Deborah Chan did the unthinkable in 2014; she and her husband uprooted their lives, their glittering careers, and said goodbye to all the comforts of home, and moved to rural Cambodia to help the struggling communities there. And if that wasn’t impressive enough, they did this with a one-year-old son in tow.

Here are some of the lessons and tales derived from uprooting your family and raising children on the charity and community service trail;

Imparting values

Village Literacy Classes

Assisting the local Cambodian community for two years allowed Deborah to demonstrate many of the positive traits preached by fairytales and children’s stories; “It gave us an opportunity to teach our child values that you would usually read about in children’s books like how to love someone, how to be polite, and kind, and thoughtful. But we got that opportunity to give him that experience so that he could be a part of that value system that we believe in.”

Recounting a Christmas program they organised, Deborah remembers spending an entire night packing little gifts to be distributed to the children in the rural Cambodian village; “My son stayed up with us, alongside the volunteers. The next morning, he helped us give out all the gifts to the local children.”

A birthday surprise


Deborah fondly recalled how when he son was two years old; “He had just celebrated his second birthday party, we had a small gathering, so people brought gifts, including my parents who brought some big ones. So I asked him; ‘Seth, you have so many gifts with you. Do you think you could give away some of them, because I don’t think we could bring all of them back to Malaysia.’ He didn’t answer, and I didn’t push him.”

The following morning, Deborah woke up to a pleasant surprise; “When he woke up, he almost had a revelation. He went to that bag of gifts, took a few out, and said in his broken English; ‘Mom, this for children’. He had selected some gifts to give to the children. Then and there I knew that this journey was not just for myself, but I saw for myself that the seeds that I had planted had begun to fruit.”

Traveling with your children

Deborah and 3 month old Seth

Deborah highlights how there is never a good or bad time to take your children with you while traveling; “Take your children with you on trips, because there is no right or wrong time to travel. As we bring them along, we give them that sense of adventure, a taste of adventure.”

Leading by example, Deborah explained some of the highlights from her travels with her husband and son; “We were on a trip along the Trans-Siberian Railway where we entered China and snaked our way into Mongolia, and ended up in St. Petersburg in Russia before we took a plane back.”

From Cambodia to Sabah

The couple work in partnership with Starfish Foundation Malaysia, with their children Seth and Enya (Photo Courtesy of Deborah Chan)

After a highly successful two years in Cambodia, Deborah and her family thought it was time to return to Kuala Lumpur to continue with their typical lives. However, things took a twist; “The two years in Cambodia were a success, we patted ourselves on the back and thought we’re done. But it wasn’t enough, there was a nagging feeling within us. Some doors opened for us to go to Sabah to be part of a project where we build hostels for children who don’t have access to education.”

Deborah once again moved their lives, this time to Sabah, in hope that she could make a difference, and leave a legacy. “It takes intentional and conscious effort to realise that we have gifts and talents, and we need to use it for the greater good. But when we stop doing that and live only for ourselves, we shrink back into our world, forgetting to live a life beyond our own lifetime.”

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