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Relentless Zeal in Pursuit of Environmental Conservation Despite of Age

Even though the walk is slow, lifting requires exertion, the two silver-haired volunteers both carrying on without a hint of hesitation. “This is a good way of keeping us active, exercising with lots of fun, why not!”
Grandma Maimun (left) and Grandpa Amin have been involved in recycling for over a year. Their effort not only is helping others, but it is also keeping them fit and healthy. [Photo by Hong Geok Hui]

Grandpa Amin (MD Amin bin MD Din), aged 87, is a devout Muslim. During his career, he worked as a teacher in a religious school as well as a military head chef. After his retirement, he is often invited to cook and help at friends’ wedding celebrations, which usually skilfully serving several hundred guests. Grandma Maimun binti Ibrahim, aged 67, wife of Grandpa Amin, remarked that even though his health is unlike before, Grandpa Amin keeps her company working in their garden during the day, or they would go for a walk-about around the neighbourhood, chit-chatting with neighbours and looking out for anyone who may need help. If he encounters anyone who are in distress, he will not hesitate a second in seeking out solutions as well as assembling the necessary resources to help them. Over and above the daily vigil of the neighbourhood, Grandpa Amin takes on the task of teaching the Quran to children as well as anyone else willing to learn. One of his oldest students in the Quran study is Ahmad Zaki bin Loyot, aged 61, a trishaw driver by trade. 

Around a year ago, Grandma Maimun enticed Grandpa Amin into yet another project, which was to engage in recycling and sorting out abandoned resources. Grandma discovered recycling through a TV programme which featured a Malay father and son team, who collected abandoned items to resell. With the income, the father-son team cooked food for themselves or helped people who were in dire need of food. The charitable act deeply moved Grandma Maimun and highlighted to her for the first time that there are more ways to be philanthropic besides making monetary donations.

“I have great respect for the father-son team, they are themselves not in the most comfortable circumstances, but they are able to find ways to help others less fortunate! While we are so blessed with security and freedom to enjoy life as we wish, why can’t we also be like them and help others?” said Grandma Maimun. 

◎ Linking of the little blue flower

There is a green patch lays beside the retired couple’s corner terraced house. Every morning, while the dew drops still linger, local residents can already be seen passing by doing their morning walk and exercise. One morning, Grandma Maimun met a Chinese lady passing by called Kng Bee Lan, who complimented Maimun on how lush her butterfly pea flower plants were. Bee Lan asked if she could take some away to her own mother for drying and offer to anyone who could benefit from the health effects of the flower tea, and there began the unstoppable exchange between them. The curious Grandma asked, “What are all these plastic bottles hanging off your hand, Bee Lan? What are the uses of them?” Subsequent conversation brought to light that Bee Lan has been a Tzu Chi recycling volunteer since 2015 through the invitation of volunteers Ng Ai Choon and Tan Siew Lung.

Kng Bee Lan (2nd from left) has been volunteering for recycling for years and has encouraged her whole family to take care of our mother earth by consistently recycling. [Photo by Lee Kin Chee]

Regarding Grandma ’s question, Bee Lan answered, “I collect these items for Tzu Chi the NGO to sell on to recycling plants. The income from the sale will go to help those who are in difficulties and poverty.” This reply came as an affirmation to Grandma Maimun as it coincided with the TV programme she had seen. The elderly couple was so enthused that they started collecting recyclables at home and during their daily walks. They would rinse, crush, sort, and pack the items into different bags before requesting Bee Lan to take them to Tzu Chi.

◎ ‘The more you do, the more you can do’

The more the two old folks do, the merrier they got; the frequency of call to Bee Lan to collect the packed bags got higher and higher. This put Bee Lan under a little stress as she has only a small car to ferry the ever-increasing cargos from the couple and due to her day job, she was unable to come very often to them.

Before she was able to come up with a solution, help came unexpectedly. On the other side of town, there was a lady from Taiwan who migrated here nearly 30 years ago with her husband—a Tzu Chi volunteer, Tai Man. Tai Man and her daughter-in-law Thong Tjhiu Phin, a bilingual Indonesian Chinese, going by Grandma Maimun’s house on their daily morning exercise route. These ladies got on like house on fire. As Tai Man heard about Maimun’s new cause and her obstacle to send the bags to recycling points, she offered to help, since she herself was attending the recycling centre at Taman Asean on every Wednesday. 

Bee Lan was so pleased with the unexpected support from Tai Man. She also saw the increased confidence and intensified efforts in promoting recycling from both Grandma and Grandpa. Grandpa Amin started to share and call upon everyone to support the “Reclamation of Resources/Recycling” efforts. He put forward to all that the reclamation and reuse of resources would not only reduce waste in conservation of the environment and the mother earth, it would also benefit people who are in financial difficulties.

