Amazing people with the right passion

Last Sunday, I read on Sunday Times a headline that goes like this: “A rare Singaporean”. Curious, I read on…

“When he was studying medicine on a government bursary at the National University of Singapore, Dr Tan Lai Yong, a Christian, knew he would be a missionary doctor in a remote, impoverished part of the world. That was how, after having served his eight-year bond in government hospitals, he ended up in Yunnan’s rural south, tending to the sick and training local farmers so that they could become barefoot doctors. He was accompanied by his brave wife, who gave up her job as an accountancy lecturer at the Nanyang Technological University, and their 16-month-old daughter….

After 14 years, Dr Tan, 49, feels it is time to come back to Singapore. In Yunnan, he now finds himself treated as a VIP wherever he goes and has to dine with the local officials. “This is dangerous for my soul,” he says.

By a typically Singaporean measure, Dr Tan and his wife have paid a huge opportunity cost to have spent those 14 years in Yunnan. They were in the prime of their lives, and if they had pursued their respective careers here, they would be living a very comfortable, air-conditioned life.

And it is not as though Dr Tan comes from a wealthy family. The youngest of seven children, he grew up in a two-room HDB flat. His father was an unlicensed taxi driver.

… But in their headlong rush to achieve material success, Singaporeans could do well to pause and reflect on his inspiring story. He has led a richer life than most precisely because he has chosen not to chase after material wealth.

Dr Tan’s riches are of the soul.” – The Sunday Times, 21 November 2010

And last Sunday, while on our way to church, Rebecca shared with me about this entrepreneur who sells shoes. But he’s no ordinary profit-driven businessman. TOMS shoes ( gives one pair of shoe to a child in an impoverished area for every pair of shoes he sells. He saw how a family with a few children had to share a single pair of shoe before each child could head to school. He saw how a simple pair of shoe could have prevented certain infections as the children walked on the gravelled paths. Surprisingly, Rev Fucai’s sermon also emphasized on this passionate and COMpassionate shoe entrepreneur.

Entrepreneurs would usually go the way of donating a sum of their profits to good causes, but to give one pair of shoe with every shoe sold was a challenge… and not profit-generating at all. It was a losing business.

The founder, Blake Mycoskie wearing shoes for the children

But Blake Mycoskie, the founder, stuck on to his beliefs and eventually, it started making money when people realised the good cause. It was social entrepreneurship at its best.

Besides that, Food for Thought, a well-known cafe in North Bridge Rd and Queen Street , opened by my ex-GP teacher is also a social entrepreneurship. Money is donated to making clean water for impoverished communities. He also once shared with me that his setting up of the GP/English tuition centre “School of Thought” was to get young people thinking and not be apathetic about poverty, politics or the needs of the world. Young people needed a cause to pursue and they should not be indifferent about important things around them. It was a vision both he and his partner shared and they decided that teaching General Paper would be the best platform. In a way, it was social entrepreneurship as well.

God has placed in their hearts a passion, His heart for His people out there. Now, pray to God tonight..

We need such a passion in our hearts too… And the faith to take a step out to  pursue it.

Author’s note: TOMS shoes can be purchased at Pedder Red, Ngee Ann City, Singapore. Food for Thought and School of Thought are situated at Queens Street and North Bridge Road respectively.


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