Monday September 3, 2012
Reaching out to the needy
By ANDREW SIA
Every one of us can impact another person’s life – if we are willing and available.
THE husband and wife team of Jeffrey Tan, 72, and Lee Ah Nee, 69, are retired civil servants. Since last year, they have been spending their Saturdays helping autistic children to bake pastries.
“We volunteered because we have the time and energy to help. God has blessed us and it’s a joy to give back to these children,” says Tan. “I’m lucky to have a supportive wife, otherwise I would not be able to sustain this for long.”
He explains that it was difficult to understand the children’s needs at first. “By showing respect and love, and gaining their trust, we reached out to them eventually,” says Tan.
“We understand the problems these children are facing and we try to bond with them as a family. Different children have different needs. We have to know them better to be able to help them. Some need one-to-one attention,” adds Lee.
The couple enjoy their volunteer work at Calvary Victory Centre (CVC), a special education centre with over 100 autistic children and 25 teachers at Sutera Utama, on the outskirts of Johor Baru. They help out weekly at CVC, and are happy that they get to meet many people and utilise their time well.
According to Wong Chee Kin, chairman of the CVC administrative committee, a CVC Delights cafeteria was set up last year to help the children train in life skills and also serve as a sheltered employment centre. The cafeteria is open to the public and also offers catering services.
CVC opens its doors to students of all races and religions. Eight years ago, Hazeem Md Yusoof joined CVC as its first Malay student.
His sister Yuhana Md Yusoof, 34, gave up her teaching job to look after him and help out at the cafeteria. Their mother, Hasipah Abu, is a cook at the cafeteria which only serves halal food.
“Before coming to CVC, my brother found it hard to manage himself,” says Yuhana. “After eight years here, he has improved a lot. He has also helped to attract more Malay and Indian students to CVC.” Yuhana now supports herself by giving private tuition at night.
On Saturday mornings, Tan and Lee will be at the cafeteria, helping the children prepare pastries. In the afternoon, they accompany the kids to Sutera Mall, where CVC has been given a free stall to sell their pastries.
There are nice chicken pies, curry puffs, pineapple tarts, pai tee (pastry cups filled with cooked radish), and blueberry cheese tarts which are hugely popular with the public.
Tan enjoys his stint at the mall and is just too happy to raise public awareness about autism by talking to those who visit their stall.
“There are only a few volunteers here; we need more caring hearts. We are already old and do not know how long we can serve here,” says Lee.
Give and receive
Jessie Teh, 35, used to think that she would only get involved in volunteer work upon her retirement. “But I’m glad I’ve done it now. It is never too early to start,” smiles this financial consultant.
Teh wanted to volunteer after reading a verse in the Bible: “As we freely receive (from God), so we freely give (back to society)” but she did not know where to start.
“So I asked God to lead the way. Soon enough, somebody asked me whether I wanted to help out with Down syndrome kids,” recalls Teh, who serves as treasurer, administrator and tutor at Calvary Miracle Centre (CMC).
“Through my volunteer work, I’ve learnt to be more patient and contented. I used to have high expectations of life, yet I see the children are so happy despite leading such simple lives.”
Teh used to coach her own children in their studies, but after she started volunteering at CMC, she found that her children could study well on their own.
“This is a blessing from God,” says Teh. Tham Kok Weng, 65, loves working with children, so when this retired motor workshop operator was asked to help out at CMC, he jumped at the chance.
Tham’s talent as a handyman is put to good use at the centre. He does all sorts of tasks, from painting the walls and fixing electric lights to making wooden frames for weaving mats. Every day, he sends four children from Kota Masai, about 80km away, to CMC and back.
Tham has been teaching children in Sunday School since he was 19.
“It’s very important to build up children when they are young. I make friends with children easily, I’m happy to see that the effort I put in has produced results in hundreds of children,” shares Tham.
One of his former Sunday School students used to create a ruckus in class, Tham recalls. “But when he grew up, he became a pastor and visited my church. He told everyone that he was in my Sunday School class and how he had grown to serve God. It is things like this that keeps me going.
