A mother’s selfless giving

Alicia Wong
SingaporeScene

Leong Poh Yin continues to care for others despite her challenging circumstances. (Yahoo! photo)
Leong Poh Yin continues to care for others despite her challenging circumstances. (Yahoo! photo)

At the start of each month, we share with you the inspiring journey of one person, who has, through passion and hard work, overcome tremendous odds and achieved amazing feats. Our hope is that he or she will be able to inspire you to reach for your dreams, too. This week, we feature a mother who has spent the last 11 years taking care of her bedridden son, and yet she continues to go the extra mile for others.

Like many mothers, she makes time to talk to her son before she goes to work and after she returns home. But unlike other children, the only response Leong Poh Yin's son, Clement, gives — on a good day — is a grunt.

Clement, 32, is unable to move or speak. He has been bedridden for the past 11 years, after suffering severe brain damage from a motorcycle accident.

"When I see him like this, my heart aches. I keep praying for God to cure him," shared Leong, a regular church-goer.

Coupled with a painful childhood and a less-than-happy marriage, Leong, 65, has faced many difficulties. Yet, she continues to willingly reach out to help others in need.

Leong and her son, Clement, holding a World Vision award for outstanding child sponsors. (Yahoo! photo)
Leong and her son, Clement, holding a World Vision award for outstanding child sponsors. (Yahoo! photo)

Leong, who is now Singaporean, was born in Malacca and given up for adoption because her birth parents could not afford to raise her.

Her adoptive mother, who died last year, treated her as just an additional pair of hands to help out around the house, and she objected strongly when Leong's loving adoptive father sent her to school.

After Leong's Primary Six examinations, her adoptive mother eventually succeeded in stopping her from studying by sending her to Singapore under the guise of further studies.

Leong, who ended up playing nanny to her elder sister's son, believes she was also sent to Singapore so she could not reconcile with her birth mother.

But Leong does not harbour grudges. There is no point in regretting what could have been, she said in Mandarin.

So, while she may have loved studying, frequently coming in top 10 in her class, Leong never studied beyond the primary level. She married at 27 and worked as a seamstress to support her family.

Leong, who learnt to sew on the job, made her own wedding dress. Her marriage, however, did not last. (Yahoo! photo)
Leong, who learnt to sew on the job, made her own wedding dress. Her marriage, however, did not last. (Yahoo! photo)

The divorcee did not want to go into details of her marriage, but said her ex-husband did not "manage" the family well. After her children grew up, she requested for a divorce.

In 1999, just as the divorce was finalised, Leong's youngest son, Clement, was severely injured in a motorcycle accident.

Only 10 days after he returned from Australia, Clement -- an aspiring pilot -- was hit by a car while riding his new motorbike. He was hospitalised for nearly a year and left paralysed because of a blood clot in his brain.

Clement was in Australia for pilot training but returned before he completed it. (Leong Poh Yin photo)
Clement was in Australia for pilot training but returned before he completed it. (Leong Poh Yin photo)

'Unwavering compassion for the less privileged'

Caring for her disabled son is tough but Leong's face lights up with love when talking about her three children.  The grandmother of four proudly displays photographs of her eldest son's wedding in 2003.

Leong's eldest son, Clifford, 36, is married. Her daughter, Claudia, 37, is working in Vietnam. (Leong Poh Yin photo)
Leong's eldest son, Clifford, 36, is married. Her daughter, Claudia, 37, is working in Vietnam. (Leong Poh Yin photo)

Not wanting other children to be deprived of opportunities as she had been, Leong has been a World Vision Singapore child sponsor since 1998.

She is one of World Vision's longest-serving child sponsors, and was given an award in December for being an outstanding child sponsor.

Even after Clement was injured, Leong decided to sponsor her third child. She is confident the compensation -- a six-figure sum -- given to Clement for his accident will be enough to pay his bills.

Out of her monthly income of about $1,000, she gives $45 a month to ensure the child, who lives in a rural village in Thailand, has access to clean water, food, education and healthcare. Her earlier two 'children' have left the programme, but she keeps all the letters and drawing they sent her in a file.

The executive director of World Vision Singapore James Quek praised Leong's "unwavering compassion for the less privileged".

He noted, Leong is a "shining example of selfless giving; and her devotedness to the cause of helping the poor inspires us daily as we serve needy children all around the world."

Coincidentally, the third child Leong sponsored was born in the year Clement met with his accident. (Yahoo! photo)
Coincidentally, the third child Leong sponsored was born in the year Clement met with his accident. (Yahoo! photo)

The animated and cheery woman has also been a volunteer with Lions Befrienders for over 10 years.

"I hope others who are well-to-do could help the less fortunate," she stressed.

William Lim, 38, has known Leong for about 10 years. He described her as "dedicated", "emotionally strong" and one who does not let her personal circumstances prevent her from helping others.

The "little things" she does leaves a "strong impression", said Lim.

Some five years ago, their church youth were visiting the elderly in a hospital during the Chinese New Year Period. Leong prepared the yu sheng -- when other adults were busy with their reunion dinners -- so the youth could celebrate with the elderly.

Leong has also not traveled for many years because of her dedication in looking after Clement, she added. When Lim and other friends visit her, Leong makes sure Clement knows who's visiting so he does not feel left out.

The former seamstress who built her business from scratch now works as a ham promoter, based near her four-room HDB flat in Tampines. It gives her a stable income and distracts her from worrying about Clement.

She recalled, "I was very depressed (after Clement's accident). … I had paranoia. I was scared if something happened to me, there would be no one to care for Clement." Thankfully, friends distracted her then with mahjong, she laughed.

Leong credited her church and friends for supporting her. She said, "There will always be troubles in this world, you just have to trust God."

She advised: Be optimistic. When you face difficulty, share your troubles with your friends and let them help. Don't keep your problems to yourself, one person can't handle it all.

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