I can't be buried with my money: Retiree gives $500,000 to ST's School Pocket Money Fund

Mr Loh Kiong Poot (left) presenting a mock cheque to STSPMF chairman Warren Fernandez at the Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) News Centre on Aug 7, 2018.
Mr Loh Kiong Poot (left) presenting a mock cheque to STSPMF chairman Warren Fernandez at the Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) News Centre on Aug 7, 2018.ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

SINGAPORE - When Mr Loh Kiong Poot was 14 years old, he ran away from home and quit school.

It was not because of domestic abuse, or because life was tough. In fact, it was just the opposite.

Growing up, he had everything - or at least seemed to.

His family owned a bungalow in Lorong Marzuki, Kembangan. Money was not an issue. Whatever he and his older sister wanted, his father would buy.

But it was not a happy home and it lacked a mother's love, said Mr Loh, now 75, whose parents divorced when he was five years old.

"The rooster doesn't know how to bring up the chicks, only the hen knows," he said with a wry smile, referring to a Mandarin saying.

"What did I know about love? I didn't understand that my father loved me in his own way."

Money couldn't seem to buy him happiness - so he left to find his own.

He worked odd jobs as a shop assistant at grocery stores and bookstores, living hand to mouth with around $20 a day, and spent his nights in a small shophouse owned by one of his employers.

He ventured into the trading industry in 1974, selling "a bit of everything", from textiles to paper cups, and built up his business till his retirement in 1990 at the age of 47.

Mr Loh now wants to help troubled children in need.

He has donated $500,000 to The Straits Times School Pocket Money Fund (STSPMF), and presented a mock cheque to STSPMF chairman Warren Fernandez at the Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) News Centre on Tuesday (Aug 7).

The fund was initiated in 2000 as a community project by The Straits Times, providing pocket money to children from low-income families to help them through school.

Since 2000, it has disbursed over $60 million worth of funds. It currently supports more than 10,000 needy students a year.

Mr Loh's contribution to STSPMF is his biggest donation yet, though he has given money to charities and orphanages in countries such as Thailand and Vietnam.

Since he left home, he never asked his father for money, notwithstanding the family house that was willed to him after his father died.

"It's about dignity... If you want to give, you give. That's very important to me," he said.

And he stands by that principle.

He freely gives away what he has - as long as he knows the money is going to a legitimate cause - and he also goes a long way to ensure his donations make a difference.

Two years ago, he made a trip to Cambodia to help build more classrooms for a village school there. It cost about $40,000.

Said Mr Loh: "I drew up the building plans myself, sourced for some (construction) materials and hired all the contractors to do the job.

"I guess you can say that due to my own experience... I want to help young children now.

"I'm a simple man and I live comfortably with my wife - that's enough. I can't be buried with my money so why not give it to charity?"

Mr Fernandez, who is also The Straits Times' editor and editor-in-chief of SPH's English/Malay/Tamil Media group, said: "We're grateful that someone like Mr Loh found meaning in what we're doing, and we're very glad to receive this generous donation."