When hunger became a call to action that sparked Hope Place Kuching

Wan speaking during an exclusive interview with DayakDaily recently.

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By Ling Hui

WITH a heavy heart and a grumbling stomach, he took out his ration of garlic bread for the day and bit into the buttery morsel. Desperate to prolong the experience, he resorted to dipping the bread into plain water, savouring every last hint of flavour.

Deep down, he longed for something more substantial, like a comforting plate of rice. However, the harsh reality of his meagre monthly pay of RM300 shattered such dreams, even more so after he dutifully allocated a significant portion to support his family’s living expenses.

For three years, this was the experience of Hope Place founder Kelvin Wan as a labourer for a telecommunications sub-contractor after he failed his SPM. His daily responsibility was to dig 3-feet square by 5-feet deep holes to plant telecom poles, working 12 hours a day in the brush.

“Hunger is not a good feeling,” Wan told DayakDaily as he shared his life story during an exclusive interview at Learning Hub by Hope Place at La Promenade Mall, Kota Samarahan recently.

Having experienced the gnawing pangs of hunger, Wan wishes nothing like that upon anyone around him. In fact, hunger was no longer just a physical sensation to him—it became a call to action to help others, the less fortunate, and the underprivileged.

He started volunteering at children’s homes, old folks’ homes, The Salvation Army, and the Yun Nam Siang Tng association at Sekama Road. Later in 2011, working as a salesman with a better salary, he wanted to help more people, but he did not know how.

It was when he met septuagenarian Uncle Foo, whom he found staggering around at Carpenter Street, dragging along a gunny sack, that Wan found his calling.

“I asked the uncle why he was there, and he said he needed to get some charcoal. I helped him buy the charcoal and sent him home to Kampung Kudei. Kampung Kudei was an illegal settlement. He has been staying there for 30 years after buying the house from the previous squatter for RM500.

“When we reached his house, I met his wife who was over 60-years-old, and two daughters with Down Syndrome who were naked at home. There was no water nor electricity there. And I thought to myself that this family really needed some help.

“Looking at myself—a single person earning RM1,200 every month, staying at home with my parents—to be honest, I didn’t really have a lot of expenses to cover. To bless this uncle was not a big deal. So, every weekend, I spent RM50 to RM60 to buy some food for the uncle,” said Wan.

And that was how Hope Place slowly came about, from a one-man show helping Uncle Foo’s family to 15 families in Kampung Kudei, and to 48 families after a year, with the help of sponsors mainly comprising Wan’s friends, colleagues, church members, and customers.

In 2013, Hope Place was officially registered and recognised as a non-governmental organisation (NGO) which aims to help and contribute to local communities, give hope and touch lives for a better future.

Since then, Hope Place has become a lifeline for destitute souls in Kuching, where pockets of abject poverty exist alongside the vibrant city life. In the city of Kuching, Hope Place stands as a beacon of hope amidst the challenges faced by the less fortunate.

Hope Place’s aid targets four major groups, namely the disabled (OKU) individuals, single parents with schooling children, abandoned elderlies, and families with income less than RM500 per month. They also provide emergency basic supplies to fire and flood victims throughout Kuching, and to longhouses in the interior of Sarawak through the Charity Without Border (CWB) programme.

Wan is committed to helping underprivileged people in Kuching through Hope Place. Photo by Hope Place.
Wan (right) delivering donations to one of Hope Place’s clients. Photo by Hope Place.
The Hope Place team working together to deliver donations even to the interior of Sarawak. Photo by Hope Place.

Coming from a family with a limited education background, Wan strongly believes that education is key to breaking the cycle of poverty. Without education, he said, a poor family will remain poor for generations, without fail.

As a compassionate visionary, Wan said he wishes to set up a centre where children from poor families will not be discriminated against and be taught to love and value knowledge. Classes will not be divided according to academic scores, but attitude and character.

“They must have the right mindset first, including their parents. We want to set up that kind of centre to educate their minds. Before you can change the children’s attitude, you need to change their minds. So, we have such a dream,” he said.

Since 2015, Wan has been writing to the government to request for a piece of land to build the centre, but there has not been any positive response. Despite that, he remains committed to pursuing the matter.

“Survival is always the priority in poor families, not education. So the children grow up not knowing the importance of school. That must be changed, or else poverty will remain in that family for generations. There must be a cut-off point to break them out of poverty,” Wan emphasised.

With education at the heart of Hope Place’s mission, a Learning Hub was set up at La Promenade Mall by Hock Seng Lee (HSL) in Kota Samarahan in 2021 to provide knowledge and skills training to those under Hope Place’s care and the community.

The Hope Place team
A cozy corner at the Learning Hub by Hope Place at La Promenade Mall.
The new Kedai Bajet by Hope Place at 12th Mile is opposite the Road Transport Department (JPJ) premises and is open 10am to 5pm, Monday to Saturday.

Other than the latest Learning Hub, Hope Place is also operating two thrift stores in Kuching—one at Eden Centre, 12th Mile and the second at Tabuan Tranquility 3 (TT3). The budget stores sell a wide range of items from clothing and homeware to bedding, with most items priced between RM2 to RM10.

Today, Hope Place supports more than 280 families in Kuching, transcending religious and racial boundaries. The NGO is constantly in need of more delivery volunteers to deliver donated items to needy families.

Volunteers only have to deliver donations to the families they are adopting, every two months at their convenience. This would take some load off Hope Place’s permanent staff and volunteers so that their helping hands can reach more new families in need.

For more information on how you can help or contribute, contact Hope Place at 013-5672775. Get in touch with Hope Place today. Perform one act of kindness at a time. — DayakDaily