* ‘아시아엔’ 해외필진 기고문의 한글요약본과 원문을 함께 게재합니다.
[아시아엔=아이반 림 아시아기자협회(AJA) 회장, 전 싱가포르스트레이트 타임즈 선임기자·번역 김아람 기자] 싱가포르는 동남아시아 가운데 가장 빠른 경제성장을 이룩했다. 그러나 눈부신 발전 뒤에는 아픔의 역사가 있기 마련이다.
싱가포르는 1963년 당시 말레이시아 연방의 구성원으로 영국으로부터 독립했지만, 불과 2년뒤인 1965년 연방에서 추방됐다. 당시 세계 언론은 작은 섬나라에 불과한 싱가포르의 전망을 비관했지만, 이후 정부와 국민들이 경제 성장에 총력을 기울인 덕분에 지금의 경제성장을 이룩할 수 있었다.
역동의 시기에 나고 자란 사회적기업가 에디 테이(65)도 자수성가한 기업인 중 하나다. 자영업을 하는 부모 밑에서 태어난 그는 여타 차이나 타운 빈민가의 아이들처럼 어렵게 자랐다. 그러나 어려운 형편 탓에 일찍 철이 들었고, 부모님 덕에 어린 시절부터 경영 감각을 익힐 수 있었다. 후에 문구류 방문판매업을 시작으로 사회생활을 시작한 그는 부동산 중개업자로 자리잡은 후, 사회 소수계층을 돕기 위한 목적으로 지난 1978년 마음 맞는 이들과 함께 자선단체 ‘평온의 나라’(Realm of Tranquility)를 설립했다. ‘선행을 장려하자’가 그들의 모토였다.
이 단체가 설립 된지도 37년이 흘렀으나, 지금도 왕성한 활동을 이어가고 있다. 2014년 한해 동안 평온의 나라는 도움이 필요한 3천6백여 가정을 방문해 10만 싱가포르달러 (약 9천만원) 어치의 쌀을 전달했다. 평생을 바쳐 평온의 나라을 위해 애쓴 에디는 그간의 성과를 인정받았고, 단체도 제 궤도에 올랐다. 또한 자원봉사자들은 비교적 안정된 재정여건으로 수익을 얻을 수 있음에도 여전히 회비를 내면서까지 무료로 봉사에 임하고 있다. 이에 깊은 인상을 받은 싱가포르 사회복지협회는 평온의 나라에 직원을 파견해 이들의 성공 비결을 연구하기도 했다.
평온의 나라가 이처럼 오랜 세월 동안 선행을 베풀었던 비결은 직원 간 끈끈한 연대와 신념덕분이었다. 이들은 하나같이 ‘삶은 내게 주어진 보물’이라 여기며 ‘노인을 존중하고 어려운 이들을 돕자’를 모토삼아 봉사해왔다. 설립자 에디는 ‘누군가 손 내밀어주길 원한다면, 내가 먼저 다가가면 된다’는 마음가짐으로 단체를 이끌어왔다고 한다. 그는 “어려운 시기를 헤쳐내고 성공하기까지 많은 이들의 도움을 받았다. 이제는 그 도움을 돌려줄 때”라고 말했다.
Realm of Tranquility: Homegrown charity springs external wings
As a strategic port city in South-east Asia, Singapore’s emergence from row-boat to cruise ship economic status, all within the relatively short span of a generation, is an epic of a gung-ho people pulling themselves up by their bootstraps.
In 1965, the island-nation was sacked following a politically turbulent two-years in Malaysia, a federation that also included Malaya, Sabah and Sarawak. Thus severed from its Malaysian hinterland, the “orphan” state’s future was fraught with peril as detractors predicted its collapse.
However, adversity brought out the people’s fighting spirit and unity to overcome economic stumbling blocks. Today, the Lion City is looked up to by China and India, as model in town planning and management.
Singaporeans have been reliving the lesson of its post-Separation trials and triumphs at every celebration of its August 9 Independence Day, as they did at the SG-50 National Day Parade this year.
One man who understands the message deeply is 65-year-old social entrepreneur Tay Mao Koon, Eddie, having grown up during the dangerous decade, 1960 to 1970. Like many children in poor Chinatown, he had an early acquaintance with hardships of life.
Dad, in his late 50s, sold soya bean drinks on a push-cart near a bus depot and the primary school pupil was wont to steal along and serve thirsty commuters. He never would forget the early lesson in sales.
Like many a father, the itinerant vendor wished his only son would do well in his studies and be a chye-hoo or clerk – an office job.
“I work under the sun; I hope you will work under the fan.”
But Eddie, growing up around neighborhood Ah Bengs and Ah Sengs – school drop-outs, faced great odds. He was also orphan adopted by an elderly couple, a painful truth he found out after classmates kept taunting him for having no siblings.
Regrettably, Eddie did not live up to his father’s clerical dream, quitting secondary school half-way. Then, seemingly in a nod to the old man’s spirit, he started out making a living by selling office stationery. “I would knock on many doors to secure customers,” he said, making deliveries on a motor-cycle.
He was astute in spotting opportunities. Seeing a demand for housing by families of British naval base in the 60s, he became a property agent, and air-con servicing vendor. A Eureka moment over a broken flower vase led to a flourishing venture in designer flower holders, with 50 patents in his name.
