JOHOR BARU: As a teenager, Chew Kuan Yuan wanted to be popular in school so he started to get involved in gangsterism and dabbled in drugs.
Living a carefree life as a 14-year-old back then, he did not see anything wrong getting involved in numerous gang fights and other illegal activities.
He almost died and was badly injured during several bloody fights. However, his days of being wild came to an abrupt end when he was arrested at the age of 16 and sent for rehabilitation for two years.
Now 37, the father of four has turned over a new leaf and is overseeing the Pusat Kebajikan Kalvari (PKK), a shelter home that looks after more than 450 destitute residents, comprising drug addicts, homeless people, abandoned children, old folks, mentally challenged and abused victims statewide.
“I never expected that one day, I would be serving and leading the very same place that gave me a new beginning when I was a young and restless teenager,” he said in an interview.
Recalling his troubled past, Chew, who is affectionately known as Athens among his peers, said it all started when he joined a gang while in Form 2, hoping to be popular with the girls.
“In the process, I was led astray, dabbling in drugs such as Ecstasy, ice, ketamine and cannabis,” he said, adding that he would party almost every night and doze off while in school.
Chew added that he only managed to continue his studies until Form 3.
“I remember my parents were very worried and had advised me to leave the bad company, but to no avail. All this went on for about two years before I was caught and sent for rehabilitation at a care centre,” he said, adding that initially, it did not work out as he attempted to escape twice.
Chew said the rehab programmes were not easy for him since he was addicted to drugs and that he was among the youngest residents at the PKK home in Labis.
“Going through rehab is very difficult and a painful journey.
“Because of my mischief, I was often kept in solitary confinement and also got caned.
“Eventually, I persevered and no longer had the urge to run away and started adapting to life in the centre,” he said.
Along the way, Chew picked up new skills, including learning to play the guitar and art.
“Slowly, I put in more effort to change for the better and over time, the centre’s supervisors started to give me bigger responsibilities,” he said.
Chew said when he turned 18, he was released from the rehab centre and rejoined society.
Going back to his family, he tried to further his studies via private tutors but did not do well.
He then found a job in an IT company, earning about RM1,700 per month.
“During my free time, I played guitar at the Calvary Community Church. Later, I quit my job and took up the position of a full-time clerk with the church which included taking charge of the media unit,” he said.
In 2018, Chew said, the PKK senior management appointed him vice-president and then chief operating officer in April last year.
“At present, I oversee 19 homes with a workforce of 52 workers,” he said, adding that 99% of their workers were those who have been rehabilitated and are now using their skills to rehabilitate and help others.
He said PKK has grown over the past 34 years and needed about RM300,000 monthly to run its operations.
“We are blessed to receive continuous assistance from the public,” he said, adding that during the recent floods, their residents and volunteers reached out to help those affected in Chaah.
Chew also said one of the biggest challenges they faced was after the Covid-19 pandemic when more people, especially the elderly, were abandoned and also young people getting involved in drugs.
“We have had cases of people being left by the roadside or youths facing depression. We try our best to help as many as we can.”
He added that their rehab programme was usually two years to help addicts to kick the habit.
Despite the tedious work, which requires a lot of attention, patience and perseverance, Chew said he and his team were satisfied with the impact and end results.
“Some of these abandoned children have now become successful including one studying medicine, another working as a pilot while a few others managed to reconcile with their families after kicking their addiction,” he said.