A Ray of Hope

By Law Ai Lian (劉嬡蓮)
Julie Yen Yu Chu (顏玉珠)
Photos by Julie Yen Yu Chu (顏玉珠)
Abridged and translated by Chang Yu Ming (張佑民)

A Ray of Hope

By Law Ai Lian (劉嬡蓮)
Julie Yen Yu Chu (顏玉珠)
Photos by Julie Yen Yu Chu (顏玉珠)
Abridged and translated by
Chang Yu Ming (張佑民)

When Selvi collapsed, the family of eight lost their only pillar and could only survive on the financial aid of Selvi's mentally and physically challenged sister. What can Tzu Chi do to help them?

Painful but excited, Selvi was finally able to stand for the first time in nine months with the help of a physical therapist.

After two failed marriages, Tamil Selvi A/P Gunasegaram became the only pillar in the family, supporting her four children, her 79-year-old mother, 59-year-old father, and her disabled sister.

At night, Selvi worked as a cleaning lady in a hospital. After getting off work in the wee hours, she would go and harvest latex from rubber trees. Every few days, she had to carry 4 kg worth of latex and walk 20 minutes to the collection site. Year after year she endured the pain on her back from carrying the heavy loads. One day, she suddenly lost strength in her legs and could no longer go to work. Afraid of the burden, her husband left the house and was not heard from ever since.

Selvi was diagnosed to have a lipoma (benign tumor made of fat tissue) pressing on her nerves, which affected her legs. After surgery and two months of treatment in the hospital, her legs did not get better. She had no choice but to lie bed-ridden at home. The whole family then moved to a single-story house to accommodate Selvi in March 2020.

In a new environment, Selvi's father was unable to find work quickly. Then, the coronavirus pandemic hit the country and the lockdown made their situation even worse. In the end, the whole family had to rely on Selvi's sister's monthly welfare aid of 250 ringgit (around US$60) to survive. Overwhelmed with helplessness, Selvi started having suicidal thoughts.

Home Visit
When Tzu Chi volunteer Nadarajan A/L Kota-raju heard of Selvi's plight, he immediately reported her situation to Tzu Chi.

On their first home visit, Tzu Chi volunteers quickly gave Selvi's family some food and supplies so the family did not have to go hungry. The volunteers also started providing long-term financial assistance in April. They wanted to help the family stand up again.

"It's very heartbreaking to see Selvi agonizing whenever her children move her," said Tzu Chi volunteer Ong Yoke Ching (王鈺清). Ong believed that professional medical help was needed to help the family get back on their feet.

On mother's day, the volunteers sang songs with the children, and also prepared flowers for the eldest daughter, Ranjani, to give to Selvi. Selvi was very moved, and she then gave the flower to her mother along with some hugs and kisses. "We must care for the family as a whole," said Ong.

During one of the visits, Selvi's two boys cooked fried rice to thank the Tzu Chi volunteers, but volunteer Nadarajan was very worried for their safety.

In June, two doctors from Tzu Chi International Medical Association went with the volunteers to visit the Selvi family. When they arrived, Selvi's two boys, Kishor Raj and Sumen Raj, were cooking fried rice to thank the volunteers. Dr. Ng Guat Kiat (黃月吉) was very worried to see the boys working the stoves which were higher than their chests. The scene also made her recalled her childhood when she had to prepare breakfast for the whole family before going to school after her mother passed away. "The children were forced to grow up by the circumstances. I hope they can persevere and turn their lives around," Dr. Ng sighed. After seeing the smiles on Selvi's face and her positive attitude, Dr. Ng also commented that if Selvi had been negative and depressed all the time, the whole family would have been affected and the situation would become very different.

"There's still hope!" exclaimed Dr. Saw Bee Chian (蘇美娟) when she found out that Selvi could still feel her legs.

As Selvi had been bed-ridden for almost nine months, Dr. Saw suggested the volunteers enlist the help of a professional physical therapist. She also instructed Selvi's children on how to massage Selvi's legs to promote blood circulation and to exercise the leg muscles.

Tzu Chi volunteer Ng Ton Leong (黃循糧) asked Dr. Saw if there were better ways to move Selvi from the bed to the wheelchair because the family had already broken two wheelchairs in four months. Dr. Saw asked to see how the family did it, and the three children and Selvi's sister demonstrated how they dragged and pulled Selvi onto the wheelchair. Selvi seemed to be in a lot of pain in the process. The doctors and the volunteers were very worried that they might accidentally pull open Selvi's surgery wound or hurt her spine.

Ong said that the pain made Selvi unwilling to get up from the bed. Dr. Saw asked the volunteers to ask the physical therapist to teach the family the correct way to move a patient. Dr. Saw also took some time to look at Selvi's family members. Her sister had shoulder pains, her father had leg pains, and her mother had chronic diseases.

To thank the volunteers and the doctors, Selvi and the children drew and prepared hand-made cards for them.

Selvi and her children made thank-you cards to express their gratitude to the volunteers for their constant visit and care.

Though still weak in her arms, Selvi did her best to express her sincere gratitude.

The volunteers also prepared presents in return. "This is the first time that I receive any present. I'm very surprised and happy," said Ranjani shyly. All of the children hoped to lessen the burden on their grandparents, so they often helped out in housework or looked after their mother.

Everyone had presents, and Selvi's present was waiting for her outside. A truck slowly rolled in, carrying what she had always wanted — a refrigerator. Their old refrigerator had broken down and made their life very inconvenient. The volunteers took some time to find this secondhand refrigerator for her. "This is exactly what I wanted!" said Selvi happily.

The volunteers invited a physical therapist along to visit Selvi at around the end of June. After seeing her responses to pain and touch, the therapist deemed that Selvi was ready to start rehabilitation, and her chance of a good recovery was very high. With the therapist's help, Selvi was able to stand for the first time in nine months. Though painful, Selvi was overjoyed.

In addition to answering Selvi's questions, the therapist also taught the children how to move Selvi onto the wheelchair. The swift and efficient method was a huge step up from their dragging and pulling. Volunteer Ng told the children to learn the proper method correctly so they could help with their mother's rehabilitation. Before the volunteers and the therapist left, the children served them tea in gratitude.

The physical therapist mentioned that Selvi's mattress was too soft for her, which was causing her back problems. Ng then told another volunteer and was delighted to hear that someone wanted to recycle a coir mattress. "When there's a will, there's a way. Many people were there to help Selvi and her family along the way," said Ng.

The volunteers decided to subsidize Selvi's physical therapy fees to encourage her to work hard. They also helped her children transfer schools and applied for school buses so their education would not be affected. Selvi became a Tzu Chi member to help those who were more unfortunate than her. "With Tzu Chi's help and everyone's sincere love and care, I'm hopeful again," said Selvi.

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