Volunteering is life- transforming for those on the receiving – and giving – end.
BUSINESSWOMAN Audrey Ong was roped into volunteer work some 25 years ago and she has not looked back since.
Ong’s father- in- law, Ong Seng Wah, was the founder of Hwa Thong Bags Industries Sdn Bhd, a leading manufacturer of school bags in the country. Ong was enlisted to help out in the company’s corporate social responsibility ( CSR) programmes.
She kept his legacy alive after he passed on. In line with the company’s business expansion, Ong set up Swan Foundation, the charity arm of the company, in 2000.
The immaculately groomed Ong is no lady of leisure. She will not hesitate to roll up her sleeves and put her nose to the grindstone when the need arises.
During her visit to Lumbini in Nepal two years ago, Ong was deeply moved by the plight of the poverty- stricken villagers. She was out in the streets, distributing sweets to the street children. Word got around the village and a mad scramble ensued. Rangers with batons had to be called in to control the crowd.
“Who would have imagined that poverty had driven these people to such desperation,” said Ong, who is in her 60s.
On another trip to Kathmandu in Nepal, Ong saw the long queues of kidney patients waiting for their turns to use the dialysis machines.
“There were only three machines in the hospital which was run by the non- profit Aarogya Foundation. The hospital was one of the many humani- tarian projects under Nepalese nun Ani Choying Drolma,” she said.
The pain and suffering of the patients compelled Ong to do something to lessen their misery.
Swan Foundation stepped in to raise funds in support of Ani Choying’s Aarogya Foundation as well as the Arya Tara School for the nuns. When two massive earthquakes struck Nepal in April and May last year, Ong was quick to respond to the crises by sending financial aid to the victims.
When typhoon Haiyan ripped through the Philippines in 2013, Swan Foundation sent donations to the victims. Closer home, during the East Coast floods in 2014, the foundation set up a mobile clinic for the flood victims.
Ong is tireless in her efforts to touch one life at a time.
“It is important to step in during natural disasters and calamities to bring hope to people who are suffering,” said Ong. “There must be light and hope for people who are on the verge of giving up because of too much pain and suffering.”
Humble and down to earth, Ong has no airs about her. When she makes her rounds in the many subsidiary companies of the family business, Ong warmly greets her staff and enquires after their welfare. Her leadership by example has rubbed off on family members. Ong’s husband and three sons are also actively involved in volunteer work.
The boys grew up with a mother who had no qualms about working with disadvantaged communities. In fact, they used to tag along on her numerous humanitarian missions.
Ron, 29, remembers all too well those visits to homes for the underprivileged.
“Some of the classrooms were spartan and the children had to study in the dark,” recalled Ron who is chief operating officer of MJ Boutique Sdn Bhd, a division of Hwa Thong that handles retail outlets.
“I used to follow my mother to local CSR activities in schools, hospitals and charity organisations. I saw how happy the recipients were to receive donations in cash and kind.”
Ron is mindful for his many blessings and is keen to give back to society. “I’m very thankful that I can lend a helping hand to improve the lives of the needy. We hope that in future, the recipients, too, can give back to society.”
Ong is also proud of her youngest son Ken, 25, who raised funds for char- ity when he was studying abroad.
A fresh medical graduate of University of Auckland, New Zealand, Ken has been running for charity for two years.
“He takes part in an annual marathon in support of Starship Foundation which takes care of critically ill children in a hospital in Auckland. People would donate to his fund- raising projects,” said Ong.
Ken has also participated in a drive to raise funds for New Zealand’s Blind Foundation ( puppy guide dogs project) and the 40 Hour Famine to raise awareness of those in need in countries around the world.
“My parents played a key role in inspiring me to engage in volunteerism,” said Ken in an e- mail interview. He adds that he is keen to participate in medical relief opportunities in New Zealand and abroad, if the opportunity arises.
Ong has also roped in her nephew, Nicholas, 26, for the company’s many humanitarian projects. Nicholas, chief marketing officer of MJ Boutique, is a regular volunteer at charity projects.
“Life is not just about earning money. It is more meaningful if people reach out to help individuals and communities in dire straits,” said Nicholas.
Audrey Ong is a tireless social worker.
Ong with her nephew Nicholas ( centre), and her son, ron. her passion for volunteerism has rubbed off on family members.