When Mdm Ho Kwai Min passed away, she left a legacy that will live on in every child beneficiary that her donation touches. Ms Joyce Teng, Senior Director of Community Engagement & Partnerships, attended the cheque presentation ceremony in November 2021, and offers up this reflection.
Listening to the stories told about Mdm Ho Kwai Min during the ceremony for her legacy donation to Children’s Society, it felt like I was among friends. Through stories told by those who knew her and a video that was shared, I learnt so much about her courage, determination, and commitment to staying true to what she believed in.
In many respects, Mdm Ho seemed larger than life.
She had a difficult childhood, born in 1922 in China and deemed ‘unlucky’ by her birth mother. She was sold at a young age to another family, and narrowly escaped becoming a concubine when things got tough for her adoptive family.
Even at just 18, she knew what she wanted – and what she didn’t – and opted, instead, to be sold as a Pei Pa Zai, or “little pipa” in Cantonese, and come to Singapore in 1940. These songstresses, who sang Cantonese opera, were also expected to entertain male clients, and spend time drinking and playing mahjong with them.
Mdm Ho never wallowed in self-pity or blamed anyone. To her, it was an honest living. Even when a 1992 documentary about her life drew criticism, she was unperturbed. “I didn’t steal that money, why should I be disturbed by how others think of me?” she said in an interview. Her self-worth was independent of other people’s opinions or acceptance.
She eventually married and became determined to make life easier for others. During her lifetime, she organised various fundraising drives to donate to causes that she believed in, including Kwong Wai Shiu Hospital.
Even after her husband passed away in 1990, she remained disciplined and meaningfully engaged, including at the Soka association, where she was a founding member. She stayed true to her belief that no challenge was insurmountable.
She also lived simply, but it was only upon her passing in 2017 that it came to light that this was not for want of money. In fact, Mdm Ho had squirreled away almost $300,000 which, in her 80s, she had willed to the charities she cared most about, including not just Kwong Wai Shiu Hospital and Singapore Soka Association, but Children’s Society. Her own troubled childhood led her to leave almost $99,000 towards securing a better future for children from needy families.
For me, Mdm Ho is a woman of true courage, determined not to let her unfavourable start dictate the rest of her life. She overcame every challenge, just as she hoped the children her donation helps will be able to. It is a reminder that we can decide what we want to make of our own lives, and take active steps towards it.
Our Chairman Mr Koh Choon Hui often reminds me that giving must come from the heart. This has been clear in Mdm Ho’s case – giving a much-appreciated gift to the causes that she truly believes in.
I hope the children, youth and families we help will find inspiration from the life of this humble heroine who has shown how good can come out of even the most trying of circumstances.