AS a young boy, Datuk Burnard Yeo would accompany his father on charity rounds in Klang where they lived.
Father and son would visit temples, orphanages and senior homes regularly.
Yeo observed his father’s devotion to philanthropy, which involved donating money to these institutions besides attending meetings of the Klang Buddhist Association, of which Yeo senior was one of the founders.
The younger Yeo learned at an early age that a meaningful life must include helping those in need.
That he would carry on the family tradition of giving generously seemed a natural progression for Yeo. At the age of 23, he joined St John Ambulance Malaysia (SJAM) — a non-profit statutory body based in Malaysia dedicated to humanitarian efforts — as a cadet.
SJAM’s history dates back over a century and the Malaysian association is a part of the wider St John Ambulance, a foundation of the Venerable Order of Saint John with a presence in 41 sovereign states, dependencies, autonomies or territories, according to Wikipedia.
“My late father was a generous man and he liked to help people. He inspired me to do the same.
“Wealth is not everything to us,” says Yeo, who has been with SJAM for nearly 40 years now.
Today, Yeo, 60, is SJAM Selangor state commander. He also manages the organisation’s 16 haemodialysis centres in Selangor, Perak, Pahang and Sarawak for needy patients.
According to Yeo, SJAM was the first non-governmental organisation to offer the haemodialysis service for the low and middle-income groups. This began in Klang in 1993.
At the time, Klang residents with chronic kidney disease had to travel to Kuala Lumpur Hospital for dialysis.
It was particularly tough on those who could not afford the expenses to travel to Kuala Lumpur for treatment. They turned to SJAM for help.
“We had no idea what dialysis was all about. So I went to Klang General Hospital to find out more and discovered there was no such facility for those with chronic kidney disease, “ recalls Yeo.
The full force of his father’s influence descended on Yeo then. Why not start a haemodialysis service in Klang so that these patients didn’t have to travel all the way to Kuala Lumpur for treatment?
The Klang Port Authority and Klang Port management became involved in the project because some of the patients needing treatment at the time were their workers. They donated two machines and that launched the treatment programme in late 1993.
From that humble beginning, the service has expanded to cover various places in Selangor, Pahang, Perak and Sarawak.
An adoption programme became necessary when Yeo realised that most patients could not afford the treatment cost, which was RM110 per visit.
Such patients require treatment three times a week, which works out to 12 to 13 times in a month.
They were mostly small-time entrepreneurs who had to stop working when diagnosed with chronic kidney disease.
These expenses ate into their life savings — which soon dried up — to pay for dialysis. Yeo and his staff did background checks on them and found that they were very poor indeed.
The adoption programme — Yeo’s brainchild, which began seven years ago — involved generous individuals adopting one or more patients and paying for their treatment, including epotin injections.
Yeo, who is a “fantastic fund raiser” according to various accounts, is happy with the public’s positive response to the adoption programme.
“People are beginning to understand the situation and are willing to help,” says Yeo.
The tragic death of his only son, aged 21, in 2003 gave new impetus to improve SJAM’s haemodialysis service.
“It was a depressing time for me and my wife.
“I kept busy by throwing myself into SJAM’s activities and began a programme to extend the haemodialysis service.”
He says he used his son’s insurance payout to buy dialysis machines besides donating to orphanages and old folks homes in his name.
What drives him? “Money is not everything. What we have here is temporary. We come into this world naked and we will go back naked,” says Yeo.
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