Indiegogo fundraiser wants to sponsor trip for Vietnamese tourist bullied at Sim Lim Square

Singaporean Gabriel Kang (left) initiated a crowdfunding campaign to raise money for Vietnamese tourist Pham Van Thoai (right). -- PHOTO: GABRIEL KANG'S FACEBOOK/LIANHE ZAOBAO
Singaporean Gabriel Kang (left) initiated a crowdfunding campaign to raise money for Vietnamese tourist Pham Van Thoai (right). -- PHOTO: GABRIEL KANG'S FACEBOOK/LIANHE ZAOBAO

SINGAPORE - Vietnamese tourist Pham Van Thoai, who was allegedly scammed in Sim Lim Square while buying a mobile phone, may be coming back to Singapore with his girlfriend for an all-expenses paid trip, if Mr Gabriel Kang has his way.

Mr Kang, who started a donation drive on crowdfunding site Indiegogo to help Mr Pham, raised more than $14,000 (US$11,000) within a day. The amount far exceeded his initial target of US$1,350, which he had planned to use to buy an iPhone 6 and local gifts for the Vietnamese factory worker.

Mr Kang, 37, said he was surprised by the overwhelming response because he managed to raise only US$39 in the first 30 minutes of the donation drive.

"I went for a meeting, and when I came out about three hours later, I had 200 Facebook messages, 600 emails, and almost (US)$3,000 had been raised!", the employee of a local tech start-up told The Straits Times.

With the money raised, he hopes to fly Mr Pham and his girlfriend back to Singapore for an all-expenses paid holiday which includes a stay in a 5-star hotel, good food, and lots of happiness without tears.

To show Singaporeans' sincerity in wanting to do the right thing, he wants to deliver the money personally to the 28-year-old. "It will also mean I can make sure the money reaches him," he added.

If there is a surplus after paying for the trip, he said he will use it as a fund to help others who have been scammed. "If they can provide some kind of documentary evidence, like a police report, then I can help them."

The Singaporean said he felt compelled to do something for Mr Pham after he read about how he saved up, and even took a loan to buy an iPhone 6 for his girlfriend, but ended up being cheated of his hard-earned money. 

"It was a normal human reaction. Just reading the reports on how he was mistreated made everyone's blood boil. I just happened to be the one to take action," he told The Straits Times.

While he could have just bought Mr Pham a phone, he thought this would be a good way for people to collaborate and show that they care.

The Vietnamese's experience at Mobile Air in Sim Lim Square has gone viral, with a video showing how he cried, knelt and begged for a refund. The shop quoted him $950 for the phone, but told him later that he had to pay another $1,500 for warranty. In the video, he said that he borrowed the money from a friend, and begged for help. But staff from the shop reportedly laughed at him. He ended up getting back only $400.

Although Mr Kang has the holiday plans for Mr Pham all drawn up, there is just one problem: he has not been able to reach him yet.

But he is holding out hope that he will be able to do so soon. "I know people who are trying their very best to get in touch with him for me," he said.

Meanwhile, donations are still coming in because Indiegogo users can end a donation drive only after the stated fundraising period - which is until Nov 12 - has run out.

Of the sum raised, 9 per cent will go to Indiegogo, while 5 per cent will go to Paypal, a money transfer service.

While he is happy that so much money has been raised, Mr Kang acknowledged that what started out as a simple initiative has grown much bigger than he had expected.

"I am custodian of the community's money now. People will be scrutinising how I use the money. They may ask why I don't give the money to an old folks' home or starving people. I can only hope there is not much of a backlash."

jalmsab@sph.com.sg