Dishing Out Kindness

Willin Low (second from right) serving Chinese New Year lunch to a group of elderly folks from Thye Hua Kwan Seniors Activity Centre at Wild Oats @ Punggol Park.

Lawyer-turned-chef Willin Low has chosen to pass on his blessings to others by being a champion for charitable causes in Singapore and beyond.

BY WONG SHER MAINE
PHOTOS WILD ROCKET

 

A

group of elderly men and little old ladies, some clad in samfoo (a two-piece outfit worn by Chinese women), sit at a long table at the Wild Oats restaurant in Punggol Park as they tuck into a special lunch.

It’s a treat for them from restaurant owner and chef, Willin Low, whose heart for the less privileged also extends beyond Singapore – to babies with fatal heart problems in China and a young Ugandan mother whose life was destroyed after an acid attack.

“Increasingly, whether we like it or not, the world is getting smaller; we can get in each other’s way or help each other (out),” says Low, who used to be a lawyer.

Since 2006, he has donated every cent he makes outside of his restaurant operations, from product endorsements and TV shows, to worthy causes.

In Singapore, he has supported The Straits Times School Pocket Money Fund, the Children’s Cancer Foundation, Club Rainbow, the Autism Resource Centre (Singapore) and the Dover Park Hospice. Overseas, he focuses his efforts on the Morning Star Foundation, which helps abandoned and needy children with severe heart disease in China and Uganda.

He practised as a lawyer for eight years before diving into the culinary world and pioneering what is known as Modern Singaporean or Mod-Sin cuisine. Today, he owns five restaurants in Singapore and is an internationally renowned chef.

But his passion to help others stemmed from how, as a young child, he would see his mother give food and drink to the less fortunate whom she treated with respect. “I have always been brought up by my mum to have compassion,” says Low.


REACHING OUT

Low first heard about the Morning Star Foundation when a friend, who was a volunteer at its Beijing office, kept sending him photographs of the babies there, asking him to pray for them. They had been abandoned due to severe heart conditions. “One day, she asked if I could pray for something different: it was for funds to keep the foundation going. That is how it started,” he says.

He is flush with stories of how the charity has given these abandoned children, who all needed open heart surgery, a new lease of life. “Many times, even the surgeons would tell us that these babies would not survive after surgery, but the foundation would press on; time and again the babies have miraculously lived, to the amazement of the doctors,” he says.

It was also through the foundation that he heard about the plight of Namale Allen, a 26-year-old Ugandan woman who had suffered a horrific acid attack outside her home that had left her blind and disfigured. Mother to a four-year old, she was also six months pregnant at the time of the attack.

He quickly called on some of Singapore’s top-notch eye surgeons to help Allen recover her sight. One of his restaurant’s regular clients was an eye surgeon who helped connect Allen to prominent Singaporean eye surgeon Donald Tan. Low also promoted awareness of Allen’s condition in Singapore by sharing her story through his Instagram account, which has more than 27,000 followers, and appealed for donations to enable her to travel to Singapore for treatment. “We got some friends to contribute financially for some surgical operations and her day-to-day living expenses,” he says.

“Increasingly, whether we like it or not, the world is getting smaller; we can get in each otherʼs way or help each other (out).”

Chef Willin Low

His efforts, combined with media reports, helped bring public attention to Allen’s case, such that when she and her companions were in Singapore in late 2015, they received free taxi rides from cab drivers who had heard of her story.

In the end, he raised more than S$28,000 after setting up a donation drive on GiveAsia.org, while a group of housewives from the foreign community in Singapore raised another US$41,000 (S$57,800).

Says Low: “Unfortunately, the eye surgeons have concluded that even surgery will not help her see again. We are now working with plastic surgeons to help fix her nose, mouth and neck so she can breathe, eat and move her head with some ease. We will continue to pray for a miracle.”

His charity work gives him perspective. He says: “When I am stressed at work, I think of babies who are fighting for their lives. When I complain about things, I think of how privileged we are in Singapore, compared to many people of the world. I believe that when we are blessed, we have to bless the less fortunate.

“Some people treat their profession as an extension of who they are. I have learnt to treat my profession as a means to achieve something bigger than my career.”


Willin Low during a visit to Morning Star Foundation Beijing.


Low with Bill and Lynsay Lewis, who are the founders of the charity.

 


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