Sweet ser­vice

Vol­un­teer­ing is life- trans­form­ing for those on the re­ceiv­ing – and giv­ing – end.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FRONT PAGE - By MAJORIE CHIEW star2@ thes­tar. com. my

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.

— rAy­MONd OOi/ The Star

Au­drey Ong is a tire­less so­cial worker.

— rAy­MONd OOi/ The Star

Ong with her nephew Ni­cholas ( cen­tre), and her son, ron. her pas­sion for vol­un­teerism has rubbed off on fam­ily mem­bers.

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