Law alumnus and a donor to the National University of Singapore (NUS), Mr Yap Wai Ming (Law ’86) received financial help when he was studying at the NUS Faculty of Law. Today, he is a partner at Morgan Lewis Stamford, an international law firm focusing largely on commercial business transactions. He recounts how help, which came at the right time, changed his life forever and explains how this shaped his attitude to giving.
Describe the difficulties you faced while pursuing an education.
I came to Singapore from Kuala Lumpur to study under the Asean Pre-University Scholarship at Hwa Chong Junior College and continued to study at NUS without a scholarship then. My late father was the sole breadwinner and he was a textile salesman. He started his own video rental business at about the time I went to university. His business failed miserably with the mushrooming of many such similar shops. He closed his business down and I pooled all my savings and persuaded my mother to chip in and pay off the bank loan. My mother supplemented the household income by babysitting other kids. My father took up odd jobs by fixing wooden crates and salvaging wooden packing materials. He was working out of a makeshift garage at home earning a few tens of dollars a day. I could not request money from him to fund my education and I had to find other means on my own.
What kind of help did you receive then?
I applied for the Bashir Mallal study loan which was S$5,000 per student. But I still needed to supplement my financial needs by working as a part-time waiter at the Guild House in between lessons and also giving private tuition. Times were tough. I had a law school classmate and a running buddy, Sin Boon Ann (Arts ’82, Law ’86). We ran the marathon together and participated in the University triathlon selection. He came to understand my financial background.
One day, he passed me an envelope with S$1,000 claiming that his father, Mr Sin Jeok Tong, managed to obtain a needy study fund from the Lions Club. I was very grateful for whatever assistance that came along. A few years after graduation, when i visited Boon Ann at his home, his father told me that he had given me his own money. He explained that if he had not done so, I may have rejected the money. Boon Ann also told me that he was kept in the dark as well. His father was really a very generous man who gave without knowing who I was and that I was just a good friend of his son. I am eternally grateful.
How has studying at NUS changed you?
NUS gave me a tertiary education and it has allowed me an opportunity to embark on a fulfilling career. I met my wife at NUS too and we are blessed with a healthy and happy family. I studied law at NUS and I joined the Singapore Trade Development Board after qualifying as a lawyer before I rejoined the profession where I have remained ever since.
Has this experience influenced your views on philanthropy and those who give selflessly to help others?
It has definitely formed my views about giving to the needy and I would not have been what I am today if not for the help that many people provided for me along the way. The Bashir Mallal loan and Mr Sin Jeok Tong’s creative giving have certainly shaped my philosophy. I have contributed to many different charities and I now serve on five different charitable organisations, largely in the health care sector. What advice would you give to young students who have just received their own scholarship or bursary and whose education journey lies ahead of them? Work hard and when it is your turn, please contribute back to society in your own way. I find inspiration in the Chinese saying 滴水之恩, 涌泉相报. We return with a gushing fountain in return for the drop of water that we received.
“When I found out about my father’s magnanimity towards my friend years later, it left a deep impression on me. My father, a school teacher, was happy to put the well-being of others before his own. He gave his time and money generously to help students complete and succeed in their studies.
“He always believed that education was a great social leveller and that no matter what your station was in life, with hard work, success and a good life will always follow you.”
“University education is a great enabler and I think it is wonderful that alumni contribute towards making sure that university education continues to be accessible to those who may not be able to fund their own university education. I am very grateful for the donors’ generosity, which has made a tremendous difference to me and I am sure to other recipients of the Scholarship as well.
“My parents could not afford the cost of a university education; I had to take a study loan and give tuition to pay for my school fees and expenses. The Scholarship helped to ease the financial burden of a university education and enabled me to concentrate on my studies.”