When Daniel Tan was just four months old, his father left the family, leaving his mother to fend for three young children. He may have been too young to understand, but he grew up affected by his mother's struggles to make ends meet. At the age of 10, his mother remarried but it was hardly a few months after his stepsister was born that he, too, left them. Like many children from broken families, he entered his teenage years troubled and wayward.
Today, not a trace of bitterness emanates from this gregarious man, as he recounts the events that led to the formation of Yayasan Generasi Gemilang (GG), a foundation that educates under-served children and families. For someone without prior background in social work, seven steadfast years of running GG has saw to its expansion from Kuala Lumpur and Selangor, to the outskirts of Sarawak.
Establishing a footing
“I had no idea what an NGO was, except that it stands for ‘No Gaji Organisation’. I wasn’t trained and it all started with a passion.”
In the darkest hours of his youth, Daniel found solace at church. “These adults were my guardians, and despite my background they believed in my potential.” Daniel had started smoking, drinking, and mixing with bad company in his high school days.
“I couldn’t speak a word of English up to Form 2. I began picking up the language, and eventually I went on to get a diploma in IT,” shared Daniel, who thrived in the field. At the same time, Daniel served as a pastor and counselor for youths and families, as well as the urban poor.
His counselling work was a calling to fix a broken society. “I started with character building syllabuses for schools,” the founder and CEO of GG explained. “I wanted to make the moral subject fun. The key of this program was to impact students, on top of making learning fun and engaging.”
In 2010, Daniel registered GG as a society with a few likeminded friends, and not long after, scored a corporate partnership with Danone Dumex on their first CSR campaign.
GG was quickly approached for more corporate partnerships, including Prudential, whom GG created the PRUkasih campaign offering free financial protection plans for low-income families. “When we keep to our principals and values, our integrity and credibility, people pay attention and come to us,” Daniel reiterated his foundation’s goals.
Humanity as the core value
The direction of GG stems from several important life lessons. Having suffered rejection as a child, Daniel’s core value is to give hope and a future to as many children as he can. “You just need to journey with them, give them a hand up. People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care,” he philosophised. “Love is the key to unlock every destiny of a broken soul, and that’s what keeps me going.”
Another staunch value Daniel emphasises on the GG team is to foster an atmosphere of family. “I train them to treat each child as a parent would, to nurture, feed, teach and uplift them, so a child would know someone believes in them,” he stressed. Out of gratitude, many successful recipients of GG’s aids have returned to mentor the younger batches. Lastly, Daniel underlines humanity.
“Humanity is defined by our service to others. I learned not to do charity, but to restore dignity.”
An empowering team
It was a few years later when Daniel felt a draw to East Malaysia, after numerous social work visits. He decided to uproot his life and set up his foundation in Miri. There, Daniel continues pounding the ground with student camps, training, mentoring and meeting local leaders of rural districts.
“You need to raise people. I help them establish pre-schools in the villages so the children don’t need to leave their families to study,” explained Daniel.
GG’s growth is attributed to an earnest and passionate team. Most importantly, they understand the vision of GG, and resonate with its cause. “90% of my staff is young and educated and I’m amazed by how they want to be more significant than make money. They go out of their comfort zone and go the extra mile,” mused Daniel.
“Community services and hitting the road can be daunting, so we compensate the team by social work and people development training.”
Education begins with an appetite
You’d be surprised to know that the bare necessities – food, uniform, and shoes – are barely met for many students. Four years ago, Daniel was bewildered by how many poor students come to school and go home, on an empty stomach.
GG works with the school canteen, raises funds, and pays the canteen to feed these children. “We started a Super Sarapan program in the urban area, and we now serve four schools in Miri."
“Education is meaningless to an empty stomach.”
Aside from food, Daniel strives to meet the overlooked basics, like uniforms and vision checks. Then there are the fundamentals of understanding languages and numbers, as well as life skills.
“We want to raise value-driven Malaysians. We incorporate character building as well as computer literacy programs. Within the next five years, we hope to help at least 5,000 children gain access to quality education in all areas.”
Education is a long-term commitment
For GG, success is when these children become purpose-driven in their lives and it’s as simple as seeing them through their SPM. “Education is a long-term commitment and when these children get through to tertiary, vocational or academic, they gain access to better jobs and better income.”
While Daniel’s altruism is an admirable feat to shoulder, he insists that one person’s contribution, however small, makes a difference. “Start with what you have, do it with your heart. Like Bob Pierce once said, ‘don’t fail to do something because you can’t do everything’,” he advised.
After all, it does take a village to raise a child.
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