Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu Chi Foundation

Jan 28th
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Home Our Volunteers Stories From a Stern Father to a Respected Volunteer

From a Stern Father to a Respected Volunteer

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A stout stature and a square face have given Tan Kwang Fatt a stern look. Being the second man in the company and a Commander-in-Chief at home, he used to think that he could command it all. Joining a larger organization like Tzu Chi has compelled him to think otherwise as he has to know how to motivate and lead a group of volunteers to contribute. Thus, he learnt to show "gratitude", "respect" and "love", besides leading by example and refraining from giving instructions.

Kwang Fatt used to work for a Japanese company, where its management was conservative Japanese, who adopted a military-style approach in running the company. This prompted Kwang Fatt to adopt an authoritarian leadership in managing the employees. As a result, those who could not tolerate the management style left, while those who stayed on, had to work in fear and under tremendous stress. "My employees said it was as if there was a fan on top of my head and the ‘wind' might be directed towards them anytime," Kwang Fatt joked.

Though he is the Commander-in-Chief at home, his authority was often challenged by his second daughter, Shu Yuan.

Every time he returned home and found that his daughters did not revise their homework or upkeep the cleanliness of the house, he would reprimand them. Upon receiving the reprimand, and out of sarcasm, Shu Yuan would, before retreating to her room, always hum a song that says: "The world has changed because of what you said…"

Kwang Fatt and wife, Toong Ling Ling, are both English-educated and working parents of traditional Chinese heritage. Whenever their children's academic results show a decline, Kwang Fatt would not hesitate to blame his wife for not playing the role of a mother.

The constant arguments had resulted in Ling Ling venting all her frustrations and anger on their children. Whoever scored lower than 90% would get a beating. Her eldest daughter, Shu Hui has jokingly revealed that she once hid under the dining table to escape the beating.

Message in a note

It was not until "Tzu Chi" was infused into the Tan family that there was a difference in their lives. Kwang Fatt confessed, "Since then I have never heard Shu Yuan humming that song for a long time. Actually I don't want to hear it!"

Eldest daughter, Shu Hui, could recall going through a heartwarming note-exchanging period with her mother.

Ling Ling revealed, "When Shu Hui was 10, I had to quit my job in the banking sector to take care of my daughters. This was because my mother could not look after them as she had to care for my brother's kids instead. Ling Ling struggled to learn how to interact with her kids so she scouted around for kindergartens to solve this problem.

Sensing Ling Ling's desperation, her mother recommended her to visit Tzu Chi. Ling Ling then brought her eldest daughter to attend the Children's Class organized by Tzu Chi Melaka, and there she learnt something from the Jing Si Aphorisms.

She learnt that "Anger is a temporary insanity", and that "One cannot be considered good if his/her temper is bad and does not utter kind words." Every line in these Jing Si Aphorisms has benefitted her. Learning about the "message in a note" from the Children's Class, Ling Ling started to leave some positive, motivational notes in her daughter's pencil case. As a result, her daughter also learnt to express her thoughts into words; and she would paste them on the refrigerator, hoping to attract her mother's attention.

Shu Hui said, "I remember there was once when my confidence was particularly low for an exam, but to my surprise there was this note from my mother in the morning that says: ‘Take it easy with your exam.' I was instantly relaxed as I knew my mother no longer viewed my exam marks too seriously." Shu Hui looks forward to opening her pencil box each day, to discover the thoughtfully-scribbled note that her mother will leave for her in the pencil box. Likewise, Ling Ling will check if there is any "incoming note" pasted on the refrigerator daily. The duo had since established a better understanding between them through the exchange of notes.

Kwang Fatt's first task as Great Love Father

Ling Ling started working in a kindergarten as a teacher six months after she left her banking job; and, at the same time, she began to involve herself in Tzu Chi's Education Mission. However, her busy schedule soon created a misunderstanding with her husband. It was then that she decided to introduce Tzu Chi to her husband. At that time, Ling Ling was three months away from delivering her third child, so she wittingly convinced her husband to replace her as a Great Love Mother.

