Ground-Up Initiative will stay open after death of founder Tay Lai Hock

Founder of Ground-Up Initiative Tay Lai Hock collapsed on Aug 14, 2018, at work, and was found unconscious by a friend he was supposed to have met. ST PHOTO: KHALID BABA

SINGAPORE - Ground-Up Initiative (GUI), the non-profit organisation that aims to nurture grounded leaders and model a Singapore society with a sustainable future, will continue with its work despite the death of its founder Tay Lai Hock on Tuesday (Aug 14).

Speaking at the wake at Block 230 Simei Street 4 on Wednesday, council member Mei Chang said: "I am here in GUI because I believe in it. Most of our lives have changed because of Lai Hock - why shouldn't we continue?"

Ms Chang, 49, said the eight years that she spent in the organisation had made her more rooted in Singapore and strengthened her belief in the country.

Mr Tay, 54, collapsed on Tuesday morning at work, and was found unconscious by a friend he was supposed to have met. He could not be revived and was taken by ambulance to hospital, where he later died.

When asked who would lead GUI, which is now owing $300,000 in construction costs alone, its volunteer coordinator Koo Hui Ying said the five-member council would bring the organisation through this transition phase before deciding on the next move.

"Right now our focus is on supporting Lai Hock's family and arranging his memorial service this Saturday," said Ms Koo, 28, adding: "We will take the next concrete steps next week."

Although general volunteering activities at GUI have been temporarily cancelled, other pre-planned programmes such as corporate team building and farming courses are still running.

Mr Tay founded eco-community GUI in 2008 to create a "21st century kampung culture" in the heart of cosmopolitan Singapore, tending to that vision on a 26,000 sq m piece of land dubbed Kampung Kampus.

It has since welcomed about 20,000 volunteers and runs about 100 programmes yearly, aiming to foster a connection with the land through experiential and nature-led learning.

It will also be where Mr Tay's body will be brought on Saturday for a "celebration of his life" before the cremation later the same day.

Ms Chang said: "It will not be a sad occasion. There will be a slideshow of his life and anyone can come, pen down how Lai Hock has impacted them and we will be playing and singing his favourite songs."

She said: "We will sing with him for the last time."

Polytechnic student and former GUI volunteer Justin Soh, 18, who attended the wake, recalled that he first met Mr Tay six years ago through a leadership camp at GUI. Mr Soh thereafter volunteered for four years.

"He fostered a kampung spirit where you learnt to give and take, and it's something you don't see much nowadays. Because of Lai Hock, I have changed the way I live to be more gracious and accepting," said Mr Soh, who also works as a microbiologist. He said: "What's important is that his philosophy and values live on. If I had to say one thing to him, I think 'thank you' is the best way to send him off."

Mr Tay's brother Tay Huey Meng, 52, said the family was proud of his achievements. "I'm very proud of Lai Hock, and will tell people about the things he has achieved," said the theatre production manager.

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