“Let it be” and “Just leave the flaking ceiling paint” are expressions that we heard over and over from Grandma Lee during our interview with her. She is a former museum security guard, who kept her cool when the Chief Executive paid a visit to the Hong Kong Museum of History and handled every emergency that occurred while on duty with ease. It turns out that her ‘let it be’ attitude was not just her character. She confessed, “I am extremely scared; I don’t want to climb up the ladder to fix the ceiling!” The flaking paint is light, but the impact on the elderly can be heavy, which is why Habitat for Humanity created Project Home Works to renovate the homes of senior citizens all over Hong Kong public housing estates. You can imagine how serious the condition of Grandma Lee’s house was when we decided two Saturdays and 13 volunteers were necessary to complete all renovations.
When we visited Grandma Lee’s house in the Ping Shek Estate for the first time, there was not a single room with a ceiling in decent condition. The ceilings of the kitchen, bathroom, and living room (where Grandma Lee sleeps) were all full of flaking paint. Grandma Lee has been unable to do anything to fix the problem as it would be a backbreaking task for her to perform, not to mention near impossible with her injured arm. “It is painful for me to raise my arm.’ Grandma Lee gave us a rueful smile despite her challenges.
She resigned as a security guard at the Hong Kong Museum of History five years ago, to take care of her sick husband. However, her husband recently passed away, leaving behind Grandma Lee and their 30- year-old mentally handicapped son, who needs to live in a hostel for treatment. Grandma Lee usually spends her time at home alone or at the elderly centre, where she can chat with other elderly people. Luckily, she discovered our Project Home Works promotion at the centre and that is how we ended up sending thirteen volunteers to her house on June 10th June and July 8th to conduct repairs. These volunteers included seven students from the International Christian Quality Music Secondary School.
“It is rare for me to do repair work, because I have a helper at home. I am not usually the one who is responsible for this type of thing,” said Poon Lok, one of the F.5 students, with his shirt covered in paint and soaked with sweat. He and his schoolmates spent the whole day scraping the flaking paint, painting the walls, and cleaning the house. Their teacher, Ms Tsui, was both surprised and impressed by their dedication, as the students seldom do housework in their own homes. Our technician joked, “If they could not finish the job on time, Grandma Lee would not have a place for dinner! That is why they worked so fast.” The room was full of laughter but Grandma Lee was not as high-spirited as usual. She could only smile and nod with a heavy head, as she caught a cold during the hot summer and was unable to speak louder than a whisper. The students then presented her with a card to express their affection to the elderly. Grandma Lee smiled gratefully and murmured,” Please…help me to thank all the volunteers, they are very kind and helpful. I am ..very…very happy!”
Grandma Lee spent her whole life on guarding our museums, but could not afford to guard her own house. With a little help, we could offer a hand up and bring dignity and safety back to Grandma Lee’s life by improving her home. Although Grandma Lee will continue to live at home alone, the walls and ceilings are proof of the care she received from 13 volunteers and their support renews her strength for the days ahead.