IPOH — For the Khaw family in Gunung Rapat this year’s Chinese New Year is the best celebration they have had in over 30 years.
The family of 80-year-old Khaw Hun Leng, had been living in a shaky wooden house for decades and being in financial difficulties feared for their future.
But this year, the family rang in the new year with a delicious “early” reunion dinner — thanks to a group of caring strangers.
Even before this dinner this group got together to built two new bedrooms with cement-rendered floors.
The group also furnished the new rooms and organised the house-warming-cum-reunion dinner at the home here recently.
What was amazing was that the kind-hearted strangers came from various backgrounds — online and in person — to help the desperate family.
It all began when Khaw Siew Mei’s colleague Phuah Siew Yin visited the family’s home last year. After seeing the deplorable condition of her colleague’s home and family, she felt something had to be done.
“I wanted to help. But I didn’t know how because I did not have the financial means,” she recalled.
But opportunity presented itself when a equally kind-hearted air-conditioning dealer named Issac Chin — who happened to install her air-conditioner — said he would help.
“We started talking and I told him about the family and that I was unable to help. To my surprise he said he was willing to help.
“He said he planned to raise funds online through an Ipoh Facebook group which had 142,000 members. I thought it was a great idea, and that’s how it all started,” she said.
Chin posted about the plight of the Khaw family on the group, and in less than six weeks, he managed to raise more than RM 25,000 from kind-hearted netizens.
With the funds, the group was able to hire a contractor to build two new cemented bedrooms for the family.
“I wanted to ensure everything was above board, so I posted screenshots of the banking transactions on the post’s thread,” Chin said.
“It was good to see so many people coming together to help and do something positive online for once —especially for a family who needed our help,”
Khaw, 80, has lived in the rickety house for around 40 years. He worked odd jobs and sold joss sticks around the Gunung Rapat area on his bicycle. But age caught up with him, and he was unable to continue.
Khaw, whose wife died in 1986, has four children. Three of them are believed to have learning disabilities, and are unable to hold jobs.
The family depends on the income of the second eldest daughter Siew Mei, 46, who earns a small salary at a store selling prayer items in Taman Song Choon
“It was difficult. There were days where we could only afford one meal of cabbage and fishballs. I always used to worry about the condition of the house,” said Khaw.
“Each time there is a storm, I worry that the whole house would be blow away. It sounded like the roof was talking to me because I could hear so many whistling and creaking noises.”
“But now, things are looking up thanks to the help from all these caring people.” he said.
Chin, Phuah, and other caring people also made personal contributions, buying furnishings and appliances for the bedrooms.
Before the reunion dinner, the group decorated the rooms with new pillows and bedsheets, curtains, fans, and Chinese New Year-themed decorations.
“We wanted to give them a nice house-warming party so we pooled together some money for this feast,” said Issac.
“Life has been tough for them. But for me, I’m just happy to help them and to see people coming together for a good cause,” said Chin.
“Many who helped have never met each other before. Its good to unite and make a difference in people’s lives.”
For Khaw, the feeling of having a Chinese New Year reunion dinner with people who helped him and his family was one he would never forget.
“I haven’t had a reunion dinner in 30 years. I was so excited that I was barely able to sleep last night.
“I’m delighted and so grateful to all these wonderful people who helped me. It is definitely a memorable festive season.”