As everyone grasped the main aim of his efforts, they started to keep things for him. There were huge accumulation of condensed milk tin cans and egg cartons, all came from Amin’s friends who run catering businesses. While there were all sorts of plastics packaging, drinks bottles, assorted carton and cardboard boxes mainly came from Ahmad Zaki the trishaw driver’s collection.

Volunteers offer support to the Malay senior couple in their recycling efforts. [Photo by Loo Chia Chia]
Ahmad Zaki (left) is helping Grandpa Amin to load the collection of recyclable items into his car. [Photo by Hong Geok Hui]

Ahmad Zaki had learnt about Tzu Chi’s relief aid programme in the past from his Chinese trishaw colleagues. He did not apply for help from it as he thought he was managing financially. He knew of Tzu Chi as a charity organisation, but he did not realise that it was also actively involved in recycling and reclaiming to offer financial help to people in needs.

“I respect my teacher Amin, just like I would my father. When he told me about collecting resources for reuse, redistribution to people in need, and recycling, I wanted to get involved too.” From then on, Ahmad Zaki would get out every morning, first scour the main refuse dumping bins to collect items ahead of the refuse trucks’ pickups, then send the items back home before making his way to the mosque for the 5 a.m. prayer. He would ask Grandpa Amin to pick up his collection, which sometimes required several trips to transport everything he had gathered over the course of two to three days. Even at the mosque now, there are efforts from the worshipers to put together a recycling of usable resources awaiting collection by Grandpa Amin.

◎ Where the heart belongs

On March 6, 2023, volunteer Tai Man and her daughter-in-law came to visit Grandpa Amin and Grandma Maimun. While Grandpa was sitting down flattening mineral bottles, Grandma was packing them tightly into the recycling bags. Tai Man said how she remembered the bags and bags of crashed tin cans they once collected from this hardworking couple! Grandma Maimun joined in and said that one time, Grandpa Amin had overexerted himself and ended up with pains in the arms which he was still recovering from. He was told to slow down and even stop doing the crashing. Though the ladies were talking about that, and before Tai Man could get her daughter-in-law to finish translating, Grandpa already was picking up a square biscuits tin and lifted his foot and stomped over it! What Tai Man wanted to say to Grandpa was that the uncrushed tin boxes would fetch even better resell price than the flattened ones! Grandma Maimun immediately replied, “Aiya! Such a shame! Never mind, that is our own, I will go collect more!” Tai Man then saw the opportunity to share her knowledge and experience, “Plastic items and metal tins are different. We have to treat them differently. Not only we have to sort them, but also put them into separate bags…”

Volunteer Tai Man (right) sharing with the Malay senior couple about the process of reclaiming through translation of her daughter-in-law. [Photo by Hong Geok Hui]

The journey down the path of recycling has not been without tribulations for the old couple, especially for Grandma Maimun, who had some misunderstandings with a friend who then stopped recycling and reverted to throwing bottles into the refuse bin. Grandpa Amin and the other volunteers tried to comfort Grandma by saying that “…after all, everyone perceives the world differently and we must respect others’ freedom of choice. All we can do is to share our understanding and continue to keep ourselves on the path of righteousness, then we will surely meet with people who understand and are willing to support our cause.”

The devoted two truly believed in the principle of “do good and good will come to you”. They believed that it happened to them only recently. They were going to a friend’s wedding and on the way back, their car broke down in the middle of nowhere. To their surprise, someone came forth from nowhere to not only help them to call for the rescue service but also organised the repair shop for them. Throughout the car rescue event, there were helpers of Chinese and other origin. Soon enough, Grandpa Amin was back driving and picking up recyclable items.

Enthusiastic and dedicated Grandpa Amin has the so called ‘Three Highs’—high blood pressure, high blood glucose, and high cholesterol. Furthermore, his heart function is also slightly compromised. We can often hear him says, “We all have to help each other no matter what race or religions we are, we need to care for others. After we sell these items, the money generated goes to help many poor people. This is such a simple thing to do! My friends of all races have been very good to me and have always helped me. Recycling is everyone’s responsibility, and anyone can do it and we should all start doing it!”

Now Grandpa and Grandma found that they have continuous support from Tzu Chi volunteer team like Ai Choon and Bee Lan, even throughout the time of Tai Man’s family absence during a trip to Taiwan. The couple’s efforts of recycling are not in vain as good intentions for the right cause will continue to be blessed.


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