One Sunday morning, Mdm Zhuang Hua and her husband, Wu Bao Fa, pushed a cart containing recyclables that they have collected as they slowly made their way to a Tzu Chi recycling point in their neighbourhood.
Wu walked slowly, with effort, as both of his legs had been injured before. In addition, he had previously suffered a stroke, and has an ailment of the small intestines; thus he couldn’t walk as quickly as the average person. Even though it was a short walk, it was clear that progress was slow and difficult for the couple. But they persisted in making the difficult walk to take part in the recycling activities.
In 2007, Wu suffered from a cardiovascular disease, and received a coronary angioplasty surgery. Unexpectedly, within just a month, his wife Mdm Zhuang suddenly had a burst blood vessel in her brain and had to undergo an emergency operation. After her fourth brain surgery, although she could still move about normally, she had lost parts of her memory and even lost the ability to maintain long-term memory. This sudden turn of events brought the originally happy family into dire straits.
In the past, the couple had stable jobs and considerably good monthly income. The sudden onslaught of cruel diseases caused both of them to lose their jobs, and the sudden gap in their family finances was undoubtedly another blow to the family.
“Our CPF and insurance were wiped out. We spent huge amounts of savings on my wife’s surgeries. It seemed that we had lost almost everything overnight,” Wu shared with a heavy heart.
Looking back on what they had been through, Wu admitted that it was indeed a really trying period for the family. He often cooped up at home due to a low self-esteem, and had frequent quarrels with his wife.
Similarly, it was a difficult pill for Zhuang Hua to swallow. With the frustration of being unable to remember many things, she became highly irritable and emotionally unstable. Her constant grumbling drove a wedge between her and her family, and she even sought psychiatric help at one point.
Loving Company and Friendship Rekindle Charity
At the end of 2013, Zhuang Hua’s friend reported the family’s plight to Tzu Chi. Zhuang’s two children were in one of the early batches of Tzu Chi’s children class in Chinatown, but at that time, they had only a shallow impression of Tzu Chi. Yet, in their most desperate hours, the arms of Tzu Chi’s Great Love reached out and touched this struggling family. It was a love that deeply warmed Wu Bao Fa’s heart.
Tzu Chi not only provided financial assistance to the family, but also provided a much-needed outlet for their angst and sorrow, which helped uplift their sagging spirits. Touched by their plight, the volunteers spent a whole year establishing friendship with the couple, before gradually drawing them out of their isolation. Through invitations to participate in Tzu Chi activities, the volunteers hoped that they would come out of the confines of their home, and that by doing so, it could keep them from ruminating.
The kind intentions of volunteers re-kindled the kindness in Zhuang Hua’s heart. Formerly, Zhuang herself had endured much suffering and hardships in her childhood, and this had instilled in her heart from young, a desire to help others in need. She felt that even if it meant eating a little lesser herself, if she could help someone else, she would always feel happy about it.
“She always has a wish in her heart -- to use the money earned to buy food for the needy,” shared Wu.
He said that his wife has a kind heart, and that she used to prepare hot food for some 100 elderly residents at a home for the aged in Toa Payoh every week. There were several large pails and a huge fridge at home. Looking at the resources in their home led one to imagine how much this couple had given in the past in service to others’ needs.
Even after undergoing multiple surgeries, Zhuang still hoped to help others. But as she has lost the financial ability, and coupled with her currently frail body, she has little choice but to bury her kind intentions in the depths of her generous heart.
The volunteers continually encouraged the couple and helped them to understand that charity is not an exclusive right of the rich or those who have much, nor is it necessarily for those strong in body; as long as one has the will, one can still give of oneself.
Gradually, whether it is Tzu Chi’s recycling activity, charity fair or even blood donation drive, the couple could be seen volunteering alongside other Tzu Chi volunteers.
“I don’t think I should coop myself up at home again, I will do what I can do to help,” said Wu.
He added that it was not only about helping Tzu Chi, but doing something good for the society in general and doing something meaningful for the world. “I am deeply touched whenever I witness the volunteers’ selfless efforts during a Tzu Chi activity.”
Although sometimes, they were still affected by bodily pains, this did not deter their determination to serve. Wu Bao Fa said with a smile that one should just go ahead and do what one wanted to do in life. Occasionally, they would ask friends for recyclables or collect recyclables by the roadside, and they did not care about the eyes of others. “If a person doesn’t think too much, his heart will be much lighter,” said Wu.
Volunteer Wong Li Phin could see this couple taking every opportunity to serve in spite of the vagaries of life, and reminded herself to do more to help others in need. “Seeing them bravely stepping out to serve others fills my heart with an unspeakable joy,” she said.
A Change in Perspective Broadens the Path in Life
Volunteer Huang Li Ping gave a colouring book to Zhuang Hua, hoping that through the activity of colouring, she could find peace in her heart. On top of that, volunteers often shared Master Cheng Yen’s Jing Si Aphorisms with her. Presently her speech is still a bit slow, and she knows that her memory is not very good, thus she writes the Aphorisms in Chinese with a brush into a book.
The couple not only hoped to help others physically, but even wished to contribute financially as well. However, with only a paltry amount of financial aid, they already have to live frugally to survive – how were they able to find the spare funds to donate to others? Then, during one of the Tzu Chi activities, they saw a video of Master Cheng Yen exhorting everyone to “eat to 80% full, and save the remaining 20% to help others in need.”
Thus they started saving what they could manage into a Tzu Chi bamboo coin bank to donate to others in need. “I feel that so long as I have enough to eat, the remaining can be saved to help others in need,” said Wu.
Although they are receiving financial aid, both Wu and Zhang are really watchful of their spending habits. They started saving up by eating less for dinner, and cutting down on daily expenses, for example, by using charcoal instead of gas for cooking, and growing their own vegetables in pots, to save up to help others.
“One should not think too much about one’s own physical condition, and should just go ahead and do what is right. Otherwise, if we think too much, then something that is simple may become overly complicated,” said Wu.
He felt that the arrival of the volunteers into their lives has brought them hope. “We are deeply grateful to the volunteers for lending us a hand in our times of need.”
“It is enough to live in peace,” said Zhuang, whose heart is only filled with gratitude and contentment. “People will learn how to adapt to adversities in life.”
Even though sometimes she would still experience some struggles internally, she has chosen not to give up, but to bravely face life and its challenges.
The key to turning one’s life around isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, but lies in adjusting one’s attitude through the adversities in life. Through the help and care of Tzu Chi volunteers, this couple has re-discovered their confidence, and were gradually inspired to give back to society, while welcoming the sunshine back into their home.