Giving Hope, Touching Lives

By Medecci Lineil

Private charity is very much alive in Kuching, Sarawak and it’s growing to compensate for government failures and government-created hardships.

The sacrifice and generosity of thousands of Kuching people supporting the cause of voluntary organisations and informal groups is preserving market benevolence to help one another.

This man is a prime example. He has dedicated his life to putting the needs of others before his own regardless of what he is dealing with.

Kelvin Wan, the founder of Hope Place in Kuching, spends every day helping those in need.
Growing up in an ordinary family, he tirelessly delivers food and other supplies to people as far as interior area Batang Ai which located some 250km from Kuching.

Though he is currently a salesman at a T-shirt company, he has stayed committed to his noble cause and has not let his day job stop him.

“My boss and I have an agreement. If I can make sales worth RM50,000, then I am free. First week I work ward, if I achieve, in the following week I don’t have to report back to office. I can spend more time to collect stuff,” he said.

When he was a young boy, he told stories about how he admired his father for helping people and his devotion to the teaching of Christianity.

“My father is very helpful person, I saw him and after I became a Christian, the religion also talks about love you know so that increased my burden more,” he said.

In his 20s, Kelvin volunteered in many organisations like Red Crescent because he did not know where and how to help the people in need.

One day, a 70-year-old uncle approached him and asked for help. He followed the old uncle back home where he lived as a squatter in Kampung Kudei.

Kelvin was deeply impacted when he saw the old uncle who had two daughters aged 20-30 with Down Syndrome who were living naked at home.

They lived without clean water and electricity. They cooked with charcoal.

After that touching moment, he became very determined to help.

About three years ago, he supported five families using his monthly salary as a salesman.

“Earning around RM2,000 per month still can support these families. But later, the burden increased where most of my salary gone to them and my wife began to query, where is your money? Do you spend money on other woman?” Kelvin laughed.

Then he decided to share the burden with his church colleagues. They began to donate food and Kelvin survived again.

“I was happy, I continued the journey again. The number of families I supported went up to 40 after 6 months. Again, this is another big burden,” he recalled.

Acting on his pastor’s suggestion, he registered his activities. And so, Hope Place was born in February 2013.

It is a small organisation and more localised.

“Because I’m from the Hope Church. Why Hope Place? Because I want to bring hope to this place. People need hope. So I hope I can bring hope to this place, in Kuching,” he explained.

Today, he proudly says that Hope is supporting 93 families which costs him approximately RM15,000-RM20,000 every month.

Within a few months of Hope Place’s registration and thanks to well-publicised media, he received calls every day from people who wanted to donate food and money to families in need.

“People are looking for us you know. Not we looking for them. Either the needy families call us directly or the neighbours, public or newspapers,” he said.

Donors with hearts

In regard to donors, he said that almost 90% of his donors were lower- and middle-class individuals.

“These people really touch my heart, you know. Even though they are not rich, whatever they have they willing to share.”

Standards and procedure

As the organisation grew, Hope Place quickly developed standards and procedures to give away food to prevent dependency and laziness.

Also, Hope wants to be more transparent and accountable.

Those who apply to Hope, Kelvin will interview, family first.

A set of questions (60-70 questions) will be asked concerning salaries, siblings, occupations, family history for at least 3 generations, place of living (rent or buy) and health issues (eg. whether they smoke).

Several photos inside and outside their house also will be taken.

Kelvin will take back the information to Hope’s committee for approval within two weeks.

“I will call up the committee. I will explain the case, the photos and so on. If approved, we will supply the family for 6 months only.

“After 6 months, we will assess them by asking the same questions and match to the previous informations. If the answers don’t match, then they tell lies. In such cases we will terminate the food supply,” he said firmly.

Kelvin cited the case of a family who bought a new car after 6 months. He visited the family again for an assessment.

When the family was pressed about the car, one of the family members said, “Ah that was wrong info.”

Next month, food assistance to the family was terminated.

He also shared his success stories. One of them was about two poor aunties working as cleaners who are no longer recipients after having received support for one year.

When asked about the fast approval process within 2 weeks, he replied, “Hungry is hungry. Hungry cannot be delayed. We need to supply quickly. Otherwise, they will think of something else to get food. Become desperate.

“There are some cases we approve on the spot. That is why we always bring extra food supply when we go for interviews.”

Kelvin also said it was pointless to help needy families which were being assisted by other NGOs at the same time.

“Too much. No point. That will make them lazy. We can look for others,” he said.

This helps to eliminate free-lunch charity, allowing more resources to be directed to deserving families.

For a small organisation like Hope Place, his inventory management at the warehouse is pretty impressive.

Every item that people donate, he keys into his computer.

He prepares a form stating details like due dates, and then arranges them in the warehouse according to type and due date.

“The easily expired items we give away first. The recipients, we ask them to check again the items delivered and sign,” he pointed out while showing me around the warehouse.

Not only that, he appoints an external auditor to audit Hope’s account every year to promote transparency and accountability.

Future plans for Hope

At the end of the conversation, Kelvin said he did not see supplying food as a major activity for Hope Place.

“Supplying food to the needy is just the beginning,” he said.

He is writing to the state government for seven acres of land to build two buildings: an office/warehouse and a community hall.

He also hopes to open up a school for stateless and street kids in Kuching.

Given the encouragement from his recipients and donors every day, coupled with the spirit of “giving hope, touching lives”, he said he would want to be in Hope Place for another 10 years.

Hope Place urgently needs public help to donate a new van for transportation so that he can reach out more people in need.

Those who wish to donate to Hope Place Kuching can call Kelvin Wan at +6016-8660711.

First published in The Malaysian Insider on 22 November 2014.


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