Hands-On Do-Gooder

Wayne Abdullah (with red cap) heads to Cambodia once a year to fulfill his do-good mission. He helps out with Project Taom that seeks to uplift the lives of rural Cambodians in the village of Taom near Siem Reap. Wayne is seen here installing water filters with the help of the villagers.

For the past 10 years, Wayne Abdullah has been travelling to different countries that need aid to do his part in making a difference for a better world.

By Sharon Sim

S

ingaporean Wayne Abdullah is a full-time businessman who juggles two jobs — running his enterprises Gecko Wash, a car wash company, and Firefly Horizon, a training consultancy firm.

Despite his busy schedule, the entrepreneur still finds the time for charity. Gecko Wash has organised charity fund-raising car washes in collaboration with other corporate organisations like Hewlett-Packard Singapore. In their partnership, Gecko Wash provides the washing liquid and specialised equipment while the corporations’ employees provide the labour for the car wash. The fund-raisers have since seen $60,000 being raised for organisations like the Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore and Handicap Welfare Association.

On top of doing good in Singapore, Wayne also extends a helping hand to other countries, travelling up to twice a year to different countries like Cambodia, The Philippines and Thailand that need help. His first overseas trip was in 2004 to Chiang Mai, Thailand, where he taught English to children living with HIV at an orphanage.

He typically sets aside $10,000 annually for two trips, each spanning two weeks, with money coming from his savings and, sometimes, from his supportive friends.

In the 10 years since he started, his do-good missions have taken him to Southeast Asian countries like Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Indonesia.

“We’re so connected with the world, so all the more we should reach out to help our neighbours. How can we distance ourselves from the needs we see all around us?”
he asks.


DOING GOOD NATURALLY

Doing good is something close to Wayne’s heart, having been a recipient of unconditional goodwill himself. He was adopted into a family of eight children, where he enjoyed a comfortable and loving home environment.

He was a sickly child, but was painstakingly nursed back to health by his adoptive mother. She always had a sincere desire to help others, regularly cooking extra food and distributing it to neighbours. As a result, Wayne modelled his giving spirit after her. “It’s only natural that I spread the love and generosity my mother had showered on me to those in need,” he says.

In 2009, while Wayne was working as a youth worker at Hougang Sheng Hong Family Service Centre, he met a young boy whose home had been damaged by fire. He jumped in to re-cement the floor, help paint the rooms and even used his own money to purchase furniture to replace the burnt and damaged ones.

“I’m just another human being reaching out to someone who needs help,” explains Wayne.


HELPING SYRIA AND THE PHILIPPINES

Some of Wayne’s more recent activities include organising a fund-raising project in June 2014 to assist Syrian refugees affected by civil war. Through a Facebook page titled “What A Relief (WAR)”, he sold decorative wristbands fashioned from “survival cords” (nylon ropes used in emergencies). Raising a total of S$10,000, Wayne channelled the money through an NGO in Jordan to help build temporary housing for the refugees.

Later, in November 2014, when Typhoon Haiyan hit Bantayan Island near Cebu, Philippines, Wayne flew to the area to help the fishermen whose boats and livelihoods had been destroyed. There, he hired local craftsmen to repair the fishermen’s damaged bangka (small wooden fishing boats) and financed the set-up cost of small businesses like food stalls and sourced for cooking equipment.

 

“I’m just another human being reaching out to someone who needs help.”

— Wayne Abdullah

 

Project Taom volunteers, Singaporeans Lai Yi Wye (standing, second from left) and Andrew Ying (with glasses) teaching villagers first aid.


SOCIAL MISSIONS IN CAMBODIA

Wayne’s most memorable project is in Cambodia. He had long set his sights on the country, and the door opened in 2010 when Trudy Loh, his friend, invited him to be part of Project Taom (www.projecttaom.org), which aims to take care of the welfare of villagers in Taom, an impoverished village in Siem Reap.

Loh’s son, Ethan Nava, had started the project with a core team of five former classmates from Anglo-Chinese School (International) — Cheryl Lim, Colin Lee, Benjamin Wang, Davin Chia and Kyle Yeo — under the umbrella of Project Happy Feet, a Singapore-based charity that seeks to uplift lives of children and youths in developing countries. They are assisted by other Singaporean students like Lai Yi Wye and Andrew Ying.

Wayne joined the project in 2010 and in his first year, he acted as a consultant based in Singapore, guiding the project team on aspects such as logistics and fund-raising, and giving them advice. He suggested, for example, that they hire local labour for their construction projects so that they can provide the community with employment.

From 2011, Wayne went on regular trips to Taom, assisting with infrastructural improvement work like installing water filters and water tanks in the village. He also helped out at the mobile clinic set up in July 2014 by 15 Singaporean medical students and a volunteer doctor brought in by the project team. “We received more than 100 patients each day,”
said Wayne.

Photographs of Cambodian children and rural Cambodians taken by Wayne were showcased in a photo exhibition held in Singapore, which raised S$11,250 for Project Taom. The exhibition was organised by Project Taom’s students and volunteers.


He was also the on-site photographer, documenting the process of the improvements made to the village and the villagers’ lives; a selection of his photographs went on sale during a Project Taom fund-raising event in Singapore.

One critical factor for the project’s success was gaining the villagers’ trust, which took a few years. Wayne says: “In the beginning, many villagers were wary of us, but over time, they warmed up to us. Now, they welcome us into their homes.”

He adds: “The village headman even slaughtered a chicken (for a meal) for us as a token of their appreciation. We were humbled.”

Besides Project Taom, Wayne is also supporting other projects in Cambodia in his personal capacity. He is sponsoring the university fees of a Cambodian undergraduate doing a three-year course that costs $4,000. Wayne is also paying $230 a month for after-school English classes for primary school children in Siem Reap. He plans to hire four more English teachers and sponsor another four scholarships by the end of 2015.


STRIKING UP A FRIENDSHIP

In his time spent in Cambodia, Wayne has forged friendships with the locals such as Siv, the go-to person in Siem Reap who has rendered invaluable help with local knowledge, contacts and co-ordinating transport and other logistics.

Wayne (right) and Siv have become good friends working together to improve the living conditions of villagers in Taom.


Speaking about Siv, Wayne says: “We can count on him for everything, from choosing books in Khmer for the library to recruiting carpenters to construct buildings. He refuses to accept any payment for all his work. He’s so big-hearted.

“Over the years, I’ve gotten to know Siv’s family. Siv has been through the horrors of the Khmer Rouge regime and now walks with a limp. Yet it’s amazing that he is smiling constantly. He was the one who taught me about hope despite all.”

 

“The kids showed me love — coming to hug me at every opportunity — they gave me so much more than I could possibly give them...”

— Wayne Abdullah helped Thai children living with HIV

 

INSPIRATIONAL MOMENTS

Other than being a good Samaritan, Wayne shares that he has also learnt so much, especially from his experience teaching English to children living with HIV in Chiang Mai.

“The kids showed me love — coming to hug me at every opportunity. They gave me so much more than I could possibly give them. I used to deal with things by simply pushing all the emotions aside, but over the years, I learnt to handle them better by accepting life for both its splendour and its imperfections.”

There were also times when simple acts made it all seem worthwhile. “I had been doing odd jobs like gardening and cleaning in an orphanage in Sihanoukville. One evening before dinner, a 10-year-old Cambodian lad took my plate and began to serve me food on his own accord. This was his way of demonstrating gratitude.

“This small act, in its simplicity, struck me. At that moment, it gave me such hope and unspeakable joy.”


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