Paul Foster and Danny Sin come from completely different professional backgrounds. One is a TV and entertainment personality while the latter is a VP for a multinational corporation. But these two fine men are linked by a shared dedication to helping rebuild schools and communities in Indonesia and beyond.
Foster was selected as the Singapore Ambassador of Happy Hearts Fund (HHF), a charity founded by Petra Nemcova in 2005 that rebuilds schools in disaster-affected parts of the world. Foster’s often seen on TV or at events, hosting shows or gala dinners, and became the perfect spokesperson to front this cause. He was recommended to Nemcova in the lead up to HHF’s first event in Singapore.
“She was looking for a host and my friend immediately said “Paul!” so we got in touch and when the time came, we met and had a wonderfully successful Happy Hearts Fund fundraiser,” Foster recalls. “From this event, I had also donated and made a commitment to go on a build, so when HHF organised a trip to Sumba last year, three friends and I went. After which, we were all brought on as ambassadors to represent the beautiful work HHF does.”
Meanwhile, Danny Sin, the Singapore Board Member of Happy Hearts Fund, calls the shots in sales and marketing for ANSAC, a logistics arm for producers of natural soda ash. He became involved with HHF through his former boss John Andrews almost a decade ago. He was then invited to join the board of HHF Indonesia in 2016 and decided to accept.
Sin shares, “I must confess that I did not always have a passion for philanthropy and fundraising, besides those ad hoc charity events that I participate in. With Happy Hearts Fund Indonesia, I came into close contact with the beneficiary, the children and the community that they are in, and was moved when I saw their happy faces, after having their own kindergarten, which is a basic element I had taken for granted. I realised that I did make a difference.”
Here, Sin and Foster share more about their experiences with voluntourism in Indonesia with Happy Hearts Fund and their view of philanthropy in general.
Petra Nemcova’s personal tragic memory of the 2004 tsunami motivated her to focus on children and schools. Why did you decide to dedicate your time to making a difference in child education by building schools?
Danny Sin (DS): Frankly, I didn’t think too much about being dedicated. I just went along and did what little that I could. I do believe education is the great equaliser. We are born into different environments, not by our own choice, so some will have better “luck” in life than others but with education, we can at least provide a fighting chance for those who are “not born lucky”. Why child education? Because that is the starting line, past that it will be much harder.
Paul Foster (PF): I decided on helping Happy Hearts Fund once I learnt about what they do. It is incredibly selfless and it requires a lot of effort to not only build the schools, but also to raise funds; find corporate sponsorship; travel to the remote regions to recce sites and establish a relationship with the people; acquire construction materials and manpower; and operate a non-profit organisation on a daily basis. There is so much that happens behind the scenes, but the tangible result of a kindergarten full of happy children who are able to get an education in a safe environment is something that Happy Hearts Fund is able to achieve. I thought I could help be a part of this and it seems so did Happy Hearts Fund, so here we are.
How has voluntourism/voluntouring adapted over recent years?
DS: With the big leap in telecommunications, we are more aware than ever about the place and planet we live in. More people are traveling to see, feel and experience for themselves. Schools here are including more social studies in their curriculum. More of our young are going beyond just visiting places of interest. They are combining it with volunteerism. I think there is money in this and some travel companies are jumping in to promote it, which is good for the kids in those remote parts of the world too. If they cannot afford to travel to see things for themselves; at least the “world” is coming to them.
PF: I think the feeling, the need and the want to volunteer is still the same. But definitely over the years, the awareness and opportunity to volunteer has very much increased and/or become more accessible. So non-profits have adapted to reach out to the public more effectively. Its painfully obvious how there is so much voluntarism needed, but again, it’s really up to an individual if they wish to do so. At the end of the day, those who want to help, will help.
What specific achievements can you point to during your trips to Indonesia with HHF that you are most proud of/happy about?
DS: Nothing beats seeing the happy faces of kids in school. It really warms your heart and brings a lump to the throat. I can almost see tears forming in the corner of the eyes of some of those “first-timers”. You should try it. If I am a doctor, I would prescribe it.
PF: It was simply making a difference for the children. Putting a smile on their faces but knowing that these smiles will continue after we left. We painted walls at one kindergarten and for another, we helped during the foundation phase, which required more physical labour.
“It was simply making a difference for the children. Putting a smile on their faces but knowing that these smiles will continue after we left.” — Paul Foster, Singapore Ambassador of Happy Hearts Fund
What were some of the personal challenges faced during the trips?
DS: In some areas, getting there is already a challenge. The other challenge is to find time during a busy schedule. I literally had to include these trips into my work schedule and plan ahead. Wish I could just pick up and go.
PF: I have been on a few international volunteering trips and also many remote areas for filming, so I am not one that shies away from hard work or being out of my comfort zone. Personally, there aren’t many challenges during these trips, perhaps the closest thing would be keeping to a relatively balanced diet which is near impossible when in remote places. I love my food and will eat pretty much everything, but this can sometimes be dangerous when I can’t balance it out!
What advice could you offer any aspiring volunteers?
DS: Everyone is hard pressed for time. We have work and other commitments, but I am sure every now and then people will pause and think about what matters most in life. If you are aspiring to volunteer, you are on the right path. Next is to simply go put it into action. There are no short of causes out there. Also be mindful of that overwhelming feeling that there are too many people out there who need help and your effort is not going to make any difference. For that one kid who now has a school to go to, I say it did make a difference.
“If you are aspiring to volunteer, you are on the right path. Next is to simply go put it into action.” — Danny Sin, Singapore Board Member of Happy Hearts Fund
PF: The best advice for aspiring volunteers is: Find your cause. There are many causes out there that need our help, but you have to find those that resonate with you and that you want to genuinely help with. Only then will you be able to commit your time and effort to help in whatever capacity possible.
Can you share some simple ways that people can incorporate giving in their lives even if they’re incredibly busy?
DS: Stay engaged with your community, whatever community that may be: your social group of friends, your chat group friends or whatever. They will draw you out and when the opportunity arises that calls for participation, step forward boldly.
Giving is more than just money, it should involve time and other resources, but guess what? It will be very fulfilling, knowing that you have touched lives — lives of real people. They may or may not remember you but you have made a difference.
PF: I find monetary donations are the first way to give back. We have been able to do this even as children. The next level would be to volunteer your time and effort, moving on to organising and fundraising. But I think the simplest way is to truly inspire and by doing any or all of the above and sharing your cause with people. It will hopefully lead to more people wanting to give back.
I’m very fortunate that I have many friends who support me in all my causes, and I am ever grateful for those who are so busy and can’t attend an event I am hosting or volunteer for a build, but will still donate and share what we are doing with their networks.