Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Lucy's Selfless Dedication

eHomemakers' Salaam Wanita Project was initiated in 2002 to train 200 single moms in computer under the DAG grant we received.  NGOs then started to send us low-income women with few employable skills and are burdened with disabilities or illnesses.  The news that a group of mothers were able to earn income from home through various work schemes reached them, so they thought that we had the magic to find fulltime jobs for the women. When truth was given to them -- that we couldn't help because we had no funds to train or match make such women with employers as the working @ home jobs were hard to find. 

"Can you think of something else for them? I am sure you will find something!" asked one of the volunteers for SLE Association. I didn't know her name but she was very enthusiastic and insistent that I tried to 'think'. I remember her smiling as she explained SLE to me, "We can't take sun, dust and stress so working at home at our own pace will be good for us."  She herself was a Lupus patient but her condition was in remission. I had never met someone who explained her seem-to-be-pretty-serious-illness to me with such enthusiasm and warm smiles. I promised her that I would think about it. Years later, I learnt the lady's name - Chee Siew Lian.

Two years later, we came out with the ecobasket project to train women to use donated newspaper to make baskets for sale. A good Samaritan donated money to train 120 women, 60 in Ipoh (mostly women with disabled children) and 60 in KL (mostly culled from SLE, disabled organizations and Pink Triangle.)  We put two thirds of the donated funds into the Ipoh training as we felt that the women there were less exposed and needed more help. The KL women were given only six trainings with a single mom who knew how to do the basic weaving, they had to figure out how best to weave the baskets for the rest of the training sessions.

The KL trainings were held under the awnings of a condo in Bangsar as we had no money to rent proper rooms with proper tables. The women took buses to come every Sunday afternoon, bringing their own snacks and drinks. The enthusiasm was high and the women motivated. No one was earning any income but they came for the trainings. The then volunteer coordinator was eH's finance person, Susan Greenall, who kept us informed about the women. One of them stood out among the trainees, her name was Lucy Goh. She was always the first one who volunteered to carry things for Susan and cleaned up after the training when others shunned such chores.  Unlike some women who demanded small things from Susan for volunteering for the group.  Lucy was ever ready to help even without any reward. 

And there was another lady, Justina, who talked the most during the training and was the funniest among the women. She often assisted Lucy to prepare and clean up the trainings. 

After twelve or more trainings, we encouraged the women to sell. For over a year, we merely facilitated the selling by sending email with our women's phones or addresses (some didn't have phones) to companies.  We realized that it was a big problem for the women to sell as most of them were bound to the homes, and they lack marketing skills. When the first corporate order arrived from Nestle to one of the single moms, she turned it down because she didn't have money to pay a taxi to deliver and she didn't know how to cost in delivery costs! eHomemakers was brought in to help her. After several rounds of negotiations, the order was given to another single mom, still it didn't work.

We then realized that none of the women could take on the order alone as they took too long to make the quantity Nestle wanted, so we made the order into a group project and started to engage the women in a social business arrangement.  Lucy came in to volunteer to pack without asking for any money for herself.  She took two hours of bus ride to come to the eH office and then went home through another two hours of public transportation. We were really impressed by her selfless act to help someone whom she met only several times.

That was eight years ago. Since then, Lucy has been volunteering herself to the ecobasket project, rain or shine. We trained several women to do the backend work and to sell at exhibitions. All of them dropped out because it was too 'difficult' to travel. Only Lucy and Justina stayed with us for the backend work. Lucy likes to do the inventory and accounting while Justina loved the tagging and selling part. They formed a strong exhibition team for more than four years before Justina passed away this January.

Lucy and her daughter in ecobasket's inventory room
Lucy still comes to the eH office but only once a week because she has to volunteer for the SLE Association for the other three days, with one day rest in between, and the weekends for family. There are times, we feel like we are 'fighting' for Lucy with SLE Association as we haven't been able to find a replacement for Justina who used to come three days a week.  One needs dedication to do the backend admin work for the ecobasket project.  The two of them's dedication has been time-tested especially when both have to travel by public transportation for about two hours. Even a healthy person will complain about the four hours of daily travel but not these two.

Lucy at SLE's fundraising event -Walkapayung, May 2011
Lucy also counsels new Lupus patients in hospitals, often travelling to Seremban and Melacca on public transportation. Sometimes, she works till late night with Siew Lian when SLE Association has events like the May Walkapayung.  It was stressful when there were not enough hands to help and tons of coordinatuion to do. Asked why she was so committed to help other women, she explained that she is now living a second life after overcoming a near death experience several years ago. Since God has given her another chance to live, she wants to help others to live too.

"Every one has a chance to do something for someone else, so I am taking all the chances that come to me to do volunteering."  

The eco-basket project is Lucy and Justina's pride

Lucy's family was financially struggling when she first came to the Salaam Wanita project. She hand't been working for a few years then, having been fired fom her last job due to her Lupus condition. With three growing children and a mother-in-law to feed, her husband's technician salary was very stretched.  Still, she volunteered, and she was grateful for eveything we could find for her, foods, clothes, even an old TV. 

Over the years, her family finance has gotten better. Her eldest son is working and her youngest has finished Form Five. Family members came in to help out with educational expenses now that the kids have proven dedicated like their mother.

Home life is getting easier for Lucy. I am so so so glad for her.


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