Answering a call to help others

Wan on a challenging journey to deliver aid to the needy.

KUCHING: After experiencing hardships in life, Kelvin Wan was determined to help as many needy people as possible. 

He considers his mission to help others as God’s call.

The 49-year-old Hope Place Kuching founder, who has been actively involved in humanitarian work since young, also wishes to inspire others to help the less fortunate.

Formally established in February 2013, Hope Place, a non-governmental organisation (NGO), aims to help the local community and ensure everyone has the opportunity to receive equal quality of life.

“At Hope Place, we want to challenge ourselves by becoming the beacon for the defenceless. We want to make people aware that it is a shared responsibility of the community to show concern and care for one another,” Wan said.

There are 200 families currently under the charitable NGO’s care at various localities including Matang, Malihah, Semariang, Santubong, Kota Samarahan, Serian and Gedong.

These families’ respective locations and pictures pasted on a map which adorns the “Wall of Hope” in the NGO’s office located at TT3 Commercial Centre.

In an exclusive interview with New Sarawak Tribune, Wan shared the story of his journey with Hope Place including the bittersweet moments.

Kelvin Wan

Humble beginning

Wan admitted he was not academically inclined in his younger days and that he worked as a general worker for a telecommunications subcon company after completing high school.

He recalled how he experienced the unpleasant feeling of hunger due to long hours of strenuous work.

As the eldest child, Wan had to help his father take care of their family including two elderly aunties who stayed with them.

“I was not a good student so I always skipped school. After I failed my Form Five, I realised how difficult it was to find a job without a certificate.

“I worked as a general worker for three years from 7 am to 6 pm on Monday to Saturday for a salary of only RM300. I had three siblings who were still studying so I had to give some money to my parents to support our family.

“With only RM50 left for myself, I limited myself to a budget of RM2 a day for meals. I experienced hunger for three years and it was not a good feeling,” he said.

There and then, Wan vowed to help the needy if he could earn better money.

As a Christian, he believed that helping others was a call   from God.  

“Subsequently, I became a volunteer in many NGOs. Even though I did not have much money, I contributed my time. I used to go to the Salvation’s Army every week to visit and play with the children. I also volunteered as a helper at Hun Nam Siang Tng, an old folk’s home, and joined the Red Crescent,” he said.

The journey

Wan met his first client after a flood in 2011; an elderly man known as Uncle Foo approached him for food assistance.

Although he was afraid of being scammed, he decided to take the leap of faith and offered the elderly a ride home.

“The man was in his 70s and his house was in a squatter area at Kampung Kudei. His wooden house was dilapidated, with no water or electricity supply.

“He lived with his wife and two daughters who had Down Syndrome. I found that the family really needed my help so every week, I would buy some food for them.

“At that time, I was already working as a salesman and earning around RM1,200 per month. So, I decided to start doing what I’ve been wanting to do for so many years — that was to help the needy,” he said.

Soon, other poor families in the neighbourhood noticed Wan and approached him for help.  

Wan told he had always wanted to help three   categories of people, namely abandoned elderly, people with disabilities (OKU) and single mothers with children who were still schooling.

Hope Place’s first store without an office.

Within the span of three months that year, he had 15 families under his care which proved to be financially challenging.

“I’m not sure how it happened but words about me helping the needy families spread like wildfire and many people started to approach me. I was doing it alone so if they fell under the three categories, I would visit their houses and interview them to see if they really needed my help.

“Even though I was happy to help these families, troubles came because I used up all my income. When my close friends noticed I was no longer the usual happy-go-lucky person they knew, I told them about the needy families that I was taking care of,” he said.

That marked the turning point in Wan’s life. Words about him helping the needy soon spread and many of Wan’s friends as well as their friends came forward and provided him with various food items and other necessities for the needy.

That is how Hope Place now operates — through public donations and contributions. 

Wan recalled that in the early days of his mission, logistics proved to be a great challenge as he had to single-handedly manage the collections of food items and other necessities from donors and then distribute them to those under his care.

“I would go to collect the food items and other necessities from the donors with my Perodua Viva. I called it my ‘small lorry’. I am very transparent in what I do. I will take pictures of the items I deliver to the needy and send them to the donors as proof.

“I was happy there were many donors because it meant I could give more to the needy. My house actually ended up as a store to keep all the donated items and my neighbours thought I was opening a mini supermarket at one point.

“From Monday to Saturday, I would go out in my ‘small lorry’ to get the donations from donors. On Sunday, I would deliver them. This affected my time with my family because I was doing it alone,” he said.

Wan helps rural folk through the Charity Without Border programme.

“I am very grateful Hope Place now has 10 full-time and two part-time staff as well as passionate volunteers who are dedicated to helping the needy. We also have a management team and committee board,” he said.

Hope Place works closely with the Social Welfare Department, Sentosa Hospital and other NGOs to help the needy. 

Wan continues to conduct home visits and extensive interviews to evaluate those who reach out for help.

Besides helping the needy, Hope Place also holds various programmes and activities such as charity talks, blood donation drives, corporate social responsibility (CSR) projects with corporate companies. It also reaches out to the rural communities through its Charity Without Border.

Recently, the NGO launched its Budget Shop which provided the needy a place to shop for second-hand items such as clothes and others at affordable prices.

Its Bundle Project allows recipients to generate incomes through the sales of second-hand and preloved items.

Behind the name

Wan has named his NGO Hope Place because he wanted to bring hope to the needy and empower them.  

“I wanted to bring hope to the places I visit and wherever I am. It’s not just in Kuching but the whole of Sarawak and even Malaysia.  

“People who are hopeless tend to give up on their lives. They become negative or even suicidal. Through our slogan, “Giving Hope, Touching Lives”, we want to let them experience hope and we want to touch their lives.

Wan added Hope Place would go the extra mile to care for those in need regardless of their religion, race or background.

Appreciation and gratitude

Reflecting on how far he and Hope Place had come, Wan is grateful to the donors, supporters and volunteers who had helped the NGO.

He said any form of contribution to the NGO was a blessing to the needy families. 

“Hope Place will continue to help as many needy families and individuals as long as our resources permit. We depend on public donations so if one day nobody donates to us, I think we might have to close down.

“As we are not an enterprise, we do not generate incomes unlike other NGOs that organise yearly fundraising events. If nobody donates to us, we will not have anything to give to the needy.

“Thanks to the generosity of the public and our sponsors like Ibraco Bhd and Hock Seng Lee Berhad (HSL), we have been able to survive until today,” he said.

Wan conducts a charity talk at SJK Chung Hua No 2.

Wan pointed out there were various ways of helping other people besides monetary aid.

“I believe anyone can help others within their own means. If you have the time, then you contribute your time.” 

Members of the public who wish to donate cash can directly bank into Hope Place’s Maybank account at 511289001160 or go to its Facebook page to get the Sarawak Pay QR Code.

Hope Place can be reached at 082-505987. It operates from 8 am to 5 pm on Monday to Friday and from 8 am to noon on Saturday.

Map of the locations of needy families and individuals under Hope Place’s care.