Professional emcee & social entrepreneur gets…
THERE is an East-Asian belief that blood types, like astrological signs, can be predictive of people’s traits. While that would not strike a chord with the scientific-minded, living liver giver Chew Hoong Ling certainly proves to be the optimistic and generous character associated with Type O blood.
Three years ago, Chew made headlines by donating 60% of her liver to a 13-year-old girl suffering from liver cancer. The young girl was a stranger whose plight Chew came across in a forwarded email. Having just glanced through the email, Chew initially thought that she was offering to donate her blood but when the girl’s aunt called Chew up to talk about an organ donation, Chew chose not to back down.
For one, she has always believed in organ donation, pledging to donate her organs at the young age of 13.
However, in her fragile state, the girl did not survive the complications that arose from the transplant and passed away eight months after the operation.
Despite that, Chew does not regret her decision. It was after all one of the highest act of compassion and altruism. While she has made it clear that she would not do it again nor would she encourage others to be a living donor due to organ harvesting syndicates, her altruistic flame has not fizzled out.
Chew’s current ambition revolves around setting up a social enterprise that provides emcee-ing training.
“Since I am already an emcee, why don’t I lend a hand in shaping professionalism in the field?” the professional emcee asserts.
Chew has been toying with the idea of starting a social enterprise for a few years now until a close friend encouraged her to “just do it.”
Together with a partner, KT Pillai, Chew now runs workshops and basic courses to train people under an organisation called PromptMC on the protocols and technicalities of professional emcee-ing.
“In Malaysia, a lot of emcees start out as deejays at pubs. There is no fixed path in becoming an emcee, there is no professionalism,” she notes. Chew adds that there had been efforts by a few professional emcees to set up an association but the plans fell through.
Chew says that she and Pillai have drafted the syllabus for a diploma in professional emcee-ing and have submitted it to the local liason for Sunderland College in United Kingdom.
Even though the syllabus is still under testing, she says that it is very likely to qualify as a diploma.
Chew’s ultimate goal is to make PromptMC a social enterprise that can provide training for single parents, school leavers and retrenched workers who are looking for a skill-based job.
“I just want everything to be settled before I introduce the social aspect to PromptMC. In the future, when the diploma is certified, we can perhaps have one single parent sponsored into the programme for every three enrolment or something along the lines of that,” shesays.
The idea of providing opportunities for single parents came about when Chew helped out at her mother’s reflexology centre in Ipoh.
In helping her mother manage the masseuses’s payroll, she found that on top of receiving 50% of the massage rates and customers’ tips, they only worked about four hours a day.
That seemed like a viable job for single mothers who need to juggle between working and raising children.
For Chew, she sees that a career as a professional emcee can give single parents that liberty and flexibility too.
Chew says she can earn about RM2000 for a full-day emcee job and if single parents can get about three such stints per month, they could earn aliving.
Chew started her career behind the mic way back in school when she emceed for a St John Ambulance function. Although she was given a script to read off, someone commended her on her presentation and voice.
She was then roped in as a television presenter for Selamat Pagi Malaysia during college and she was frequently invited to emcee events hosted by the numerous organisations she joined after.
“After emceeing for some time, I thought that it could be quite a good career. You talk, talk, talk and people give you money,” she laughs, adding that she could eventually afford to stop working as a executive assistant at Xeersoft.
She initially stopped work with the intention to focus on writing her book about her liver donation, I Don’t Know You but Let Me Save You but found that by emceeing, she could sustain a living while having the flexibility to keep up with her participation in various organisations.
Although she still campaigns for organ donation awareness through personal contact and talks, she admits that she feels there is not much more she can contribute as she does not have the medical background to back her talks up.
In comparison to most people, Chew is rather the multi-faceted overachiever, ever willing to put time and effort into various organisations and social activities like Voice for Women, which she founded and Kahwin 4.0 forums, among others.
What has been her impetus to go the extra mile?
