Thursday 17 May 2012


Management consultant Yeoh Seng Eng is passionate about creative livelihood programmes which help the poor move from dependency to dignity.

Yeoh coaching students in a computer lab.

It’s difficult to imagine a male Physics graduate who’s adept at using dried, pressed flowers to make calendars. But when it comes to improving the lot of the poor, Yeoh Seng Eng taps into his God-given creativity and passion. By empowering poor families in the Philippines to produce these calendars for income, he is taking a bold step in social entrepreneurship. As they say, Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

Mothers living around the Payatas dump site in Manila are trained in the art of drying and pasting flowers onto cards and calendars. A slick logistics system is in place to deliver raw materials to the women and distribute the finished products for sale. Apart from supplementing the household income, mothers can look after their families as they work from home. Over 500 families are currently reaping the benefits from this programme.

Making pressed- flower cards
The calling

The ugly face of poverty confronted Yeoh in 1987 when he went on a church mission trip to the infamous Smokey Mountain dump site in Manila where the poor scavenge for recyclable products and then sell them for a few pesos.

“My childhood was spent in a sleazy part of Kuala Lumpur (Batu Road) where poverty coexisted with gangsters, drug addicts and prostitutes. But this paled in comparison to the despair and overpowering stench in the squatter community of Smokey Mountain,” Yeoh laments.


Deeply moved, he told himself he had to do something for the poor. In 1996, he completed his Masters in Intercultural Studies in Columbia Bible College and Seminary in the US. But his dream of social work had to be delayed until 1998 when he was sent to the Philippines as a missionary by his church. Soon, he got down to learning the local language and ministered in the slums alongside other existing ministries.

A caring NGO

The year 2000 saw the launch of Care Channels, a non-profit Christian organisation, with Yeoh as one of its founding members. At first, the NGO concentrated on the slums around Manila but later the work expanded to about 75 slum communities spread all over the Philippines, from Luzon to Mindanao. 

The ministry went global in 2004 when Care Channels International was formed. Its caring arms stretched out to China, Pakistan, Indonesia and Timor Leste. 


As a non-salaried volunteer, Yeoh is living out the “tentmaker” model, like the apostle Paul, “working hard with my own hands” so that he can minister to others without donor support. For sustenance, he devotes 40% of his time doing consulting work for multi-national corporations in the Asia-Pacific region. Most of his time is spent serving God through Care Channels and his church where he is the missions chairman.

Care Channels ministries

Care Channels works in partnership with various NGOs, churches and individuals in the following areas:
1.    Sponsorship of a needy child’s school fees, books, medical and dental care.
2.    Setting up of computer labs and conducting IT training.
3.    Medical and dental care as well as arranging surgery for the poor.
4.    Livelihood projects where families are taught to produce calendars, cards and bookmarks to support themselves.
5.    Micro-enterprise where the poor are given the skills and start-up capital to go into small businesses.
6.    Faith gardens where families produce about half of their daily needs of fruits, vegetables and poultry on a 100 sq metre plot of land.

Tailored to specific needs

Care Channels adopts an approach which is specifically tailored to the needs of the community. For example, in Pakistan, Yeoh blushes with embarrassment as he recounts how they help the local women overcome infectious diseases due to the unhygienic practice of using rags during menstruation. 

At present, ten families are involved in a cottage industry which produces sanitary pads, using locally-sourced cotton, at an affordable 55 US cents for a pack of ten pads. Once again, the creativity of this Physics graduate has come to save the situation! Health education in the schools and villages helps promote the use of these sanitary pads. (This cottage industry is, however, not viable among the poor in the Philippines as there are reasonably cheap sanitary pads available at the stores).

Goat farming
Livelihood programmes

In Mindanao, a university has allocated land at the campus grounds for the planting of flowers. Many poor students, who would otherwise go hungry, are able to earn some money by harvesting the flowers from the university grounds and turning them into dried pressed flowers. 

Initially, the process of drying the flowers proved too time-consuming and hampered productivity. However, through research and trial-and-error, Yeoh came up with an ingenious way of drying them quickly and efficiently – by using the microwave oven!

Another livelihood programme to improve the income of poor families in Mindanao is goat rearing, mainly for their milk. Firstly, the farmers are taught to grow shrubs from seedlings at the periphery of the farm. A goat barn is also built. Care Channels in Mindanao takes in about 30 baby goats (kids) when they are two months old. By the time the goats are nine months old,
 they will start to produce milk. 

When they are fully matured at one-and-a-half years, each goat can produce two litres of milk a day with a total daily yield of about 60 litres. Half of the milk produced is sold while the other half goes to pay the ten students working at the goat farm. 

This financial aid enables them to continue their university education and also learn new agricultural skills. 

These livelihood programmes reflect biblical wisdom that if we tend to the flocks, we will reap the benefits later:

 Be sure you know the condition of your flocks, 

       give careful attention to your herds;

 for riches do not endure forever, 

       and a crown is not secure for all generations.

 When the hay is removed and new growth appears 

       and the grass from the hills is gathered in,

 the lambs will provide you with clothing, 

       and the goats with the price of a field.

 You will have plenty of goats' milk 

       to feed you and your family 
       and to nourish your servant girls.

(Proverbs 27:23-27)

How did Care Channels learn about goat rearing? The Asian Rural Life Development Foundation in Mindanao provides help to farmers who want to venture into goat rearing. Its founder, Harold Watson, received the 1985 Ramon Magsaysay Award. Donned in farm clothes and leather boots, he does not strike you as a missionary. But, like Yeoh, he has the passion to improve the lot of the poor.

Dental care

Medical care

A holistic approach

Yeoh was once asked why, as a missionary, he was “always talking” about livelihood programmes. He replies, “It’s important to understand God’s heart for the poor. It is not enough to just say, ‘God be with you! Stay warm, and make sure you eat enough. If you don't provide for that person's physical needs, what good does it do?’”(James 2:16).

“We must not consider our years of professional training as ‘wasted’ in the overall plan of God for our lives,” he adds. The training he received while working in the Human Resource Department of General Electric in the US and what he learned from various management courses have prepared him well for his calling in social work.

This social entrepreneur who once prayed, “O God, help me to marry my creative skills with sensitivity to the needs of the poor,” has certainly got his prayers answered.
Interviewed by Channel News Asia in 2008, Yeoh is certainly making waves among the various poor communities across Asia, touching and changing lives, moving them from dependency to dignity. He is a modern-day “tentmaker” who is able to integrate work with his faith, and make an impact in the marketplace.

For more information about the work of
Care Channels, please go to

Yeoh Seng Eng is a management consultant and trainer to a number of established companies. He is also a Director of Care Channels International Ltd. He is married to Chwen Hwe, a medical doctor, and they have two children, Ruth, and Joseph..

Apart from qualifications in Training and Development Management from the United Kingdom and Singapore, Seng Eng holds a Master's degree in Intercultural Studies from the US and a Bachelor's degree in Pure and Applied Physics from the National University of Singapore.

No comments:

Post a Comment