Accounting alum Gabriel Teo (class of 1988) was all set for a professional career until a trip to Kenya changed everything.
After graduating in 1988, Gabriel visited his brother in Kenya, who was there for a church mission. The visit was an eye-opening one. Things he had taken for granted his whole life, such as food and clean drinking water, were precious resources for the locals.
Over the next few years, while his career as a tax accountant flourished, he found himself spending his holidays as a volunteer in Kenya. The time he spent there got him thinking about his true calling in life – to give back to society.
This calling persisted even after he returned to Singapore. He had nagging feeling that something was missing in his life and that he was destined for a different path that was not in the corporate world. Finally in 1995, Gabriel made the life-changing decision to return to Kenya permanently to help the people there. In 2006, he founded the Tana River Life Foundation (TRLF), a Kenyan NGO based in the small village of Idsowe in the Tana Delta, to carry out social work.
With the aim of improving the lives of the local community, TRLF focuses on education support, sustainable agriculture, community-based entrepreneurship and youth formation.
The organisation works with schools to build and improve facilities such as libraries and toilets. TRLF also provides education assistance such as bursaries and scholarships, sponsoring students from primary school level up to undergraduates. Young beneficiaries also live in TRLF’s community homes and assist in the organisation’s development programmes. This prepares future community leaders and helps sustain TRLF’s initiatives.
When Gabriel first lived with the locals to understand their way of life, he was humbled by their hospitality. Even though they were poor and had difficulty making ends meet, they would make sure that he was comfortable.
Looking back, Gabriel believes that his experiences in Africa highlight the value of never put one’s learning in a box.
This, he says, would be his advice to current NUS Business School students who are looking to make the most of out of their school experience.
“Learning opportunities are everywhere, even when we go on holidays. Don’t ignore anyone just because the person is less educated or economically disadvantaged, or from a different culture. No matter how educated or successful we are, we still do not have all the answers all the time.”
These days, Gabriel would make annual trips to Singapore and Malaysia to meet donors to raise funds for his programmes. He also started the Mitumba (recycled goods in Kiswahili language) Project to collect used clothes, shoes and bags in Singapore for Kenyan families to sell and earn additional household income.
The Delta Mustard Seed Academy (DEMSA) was also established to provide education for nursery and primary students. The School currently has 260 children enrolled, and Gabriel expects the number to reach 400 in four years’ time. This school focuses not just on grades, but also “on an integral formation of the children, breaking barriers of tribe, religion and economic background,” he said.
For more information on TRLF, please visit https://tanariverlife.wordpress.com/