DIRECTalk: Loh Yu Yee: Shaping the culture of voluntary workers

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Despite being a Christian for only a short time, she is most willing to be God’s vessel so that people around her can feel the love of God. She set up her team of volunteers “Angels in the world “; she can be said to have heart of an angel and is a voice of positive energy in Sibu. She does not have any personal agenda and she is willing to use her little power to make the world a better place. She is Loh Yu Yee.

Being a leader and promoter of voluntary work and mother of 4 children, Yu Yee is incredibly energetic.

She operates a goat ranch engaged in selling goat’s milk and production of a variety of organic food and products, as well as developing eco-tourism in the ranch.

Recently she moved out of her comfortable life again and began organizing a fundraising run “Love run for autism 1.0” for Sibu Autism Association. The Chief Editor of Methodist Message Wong Meng Lei invited her to his office and interviewed her about her drive and vision. (Q: Wong Meng Lei, A: Loh Yu Yee)

Q: When did you start doing charity work?
A: I have been doing charity work even before accepting Christ. However after becoming a Christian I realized that in the past my good deeds were for own benefit, believing that “as a man sows, so he shall reap”; “I do charity works so that I will not become a dog or cat in my next life.” After becoming a Christian, my values changed and I find that doing charity work carries a different meaning.

Q: Can you share with us how you become a Christian?
A: I am a Hakka from the town of Dalat (Dalat is a small town under the Dalat District in Mukah Division). There were very few Christians in Dalat in the early days and there were no churches either.

I accepted Christ when I was studying Accountancy in Kuching.
I was around 20 years old then. One of my classmates kept inviting me to church. I slowly came to realize the difference between Christianity and folk beliefs after attending the church youth fellowship gathering. Then I made up my mind to accept Christ into my life. Thanks to the Lord, now one of my younger brothers also believes in the Lord and my family members begin to see the diference in me.

Q: What are the changes in your outlook on life?
A: I think that God gives us life, time and resources in this world wanting us to bless the people around us. I do not have a fixed direction for the changes, I move to where I am needed most; organizing a fundraising run “Love run for autism 1.0” for Sibu Autism Association is one example.

in the world

Q: When did you first started participating in these charity activities?
A: That was nine years ago in February 2008, I named it “Angels in the world” and I also set up a blog. It was a plan to promote the “volunteer culture”. Before that I was doing all these charitable works on my own. Later, I felt that there was a need to promote the “volunteer culture”, so that help can be extended anytime and anywhere. Compared to organizing an activity once a year this would be more efficient and would have greater influence.

Take environmental protection awareness for instance, is it not better to change our life style rather than organizing an activity of some sort once a year?

Q: What was in your mind when you set up the “Angels in the world “?
A: Actually it was a present that I wanted to give myself for my 31st birthday. I wanted a more meaningful birthday present rather than just receiving birthday presents. So I was looking for somewhere that I can contribute. I made an appeal on the internet and many people responded. The first activity was to paint the “Agape Center” which took us about half a year to complete. After that we helped the Blind Centre, the Old Folks Home and we cleaned up the Belawai Beach.

The reason for pushing all these activities is that there are people who want to take part in charity activities but they have no money and they think that only the rich can afford doing charity works. So my approach is: as long as you have time and energy you can choose to take part. Those who can take part can help in the cleaning up, those who cannot take part can sponsor drinks or snacks; everyone can participate in his own way.

Q: How many people took part in the volunteer work at “Agape Centre” and the Belawai Beach?
A: There were 30-40 people involved in the painting of the “Agape Centre”. For the cleaning up of Belawai Beach we did three times and there was one time we had the maximum of about 90 people.

Q: Were there any other activities later?
A: Later I got pregnant. As I was not so mobile then, I set up a collection box at the Delta Mall so that the public could donate used clothes. In addition to reduction of rubbish we can donate to any needy body. This is also a good way to educate our children. I have to thank the management of Delta Mall for sharing the same idea.

The volunteers from the Xin Fu Yuan Methodist Church, which has a ministry for collection of recyclable items, helped in the collection and sorting of the used clothing. Whenever I need used clothing for fire victims or where there is a need, I will collect from them.

I was also involved in the Street Folks Ministry initiated by the Board of Social Concerns of SCAC for around 7-8 years. This year I am handing it over to another co-worker.

Mobile Welfare

Q: What do you learn in doing these charity works?
A: I often think that we possess more things than we think. Some of those families that I visited do not even have basic things. So I think that having enough food, clothing, family and friends who love us, as well as the opportunity to work or a healthy body are not just a matter of course.

Q: Will you continue with your charity ministry? You don’t feel tired?
A: I don’t feel tired. I think God put a kind heart in every one of us. It is just that you have to put it into good use. Of course sometime I feel very discouraged especially when some people you help take your help for granted.

Another thing is that we help so that they can help themselves, otherwise nothing will change. For example, if someone is unwilling to work, I would think that person may not and does not want to change. So, generally I will pick families with children, because the children may be the driving force to reverse the fate of the whole family. If the children want to go to school, we will cover their school fee. We have donated tuition fees, school uniforms and miscellaneous fee to such families. As long as the children are willing to be educated, I think there is possibility for them to change their fate.

Actually there are a lot of people who are in need in Sibu, just that we seldom “see” them. We came across families with domestic violence problems when we were distributing food. As the church did not have a ministry to help these people, we could only bring them to the police and also informed the Welfare Department. A few days later the perpetrators were freed, the problems were not solved.

