THE Straits Times School Pocket Money Fund (SPMF) has received the largest pledge of support in its 11-year history.
Businessman Ron Sim, founder and chief executive of Osim International, has pledged $5 million to the fund over five years, starting this year. He is making the donation in his personal capacity.
SPMF, which helps children from low-income families with a monthly stipend to pay school-related expenses, became a charity late last year. With that development, it expanded its scope to include helping these children in their social and educational development.
It will, for example, rope in volunteers to coach its beneficiaries in English language and current affairs.
SPMF chairman Han Fook Kwang, editor of The Straits Times (ST), said: 'This very generous New Year present for the fund and our 9,500 beneficiaries is especially significant as we're now a full-fledged charity with an expanded mission to help needy students.
'It's a great start to the year for us, and is particularly meaningful coming from Ron Sim, who has made it good from humble beginnings.'
Mr Sim, who gave a cheque for the first million to SPMF yesterday, does in fact want to make this very point: 'The key message I want to send to kids as well as to parents is that you can have ordinary parents, ordinary schools, ordinary teachers, but you can still achieve extraordinary results.'
The 54-year-old would not be drawn into talking about his life, but it has previously been reported that he started working after completing his studies at Balestier Hill Technical School, which is now known as Balestier Hill Secondary School, going into sales and eventually starting his health and lifestyle company.
He said he was inspired by the kindness two teachers had shown him when he was in school.
One was his stern form teacher in the now-defunct May North Primary School, Mr Tan Khay Poh, now 66 and a semi-retired contract teacher at Bendemeer Primary School.
When Mr Sim lost his money when he was in Primary 3 and was going to go without food during recess, Mr Tan gave him 20 cents. Mr Sim recalled: 'Twenty cents was a lot in those days.'
The other teacher he remembers to this day is his Balestier Hill Technical School extra-curricular activities teacher Ong Yew Ghee, who gave his then 14-year-old student a new pair of track shoes before a cross-country run.
Mr Ong, 63, who has retired, said the school gave the shoes as an incentive to students representing it in the run. He does not recall how the young Mr Sim fared that day, but said he remembers the boy's determination and the quick improvement he made in his running times.
Mr Tan said: 'It makes us very happy as his teachers. I suppose we had successfully taught our students to be valuable citizens who can contribute to society.'
Mr Sim is no newcomer to helping SPMF. In 2003, he pledged $1 million over four years and is among the donors to the annual charity concert ChildAid, which raises money for SPMF and The Business Times Budding Artists Fund.
For more information on SPMF, visit www.stschoolpocketmoneyfund.org.sg