Newspapers shouldn’t pour all their energy into underlining tragedy, injustice and heartache. They should also feature stories that inspire readers and compel them to change the world they live in.
This is a story about good news, about how one man’s unfortunate circumstances brought together a group of individuals who set out to change the life of a stranger, but instead had their own lives changed forever.
Take a good look at the photos of Lauw Tjoan Eng at Universal Studios Singapore, and you’ll notice a patch of skin hanging over his right eye. Now, thanks to charitable nurses and doctors at Singapore’s Gleneagles Hospital, that patch, which blocked his vision for 30 years, isn’t there anymore.
When photojournalist Yudhi Sukma Wijaya spotted Eng, 51, in a crowd of residents looking on as flames engulfed an entire city block of homes in North Jakarta a few months back, the lensman had no idea how a face in a crowd would change his life.
Yudhi’s compelling photo essay of Eng, which first appeared in the Jakarta Globe in March, set off a chain reaction of compassion.
First came a call to the newspaper from an anonymous reader who wanted to sponsor Eng’s trip to Universal Studios in Singapore, Eng’s life dream.
Then BeritaSatu’s Count Me In team, which promotes stewardship and volunteering throughout Indonesia, contacted the Singapore Tourism Board, which then got in touch with Gleneagles Hospital, AirAsia and Wanderlust hotel. Klirkom, a public relations agency based in Jakarta, kicked in a video camera to document the whole trip.
The pieces started to fall into place. Count Me In was going to get Eng to Singapore and the team at Gleneagles was going to restore his vision.
After a free MRI scan donated by the doctors at Siloam Hospital in Karawaci, Kamaljeet Singh Gill, Parkway Hospitals Singapore’s chief marketing officer and Gleneagles took over.
“As soon as we received the medical enquiry, I immediately discussed the CSR initiative with the CEO of Gleneagles Hospital, where we both felt that we could help Eng with his current medical condition,” Gill said. “We shortlisted a plastic surgeon, Dr. Leslie Kuek, and an ophthalmologist, Dr. Lee Hung Ming.
“The next day we met with doctors to discuss the treatment plan and to review the scans and blood tests. Both doctors were immediately confident we could improve Eng’s medical condition and we were all willing to do so at no cost. I then contacted the Count Me In team and broke the good news to them. All this was coordinated within 48 hours.”
Gleneagles, the doctors, the nurses and the staff never whispered a word about money. Their time and skills all came from the heart. Gill and the Gleneagles team made sure Eng knew from the moment he arrived in Singapore that everything would be taken care of by the hospital.
After months of dealing with Indonesia’s painstaking bureaucracy just to arrange for blood tests and an MRI there, Eng and the Count Me In team were surprised at both the efficiency and generosity shown at Gleneagles.
Eng suffers from neurofibromatosis, a non-contagious, genetically inherited disorder that covers the entire body with benign tumors and pustules. Neurofibromatosis is incurable. Eng, who by the age of 15 was covered with the postulates, is well aware that his condition is something he’ll have to deal with his whole life.
While Eng’s illness presents no real physical burden, the daily strain of being stared at and having people sneak photos to show their friends can take its toll. And because of the lack of knowledge about his illness, getting work has always been a challenge. Eng survives on what little money his brothers can give him.
The day after the consultation with Dr. Lee and Dr. Leslie, the Count Me In team visited Universal Studios with reduced-rate tickets courtesy of the theme park. Eng enjoyed attractions like Transformers the Ride and Battlestar Galatica and got his photo snapped with celebrity impersonators.
At Universal Singapore, Eng’s face wasn’t pasted with a smile so much as drenched in wonder. Before Eng met the Count Me In team, he’d never been in an airplane, let alone a 3-D theme park ride.
Following the surgery, Melissa Pang, a journalist with the Straits Times in Singapore, ran a story featuring Eng and the doctors who changed his life. People from around the country responded with e-mails enquiring how they could help Eng. Most people wanted to donate cash, and someone offered a computer.
But the story didn’t stop there. Since Eng is an early riser, the Count Me In team has arranged to have 10 copies of the Jakarta Globe sent to his doorstep each morning as the sun comes up. That way, Eng can sell copies of the Jakarta Globe in popular tourist destinations like Kota Tua, Jalan Surabaya and Pasar Festival.
In order to build his confidence, Maya Martini, communications executive for Count Me In, accompanied Eng on his first few days selling newspapers.
“Eng tried to work before,” Maya said. “He tried to sell shoes in Pasar Baru, but people looked at him weird and ignored him. Eng really wants to sell newspapers, but it’s hard when people look at him strange. It embarrasses him and hurts his feelings. But he wants make money so he can be independent. So please, if you see Pak Eng don’t look at him like he’s strange or avoid him. He needs to gain confidence.”
So be sure to keep an eye out for Eng. Wave him down, buy a newspaper and help us keep filling it with good news, not bad news.