SINGAPOREAN OF THE YEAR - NIGEL KOW
Nigel only had $11 dollars in his bank when he got the call to aid in the disaster relief efforts for Nepal
By: Naomi Francine Alex
Photos: Nigel Kow
25-year-old Nigel Kow is currently an undergraduate at the National University of Singapore and is also interning with Rolls Royce. Besides being a normal Singaporean student, Nigel is also a passionate mountaineer.
Nigel’s passion brought him opportunities such as leading the NUS Mountaineering Club on an expedition in the Langtang Region of Nepal. During his expedition, Nigel met with an accident that paralysed his body waist down. Through this accident, Nigel witnessed the dedication of his Nepalese guides who ensured the comfort and safety of every climber, and made sure they got the help they needed.
Nigel received a call on 1 May that one of the mountain guides who saved his life, Aas Gurung, was killed in an avalanche caused by the earthquake that had hit Nepal.
The phone call was also a plea for help from his Nepalese guides. Their village, the Laprak Village that situated 610 families (4,000 people) was completely destroyed. The guides begged Nigel to bring over SGD$2,000, along with necessities such as temporary shelters.
All Nigel could think of was the SGD$11 he had in his bank. He had his finals, no money and no resources. However, Nigel was able to raise SGD$8,000 in four days with the help of social media, friends, schoolmates and supportive Singaporeans.
The first trip meant an immediate relief phase by providing rice, food and shelter with no preparation involved. Nigel managed to buy and deliver more than 26,000kg of rice, 2,000kg of lentil, 1,300 litres of oil as well as solar light bulbs for pregnant women or women have just given birth to Laprak Village, Singla, Khorla and Khorla Besi.
In his second trip back to Nepal, Nigel’s goal was to purchase medical supplies for the Laprak villagers as the monsoon season was approaching. To visit villages that has had no NGO presence or aid since the earthquake, to set up his very own NGO called the Manaslu Foundation and lastly, to secure educational sponsorship for Aas Gurung’s children who were affected by the earthquake.
The Khorla Besi village became their first priority when Nigel found out that the village had not received any aid and was no different from the immediate destruction caused by the earthquake.
Nigel started sourcing for NGOs that would fund him and his cause to help build schools and medical posts for the village of Khorla Besi. Unfortunately, international NGOs did not see a point in getting the resources to these rural areas because it was easier to deliver the necessities to the city instead. Nigel was absolutely disappointed with the response but he never gave up.
“Let’s do the difficult job. If I never try, I’ll never succeed and I'd rather take this chance because low chance is better than no chance,” Nigel said as he explained why he became so devoted to giving these Nepalese living in the rural areas a better life.
Nigel’s efforts paid off when Red Cross Singapore willingly agreed to help him out with his plans for the village. This agreement meant that the organisation will fund Nigel and his team SGD$800,000 to build three brand new schools and one medical post.
Nigel received even more good news when his NGO, the Manaslu Foundation was approved. The Manaslu Foundation is a special task force that works in the rural areas of Manaslu, Nepal, with its main focus being the people of the village.
The undergraduate said he used to have many ambitions. Ambitions about finding the perfect job, getting married and earning well, but now he questions the meaning of life and what we are doing with it.
Nigel aims to connect the rural villages with high-speed Internet connectivity, then the villagers will no longer have to travel to the city for education. He also wants to translate English textbooks into the Nepali language and at the same time, make them available online and to provide the schools with Intranet servers, and to develop a community involvement trekking programme. This is a programme for tourist trekking in Nepal, to trek to the rural villages and teach the communities affected by the earthquake. Lastly, to collect e-waste or second hands such as old laptops, old smart phones and mobile phones and re-contribute it back to the people who would value it. “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” he said.
This entire crossing has definitely made Nigel consider doing such humanitarian work as a career. However, at this very moment, the undergrad has to stay in Singapore to complete his studies and pay off his student loans.
Nigel ultimately hopes to change the culture in disaster relief and to get international NGOs to be more involved in the ground operation.
“I am 25 years old and I've not graduated, with no full-time job, but I will continue this role for the rest of my life or until my body gives way,” he added.