|Loo, 40, and son Joshua, 12. ‘When my kids realise that they have a better life than some chidren, they complain less about what they don’t have,’ says Loo.
By ANDREW SIA
Charity work is a family affair for Richard Loo, 40, a manager at a bank. He has no qualms about roping in his three boys, when he does his bit for society. After all, Loo firmly believes it is a great way to get his children to learn and pick up useful values.
“It’s no point nagging them – it won’t really go in,” say Loo. “Children learn better from experience. I wanted them to understand that since we are a little better off than some people, we should share our happiness with them. So I told my son Joshua, ‘For your birthday, let’s do something different that you’ll remember’.”
Instead of having a grand theme party or an exotic overseas vacation, Loo thought it would be a good idea for his children to celebrate their birthdays with the kids who attend English tuition classes at the Hope Worldwide charity centre in Sentul, Kuala Lumpur.
His children – Joshua, 12, Jarrod, nine, and Julian, seven – wrapped presents such as pencil boxes, biscuits and small toys for over 40 kids and shared a big birthday cake with all who were present.
“My father asked me to read out stories to the children. I felt a bit scared at first,” admits Joshua.
His father chips in: “I told Joshua, you should not be scared because it’s good to help people, instead of sitting down and doing nothing.”
All that exposure has done Joshua a world of good. “Now whenever I see kids with no parents, I feel sad for them and realise how blessed I am,” says the lad, with a maturity that belies his age.
Loo notices that it is not just the recipients who have benefited; the givers have also been blessed.
“When my kids realise that they have a pretty good life, they tend to complain less about not having this or that. When I compare them with my friends’ children, I can see the difference.”
“When I was growing up in Teluk Intan, I used to play football with the Malay and Indian kids in the neighbourhood. Nowadays children do not get to mix so much with the other races, so getting the kids to tag along when we do charity work provides a good opportunity for them to mix around more.”
Despite his busy work schedule, Loo tries to spend more time with his children to connect with them.
“I learnt how to play magic cards which have over 1,000 characters. I can’t really remember all of them and so my children usually win; their minds move so much faster!” says Loo.
“I play football videogames with my dad, too. I often win 3-0,” chips in Joshua, who adds that the family supports Liverpool football club and watch the games together whenever they can. The whole family also comes together for community activities.
“Recently one university organised a 6km run and we all went for it,” says Loo.
Loo says he used to cane his children whenever they were naughty. But after attending parenting classes with his wife, Samantha Sim, he would reason with his children and ask them to reflect on what they did wrong.
“It’s a good thing my parents went for the classes,” adds Joshua. “Those times when I was caned, I was angry with my father.”
The Loos and their children have all attended workshops at church where family values such as respect, forgiveness, responsibility, patience and sharing are taught. Helping out at charity organisations such as Hope Worldwide is one way for the Loos to put into practise what they have learnt.
“In the past, I thought charity was just about giving money. Now I realise that’s not enough; we need to be involved, too,” says Loo.
Poverty up close
Siblings Bong Zhong Yi, 11 and Zhong Wei, 10, had a big hand in packing groceries for 100 poor families when they took part in Hope Worldwide’s food distribution programme during the Chinese New Year.
|Brothers Zhong Yi, 11 (left) and Zhong Wei, 10, learnt to appreciate life better after helping to pack groceries for over 100 poor families.
Joanne Lim, a volunteer who brought the kids along for the programme, recounts how the boys asked her why people had to line up for food.
“I explained to them that some people are struggling to make ends meet, that some people have parents who are sick and can’t work. From there, they learnt about bigger social issues.”
“At first, we were quite scared to see so many poor people,” says Zhong Yi. “Our Malay and English are not so good, so we felt a bit shy to talk to them.”
Katy Lee, the executive director of Hope Worldwide, says: “Some kids lack exposure and are shocked when they go to low-cost flats and see that the bedroom, living room, dining area and kitchen are all crammed into one room. It opens their eyes to the poverty that exists right here in the city. They begin to understand what poverty means.”
Zhong Wei adds: “We are happy to come here and help people. After seeing how people live in such pitiful situations, we are thankful for what we have and we complain less. We also try not to waste food.”
Their mother, Loh Siew Bee, who runs a laundrette, is glad that Lim had brought her children along to help out.
“I prefer my kids to go out and be involved in useful activities rather than stay home and play computer games the whole day,” says Loh who is in her mid-40s.
Lim adds: “Many kids nowadays live a good life. They are born into abundance and do not think about what would happen if their parents lost their jobs. After volunteering here for a few months, they realise that they should study harder. Their exam results have also improved.”
Apart from providing free tuition classes and distributing groceries, Hope Worldwide also operates a free clinic in Sentul, Kuala Lumpur. Wong Chee Eng, 51, who runs a business consultancy, is a regular volunteer at the clinic.
“After coming here a few times, I thought, why don’t I bring my daughter Kelsey along?”
So Wong and his daughter did administrative tasks such as organising patient records. “It was good to expose her to helping poor patients. That was two years ago. She’s 18 now and attends medical school in Australia,” says Wong, who has roped in his son Daryl, 13, to volunteer at the Hope clinic.
|Wong says that volunteering at the Hope free clinic in Sentul helps his son Daryl build character.
“Volunteering helps my children build character. They appreciate what they have and realise how lucky we are. At the same time, we develop empathy for others who are less fortunate.”
“When we were young, we knew what poverty meant,” recalls Wong. “My father had to juggle three jobs to support a family of eight children.
“Our children do not quite understand what it is like to the poor. I can tell my kids 10 times about how some people have to live on the five-foot way, but there’s nothing like seeing it for themselves.”
His wife, Elizabeth Ng, adds: “We send our children to a private school and everything is provided for them. If they were in a national school, perhaps they would have been more exposed to the different levels in society. So by volunteering, they can get some exposure and develop a more caring and compassionate attitude. To serve is to love.”
Wong adds that he has been involved in customer service throughout his career.
“In my work, I deal with customers who sometimes have very high expectations. The people here at the clinic are very humble, and for me, it’s very fulfilling to help them.”
His daughter Kelsey now volunteers at a free clinic for the homeless and drug dependants in Australia.
“It’s about going in without being judgmental about people, why they end up taking drugs or become prostitutes. Sometimes it’s the harsh environment that leads them into those things,” explains Wong.
“I think volunteering has helped my daughter to realise the things that matter in life, like our character and how we relate to other people. It’s not about how much money we have or our academic qualifications.”