'Heaven had blessed me abundantly': S'porean woman leaves over $1m to Africa's poor kids

Ms Doris Chua in Ethiopia in 2017 with Konjit, the Ethiopian girl she started sponsoring in 2016 (left) and the obituary Ms Chua herself prepared and paid for months before her death on March 20. PHOTOS: PHOTO: COURTESY OF DORIS CHUA'S FAMILY, OBITS.SG

SINGAPORE - Ms Doris Chua Kheng Geck was a planner and her obituary, which she had paid for herself, was prepared months before her death on March 20.

She even wrote it as a farewell message to her loved ones, telling them as they were reading it that she was already on her way to enjoying paradise.

She also apologised for her sudden departure and thanked family and friends for their love and kindness, writing: "Heaven had indeed blessed me abundantly with many good things in life and I felt extremely fulfilled."

Her family spoke to The Sunday Times at Ms Chua's condominium apartment in Pasir Ris last week and said she had specific requests on her obituary's page positioning, and the size and placement of her photograph.

She wanted her face to be near the top of the page, where the date of the newspaper was printed.

All this did not surprise Ms Chua's family who said she was an independent woman.

Her sister-in-law, Madam Ivy Kuah, 60, said: "Doris liked to plan ahead, and to do things herself without troubling anyone if she could help it. That's her character.

"The only thing she left blank in her obituary was her age when she died (63) and the date of demise."

Ms Chua had been diagnosed with stage three ovarian cancer in 2018, shortly after her 60th birthday in February that year.

But she had already prepared a will even before the illness struck.

She wanted her family to sell her three-room Seastrand unit and donate the proceeds, valued at over $1 million, to non-profit organisation World Vision Singapore to help underprivileged communities in Africa.

The family said they have not finished examining the will for any remaining assets.

Ms Chua wanted her family to sell her three-room Seastrand unit in Pasir Ris and donate the proceeds, valued at over $1 million, to World Vision Singapore to help underprivileged communities in Africa. ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

Ms Chua's older brother Eric, 65, said she had started thinking about helping African communities in 2015 after she read books on Nelson Mandela, the former South African president and anti-apartheid icon. She settled on World Vision after some research.

In 2016, she sponsored an Ethiopian girl, then aged 10. The girl will continue to be sponsored until she turns 18, in accordance with Ms Chua's wishes.

When Ms Chua told her family she was sponsoring an African child, some responded by asking in jest if it was a scam.

Eric, a retired IT adviser, said: "But she has always been independent. We knew she had done her own research."

In December 2017, Ms Chua visited the girl in Ethiopia, and upon her return, willed her home to help the underprivileged in Africa.

She explained in a video published by World Vision Singapore in 2019: "This is in the hope that it would be able to help the children in Africa have a higher chance of receiving an education to help their country. I am just doing my small part."

A World Vision spokesman told The Sunday Times: "We are extremely grateful and humbled by Doris' care for the poor and her desire to help vulnerable children. Her legacy will impact many children in Africa seeking to have better education to step out of poverty."

Ms Chua's nephew, Desmond Cai, 39, who works in the marine industry, said his aunt always had a heart for children. The fourth of seven siblings, she was divorced with no children.

Ms Chua started her own childcare centre before giving it up to become a private Chinese tutor, a more manageable line of work. She had tutored for about 10 years when cancer struck.

She had stopped schooling after secondary school then lived in the United States for a while with her then husband, who was on a work attachment. It was also there that she got a diploma in early childhood education. The couple divorced after returning to Singapore.

Madam Kuah said: "She stopped teaching because she had to go for treatment and chemotherapy. But she kept in touch with her students and parents through a WhatsApp chat group. She sent them weekly updates on how she was doing."

Her family thought her condition was improving after chemotherapy. She was even able to take the train alone to meet them for meals at her favourite hawker centre in Old Airport Road.

But in August last year, Ms Chua felt giddy and had blurry vision. Tests revealed seven tumours in her brain as the cancer had spread.

Her health deteriorated rapidly, said Eric.

"We wanted to go for a cruise with her in December, but couldn't as she was bedridden."

Ms Chua died on March 20, 2021. ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

Ms Chua spent her last months at St Andrew's Community Hospital, where her family visited her almost daily. She did not want to seek further treatment, as it was expensive without guaranteed results, and had prepared an Advance Medical Directive expressing those wishes.

Ms Chua, who liked cross-stitching, used her remaining time to knit coasters and neck and hand warmers as mementos for friends and family.

Said Madam Kuah: "She did it until her fingers were too swollen and her eyesight was too bad."

A crochet piece made by Ms Chua. ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

Ms Chua had even instructed that each family member receive a personal file with a request from her. For example, Mr Cai was entrusted with administrative tasks like cancelling her telco services, while Madam Kuah was in charge of taking care of Ms Chua's helper, hired about two years ago.

Madam Kuah added: "Doris was very concerned for her because she's from Myanmar and it's not a good time for her to return to her country. She asked me to speak to her agent to arrange a transfer (to another employer).

"That's what she was like - thoughtful, caring and determined."

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