Finding a loving sanctuary

By Joyce Tan, Corporate Communications and Marketing

For many of us, it is hard to imagine life as a 13 year old, washing dishes to earn $1 a day. For Mdm Koh Bee Eng, 82, it was her reality. She did her part to support her family while her mother ironed clothes for a living. At 15, she started work on a factory assembly line and by 18, she was married.

Chua Sor Bee, 56, is the second eldest of Mdm Koh’s six children. A chatty and amiable child, Sor Bee loved to play with the neighbours’ children, and spoke fluent Malay and Teochew. Sadly, when Sor Bee turned nine, tragedy struck. She had a high fever which caused her to suffer devastating permanent physical and mental disabilities. To this day, Mdm Koh blames herself for her daughter’s condition.

In 2011, Mdm Koh’s husband passed on after a long illness, and her other children moved out to lead their own lives. Mdm Koh, then 77, struggled to make ends meet as a cleaner while caring for Sor Bee on her own. She had no choice but to leave her daughter alone for long stretches of time.

Left to her own devices, Sor Bee had no concept of mealtimes or medication schedules. When hunger pangs hit, she devoured breakfast and lunch all at once, along with every dose of medication within her reach. She also destroyed household items out of boredom and frustration.

Mdm Koh once returned from work to find all the contents of her kitchen - plates, cutlery, food - strewn all over the house. Sor Bee had also overturned an entire wooden cabinet, shattering its glass panels in the process.

Mdm Koh recalled, “I was so upset and hysterical from worry. My first instinct was to reprimand her, but I was crying at the same time because I knew that it wasn’t her fault. She just didn’t know any better, and I had no idea what else I could do. After seeing the sadness in her eyes, I just hugged her tightly, and we both held each other and cried.”

On multiple occasions, Mdm Koh discovered Sor Bee lying on the floor with bruises and scrapes all over her body, the result of dangerous falls while alone at home.

For decades, finding care for Sor Bee seemed impossible, and friends who were aware of the plight of mother and daughter tried to find ways to help them. The tides finally turned when a friend chanced upon a newspaper article about the Red Cross Home for the Disabled (RCHD), and encouraged Mdm Koh to get Sor Bee a place there.

To her immense relief, Sor Bee was welcomed to RCHD’s female ward, and she now receives round-the-clock care by a team of dedicated nursing professionals. In 2015, Mdm Koh could finally stop working at the age of 81.

There are ordinary things that many of us often take for granted, such as the ability to feed ourselves or to earn a living. But there are those in our midst who are silent, defenceless, and feel like they have no place in the community and nobody to turn to. Every bit of help counts, and yours will go a long way.