. On the foldable table were unwashed dishes with maggots crawling amongst them. The lumps of defecation choked the volunteers’ lungs. Nonetheless, they were undeterred.
While the volunteers were busily carrying out their cleaning tasks, the Municipal Councillor, Tee Yee Wei, accompanied Cheng Siot to receive grooming service. Holding the latter’s hand, Councillor Tee assured her in a soft tone, “Let the volunteer trim your hair yeah. The weather is hot recently, so you will feel more refreshing with shorter hair…” The volunteer tasked to offer Cheng Siot a hair trim also comforted her while working on her hair.
Councillor Tee has been serving the local community for five years, and has known Tzu Chi much longer than that. When volunteer Ng Bee Chu approached her on the cleaning mission, she decided to join forces with Tzu Chi by mobilizing vehicles and manpower for the work.
She said, “Bee Chu has shown me some photos, but I was still shocked by what I saw. The aid recipient’s living condition is worse than what I had thought. A person’s strength is limited, thus we need a team to complete the task.” Councillor Tee, who had never participated in such cleaning mission before, had made herself available hoping to offer her care and concern to those living in darkness.
She commended the volunteers’ selfless efforts, which proved to her that there are many people willing to do good deeds. She remarked, “I believe many people have the intention to help others. For example, the villagers offered their spaces for the volunteers to take meals and rest. It shows that there are many kind souls in our local community. I’m impressed, especially for the care you will continue to provide for the aid recipient after you’re done with the cleaning mission. This is great.”
Working towards the same goal
At the other house, Yusof sat on a chair seeing the volunteers cleaning up his house, while occasionally answering volunteers’ enquiries on whether or not they could throw away the torn clothes, send the broken electrical appliances to recycling, and so on.
A middle-aged volunteer, Chu Ah Noi, was seen handling chores from sorting out clothes, painting to weeding like a breeze. She commented that she is used to physical labour and was glad to see a cleaner and more spacious living space for the couple post-cleaning. “Of course it’s physically taxing for my age, but I feel the joy more than physical exhaustion,” she said beaming with a sense of accomplishment.
Another volunteer, Suzen Lee from Klang, followed her mother on the cleaning mission. She was drenched in sweat collecting PET bottles, dusting and painting the house. She shared, “I’ve participated in beach clean-up before. This is my first participation in a home cleaning mission. It’s like an adventure filled with unknown surprises. Anyway, I’m happy doing this.” The experience also made Suzen realize the simple happiness in life.
The 5-hour mission cleared the homes of a truckload of garbage and recyclables that were sent away in two trucks. The volunteers were gratified to see the clean living space, the smile on Cheng Siot’s face, and to hear the words “thank you” from Yusof, a sign that he has finally fully accepted them. Next, volunteers will help fix the electrical and other issues, and most importantly, guide the couple to take care of their living environment.