“Some parents do not know what to do with Down syndrome kids and just leave them in one corner of the house. They may take months to learn simple things, for example, how to use the toilet. Some children struggle to walk up and down the stairs.
One girl walked backwards to go up the stairs. As volunteers, we see results and changes in the children.” Just as he has touched the lives of others, so his life has been touched.
Tham’s wife needed an eye operation at one time, but they were short of funds. “Then one student I had taught years ago, who is now very successful in life, offered to pay for the operation in Singapore which cost RM13,000.”
When Katherine Robinson arrived in Johor Baru two years ago to accompany her husband, she found that expat wives were not allowed to work. “Instead of spending my time shopping, I wanted to do something meaningful,” says Robinson.
So she volunteered to teach English, Maths and Science to underprivileged children at Calvary Welfare Centre (CWC).
“Even though the children attend school, there is no one to help them with their homework,” she explains. “When they fall behind in school, they become discouraged and give up on their studies. I’m delighted when I see children who are discouraged, becoming happy and eager to learn. It makes all the difference in their lives.”
Robinson has since returned to Canberra, Australia, to serve as a social worker. “It was very hard to say goodbye after teaching them for two years. So this year, when I have two weeks of holiday, I came back to teach them. Learning is often a two-way process, The children have taught me how to be happy despite having a hard life,” Robinson adds.
Another volunteer at CWC, Laura Amos, found that she had extra time on her hands when she was transferred to Johor Baru, from Malacca, a year ago. Amos, who teaches at SK Taman Sutera, wanted to do something meaningful for the children.
“The richer kids can go for private tuition but the poorer kids have no one to help them. That’s where I come in. I’m an ambitious, results-oriented teacher and I want them to pass their UPSR.
“The kids need to feel loved and cared for. When someone comes to help them, they feel excited. When they see me at the (government) school, they will ask me, ‘Are you coming today’?” relates Amos.
“As a teacher, I want to sow good seeds in the lives of these children and I hope they will do well in their studies. My parents gave me a good education and instilled strong family values in me.
“I got a government scholarship to do my degree. In fact, my whole education was free and I believe it is God’s blessing. Now it’s my turn to bless others. Life begins when you start to give,” adds Amos.
Agnes Chow, the assistant manager of CWC, explains that children with problematic backgrounds find it hard to concentrate. “In school, there are 40 to 50 students in one class and teachers cannot give individual attention to every child. So the weaker students may fall behind.”
She recalls how one Chinese school was reluctant to take in students from CWC because of their poor results. Besides, they had no money to donate. “Luckily for us, some teachers from the school helped to get some of our kids into the school,” says Chow.
Chow, a housewife, had volunteered for nine years at CWC before she joined the team full-time as its assistant manager.
“The expenses in terms of food, rental and salaries for CWC’s 23 homes amount to about RM200,000 a month. Sometimes I crack my head wondering how to get the money but God is great and the funds come in somehow,” adds Chow.
CALVARY Welfare Centre (CWC) in Johor Baru operates 23 welfare homes to assist the needy in society, irrespective of race or creed. There are centres for the mentally and physically disabled, elderly folk, battered women, underprivileged children, schools for special needs children, and centres for drug rehabilitation.
Expenses for the welfare homes, which help between 600 and 700 people, amount to about RM200,000 a month. The homes are looking for volunteers who have a caring heart.
Calvary Victory Centre and Calvary Miracle Centre, which operate under the auspices of CWC, play a key role in meeting the needs of families with special children.
> Calvary Victory Centre serves as an education centre for more than 100 children with autism. The centre is looking for volunteer teachers for half-day sessions. Those interested can contact Allison Heng (016-7217724). The centre also runs a cafeteria to train the children in life skills. The cafeteria is open to the public; catering services are also available. For inquiries about the cafeteria, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
> Calvary Miracle Centre, an education centre for Down syndrome children, is on a fund-raising campaign to raise funds to set up a laundry business for its students. The centre is organising a 5km jogathon on Sept 29. Those who want to take part in the jogathon or contribute in any capacity can call Stella (07-2891576).