Thursday, August 22

A grieving grandfather’s tribute


KHIM Voon, an awesome friend, shared a tribute, written by a grandfather, on her Facebook the day the world showed their collective concern over the unexpected election of Donald Trump to the White House.

The article was written in Chinese. I wish to dedicate this week’s column to my friend, Khim, the grandfather (Voon Sam Ted) and a young boy (Leong Gao Yi).

It is a translated piece. I will do my best to retain its originality with slight modifications to show the prudence, wisdom, love and magnanimity of the grandfather at the time of profound grief and loss.

Too heavy a price to pay — Tribute to my dear grandchild Gao Yi who lost his life in a road accident. That’s the central theme of the article shared by Khim and reproduced below:

I received a call from my daughter Lee Kim on the afternoon of Oct 25, 2016, breaking the bad news that my grandson Gao Yi had died in a road accident on the way from Mukah to Sibu to participate in the Student Integration Plan for Unity (RIMUP) initiated by the Education Department.

On hearing this news which caught me unprepared, I tried to book a direct flight from Kuching to Mukah the next day but the seats were fully booked for Oct 26. So we took a flight from Kuching to Sibu instead.

Lee Kim arranged for her dancing instructor and her husband to receive us at Sibu Airport and send us to Mukah.

We arrived at the Mukah Chinese Benevolent Society Funeral Home at 4 pm. I would like to express my heartfelt thanks to the dancing instructor and her husband for making the arrangements.

Gao Yi’s body had been transferred from Sibu Hospital to Mukah that morning (Oct 26).

At the funeral home to receive the cortege were teachers and students of the school that Gao Yi attended. Lee Kim is teaching in the same school.

Other well-wishers included senior officials of the Education Department and local residents from the various communities. Visitors streamed in continuously till midnight.

Someone might be curious as why there were so many people coming to the funeral of a 12-year-old boy.

Even the funeral service team of the church group said in all their years, they had never seen so many visitors of all races turning up for a child’s funeral.

I believe the reason for such an outpouring of sympathy was that this young child had, through his tragic death, brought up the crucial issue of student safety for reflection but, more importantly, for amelioration by parents, educators and the Education Department so that no more lives will be lost due to thoughtlessness and negligence.

Without providing a proper transport arrangement and security on the part of the Education Department which sent him to Sibu for a state event, Gao Yi had lost his life.

The sad feelings over his untimely departure had reverberated through his school and his hometown of Mukah — like the riffling effects of ripples from a stone thrown into a lake.

His departure is also a wakeup call to the educators that there is something supernatural and unexplained often termed as “the telepathic connection between a mother and her child” or “the intuitive feeling of a mother” which we should not ignore.

These unexplained intuitions are usually passed over due to external factors, and not infrequently, the pride and prejudice of human nature as well.

Lee Kim had a strong premonition that fateful morning. Upon reaching school, she heard the conversation among the teachers that the lady teacher, assigned to transport the students to Sibu, had no track record in long distance driving.

This made Lee Kim even more anxious and uneasy. As she entered the classroom to begin the lesson, the feeling of uneasiness grew stronger and she could even hear “a loud voice” in her head  calling her to do something.

She took immediate action by rushing down to see the teacher in charge with the request that she (Lee Kim) be allowed to drive the children to Sibu.

Lee Kim makes weekly trips to Sibu from Mukah to see her daughter, studying in a Chinese independent school there, and naturally knows the twists and turns of the roads.

However, her request was turned down and she was told: “You are holding on too tight to your child. The designated teacher can drive. She will be following somebody’s car. It’s because you have too few children — that’s why you are anxious.”

It was as if Lee Kim had made the request solely because she was worried about her own child. On the contrary, in the same vehicle were two other children who were also her students.

Even if it was out of protectiveness for her child, there was no wrong for a mother who had carried her child for ten months in her womb and brought him up, to make such a request.

Words, spoken with neither fore nor after thought, can be like a sharp knife that pierces and hurts others without having to bear any responsibilities and consequences of its action.

The loss of a family member is unrecoverable. A word of apology will not bring the child back.

In this case, the attempt to teach others from experience and doing it in an overbearing manner – even though the intentions may be good – had, in essence, discouraged any further constructive disussions on the matter and could have also caused an avoidable mishap. The price to pay for this is way too heavy.

My youngest daughter Khim Voon who was in China on a business trip, rushed home for the funeral.

In the presence of the State Deputy Education Director, she called on the Education Department to review the transport arrangements for students travelling to outstations for various school activities to ensure their safety and security.

She asked why special transport arrangements were not made for the children on long trips?

Was it due to budget constraint or human resource shortage?

The dead is gone … forever. Though heartbroken, we do not wish to harbour any hatred.

Let Gao Yi’s death be not in vain and serve to remind the Education Department, schools and educators that the safety of students should not and cannot be compromised so that tragedy of a smiliar nature will not be repeated.

It is also hoped those at the forefront of education will learn to judiciously and carefully manage issues concerning the safety of school children and offer advice only after thinking the matter through instead of brushing aside outright the well-meaning suggestions and ideas from concerned parents.

Gao Yi has been called to be with the Lord at a young age. The residents of Mukah are shocked by his death and many shed tears over his early demise.

Living a meaningful life means being able to contribute to the betterment of the people, the community and the nation.

Gao-Yi lived for only 12 years. He could not even finish his studies, realise his dreams and have the chance to repay the kindness of his parents and teachers. I grieve for him as his grandfather.

May he rest in peace and may God watch over the people of Mukah and continue to bless them with continued racial harmony and peace.

Gao Yi had lost his life but there is a lesson to learn from it and I wish to share the lesson with you all.

And there ends the grandfather’s tribute to his grandson who was taken before his time by a road accident that could perhaps have been avoided.

Such is the pain of a distraught grandfather at a time of unbearable loss. It is, indeed, a wake-up call to the Education Department to review the safety issues of sending students to outstations whether for competitions or other extra curricumlum activities.

It’s a fact that many teachers have to arrange for such outings which should not come under their workscope and responsibility in the first place.

They specialise in teaching and partake of imparting knowledge, building character and instilling moral values in the children entrusted to their care.

Surely, we cannot expect them to be experts as well in matters of transport, safety and accommodation for students travelling to outstations.

I truly believe the pain and the anguish the teacher who drove the vehicle, the teacher in-charge and the headmaster are going through are not any less hearty-rending than those of the family members of Gao Yi.

I also believe the school and the education authorities should provide counselling to the Gao Yi’s classmates.

Let the healing begin, and the parents, teachers and educators come together to ease the grief of Gao Yi’s family by sharing their sorrows at this time of great personal loss and taking a lesson from it.