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Singaporean runs orphanage in Vietnam to help street kids

HO CHI MINH CITY — When he lost his mother to stomach cancer seven years ago, Singaporean Poh Wei Ye took a six-month break to travel around South-east Asia and worked with various non-governmental organisations to help underprivileged children.

Friends from Singapore visiting and conducting activities with the children at the Thi An Orphanage. Photo Credit: Poh Wei Ye/Thi An Orphanage

Friends from Singapore visiting and conducting activities with the children at the Thi An Orphanage. Photo Credit: Poh Wei Ye/Thi An Orphanage

Singapore

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HO CHI MINH CITY — When he lost his mother to stomach cancer seven years ago, Singaporean Poh Wei Ye took a six-month break to travel around South-east Asia and worked with various non-governmental organisations to help underprivileged children.

On the last leg of his trip, he returned to Vietnam and decided to stay on to set up an orphanage in Vung Tau, just outside Ho Chi Minh City.

Mr Poh, 33, recalled: “(During) those six months, I fell in love with helping the kids. I felt that in developing countries like Vietnam and Cambodia, the kids are very vulnerable.”

The former corporate finance executive is among thousands of Singaporeans based in Vietnam.

The opportunities for Singaporeans to work in Vietnam was highlighted by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Tuesday, when he arrived there for a four-day official visit.

Mr Poh, now married to a Vietnamese translator and father to a three-year-old son, said that the work he does in Vietnam surprised some of his Singaporean friends at home.

While there were those who were supportive, others said that he should “move on with life” and get “a normal job”. However, the Vietnamese people’s “willingness to accept” him, and their hospitality and warmth were, and still are, a big draw.

Mr Poh also wanted very much to help the children who were wandering the streets without a home. “Adults with bad intentions can do anything to them,” he said. The boys may be roped in as runners for drug peddlers, while the girls may be made to provide sexual services for men, he added.

In 2011, he set up the Thi An Orphanage — its name means “to accept everyone” — together with a Catholic nun in Vung Tau.

Vung Tau was chosen because of its proximity to his wife’s hometown in Dong Nai, which is a two-and-a-halfhour drive away.

Mr Poh said that the children in the city get more help and resources, so he was looking to help those living in the provinces.

The initial setup of the orphanage cost him US$10,000 (about S$14,000), and he had to use the money left by his mother to cover these costs. They took in just three children at first, but now they provide shelter to 20 children aged five to 16.

The total operating costs have likewise gone up, to about US$35,000 last year. These include providing allowances for the four nuns who work there. To keep the place going, Mr Poh set up a private firm, Blessed Discoveries, to coordinate trips by students and companies who would like to carry out activities related to their corporate social responsibility missions in Vietnam. The firm is arranging transport and accommodation for a group of National University of Singapore students heading there in May, for instance.

There are no plans to expand the orphanage. “We don’t have the extra finances, (so) taking in more (children) will not be easy,” he explained.

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