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In two years, she made more than 20 trips back to her hometown in Kachin in northern Myanmar to help the sick and poor.
Marla Khin, 56, a Myanmar national who lives in Singapore, founded the Myanmar Kindness Foundation (MKF) in 2017 with the help of some friends from her hometown.
She tells The Pride: “Kindness is true to everyone, every country. There are no limits.”
Says Marla, who runs a furniture company in Myanmar called Nat Ray: “We wanted to do something for my hometown. I had donated to the orphanage and hospitals for many years, but I saw that just donating was not very meaningful. I wanted to contribute my experience to help my hometown… and to put my heart into what I do.”
So in the next two years, she embarked on several charity projects.
Providing healthcare opportunities
In 2018, MKF set up the first kidney dialysis centre at Kachin’s general hospital.
Marla tells The Pride: “I managed to talk to the minister to give us an empty place (at the hospital). I told him we will set up everything… Then the nurses came and the dialysis centre has been running till today. We started with four machines and now we have nine!”
This was a daunting task at first as MKF did not have the resources.
“My friends told me, ‘We don’t have money, how can we do this?’ I said, ‘You are wrong. Do you think only those with money can do charity?’”
Marla explains: “Of course money is important, but it’s not the most important thing. Your heart is most important. You need a genuine heart to help. That is enough.”
So how did she raise the money?
Marla says that MKF managed to raise the money for the dialysis centre with the help of donations through personal connections and fundraising events like a funfair. She is also thankful to Alexandra Hospital in Singapore for donating 20 hospital beds.
That same year, MKF also started cleft lip missions.
In the first trip organised with Rotary International, MKF got doctors to operate on 100 children in 10 days. Subsequently, MKF worked with Singhealth to organise another trip, transforming the lives and faces of 40 children in 4 days.
In 2019, MKF brought in doctors from Canada to conduct cervical cancer tests for 800 women.
“We found that five to 10 per cent of them had the markers for early-stage cervical cancer. They quickly received treatment,” Marla says.
In the same year, MKF embarked on another project with Rotary International to provide eye check ups for villagers in Myanmar, giving out a total of 1,000 pairs of spectacles.
Marla says that the most fulfilling part of her charity work is the relationships she formed with the people she met.
She says: “We put our heart into everything for the patients and their families. We care about them. We give them blankets and Milo. What they need, we prepare it for them.”
“Many of them have become friends, even after we finish the mission and leave the village.”
Marla says that one week after the cleft lip mission was completed in 2018, she went back to visit the beneficiaries at their homes.
She recalls: “I was so happy to see them! They looked so different. Some of them recovered very fast.”
Covid-19 and the Myanmar political crisis
Unfortunately when Covid-19 hit, MKF had to put a stop to its charity work.
Previously living in Yangon, Marla also moved to Singapore a year and a half ago to take care of her Singaporean husband, Gilbert, who is unwell. Previously, she had commuted between the two countries.
She currently manages her company from Singapore.
However, she says that she is still connected and communicates with the people in her hometown. Some even recently sent her some local ingredients so that she can prepare her favourite noodles!
But Marla says that she is worried about the current situation in her home country, as Myanmar struggles with the threat of Covid-19 amidst its political crisis.
Marla says that some of her neighbours in her hometown have died from Covid and hospitals don’t have enough space for those who have fallen ill.
She adds that since the military took over power, many workers have gone on strike and some are on the run.
ReliefWeb, a humanitarian information service provided by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, estimated as of December 2020, there are more than 370,000 internally displaced persons, or IDPs in Myanmar due to conflict and violence.
Kindness is in every religion
Marla gives credit to God for all the missions that went smoothly and were a success.
She says: “All this is God’s plan, not ours. I’m a businessman and I don’t know how to do these things. No one taught me. But God provided and I just did it. Sometimes even though you are not perfect, you just need to use your time and resources.”
Marla adds: “You have to be sincere, kind from your heart, that is what every religion teaches.”
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While Marla’s family is Buddhist, her husband Gilbert, 80, is a Christian.
Gilbert says: “Marla always believes in helping others. I support her. Whether you are Christian, Buddhist or Muslim, it doesn’t matter.”
“Happiness is having contentment in your heart. To be humble, to love each other and be kind to each other in times of need.”
“If she’s happy, I’m happy. Happiness is not making yourself happy. It is the satisfaction of making the people you love happy too.”
Marla says that while she did all the planning and running of the missions, Gilbert helped by providing his experience, knowledge and networking skills to connect her to the right people.
He also joined them at the start of the missions and accompanied them on several trips.
He shares similar sentiments to his wife. Says Gilbert: “Money is not the most important thing, it is to be happy and content. If you can do that, you are very rich.”
Adds Marla: “Some people want to do something, they wait. I often tell my staff, ‘just do it now, don’t wait for the next day.’”