Kwang Fatt was at his wits' end as he did not understand Mandarin and neither did he know how to take care of other children. Upon returning home, he lowered his pride to ask Shu Hui, "What type of father do you like?" The latter recalled turning away awkwardly when posed with that question by her stern, authoritative father but giggled secretly in her heart. Finally, the father was willing to change.

Turning to books for answers, Kwang Fatt came across a number of jokes, and began to relax a bit at the Children's Class. As time went by, his face started to beam with smiles and the atmosphere at home improved as well.

Every role and task has its importance

During his 3-month stint at the Children's Class acting as Great Love Father, Kwang Fatt's heart grew fonder with Tzu Chi. He started to volunteer in various Tzu Chi's activities and got involved in intensive physical task, the significance of which he once doubted. It was not until David Liu, former CEO of Tzu Chi Melaka and Singapore, humbly thanked volunteers for their work in organizing a workshop that Kwang Fatt realized every role and task has its importance in ensuring the success of an event.

In 2005, Tzu Chi Melaka implemented a new volunteer organizational structure that emphasizes on equality in mankind. In the year-end blessing ceremony that year, Master Cheng Yen reminded all her disciples to show "gratitude, respect and love" to all sentient beings. Kwang Fatt found it is very useful.

Being the second man in the company, Kwang Fatt was used to giving out instructions to employees. However, in Tzu Chi, he had to learn to communicate with others. He started by learning to smile, to be grateful, to be caring and to become more people-orientated; he has even tried arriving early at his workplace to welcome his staff.

"I always tell my employees that all of us are equal. So long as we play our roles dutifully, we will make a good team," Kwang Fatt remarked.

The learning process is never smooth sailing. Whenever Kwang Fatt encounters a flare up of temper in his workplace, he will treat it as an opportunity to understand that person more and will attempt to communicate by using other approaches. Kwang Fatt also treasures the time he spends with his daughters when he sends them to school even though it is a mere 20-minute trip. He considers this quality time as he gets to listen to their stories and share life experiences with them.

Kwang Fatt's eldest daughter has always jokingly remarked that her youngest sister, Shu Zhuang is the most blessed as she was born after her parents had become more loving and patient after joining Tzu Chi.

Nowadays, Kwang Fatt has learnt to scale down himself and is juggling well between his workplace and at home.

Work with gratitude, respect and love in mind

From a Vice-President at work to a nobody at Tzu Chi, Kwang Fatt has learnt to lower his pride. He said, "Leading a group of employees at work is no great feat; leading a group of volunteers, who are not drawing any salary to contribute their very best is magnificent." During a Tzu Chi Collegiate Youth gathering, he shared his story with the undergraduates and encouraged them to strike a work-life balance.

Kwang Fatt has also practised what he preached. Recently (September 16), he gathered a team of volunteers to clean the external wall surfaces of Jing Si Hall.

Tzu Chi advocates leading by example. Perhaps this explains why Kwang Fatt has always tried to accomplish a task by himself before delegating it to others.

Lee Ming Choo, a staff at the Administrative Department, Tzu Chi Melaka, has also discovered Kwang Fatt's easy-going and friendly disposition. Ming Choo acknowledged that for the past two years whenever there was a need for some minor repairs, cleaning-up and minor engineering work, Kwang Fatt had never failed to turn up with a group of volunteers to complete such jobs.

Throughout his years in Tzu Chi, he had shouldered various responsibilities in the volunteer organizational structure. He is now a Leader of the Medical Volunteer Team and his spouse, Ling Ling, is still active in the educational group.

"Gratitude, Respect and Love" is Master Cheng Yen's mantra which Kwang Fatt remembers dearly at heart. He has learnt to amplify the strong points of others and to give guidance to others. This has certainly won him praises among family members, colleagues and volunteers.


" The journey of a thousand miles begins with one first step. Even the saint was once an ordinary human being. "
Jing-Si Aphorism

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