At just 10 years old, Suki Wong Pei Yee already carries the weight of the world on her small shoulders.
Her mother passed away last year, leaving her the sole caregiver of her father, Wong Kon Foo, who has been incapacitated since suffering a stroke seven years ago.
Wong used to work as a used-car salesman but was forced to give it up after his stroke which left him confined to a wheelchair.
In the years that followed, his Vietnamese wife, Tran Diem Kiew, brought in most of the family’s meagre income. She worked several part-time jobs at same time, helping out at restaurants and shops in their neighbourhood.
But she died of a lung infection in April last year, leaving Suki and Wong alone. Now, father and daughter struggle to get by each day in their small flat above a shoplot in Damansara Damai.
With no way of earning any money, Wong and Suki depend on the monthly assistance they receive from the social welfare department and from members of the public.
While Wong has recovered enough that he can now stand and walk, he is still unable to move his right arm.
Each day, Suki helps her father bathe, then prepares breakfast and cleans the house before doing the laundry and heading out to the small supermarket nearby to purchase their few essentials.
“Suki is good at washing the vegetables and she knows how to cook the rice,” Wong said in an interview with MalaysiaNow.
“But I don’t let her cook at the gas stove because it’s too dangerous. That’s my job.”
It’s a challenge for him as he cannot use his dominant hand and must balance himself without his crutch for as long as he can.
“I can’t let go of my walking stick for too long otherwise I will fall down,” he said.
While Wong and Suki live from hand to mouth, their situation now is far better than it was during the pandemic lockdowns, when they were forced to fly a white flag at their window to ask for help.
“At that moment, I had no idea what else to do,” Wong recalled.
“I was worried about Suki. I could go without food but she is still a child.”
After seeing the flag, though, Wong’s neighbours rallied around him. Even today, they continue to check in on him and Suki, asking how they are and dropping off food and other essential items.
Still, Wong has many concerns, chief of which is his daughter.
Suki has no citizenship as his marriage with Tran was not registered in the country. She cannot attend school, and what little she knows of the outside world she learns through the screen of their small television.
“Her mother taught her the ABCs, but she never got as far as teaching her how to read,” Wong said.
“Until today, Suki cannot read or write. But she is fluent in Mandarin, Vietnamese and Malay,” he added.
Wong’s dearest wish is that his daughter will be able to attend school and to get an education like any other child, so that her future will be better than the present.
Even if she had Malaysian citizenship, he said, he would not have enough money to send her to school. And because she spends all of her time taking care of him, she has no friends.
“She has a very lonely life,” Wong said. “The only friend she had before this moved away a while ago.
“I am very worried about Suki’s future. Education is the only way out she has from this kind of life. I beg that she be given a chance to go to school, so that she can be an educated person who can take care of herself in this world.”