“I asked myself a few years ago why do I do all these, especially after receiving the Great Women of Our Time award in 2008 in the category of education and public services.” “On reflection, I found out it was because of my family background.”
When Chew’s parents divorced, she stayed with her paternal aunt in Teluk Intan. Growing up, she saw her cousins entering the workforce barely completing their studies. While one did not have a stable job, the other stopped schooling to find work.
“My aunt wanted us to be successful. I recall that when my cousins went out to work, my aunt often cried saying that the Chew family has never been successful, no achievements at all,” she says with eyes brimming with tears. “I wanted to tell her that I will make her proud, that I will be successful for her one day.”
For Chew, it was a turning point that ignited within her a yearning to make something out of herself.
Chew says she feels like she has accomplished what she set out to do and is now contented.
“I don’t expect any awards already. I feel like I have done my duty in making her proud and nothing was more meaningful than to have been able to dedicate that award to her,” she says.
However, she does not see herself pulling out from her busy schedule.
“I have made a habit out of pursuing all these activities so I never stop being busy,” she says.
With so much going on in her life, one is tempted to ask if she has any time for love. To that, the single lady says that her heart is open but it would have to be a person who accepts her busy lifestyle.
Although not shy in person, Chew was reluctant to talk to the media when she first successfully donated her liver.
“After the operation, there were a lot of interview requests and I felt like if I entertained those requests I was just publicising myself. I was not comfortable with that,” she recalls.
However, Chew hesitantly agreed to some interviews and talks to share her experience and the impact of her story surprised her.
“I saw more people pledging their organs when the articles came out and after my talks. I told myself that I should do something (with this publicity) and I accepted interviews after that,” she says.
That said, she maintains that her purpose of giving an interview is not to talk about herself.
“I always ask the journalists not to write about me; it is about the cause. I always ask them to at least add a few lines asking people to pledge online at www.agiftoflife.gov.my.”
Even then, her altruism was questioned.
“That too invites criticism,” she says, “People think that I donated my liver to be famous. It made me realise that however much good you do, there will be those who will put a negative twist to it.”
All in all, the whole journey of helping the young girl has been a valuable one for Chew.
She can not only campaign more convincingly having made an organ donation but she has also taken away life lessons from the experience.
“This experience has taught me a lot of things. I was a perfectionist and I used to think a lot, so much that I do not get things done,” she says.
She recalls the time when she had doubts about donating her liver even after having undergone the necessary tests in Singapore.
“I didn’t feel like backing out but I was not 100% sure I wanted to do it. I even went to the temple to meditate but I couldn’t make a decision until I met a friend. He told me if I made up my mind to do it, I should not look back,” she says of how she decided to go through with the operation.
Her friend’s advice mentally prepared her to move forward after the donation, regardless of the outcome of the transplant or whether she survived the operation.
The whole experience has inspired her to make definite decisions now and as a reminder, she has stuck two stickers on her working laptop that reads: “Done is better than perfect” and “Don’t sweat the small stuff.”
Also, she has unveiled courage in facing life now, having faced the possibility of death.
“I dare face death. I have learned not to be afraid to try or do things anymore.”
She also cites another near-death experience when she went kayaking in Port Dickson early last year.
“When we were training, we were almost sucked in by a whirlpool. I told myself that if I come out alive from this, I will shave my head.”
Of course, Chew got the chance to shave her head bald.
BORN: Dec 23, 1980 in Kuala Lumpur
HIGHEST QUALIFICATION: BSc(Hons) Information Systems
CAREER: Executive assistant at Xeersoft until Jan 2010; professional emcee and social entrepreneur now
NOTEWORTHY: Great Women of Our Time award 2008 (education and public service) and National Premier Youth Award 2011
FAVOURITE FOOD: Seafood and tempoyak
FAVOURITE PLACE: Anywhere I find pleasurable to be
HOBBY: Reading, surfing the Internet, Tweeting, cooking
VALUES: Integrity, walking the talk, going the extra mile and optimism
INSPIRATION: Anas Zubedy, my mentor