Q: What do you think the church can do?
A: The church may be able to help them through integration. We have Children’s home, drug rehabilitation centre and counselling centres. Maybe these afflicted families can go to one of these bodies for more professional help and arrangements.

For example, when I was involved in the ministry of distributing food to the homeless, I often wondered whether we can provide some training to them. Our purpose of distributing food should be to feed them as well as bringing the gospel to them. How do we bring these homeless to our church? We need to have a progressive arrangement in order to be efficient and effective. Distributing food can’t actually help them essentially, only God can change their lives and heal their pains.

Q: Are you discouraged that after working so hard you still cannot change them?
A: It is Ok for me. After all, we are all limited in certain ways; on top of that trying to make changes to another person’s way of life is very difficult and is a pressure to the person.

For example, we helped a family, the father suffers from brain atrophy with speech and movement difficulties, and the mother is an Iban. They have two children. Some friends helped them to apply for government aids. When his wife received these aids, they would go drinking and partying. Then the wife had a stroke and now both of them are paralyzed. The two children are on their own now. That’s what I mean by we cannot change their life unless they want to help themselves.

Q: If the church or other groups have a more complete welfare system, can all this work be carried out more comprehensively?
A: Yes, if this welfare system can be more comprehensive and extensive, it will be more fruitful. For example we all need to know how to make application to the Welfare Department. In fact, each of us is a mobile Welfare Department.

I hav conducted two to three briefings about applying to the Welfare Department. This is to let everyone know who can apply for welfare aids, what documents applicants have to provide and so on. In fact to provide timely help we need to know about this. We should emphasize this extensively, my strength is limited.

Environmental protection and charity

Q: What expectations do you have for your farm? Are you developing it into a learning centre?
A: Actually I wanted to set up a place for leisure, entertainment, environmental protection and education. From my children’s experience I find that they do not have much chance to come into contact with nature. There is no place now in Sibu where children can climb or swim in the river. So I was thinking that I could give them a relatively different childhood memory in my farm. I hope that they also have a childhood experience like mine which was close to nature.

In our daily life, at home, in our car, our office, we are all in “human creation” which is also “our pride”. We drive an expensive car, live in a big house, yet we are getting farther from the creation of God; if you do not establish a close relationship with nature, you will be far from God.

I am now trying to promote some products which are produced without preservatives, coloring and chemical additives, hoping to convey the message we can return to our original aspirations.

The volunteer culture alike, it is about transmission, legacy and reminding. We really cannot do much, just do our best!

Q: In other words, your striving force for doing charity works, your farm and developing new products comes from promoting environmental protection and sustainability?
A: In fact there are many things that we can do. Right now I am focusing upon promoting environmental protection and doing charity works at the same time. For example last year I used the used cooking oil to make soap for washing dishes, floor or laundry. This can solve the problem of used cooking oil disposal. If these used oil (leftover from frying food) were poured into the drains that would cause much impact to our environment.

I gave 6 classes last year because I want to encourage people to do so. This is a very beneficial to us as we reduce getting contact with detergents, reduce pollution and help in the disposal of used oil.

If we want a good environment, we must start doing it, we cannot wait for others. If we want to help the needy, we cannot just wait for the Welfare Department.

Q: I don’t think there are a lot of people like you, knowing that the road ahead is rough yet persist in walking the path?
A: I just hope that I don’t have any regret when I get old. Once I met an old blind lady in the church, the old lady came once or twice and never come again. So to me, some people will only appear in your life in that period of time only, if you do not catch the opportunity to help him/her, then the opportunity will pass by. For some people, giving him a glass of water, a bowl of rice or a smile or some good words, could be a turn for the better, so do not despise what you can do.

Love run
for autism 1.0

Q: Tell us your initiative for the “Love run for autism 1.0”. What causes you to organize this fundraising run for Sibu Autism Association?
A: Last year I read in the newspaper that the nursery of the Sibu Autism Association would be closed because of financial problems. Then I went to visit the nursery. I was so touched by these children of age 2 to 6 years old in the nursery; they were actually working hard to integrate into our society.

When I visited them, I realized that if they do not have proper training, they would become a “problem”. A member of my volunteer team has a brother over 30 years old, because of lacking proper training and exercise, he has leg muscle atrophy. The family members have to feed him and clean him up. He cannot take care of himself at all. If his parents get older or passed away who is going to take care of him?

I was also shocked seeing them working together when I visited the Methodist Care Centre later. In fact if you train them, they can also participate in society and work, so long as we are willing to give them that platform.

Can we give them some affirmation and acceptance so that they and their families can also lead a dignified life? Thus I propose to do a fundraising run. I hope that more people can see the needs of this group of autism.

Once I went out for dinner with a student and his family, the child was suffering from toothache, so he kept shouting and because he could not express himself he kept hitting himself. The people around him kept looking at him. I think that the public should be more conscious, understanding and accepting of those who are already facing difficulties. A little help could do a lot instead.

They are now almost 40 students, but there are a lot more on the waiting list.

Q: How was the reaction from the public?
A: The response by the general public was far beyond our expectation. Our goal was 3,000 participants and we had enrolments exceed 3,400 people.

In fact none of my teams had any experience of hosting a run. They are from all walks of life. We just wanted to use this platform to do something for the autistic patients.

Someone asked us if we would be inviting VIP to the occasion. My answer was that our VIPs are all the autistic patients. It was an activity for all the people, so I did not write to the politicians asking for financial aids, we just had to work harder.

What I am doing now is the work of soil loosening, even though it is difficult, once the soil is loosened it is much easier for the seed to germinate.

Interviewed by Menglei
Recorded by April
Translated by KT Chew
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