Thursday 28 May 2020

A Charitable Singaporean Millionaire (Part 2)

Hi, Everyone,

As promised, I'm back to continue with the true story of Mr. Chan (not Mr. Chua), the  Charitable Singaporean Millionaire who singularly set up and run an orphanage in Batam, Indonesia with his own money.

Surprisingly, an anonymous person commented in my earlier post that the Charitable Singaporean Millionaire is Mr Chan (not Mr Chua). My apology.

Now, I would like to share with you his comments about Mr. Chan as a person and a boss to him for your reading pleasure.


"From what I know, there is only one boss from that big shipyard speaks “pure teochew”, sixty-something, skinny, soft-spoken, polite, but he rarely wears a short-sleeve shirt. 

I hope I didn’t get it wrong.Or could it be one of his two brothers? which I don’t think so, neither of his brothers “co-owned” that business, and also, maybe not that rich. 

Mr Chan was originally an Indonesian many years ago before he started his shipbuilding business; the “pure Teochew” is more an Indonesian accent. 

I worked for him for a year or so when he had shifted to Jurong from Lorong Buangkok in the mid-’80s, he struggled quite hard in those days, with the kind of traditional management style and a soft heart; he did quite well but not really good before his big boss set up these yards in Batam and got it listed in Singapore. 

He is a very nice boss, I’m glad to know that he has since “semi-retired”, a man like him, with a great heart, is more valuable to be him today (in the charity) than in the money-making business. I sincerely wish him all the best. 

Eagerly waiting for your part 2, I would like to find out more about him and his orphanage house. And James, you take care and drive safe. Sorry for my poor English." 

Mr. Chan (nickname "Ah Sun" - skinny in Hokkien dialect)had only a secondary Chinese education and speaks passable English but he's blessed with a sharp and intelligent mind and is always thinking of ways to get things done in the most efficient and pragmatic way.

One example of his extreme resourcefulness and intelligence is his developing a 22 hectares virgin coastal land into the biggest shipyard in Batam, Indonesia, with three floating docks and huge adjacent engineering and fabrication facilities. He did all these WITHOUT paying a single cent to any professional consultants.

He also builds tugs & barges, cargo ships, oil rigs, oil tankers, livestock and cement carries, and ship conversion jobs.  Mr. Chan did all these gigantic projects without even a diploma education or training in engineering practices but self-taught himself with a hungry and intelligent mind for details and hand-on experience.

His shipbuilding knowledge and engineering skill are astonishingly brilliant, comparable to any professional in the same line.

Mr. Chan was not born into a rich family and with his meager capital. he initially went into simple engineering works and barge building business in the seventies. Business was tough then, with lots of competition and scarcity of projects in Singapore.

Fortunately, he met a Mr. Tan, who saw something "special" in him and they became partners till the day their Batam business was sold off to an Arabian company for billions in 2007.

Today, they are still partners in other business and remain good friends.

"The hardship was unimaginable in my growing up years in a village in Indonesia," Mr Chan told me a bit of his childhood while we were at his orphanage in 2013.

"Those early years of existence living and experiences helped me to shape my character, encrypted my motivation to never knee down to poverty. It taught me to deeply empathize with the very poor as a fellow human begins".

The dire faces of hungry orphans, as well as the lack of opportunities to escape poverty for the vast numbers of destitute, which he never forgot, were the key factors that motivate him to set up his orphanage in Batam.

"Presently, my needs are simple. I don't smoke, drink, or gamble. I don't splurge on luxuries, drive an expensive car or live in bungalow though I have the means to do it. I don't clamor for fame, demand respect or admiration because of my wealth. I don't exhort my friends and I lead my life as an example to them".

These days, the 60+ years-old Mr. Chan, who was once the CEO of the Batam facility of a main-board listed company in Singapore, wants nothing more than to spend his days at his orphanage, hoping to make a difference to the life of the kids there, not just with his money but more importantly, with his personal involvement and physical work.

His own children had grown up with professional careers of their own.

Now, let me share with you my short visit in 2013 and what I know of Mr. Chan's orphanage in Batam as accurately as I possibly can remember.

Mr. Chan, two of his friends and I visited the orphanage late afternoon one Saturday in 2013. It was my first visit to an orphanage and a day I'll remember for a long time.

About 20 kids, with ages ranging from 5 to 12 years old were at the gate, waving and screaming with joy as we arrived at the center.  

