Every year we aim to donate a portion of our profit, our design talent or our energy to helping the less fortunate, either in Singapore or the region. Over the past years we’ve focused our outreach on local charities such as St Theresa’s Home for the Aged, Singapore Anglican Welfare’s family shelter, and the Assissi Children’s Hospice. We’ve also provided long-term financial support for two regional orphanages, in Cambodia and Thailand.
Last year, we decided to bring our cash, our design talent and our energy together in a major focus on one charity, which we felt needed a well deserved boost, Operation Hope Foundation. So first we refreshed their brand in order to give them a more international image so they could compete at a more global level for funding support. Then later in the year we organised a 5-day overseas CSR trip to Cambodia, to build a house for a poor villager, as well as help out at their orphanage.
Operation Hope Foundation or OHF for short (http://www.ohf.org.sg/), is a registered charity in Singapore, and run by the amazing bundle of energy that is Mr. Robert Kee. A successful businessmen and philanthropist, he is totally dedicated to catalysing real change in poverty-stricken regional communities, be that in education, nurture, food security, employment, hygiene or housing. To date, OHF has built a presence in Cambodia, Thailand and Nepal – running orphanages, building homes, toilets and classrooms, digging wells and offering skills training for youth.
Our CSR trip was at the Hope Village in Prey Veng, a rather sleepy province with an economy that depends heavily on subsistence farming. Our task was very straightforward: build a wooden house for a penniless widow in a village not far from the orphanage, and also, pay for all the construction materials costs.
Every morning for the next five days, we woke up early and commuted from our quaint little guesthouse to the village. From our comfortable homes in Singapore it was a bit of a culture shock to see the way the villagers lived, although we noted with some irony that they actually seemed rather more happy and contented than most Singaporeans are! Channa, our intrepid OHF driver, tour guide, translator and construction supervisor, told us the village is segregated into various sections, all of which differ according to the degree of deprivation. To quote Channa, “those homes which you can see belong to poor families, but at least they have somewhere to live. As for the families that really suffer, you will never get to see them. They don’t even have a house to live in.”
With the tropical sun beating down on our backs, the Equus team got down to work. Ever built a house? Let me tell you something, it ain’t easy! Channa and his team gave us plenty of advice on each task, whether it was building a wall or laying a bamboo floor. Once we got the knack of each job, and ceased hammering our swollen thumbs (!), things became a lot smoother.
Finally, from a pile of wood, bamboo strips and nails, the house was built.
The last day was especially emotional, as OHF organised a handover ceremony for the sweet little widow we had built the house for. Her speechless gratitude and huge appreciation left some of us in tears. At that moment, all the tiredness, sweat, bugs, and swollen thumbs seemed worth it. We also made Milo and gave out snacks to all the other villagers who turned up. It was almost like a carnival!
In short, the trip was amazing. The entire experience of giving and caring was a huge eye-opener for all of us, in more ways than one. Our time was also full of fun and laughter, as we discovered more about the kids in the orphanage, the villagers, and each other. The five days passed in a flash, and before long, it was time to head home. Needless to say, we plan to go back!
Photography: Michelle Toh