Going into business was the enterprising young man’s way of breaking out of the depressing circumstance he was born into. Yet far from turning his back on the down-and-out, Eddie made it a point to visit the aged folks in welfare homes.
This was a taboo to his buddies who believe that negative and positive forces determine one’s success in life. The failures in the community, including the poor and ill, were doomed by negative forces. “Why risk you bright future by visiting old-folks homes that radiate negative energy?” they said.
But his business experience led Eddie to reject that kind of talk as “nonsensical”.
From an early age, he was a fan of Chinese street operas that highlighted themes of filial piety. As a student, he had also been impressed by Bible stories of compassion and care for the poor and the sick.
In 1978 the Good Samaritan at heart teamed up with several like-minded colleagues to register a charity with a philosophically-sounding name, Realm of Tranquility or Realm for short. Its motto, “Encouragement of good work.” It was a small beginning that was to turn into a life-long labor of love for the band of brothers and sisters.
The Realm grows
Today, 37 years later, the Realm has won plaudits at home for its unflagging year-round charity work. Here is a flavor of what they did in 2014: Its Caring Unit, assisted by students and other volunteers, visited 3,664 poor families in one-room flats in 13 housing estates and delivering 18, 320 kg of rice worth $109, 920.
Every month, volunteers visit homes for the aged and entertain the senior citizens with dance performances, magic shows and karaoke singing.
A special feature of the charity is the traditional Chinese medical clinics it runs in housing neighborhood to provide low-cost treatment to residents. The disabled, those on public assistance and the 70-year-old elderly get free treatment.
Remarkably, all these activities with budgets of up to half a million-dollar are undertaken by volunteers at “zero costs” to the charity as their planning and fund-raising work is pro-bono. Like founder Eddie, members of the management council hold full-time jobs. Not only that, they pay membership fees.
The Realm’s business model so impressed the National Council of Social Service that it sent officers to find out how a charity could go on without paid full-time staff.
The Realm’s spirit of voluntarism and sacrifice for the less privileged in society reflects a key aspect of Singapore’s national ethos.
Little wonder then that Members of Parliament, including a Minister of State, happily sang at its fund-raising karaoke dinner recently and did more than helped boost donations. It is also a stamp of approval for the unique brand of charity. The home-grown brand name would soon made its mark overseas. Its attraction lies in the template of a self-help and volunteer-based organization.
In 2002, a Malaysian branch in the state of Johor was the first to replicate it.
This followed a charity mission to old folks home and orphanages in the capital Johor Baru led by its then president Wendy Tan.
Philosophy of The Realm
A sales staff of Eddie, the Malaysian has over a decade tenderly nurtured the Realm’s offshoot in her hometown into a viable charity with a 100-strong volunteer corps.
In 2010, China was the next to adopt the charity trademark — after several false starts.
A few years earlier, an enthusiastic Chinese volunteer at the Realm had returned home with the charity blueprint for the port city of Dalian in Liaoning Province.
But no foreign charity is allowed to operate on Chinese soil.
A way out was for the Singapore charity to set up a foundation with a one million renminbi investment.
But this ran counter to the Singapore charity’s self-help spirit. Both sides were nevertheless keen to push through the charity project. Happily, the authorities agreed for the Dalian branch to be launched under auspices of the China Federation of Charities.
As a philanthropic agency, the attractiveness of the Realm goes beyond its voluntary and self-help operating principle. It has the makings of a philosophy of life, expressed in a seven-point pledge of courteous, honest, and exemplary conduct and service for those in its fold.
For a start, Realm members have to “live life with zest, respect and treasure life”. “My volunteer work has changed my outlook in life,” said its vice-president Chooi May Yin, who manages a firm providing financial, taxation and secretarial services.
“Now I look out for the interest and concerns of others.”
It ties in with the admonition to “respect the elderly and wise; help the poor and the weak”. The reciprocity rule, Do unto others if you want others to do unto you, resonates with Eddie, who sees the golden rule as a common thread in Buddhist, Taoist, Confucian and Christian teachings.
In synthesizing the enlightened values for the Realm’s pledge the entrepreneur philanthropist might have drawn inspiration from a Singapore pugilist sifu (expert) who taught him martial arts.
“His master stroke was to integrate three schools of martial art into one, calling it samjindao,” a greatly impressed Eddie said.
Under the former three-term executive of the Association of Small and Medium-sized Association, the Realm’s leaders and volunteers have been molded in the ethical code to put service before self. A secret of success of the charity.
The words of the charity’s theme song captures the Singapore story, highlighting the struggle to overcome, not succumb, to the storms of life. The chorus is a battle cry, all for one and one for all, again reflecting unity of purpose and spirit that transformed Singapore into a First-World economy.
For Eddie, who directs TCM 24, an institution offering traditional Chinese medical diagnosis and treatment, the Realm is a reflection of his life as an orphan who makes well, thanks to the efforts of other.
As he puts it: “Just imagine when a baby is born who are those who look after and bring him/her up. The number of people involved from doctors and nurses during delivery; to mother who provided the milk and father the nurture; and teachers and friends put hope in us as the next generation.”
“It takes 18 to 20 years for us to grow up and know right from wrong, and nurture us. Isn’t it time for us to lend a helping hand to others?”
Eddie was active in ASME and was in the executive council for three terms, holding the post of secretary and also chairman of membership committee. ? Editor’s Note