Friends doing good, across borders
They were once employee and employer. Maria Teresa a commerce graduate from the Philippines, who worked in Singapore for the family of retired businessman, Thomas Wee.
Today, Maria and Thomas operate Willing Hearts Orphanage in Maria’s hometown, Bulacan. A project borne out of friendship and their shared passion to do good. Together, they are providing a home for abandoned, orphaned and street children.
But their charitable ventures began even before co-founding the orphanage in 2008. They started when Maria first returned home after working for the Wee family for 12 years.
Maria would often ask Thomas to send her food, clothing, money and other items. Thomas obliged, but admits he was initially perplexed about what Maria did with the donations. To find out, he and his wife, Alice, flew to the Philippines to visit Maria, and were moved by what they discovered.
“She was giving to her neighbours, and helping her neighbours,” Thomas says. “She is helping others.”
He was also struck by the living conditions in her village. “I saw the house, small, tiny house with 20 people in one room, eating there, sleeping there, everything...The condition was so bad, that I decided I must do something,” he says.
Maria acknowledges this, “They saw my way of living. That we are really struggling.” She is grateful for the support Thomas and Alice have given her over the years. “Without him, I cannot finish all this,” she says.
With a mixture of pride and respect, Thomas says, “She’s giving up everything to serve the poor...Everybody (in the village) knows her, and approaches her when they need something.”
This seed of desire to do good was planted when Maria was in her teens. She would see “shabby children” begging outside the church on her way to and from school.
Explains Maria, “Because I come from a poor family and have experienced life’s challenges, it was instilled in my heart and mind that someday, somehow, I will help impoverished children.”
Dozens of children in Maria’s village have benefitted from her efforts to improve their lives. Many were surviving off the streets, or had lost their parents, before local authorities referred them to Willing Hearts Orphanage.
As of June 2018, it houses more than 30 boys and girls, providing shelter, security and nourishment. It also pays for kids to attend local schools. Thomas says if funds allow, there is room for at least 20 more children.
And while Willing Hearts welcomes children between the ages of four and 12 years, if any of the beneficiaries want to continue their studies, Maria says she will consider sponsoring their school fees up to college level.
“That’s why we need people who are willing to help us,” she adds.
Thomas and Alice own a thrift store in Singapore, with proceeds contributing to the cost of running the orphanage. Items collected are also freighted to Bulacan to sell at the local market for additional income.
Although Maria already manages the orphanage, Thomas plans for her to take over his share when he turns 80 years old, in 2020.
He says, “As it is now, I will start giving her more power and withdraw. (Eventually) I should leave everything to her.”
Maria anticipates the challenge, but is determined to expand the work of Willing Hearts Orphanage. “Hopefully we can accept more children, because it feels so good to help in our own little way.”
Gift a child’s education and give them a chance to escape the cycle of poverty.