Sunday, February 10, 2008

Chew Peng Ang and Benevolent Acts in Sibu

There were many benevolent acts in Sibu from the beginning of its historical establishment.

One of the most remarkable acts of benevolence was the establishment of the Sibu Benevolent Home for the Aged in Bukit Lima Road, off Lanang Road.

Historical Background:

If you had visited the Benevolent Society Home for the Aged in the 1970's, you would have seen many old black and white photos displayed on the walls. And you would realise that the forefathers of the people of Sibu were kind hearted and willing to help.

The BSH was founded by the early Chinese forefathers of Sibu . These leaders were from all the different dialectic groups, Foochow, Hokkien, Heng Hua, Cantonese. They bought a very small piece of cheap land, which was actually quite inundated in what we call the Bukit Lima Road. They constructed a small wooden hut for the truly poor without children to support them.


Originally,the management of the Sibu Benevolent Society was in the hands of a committee of businessmen ,some Civil Servants and the Chairperson of the Sibu District Council. It was a very loose kind of set up but it was rather honest, ethical and perhaps truly benevolent, without any political agenda.

Implementation / Daily Chores

A Catholic nun was sent there every day to be the nurse of the home. She was assisted by two helpers, also abandoned girls whom the Catholic church was willing to raise. Thus running of the home was a very eccletic set up - donations, funds, free Christian voluntary service and women's association activities.

Donations of Coffins

Sibu being a very cultural town was full of willing hands and warmed hearts. Many rich men were willing to donate coffins. And a few men who had bad dreams were known to have sent a coffin or two to the home. Generally s

Once during the great flood of 1963, the coffins stored under the home,floated away and the nun and her assistants tried to rescue them. It was quite a morbid sight yet humourous to some extent,according to some of my friends who lived in Upper Lanang Road. A friend said that she could never forget that in her life. Now this friend of mine is about 58 years old. And I am wondering if she could still remember it. But I still remember the incident. I am also wondering if the Sister is still alive today.

Students' Social Visitation:

As a student I would always be in the group to make the school-arranged social visits to the Home of the Aged. Teachers and students alike would cycle all the way to the Home and we would entertain the old folks with singing while some would just have simple conversations with them. Usually we would bring along a sumptuous dinner for the inmates.

I remember that this became a tradition of my school. the Methodist Secondary School.
Every year most Sixth Formers would make arrangements to visit the Home. And out of these visits, a few students were inspired to become social workers, and doctors and other socially related professions. Most promised themselves that they would never treat their parents shamefully.

The One and Only Chew Peng Ang:

There was a very unique Sunday happening in Sibu for many years. On Sundays in those bygone days in Sibu, a middle aged man would be ringing a hand bell very loudly and vegetable sellers would rush to fill his basket with vegetables.

He was someone who never failed to do his duty to the old folks' home in Sibu for more than 30 years,come rain or shine. In fact he had continued what his father , the well known banker Chew Geok Lin,started - to collect free vegetables , meat, fish, from the central market of Sibu. This was indeed a very unique act. Chew Geok Lin passed away in 1967. With his passing Sibu lost a very honest and compassionate banker as well as benevolent leader.

The baskets Penghulu Chew and his helpers carried would be full to the brim. Fish and meat could be seen from the holes in the baskets. And I often had wished that the donors would give better fish and better cuts. But my parents would remind me that donations would seldom be the best of stuff. But any amount given as a donation must be appreciated.

When Penghulu Chew stopped doing his benevolent act, his Sunday activity now has been carried on by his son, Robert Chew.

On Sundays, if you happen to be in Sibu, get ready some kangkong to put into a Benevolent Society basket and follow the man with the bell. It is good for your soul!!

This is something the people of Sibu should be very proud of.

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