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For most primary school children in Singapore, a typical weekend or holiday would be filled with enrichment lessons, tuition sessions, or clocking in some game time.

Not for 9-year-old Lim Yu Cheng though. If he’s not at school, chances are he would be volunteering or raising funds for charity with his mother, Tan Sze Wei, 42.

Shy and reserved at first glance, Yu Cheng actually is an imaginative boy with a heart to help those in need.

Yu Cheng feeding a resident at ACRES.
Yu Cheng feeding a resident at ACRES. Image source: Tan Sze Wei

Every year, on his birthday in January, Yu Cheng’s parents would ask him what he wanted and he would always answer: “I have so many toys already”.

So Sze Wei would encourage him to look for ways to help the less fortunate.

Sze Wei’s husband is quite happy to let the pair take the lead on volunteer work, but shows his unwavering support by spreading the word on their fundraising initiatives amongst his friends.

Fundraising with a picture book

In 2021, mother and son came across a video of a 2016 rescue of a slow loris by a team from ACRES, a non-profit dedicated to protecting wild animals in Singapore.

The team named the little primate “ET” and after caring for it, successfully released it back into the wild.

The story inspired Yu Cheng to find out more about slow lorises and how the nocturnal primate behaves. He learned that like its name, slow lorises move slowly like snails, so he decided to write a story about a beautiful friendship between ET the slow loris and snail he named Samuel.

So from March last year, over weekends and school holidays, Yu Cheng worked on a 18-page picture book, My Best Friend ET, The Slow Loris, to raise funds for ACRES. The campaign, which has raised about $1,200 so far, ends on Dec 10.

“He wanted to write a story about the snail and the slow loris, because they are very slow animals, and nobody would notice them except for the both of them,” Sze Wei tells The Pride.

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Developing the book took over a year because Yu Cheng had to juggle schoolwork and the project.

Sze Wei looked up information about the animals online and confirmed details with ACRES while Yu Cheng came up with the story and drew the visuals in the book.

Says Elisha Tan, founder of The Average Foundation, which helped to published the book: “The content in the book is great, but what’s better is the heart and thought process behind its creation. Yu Cheng was inspired to create a story and Sze Wei nurtured that inspiration by working with ACRES, finding funders and publishers to make it a reality. We need more contributors like Yu Cheng and more idea-nurturers like Sze Wei!”

Like Yu Cheng, Sze Wei, who works in the civil service, also finds a balance between her career and giving back to the community.

She says: “I work with whatever time I have. Sometimes (volunteer work) doesn’t need to be about doing labour for the organisation the whole day. We can help out by just connecting people with others, and sharing awareness on social media.”

Fundraising with a picture book
Yu Cheng and Sze Wei showing My Best Friend ET, The Slow Loris at ACRES. Image source: Tan Sze Wei

ACRES CEO Kalai Balakrishnan, 36, tells The Pride that it was heartwarming to see a slow loris (he was actually part of the team that rescued ET!) being featured for a good cause.

“Slow lorises are usually found in nature reserves in Singapore, but ET was found at a multi-storey car park. So, when we rescued this loris, it was really interesting, and seeing it being turned into a story was really nice,” Kalai explains.

Not the first fundraising project for ACRES

Not the first fundraising project for ACRES
Co-CEO of ACRES Anbarasi Boopal (left) and Yu Cheng on his 2021 online fundraising campaign for ACRES. Image source: Tan Sze Wei

My Best Friend ET the Slow Loris is not the first time mother and son have worked on a fundraising campaign for ACRES.

In 2019, Sze Wei attended the annual ACRES gala dinner with Yu Cheng and they noticed artwork being auctioned for charity.

“A light bulb went off in my head,” laughs Sze Wei. Yu Cheng, who was 6 then, was taking art lessons, and she asked ACRES if they could donate his art pieces for the 2020 auction.

Then the pandemic hit and all physical fund-raising events had to be called off

“I was worried because I was wondering how it can still be possible to raise money,” explains Sze Wei.

Disappointed but not disheartened and inspired by other online fundraising initiatives, in March 2021, Sze Wei put seven of Yu Cheng’s favourite paintings up for auction online, and raised $1,000 for ACRES.

Apart from ACRES, Sze Wei and Yu Cheng have raised $450 for Guide Dogs Singapore through art. They also created a bilingual e-book, The Adventures in the Himalayas, which has already passed its target of $5,000 for The Bone Marrow Donor Programme.

The Adventures in Himalayas, a book written by Yu Cheng to fundraise for the Bone Marrow Donor Programme.
The Adventures in Himalayas, a book written by Yu Cheng to fundraise for the Bone Marrow Donor Programme. Image source: Tan Sze Wei

A family affair

Sze Wei’s love for volunteer work comes from her own mother. And she wanted to pass that love on to Yu Cheng.

“My mum, she always did a lot of volunteer work when I was young, so when I became a mother, I wanted to do the same for my son,” Sze Wei explains.

She adds excitedly: “Maybe one day I can join ACRES’ animal rescue team, perhaps when Yu Cheng is older!”

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The lessons her mother taught her have stuck with her for life.

“One thing my mother taught me is that when you are giving, do not expect anything back.”

“But when you need help (as we all do at some point of time) you will find that it is not that difficult to ask, because you have been helping others,” Sze Wei adds.

Yu Cheng idolises his grandmother, even dedicating his book to her.

He wrote: “I dedicate this book to my dearest Grandma for being my best friend and my inspiration. This book is also for those of you who are still searching for a friend.

— with love, Yu Cheng”

. They are already on their next project for this year’s ACRES charity auction event on Oct 8 with Yu Cheng’s painting of a fox!
Yu Cheng after completing the artwork to be used for the charity auction event at this year’s ACRES Gala Dinner. Image source: Tan Sze Wei

The indomitable duo isn’t content to rest even after finishing the book. They are already on their next project for this year’s ACRES charity auction event on Oct 8 with Yu Cheng’s painting of a fox!

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