"Selemat Datang, Bapak Chan", they screamed and surrounded Mr Chan, who was beaming with the kind of joy, only man with a heart of gold can appreciate. Certainly not the same kind of emotion an MP felt when grassroots leaders and guests stand up and greet him/her out of protocol.

The orphanage, called "Panti Asuhan Yayasan Padmila" is about the size of a half a football field and sits in a center of vast vacant land about a mile from the popular "Batam Holiday Inn Resort" at Waterfront Ferry Terminal.

The premises is half-walled and manned with a security post at a single entrance. The housing is two rows of concrete, single-story building with insulation roofing, each row measuring about 100 x 20 meters, and a courtyard in between.

Inside the housings were two aircon classrooms, kitchen, dining rooms, toilets, bedrooms, and an office. All these facilities were built to modern standards like a hotel with piped water and electricity. And the cost.....nearly a two million US dollars.

Mr Chan established the orphanage 4 years ago in 2009 to provide a safe home for the orphan, abused, destitute, and abandoned children in and around Batam Island.

These children are given a stable and loving home where they are fed, clothed, cared for, and schooled. They are also given personal and professional development activities with the aim of bringing them up with a strong foundation for a happy and healthy life after leaving the orphanage at a mature age of about 18 years old.

Children at the orphanage are NOT allowed for adoption and their ages range between 5 to 15 years. As the orphanage does not have baby caring facilities, no babies are admitted.

Like most orphanage centers, all children are under close supervision for their own well begin and character development. Transports are provided to send children of school-going age to national schools and frequent excursions to local events and festivities for integration with local communities are arranged.

"Mr. Chan, how much does it cost annually to run your orphanage and why you do it,"  I asked while sipping tea at the dining room with him alone

"Around half a million dollars annually. It's difficult to answer your second question". He replied and after a short pause, he continued...

"Honestly, I'm a humble man and do not wish to propagate or exaggerate my work. I did it because this is something I think it's worthwhile doing and I can do it quite easily with what I have. Please don't ask me to speak more on this matter".

I salute this humble and unsung hero. Mr. Chan is truly a person who has the vision, the dedication, and the kind heart in doing whatever it is need to be done in and out of Batam.

He is helping those who are unable to help themselves by helping them to help themselves.

Mr. Chan is unaware that I'm secretly writing about him in this blog. I'm amazed and honored that he was willing to trust and befriend a lowly taxi driver like me to share a small part of his life.

The children in his orphanage are, without doubt, fortunate to be taken under Bapak Chan's wings.

It’s forever a work-in-progress and I’m secretly spreading the word about P.Y.P. Orphanage and hope that somehow, somewhere and someway, my friends and strangers could reach out to them and make our contribution in whatever small way we could.

"Mr. Chan, what are your view of the current society and government we have in Singapore in terms of charitable works" I pressed on with our conversation.

"Mr. James, I'm not a highly educated man. Therefore, I can't answer your question again. But I can say that society and government can be better if everyone (including the government) is willing to do a bit more, either in action or in cash than what they are doing right now".
My photo in 2016 with some orphans and the new building in the background.
Before I conclude this post, please let me share with you an update of the Batam orphanage facilities as when I last visited it 4 years ago in 2016 (i.e. 3 years after my first visit).

The orphanage had doubled in size to about 2 football fields and an increase in intake of about 100 young orphans. Some older orphans of above 18 years had left the orphanage to live and work on their own, usually with jobs recommended through Mr. Chua business connections.

A new three-story large concrete building, with 7 modern classrooms, a library, 2 IT facilities/rooms, an assembly hall, and 10 sleeping accommodations was erected next to the old building in 2014.

Behind the new building, a large plot of land is used as a farming area to cultivate and grow all kinds of vegetables and fruit trees. Adjacent to the vegetable farm is a large fish pond where local edible fish are reared.

I was told many orphans love to spend their extra-curriculum activities on the farm and fish pond. In a small way, they are self-sufficient in vegetables, fruits, and fish.

For older orphans who are more active and sport orientated, there is a modern basketball and badminton court adjacent to the new building for their recreation activities.

In conclusion, my parting prayers for this remarkable man, Mr. Chan, and all his benevolent friends who had contributed enormously to this orphanage in Batam, Indonesia......May God Always Bless You with Good Health and Long Life.

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