Whenever Ng Kai Jin, 10, and his younger sister Ng Kai Ann, eight, are at Caring Hands Centre (CHC), a shelter home for underprivileged children in Chiang Mai, Thailand, they forget their smart gadgets and toys.
The siblings are volunteers at the centre. They are too preoccupied with activities, which include teaching the shelter’s children the alphabet and how to paint, to grumble about the minimal WiFi access to connect to their favourite YouTube channels.
“We have so much fun with everyone. We also get to plant and harvest vegetables and herbs. We play games and catch river crabs with the children from the shelter,” says Kai Jin during an interview in KL recently.
Kai Jin and Kai Ann have been visiting CHC with their parents Ronnie Ng and Hwang Pei See for a number of years now as volunteers.
Through charity work, Hwang has noticed that her children have become aware of the stark contrast between their comfortable lives in the city and the circumstances of those living in poverty-stricken conditions. Though her children are still young, they are slowly starting to understand the value of humility.
“My children are more appreciative of their blessings. Volunteer work has taught them the meaning of empathy and the importance of reaching out to others,” says Hwang, 48.
Service above self
Hwang and Ng first visited the shelter in 2013 during a 4x4 off-road tour from Kuala Lumpur to Chiang Mai. The centre is home to 45 stateless children from Thailand’s Ahkah, Lahu and Shan hill tribes. The centre was set up by British missionaries David and Carol Summer in 2008. It survives primarily on donations from the public.
The children there are between the ages of five and 18. Some come from abusive family backgrounds. Others are orphans and girls saved from the flesh trade.
“It was an eye-opening experience for my husband and me. These children are so young, yet they have undergone depths of deprivation. But despite living in poor conditions, they are always in high spirits and brimming with positivity,” recalls Hwang, who runs a dive resort in Pulau Perhentian, Terengganu, with her husband.
That first visit inspired Ng and Hwang to pledge their support to CHC.
“Charity work can encompass protecting endangered animals, teaching children from underprivileged communities or improving the lives of refugees. We chose to help these disadvantaged children and make a positive change in their lives,” says Ng, 46.
This is the fifth year Hwang and her family are volunteering at CHC, Over the years, she has managed to rope in her relatives and close friends to help out at the shelter.
This year’s team – which arrived at CHC a few days ago – has 20 volunteers, including senior citizens and children. They travelled in three pick-up trucks, loaded with books, food, clothing and stationery.
“These items were donated by family and friends. Some provide us with cash to help with the day-to-day running of the centre,” says Hwang.
Earlier this month, Hwang co-organised a CHC fund-raising event at the Music Youthnites Art Festival in Kuala Lumpur. Her mother Phang Chit Looi stepped in to sell her woven baskets made from recycled goods.
“We managed to raise RM25,000. Proceeds will be go towards the children’s school fees and books. Children stay at the centre till they are 18 years old. Some of them have a chance to further their studies in university. Stateless children will undergo skills training to enable them to earn an income,” says Hwang, who will be staying at the shelter for three weeks. .
The drive from Kuala Lumpur to Chiang Mai is about 2,000km. Ng says the journey takes between three and five days.
“Our friends wonder why we volunteer at an orphanage in Chiang Mai instead of somewhere in Malaysia. Distance should never be an issue when it comes to volunteer work. No matter how big or small a deed, we do our best to reach out to the needy,” says Ng. Both he and his wife grew up in families where their parents and relatives volunteered in local communities.
At the centre, volunteers help out in any way possible. This includes maintenance work, teaching the children language skills and cooking.
Ng is deemed the fix-it guy at CHC. Hwang jokingly calls him Angus MacGyver after the TV character with a knack for problem-solving.
“Ronnie helps install the solar panelling system, lays floor tiles and fixes the water purifier. He uses basic tools and unconventional methods to solve problems. The young people help with house chores and gardening. The women help to cook and assist children with their homework. Others teach them a skill like weaving and sewing,” explains Hwang.
Ng says volunteer work has enabled his children to appreciate simpler things in life.
“My children are beginning to understand the difficulties of how life can be for the less privileged. Volunteer work has taught them the importance of sharing, living in simplicity and going back to basics,” says Ng, who hails from Sitiawan, Perak.
Kai Jin and Kai Ann’s volunteer work stretches beyond the shelter. At their resort on Perhentian Island, these home-schooled children help with beach clean-ups and the Turtle and Reef Conservation project, set up by their parents in 2010.
“The children help with hatchery maintenance, regrowing damaged coral reefs and turtle data collection. They also help to educate the public and raise awareness on marine life,” says Hwang.
Hwang encourages families to do their part to help underprivileged communities.
“Anyone can do their part to help someone in need. Pick a charitable cause that’s right for you. Take the lead and do something that can benefit society.”