Soup kitchen for the soul
Article from the Sun daily by Ponnie Chin (posted on 8th Sep 2015)
GROWING up, Elisa Khong had two plans for herself — one was to be a doctor, and the other was to learn the ropes from her father and take over his business. But life took a slight twist in the other direction, when she realised that there was more to this life than reaping wealth out of society.
Although she had always grown up with the influence of H.E. (His Eminence) Tsem Rinpoche, Buddhistorganisation Kechara's spiritual guide, it wasn't until she immersed herself in volunteer work that she discovered first-hand how rewarding it is to help others.
Upon graduating from university in London, Khong moved to Beijing to study Mandarin and also help out with her father's business. One year later, she decided to come home for the Chinese New Year festivities. It was during this break that she volunteered in all 13 departments in Kechara.
"When I realised the kind of positive, deep and far-reaching impact with the work that Kechara does, and I saw how people benefited from Kechara helping them, there was a click," explained Khong. This moment of enlightenment told her that this was the path she should take, and she has never looked back since she joined the organisation five years ago.
Putting your all into volunteer work at a young age is certainly a path less taken, and not many were as understanding when Khong decided to go on this journey. "People told me that I was crazy and that I was wasting my parents' money," shared the 27-year-old. Many thought it was a phase or a one-year sabbatical. But, as Khong explained, the negative talk stopped when they realised that she was serious about it.
But how does she feel about going against societal norm and doing volunteer work at such a young age – something many would only think of doing when they're older and retired?
"I thought to myself – I'm young, I don't have any family or financial obligations and I'm not tied down by all the responsibilities most adults would face when they're 40 or 50 years old," she reasoned.
Tell us more about your work within Kechara Soup Kitchen (KSK).
At KSK, we help the homeless – our clients, as we like to call them – physically as well as psychologically.
What we realised is that they need somebody to be there for them like a friend, as much as they need physical help. Letting them know that you're there to help them work through their psychological problems helps a lot.
We always thank our regular volunteers because they're familiar faces to our clients.
What do you aim to get out of working with KSK and helping your clients?
I want to be able to benefit more people. If we can reach out, we can help more people religiously, spiritually, emotionally, and psychologically.
A majority of the public looks down on these people and that's one thing that keeps them in that spot sometimes. They lose confidence and they don't feel worthy in society. Imagine us looking down on them – what gives us the right? They're lost and suffering; they just need a bit of help.
What is your most memorable incident working with clients?
There are so many! One of it would be this boy who came from a very small village in Sabah. He was conned by an agent who promised him a job in Kuala Lumpur but when they brought him here, they took his passport and all his money, and left him alone. He had no idea how to contact his family, so he had been living on the streets for six to seven years. When we found him, we managed to contact a local community council in Sabah, who contacted the village head, who then contacted the boy's family. Just like that, he was able to go home. And the whole connection only took three to four days!