“We are poor people; poor people do not have friends. Besides Tzu Chi volunteers, no one would visit us,” said Mohd Shah, who was originally from Pakistan. He emigrated to Singapore many years ago after marrying his Muslim Singaporean wife, and they live together with their four children in a one-bedroom flat in Punggol. In August 2013, one of his sons, Neqqi, wrote a letter to Tzu Chi Foundation (Singapore) to request for financial aid, and thereafter Tzu Chi started helping him and his family.
Taking a Different Educational Path
In 2004, Neqqi experienced a setback that forced him to take an educational path different from most other kids. While his peers were promoted to secondary schools, he was not accepted into any of the schools he applied to, as he did not pass the PSLE. His parents went to several secondary schools around Singapore and even wrote to several organizations, desperately seeking a place in a secondary school for their son, but they were turned down time and again.
However, they did not give up on him and encouraged him to continue his studies and think about his aspirations for the future. While at home, Neqqi actively did self-study on the computer and developed a strong interest in digital animation design. Gradually, he decided to pursue further studies in this field.
In August 2013, with his self taught talent in animation design, Neqqi was admitted to a private school, where he took up a course in digital design and drawing with government subsidies. The course normally takes 3 to 5 years to complete, but Neqqi worked especially hard and was able to complete it in one year; his eagerness to help support his family was the driving force behind his motivation.
A year before Neqqi began his studies, his father, a taxi driver, had to stop working due to an accident, and his family sank into financial difficulties as a result. To ensure his younger siblings had pocket money for food, Neqqi would save up as much as he could by only drinking water during the day and having one meal in the evening. “Our elder brother had to skip lunch to save up for us, I was very touched by what he had done and couldn’t describe it in words,” said Shariqqi, Neqqi’s younger brother, choking back tears. Neqqi had tried requesting help from various charities, but all his attempts were unsuccessful as he does not have local citizenship.
Getting Connected with Tzu Chi
For over a year, the family struggled to make ends meet; it was not until August 2013 that Neqqi finally wrote a letter to Tzu Chi to request for aid. His application was approved and thereafter, the foundation started giving him $250 of food and transport allowances every month. This helped to lessen his family’s financial burden, allowing Neqqi to complete his studies with peace of mind. However, Tzu Chi’s work with the family was more than just providing financial assistance.
Tzu Chi volunteers Zhang Li Jun and Lin Chun Feng have been paying monthly visits to Neqqi’s family; besides delivering aid money, they also lend them a listening ear when they need someone to talk to. “We are poor people; poor people do not have friends. Besides Tzu Chi volunteers, no one would visit us. The volunteers’ visits mean very much to us,” said Mohd Shah, Neqqi’s father.
With the volunteers’ encouragement, Neqqi and his family started taking part in Tzu Chi activities. In May 2014, Neqqi attended Tzu Chi’s Buddha Day Ceremony held at the Yio Chu Kang stadium. He and his family also attend the bimonthly charity event held at the Jing Si Hall and they always share their feedback with volunteers after attending each activity. Though a devout Muslim, Neqqi feels that every religion teaches the same wholesome values; he commented that Tzu Chi volunteers do not just listen to the teachings, but also put them into practice.
In September 2014, Neqqi successfully completed his studies; he was among the top five students in his graduating class. A leading film and television production company, Lucas Film, has accepted him as a trainee, and he is finally able to help support his family with his monthly income. Both his parents are very proud of him, for he has managed to excel against all odds and even got a good job. His mother happily shared that Neqqi’s mentor in school praised him as an exemplary model, jokingly calling him someone who went from “zero” to “hero”.
Overcoming Life’s Challenges and Inspiring Each Other
“The time I remember most vividly was when we asked Mohd Shah what they would do if Tzu Chi did not help them,” recalled Zhang Li Jun. The father’s reply gave her a shock -- he told the volunteers that he would jump from his flat with his family, just like how a family in Singapore had committed suicide a few years before.
Mohd Shah could hardly support his family then, as he was not eligible for any aid from local Malay or Indian welfare organizations due to his foreign citizenship. He and his family could only live on the subsidies from the Singapore Community Development Council (CDC).
Zhang could see that Neqqi’s family was very appreciative of and grateful for Tzu Chi’s help. She said they used to be burdened with worries and sadness, but now, the entire family has transformed into one that is cohesive and full of hope. After Neqqi graduated and found a job, Tzu Chi stopped giving financial aid to his family, but continues to provide them care.
Despite being materially poor, Neqqi’s family enjoys boundless spiritual wealth. Whenever the volunteers enter their home, they can sense the warmth and love that permeate the small, one-bedroom apartment. Zhang and Lin shared that ever since they got connected with the family, they had learned and gained a lot themselves. Whenever she visited the family, Zhang would bring along her son, who suffers from cerebral palsy. Having learned how Mohd Shah had supported his son through hard times, never giving up on him, she realized that she should have confidence in her own child and give him her continued support and blessings, for only by doing so would her son be able to grow strong. Looking at Neqqi’s experience, Zhang felt very grateful that her own son has a school where he can study in.
Due to their frequent contact with each other, the volunteers and Neqqi’s family are able to inspire each other on. As Master Cheng Yen has said, “Charity work helps to relieve suffering and purify people’s hearts and minds”; when we awaken the love in others with a sincere loving heart, it will bring about a continual cycle of love.