Volunteer, Lion's Club International

Advocates: John Michael Di Gregorio

“Why do I keep giving? I want to set a good example.”

Advocates: John Michael Di Gregorio

Natural disasters have led to the displacement of more than 9 million people in the Asia Pacific region. Lions Club International assists in humanitarian needs and promotes international understanding.

“I have spent most of my savings on helping the needy, but I’m not complaining. At 80 years of age and with only my wife Melody and I at home, we have enough money to get by. Age has caught up with me and I have to manage illnesses like diabetes and cataracts, but I want to continue giving back.

“I am an Italian-American born in Boston. I worked as a diplomat, which took me to Indonesia in 1968. While there, I met Jim McLardie, an Australian who established the Lions Club International in Indonesia. We wanted to reach out to the visually handicapped and encourage them to contribute actively to society.

“Since we had no funds, I contributed half my salary and offered my home or office for meetings. We managed to purchase 25 braille machines, some of which were distributed to the American Women’s Association, whose members assisted the production of braille books to enable the blind to read.

“My experience with Lions Club International gave me a deep understanding of the region and the people’s needs. I got married in 1984 and have since stayed in Singapore, from where I make every possible effort to help make a difference in others’ lives.

“Every week, I visit thrift shops, charitable organisations and other volunteers to gather together used clothing. My wife and I, with help from other volunteers, pack them into boxes and have them delivered to orphanages and shelters. Every fortnight, we send several boxes of clothing and daily essentials to a local shelter for abused domestic helpers. Some of them have been badly beaten by their employers or are owed salaries.

“My father was a karang guni man and my mother was a maid. We were not well-off and I was raised to understand the values of caring and sharing. Singapore is fortunate to not be affected by natural disasters unlike our neighbours in the Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia, who have to weather the aftermath of floods, earthquakes, typhoons and tsunamis. So whenever I get requests for aid assistance, I try to say ‘yes’.

“In addition to used clothing, we also send scrap blankets. The latter comes from Singapore Airlines, whom I have been working with for 15 years. After the blankets are collected and washed, we have to cut away the tags. So it takes some physical effort to get everything done. One year, there was a terrible flood in Central Java, and we donated 172 boxes of used clothing and 3,000 blankets to disaster relief for Islamic NGO Muhammadiyah.

“Why do I keep giving? I want to set a good example. I have met people who gave willingly as well as those who looked for every excuse not to give anything. I have friends who ask me if I’m still trying to save the world, to which I simply say, ‘I just want to help make it a better place’.”

This story first appeared in the August issue of A.

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