St Regis Perspectives

‘You can change your life’, says former kampung boy who's an ex-VP of SGX

CEO of Lien Aid Koh Lian Hock. Photo: Don Wong
What Mr Koh Lian Hock had at Labrezza, the St Regis. Photo: Don Wong
This former kampung boy is proof that circumstances need not trap you. And he gave up his SGX job to help Lien Aid spread that hope to others
Published: 4:02 AM, July 6, 2013
Updated: 8:10 PM, July 7, 2013
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Running around barefoot in a Lorong Halus kampung as a child, Koh Lian Hock (picture) was heedless of hygiene. Back in a time when people would defecate anywhere, and education was minimal, he stepped in human and animal waste while chasing friends about the village.

Left unwashed, his feet would get infected, swelling up with pockets of pus that had to be burst and cleaned at a polyclinic. But once healed, he was back to his old ways. The well water, too, was unclean and diarrhoea was common.

The young Lian Hock never made the connection between this way of life and the sickness that followed, nor realised how it contrasted with using a proper toilet at his primary school.

Until 30 years on, when those days came back to haunt him as he stared at the dismal living conditions of a village in Yunnan, China, in 2010.

Invited on the trip by a friend from his army days, Mr Lee Poh Wah — then Lien Aid’s Chief Executive Officer — Mr Koh looked at the children, gazing dully and blank-eyed back at him. “It was a sense of hopelessness,” the 45-year-old recalls. Like his younger self they were barefoot, stepping in dung and stuck in the poverty trap.

So when the offer came soon after of the CEO position at Lien Aid, and with it the chance to help many more such villagers, it took Mr Koh just a week to decide — even though he had “never given a cent to charity before”.

At Lien Aid, he oversees operations locally and at its offices in Cambodia, China and Vietnam. The NGO was set up in 2006 as a collaboration of the Lien Foundation and Nanyang Technological University’s (NTU) Environmental Endeavour Programme. Its stated goal is to “make water and proper sanitation more accessible and affordable for communities in need in Asia”.

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