By Elizabeth Chong
Six years ago, Mary Anne Tan embarked on a journey that continues to be fascinating, inspiring and intensely fulfilling, albeit challenging.
On August 28, 2007, she co-founded local charity Jumble Station (JS) with Lim Lian See and Sanice Kam with the ultimate objective of helping single mothers become financially stable. A year later, Tan became full time coordinator at JS, which accepts donated items that are sold at a second-hand shop in USJ 1.
“Initially I tried doing it part time. I opened the shop at 10am and worked till 2pm before rushing off to work but it was tough,” said the former journalist.
“Trust is crucial and I could not keep track of items being donated when I was at work so my two hired workers were helping themselves to the stuff. I knew it was time to focus completely on JS if I wanted to make this charity a success.”
None of the co-founders draws an income from JS but Lim has a hair studio in PJ while Kam owns a kindergarten in Shah Alam. However, Tan had started investing in property as part of her plan to be financially secure.
“I promised myself I’d help others if I became successful in my career, but I also wanted to ensure I have enough money to keep my mind free of worries to focus fully on helping others break out of the poverty cycle like I did,” she said.
Empowering and mentoring poor single parents
Like most folks, she used to spend almost all she earned until her father’s death in 1987 and she had no money to help pay for his funeral. “It was extremely shameful and embarrassing so I decided I had to do something. I read up on financial literacy and bought my first small flat in 1989 in Shah Alam for RM36,000!”
She laughingly denies owning eight properties. “Not so many, have bought and sold some, kept a few to fund myself while I carry out charity work. I keep my monthly expenses to a low reasonable figure and save up to invest in more flats as the opportunity rises.”
On some of the “highs” in her journey, Tan (right in pic) said: “The best (thing) is knowing that in small ways JS was able to empower and mentor poor single mums and single dads, and even some poor individuals, of all races and religions to discover their potential and become better persons while caring for their children despite their seemingly insurmountable hurdles.”
“We helped a single mum of six with an initial loan of RM3,500 for deposit on a van. Today she owns two ayam berempah (spiced chicken) outlets and is married to the guy who was helping her fry the chicken pieces.
“JS also mentored a fashion designer who had fostered an infant baby girl left by her poor parents and when they took her back seven years later, he was so depressed, he turned suicidal. Today he runs sewing classes, holds dance classes to help obese poor folks lose weight and uses his fashion designing skills to make miniature traditional clothes for dolls,” she said.
There are also challenging times. Tan recounted an incident when JS helped a single mum and her 22-year-old son who had been evicted by paying the deposit and three months’ rental for an apartment. JS rented and started a second-hand shop in Setapak, and bought a second-hand car for the son to travel between their flat in Subang and the shop. “He is lazy, doesn’t want to manage the shop, refuses to return the keys to the shop or car, and complains to his ADUN (state assemblyman) that we rich folks want to bully them!” she said.
“Then there’s this single dad who used his seven sons to get sympathy and money from others. He got drunk and whipped the older kids with an electrical cord, causing them to bleed. I learnt about this at midnight, took them and brought one of the two older boys who was bleeding badly to hospital, then filed a police report on their dad. He was sentenced to a year’s jail and the boys are now in a home where they are free from parental abuse.”
Bringing real purpose into her life
Despite the challenges, Tan says she is “truly delighted” to have undertaken this JS journey because “it brings real purpose into my life.”
“Every day I view events with great anticipation, marvelling at how lives can be impacted by simple gestures of goodwill and positive motivational words,” she said.
What spurs Tan on? “Knowing we can motivate the poor single parents towards adopting a more positive mindset to change their circumstances and be the person they themselves can be proud of.”
She encourages people who feel they have limited resources to offer skills in a non-monetary way like teaching, volunteering and sharing one’s knowledge and skills. “Alternatively, they could work for the charity for reasonable or nominal pay because then at least they are compensated for their efforts and their limited resources aren’t drained unnecessarily.”
|Mary Anne Tan shares some Jumble Station facts
Its name: I needed a name that would be instantly recognisable and Jumble fit the bill. Station was to indicate an active station, carrying goods and people to a better, more fulfilling destination/future. Later we set up Parents Without Partners Bhd (PWP) as an NGO and JS is now its social entrepreneurship arm.
How it’s funded: Unlike most charities, PWP and JS do not want to ask for money from well-wishers. We believe everyone has something in their homes or offices that they don’t need or use and can let go for a good cause. We accept all items except plants and pets. Specifically JS needs electrical and electronic items, clothes, toys, books, kitchenware, CDs and DVDS, old items, decorative items, etc. JS has a policy that poor single parents in need get first crack at all items donated. Donated items are sold at our second-hand goods shop in Subang Mewah, USJ1, while the more collectible items are sold at Amcorp Mall during the weekends.
Where it goes: The money raised is used to help pay rental arrears to ensure single parents don’t get evicted; settle outstanding utility bills, medical needs, school bus fares, examination fees, tuition fees and college studies, among others.