PAYING IT FORWARD
Rebecca Eu helps underprivileged children and women with her social enterprise, Mei’s Own.
Let’s get it out of the way: Rebecca Eu belongs to the family who owns traditional Chinese medicine company Eu Yan Sang, which operates multiple clinics and retail outlets across the region. And yes, Eu Tong Sen Street was named after her great-grandfather.
To Rebecca, her privileged position is exactly why she has dedicated herself to her work. The 27-year-old knows that she is in a position to give more freely, and is thus very involved in efforts to help the underprivileged. And while she has made donations, it’s not just all cheques. She spent a few years on the ground in Manila, supporting survivors of sex trafficking. And in 2015, at the age of 21, Rebecca founded social enterprise Love, Mei to help provincial artisans in the Philippines. She relaunched it as Mei's Own in 2019 – a play on the word "maison" – to empower her beneficiaries: They are no longer victims of sex trafficking, but artisans and creators.
DISCOVERING HER CAUSE
Rebecca readily admits that she didn’t always know she’d be this passionate about making a positive social impact.
“I was attending an International Relations class when I thought to myself, ‘I have no idea what’s going on in South-east Asia.’ I’d like to identify as someone cultured, but how can I say that about myself if I don’t know what’s happening in the world? I decided to go to the Philippines to teach for a summer,” she says. But she was so distressed by the plight of the girls she met that she decided to continue providing support.
“In college, I was taught that the typical profile of a survivor of sex trafficking is an 18-year-old, and that a brothel was a place with rooms. But to this day, I still haven’t met a survivor above the age of 15. The average age is about 11, and the brothels can be anywhere.
“Then there are cybersex trafficking victims – it can be very hard to figure out where they are. There is also a lot of production of child pornography. It just seemed like a pretty hopeless situation.”
Mei's Own, which is incorporated in both Singapore and the Philippines, works with women’s shelters and rescue groups in the Philippines. Rebecca's responsibilities include deciding what medications are needed at specific rehabilitation centres, looking through case files, and working through the logistics of sending the rescued girls to school. She started Mei’s Own for two reasons: so that the female weavers living in the villages could
I cannot force empathy and compassion, but I can lead by example.
have an opportunity at employment, and the girls they rescued could have their education funded in a sustainable manner. The lifestyle brand currently sells an assortment of homeware, from dining accessories to blankets and pillows.
“The company gives the weavers access to market, helps them complete corporate orders, and tries to improve their business practices. I also make sure that they have access to electricity and clean water, and that their kids are in school,” she explains. She’s been doing this for a long time – Mei’s Own was actually her final year project when she was finishing her Fashion Media and Industries degree at Lasalle College of the Arts.
“My lecturers were very supportive. They knew this was a goal I had in mind, and helped me with the branding and storytelling – these things aren’t my forte. My main passion lies with social impact and community, but I studied fashion because I needed to learn how to market products and understand what would make the brand last.”
Following her graduation in 2019, she moved to Manila by herself to do volunteer work and run Mei's Own. She only returned to Singapore last year because of the Covid-19 virus outbreak. And here’s the thing: Rebecca operates her social enterprise solo. Apart from having an online store, she also consigns the goods.
LEADING BY EXAMPLE
For all that she does, Rebecca is careful about not imposing her cause on others.
“A lot of people aren’t interested in charity, and don’t entertain conversations about what I do. They only care about my background, and that’s fine – I don’t want to be righteous and say everyone has to be involved in the community. But it is good to at least be informed about what’s beyond what you see, because the world is much bigger than that.
“I cannot force empathy and compassion, but I can lead by example. And if I could do anything for my family, it would be to try and live by these values. That’s what being a Eu means to me.”
She also has further plans for Mei's Own. For one, she hopes to involve the local community by getting local university students to befriend the children she works with and help mentor them online. Also, if all goes according to plan, she wants to replicate what she has been doing for the community in the Philippines for those in India or Cambodia.
And while she understands that many people might want to get into volunteering, she recognises that, in reality, it is a privilege to be able to do so.
“I’m at a stage in my life where I can consider the needs of others. I understand that a lot of women here would also love to volunteer their time to social causes, but I say there’s no rush, especially if you have your own needs to take care of.”