Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Deborah Chan & Live to Last

Yesterday theSun published my interview Deborah Chan who had give up her high paying corporate job to help the needy. Read the full story below 

Headline: Giving Up For The Needy 
By Bissme S

In 2014 , Deborah Chan  and husband Terence Ooi left their high paying corporate jobs and cozy lifestyle in Kuala Lumpur and, together with their one-year-old son Seth, moved to the rural countryside of Battambang in Cambodia. 
“My husband and I wanted to take a year off from our jobs and make a commitment to philanthropy,” says Chan, 35, who was in the tourism industry, while her husband, 34, was with an IT company. 
Partnering with an international NGO in Cambodia, the couple decided to help build four literacy centres for village children who otherwise would not have a chance to be educated. The project was supposed to be for a year, but the couple extended their stay for another year.  
“What we did, did not make sense to a lot of people,” says Chan, who studied for a degree in journalism in Perth, Australia.  
 “We were making good money and climbing the corproate ladder. We had just become parents. Most people in our shoes would probably stay on with their corporate jobs and enjoy the benefits. But our need to contribute, to make society a better place, was far stronger, so we took the risk to come out from our comfort zone. You do not have to wait until your hair turns grey to do good things.” 
Chan, who has over 12 years of experience in community development projects and mission works, knew she would meet resistance from friends and family. 
“But in the end, I received more support than resistance,” she says. Adjusting to life in a foreign land – and to their roles as philanthropists – was not easy. They had to go through many lifestyle changes. For starters, they had to use motorbikes and bicycles to get around, instead of the cars they were used to driving. 
“Grocery shopping felt like a chore, and I often returned home sticky, sweaty and covered with dust,” she recalls. 
There were also issues with the house they rented in Cambodia. It was vacant a year before Chan and her family move in, and as a result, creepy crawlies had taken residence. 
“There were giant spiders the size of my palm, and snakes and scorpions in the garden,” she says. 
They could not enjoy any privacy in their own home either. They had to open their doors to visiting volunteers from overseas. In the end, they got used to sharing their home with total strangers.       “When you open your world to many people, you will have many meaningful friendships and conversations,” she says. 
In the end, all their sacrifices were worth it, when they saw their work had brought tremendous joy to the children. Now, Chan and her husband are back in Malaysia, where they were supposed to resume their professional careers. But that did not happen either. They have embarked on yet another philanthropy project. Based in Kota Kinabalu this time, they are working with NGOs to educate and mentor children and youths in rural areas.  
Chan explains that most of the children do not live near their school, and they would spend two hours to travel to school, and another two hours to get home. So they decided to raise funds to build a hostel near the schools for the children, who will only return home on weekends. 
“For those parents who cannot afford to pay [the hostel fees], we have a barter system with them,” she says. 
“Since most of them are farmers, they will give us what they plant. For those parents who are not farmers, they can offer their services to the hostel, such as cooking and cleaning.”
Chan has set down all their experiences in a memoir, Live to Last. Describing the reason for writing the book, Chan says: “My memoir describes the life lessons I have learned. I believe in the power of storytelling, and its ability to inspire people. 
“I hope my memoir will inspire readers to learn [from] my life lessons and craft their own journey with less U-turns.” 
An interesting chapter describes one experience when she was 18 and an intern with an organisation called Metro Ministries International in New York, which provides education to troubled street children. It was 2001, and she was a witness to the collapse of the World Trade Centre on 9/11. 
“I was at the World Trade Centre just a week before the tragedy, as a tourist and snapping pictures,” she recalls.  
She has not forgotten the nightmarish scene, and believe life has given her a second chance. Hence, she wants to dedicate herself to help and inspire others. 
When asked who inspired her, Chan cites her late grandmother Ruby. 
“She loved telling me the stories of her life. She was a midwife who would travel from one village to another to deliver babies. She would give her services for free to those who could not afford to pay. 
“I will always be indebted to my grandmother for her kindness, and her passion for telling stories." 

Footnote : Live to Last is available at major bookstores at RM35.90

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