Yvonne speaking into the microphone cheerfully in front of the young students

I was in the city of Sandakan, Sabah from October 1st to 10th recently. Initially, I had wanted to make the trip just to see the blue ocean. Having lived in Peninsular Malaysia all my life, the sea I had seen to this point was always black in color. My friend who lives in Sandakan then asked me if I wanted to give some talks while I visit. I said, “Sure!”

I bought my flight ticket while she proceeded to rope in others to help and make the necessary arrangements. Sandakan is a close-knitted city where everybody knows everybody.

Group of students sitting in yows on the floor as Yvonne spoke in front

And so I went to Sandakan on 1st October 2013 to stay with my friend’s family for ten days. They took very good care of me while co-ordinating all my speaking engagements and managing my book stocks. Basically, they did everything. I just had to get sufficient rest and deliver my talks well.

Within those ten days in Sandakan, five days were spent giving talks in seven different schools. Five were primary schools. Two were secondary schools. Of the seven schools, I spoke Mandarin in three schools, English in two schools, Malay in one school. A mixture of English and Malay in another school.

Cheers to multi-lingual Malaysia!

Students crowding around Yvonne as she autographed their books

The seven schools were:
1) SJK (c) Chi Hwa
2) SK St. Monica
3) SJK (c) Tai Tong
4) SM Yu Yuan
5) SK Taman Rimba
6) SJK (c) Cheng Min
7) SM Elopura Bestari II

I dubbed this undertaking as Yvonne’s Tour de Sandakan because it did seem like I was on a tour of the city. The outcome of this tour exceeded my expectations. I was actually concerned that my book price at RM20.00 a copy might be out of the primary school children’s budget in a city so small. When I was in lower primary school in the urban city of Subang Jaya, my dad gave me 50 cents a day and that was enough to eat a filling meal in the school canteen at break-time. In upper primary, Dad increased my pocket money to a ringgit a day.

But to my surprise and amusement, I was proven outdated. Times have changed. It’s been more than twenty years. Some of the children in Sandakan bought a few copies one shot to show their support. I did not bring any t-shirts with me, but many of the students ordered t-shirts too.

In those five days speaking in seven schools, I managed to earn RM11,750.00 from selling books and t-shirts, from receiving token sums for speaking, and from ‘ang pows’ given by teachers and parents. But most of it was from the sales.

Yvonne speaking through a head-worn microphone in the physics lab

I brought a few hundred copies of my book in both English and Chinese. All of them were sold out. I even have to re-produce another 2,000-copy English print-run because many people have placed back orders and more are coming in still.

A local newspaper called Berita Harian Merdeka featured me on three days within those ten days. The reporter was very supportive and kind in her comments, which touched the hearts of everyone who read it. Even the old aunty selling clothes in the market recognized me at first sight and wished me gambateh. In Sandakan, majority of the people live simple and humble lives. My spirit of dignity, honor, self-reliance, strength, love, earnest and sincerity resonated with them very well.

Many children, teenagers, teachers and parents wept listening to my talk. I also made an interesting observation on this trip.

Young students singing a song to me

Of the students in these seven schools, they can be grouped into two – one consists of students from middle income and well-to-do families. Another group consists of children to parents with very low income or those living below the poverty line.

Students in both groups were moved and many cried. But I observed one difference which touched me.

Students and teachers in the first group did not hold back their emotions. When they cried, they let their tears flow freely and sometimes they did so dramatically -brushing off tears with both hands, hunched up in their seats. In one such school, I was standing on stage quite far away, but I could tell that the students were crying just by observing these behaviors without hearing. I later learned they actually cried aloud.

Students in the second group cried too. But they, who were young children, held in their tears till their eyes turned red. Hardly any tears escaped their eyes. They stared at me, listening intently. Some stared with deep concentration. Some had intense stares. Some stared with pursed lips as they struggled to suppress the emotions that my speech evoked in them.

When they came forward for my autograph later, only some returned my smile. Others seemed hesitant and undecided. I did not understand this at first and thought maybe I did a lousy job speaking to these young children. But later on, my friend explained to me that these were children to very poor parents. On hearing her revelation, I understood at once. I understood it very well. I have been there before. I know how it feels.

Students standing freely behind me as I was signing books

All in all, I am very glad that my Tour de Sandakan turned out so well. It moved the hearts of everyone. But I could not have done it without the passionate assistance of my host family, the headmistress of Chi Hwa, the reporter from Berita Harian Merdeka, the teachers and principals of every school, and all the students who were present at every talk. Many have gone on to connect with me on Facebook, so I have made many new, encouraging friends!

We are planning to do a tour of Penang next year, to bring HOPE and LOVE to students of this northern state. If you run a school and wish to invite me, do get in touch by sending me an e-mail yvonnefmn(at)gmail(dot)com

Yvonne Foong

As a child, Yvonne Foong dreamed of growing up to help others. To achieve her ambition, she began studying to become a psychologist. But things changed when tumours were discovered in her body at the age of sixteen. She was diagnosed with neurofibromatosis type 2 -- a genetic illness with no cure. Fighting for survival, Yvonne turned to fundraising and embarked on a medical odyssey to the United States. Her experiences since then have transformed her into a motivational speaker; inspiring hope, faith and strength. Yvonne is currently working to establish a humanitarian foundation that provides NF patients in Malaysia with financial and logistical support. Visit Works of Gratitude to learn more.

1 Comment

Karel stayed in Sandakan · June 5, 2014 at 7:28 pm

Nice town Sandakan. Spent about a month there and liked how nearby there were so many natural wonders and wildlife to see.

Comments are closed.

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