Kiwanis Clubs in Malaysia : The Humble and Somewhat Gratifying Early Days

Credit must be readily given to the late, great Kiwanian Tan Sri Khir Johari who was instrumental in introducing the Kiwanis International community service club to Malaysia way back in 1976. Tan Sri Khir Johari was a cabinet minister in the first cabinet of independent Malaya in 1957. He served for many years in the cabinet and held a number of important posts, including that as Minister of Education.

Towards the end of his political career, he was rewarded with a plum diplomatic posting. He was appointed Malaysia’s ambassador to the United States of America.

Key Role Played By Tan Sri Khir Johari

The top two diplomatic postings were and still are Washington and London. In Tan Sri Khir’s case, his posting came with full ministerial rank. Tan Sri Khir was a man very much in the mould of our beloved Father of Malaysia ( Bapa Malaysia ) Tengku Abdul Rahman Putra. He was a humble, honest to goodness, straightforward individual with moderate views and a keen sense of humanity. He also had an infectious sense of humour. He mixed well with all the races in Malaysia and was no hypocrite. He also loved life and enjoyed having a good time with family, friends and especially Kiwanians.

Thus when his tour of duty was over and he returned to Malaysia, he was principally responsible for establishing the Kiwanis Club of Kuala Lumpur. Tan Sri Khir was the charter president of the club when it was set up in Kuala Lumpur in 1976 in a blaze of print media publicity and also with sufficient pomp and ceremony! More than fifty professionals and business leaders signed up as charter members at that time.

Great Start but Poor Follow Through

However, this great start was not matched by its subsequent struggles to stay afloat! The club sort of lost direction and enthusiasm began to fade. Soon, in a little over a year, it was in a comatose state. The directors of the newly established club it seemed took things for granted and failed to set the proper direction for the club. This was a clear failure of leadership and of individuals signing up for membership without fully realising what they were committing to.

Success in Reviving the Kiwanis Club of Kuala Lumpur

Efforts were then made to revive the club. I was invited by Mr Yusof Ahmad, a lawyer to help with the revival of the club. There were then only a few brave and committed individuals who responded to this appeal. More than eighty per cent of the original charter members had left the club.

The following were the members during the valiant eighteen month effort to revive the Kiwanis Club of Kuala Lumpur:

  • Mr. Michael Wong ( real estate ),
  • Mr. Bernard Lam ( management consulting ),
  • Mr. Yusof Ahmad ( later served as president of the Industrial Court ),
  • Mr. S. Sivagnanam ( chartered engineer ),
  • the late Mr.M. Ramalingam ( senior police officer ),
  • Mr. N.T. Moorthy ( general management ),
  • Mr. Adil Naidu ( life insurance ) and
  • Dr. Guru Ratnavelu ( specialist doctor ).

Formal and Well Organised Dinner Meetings

It was decided by the members that we should attempt our efforts at this revival by having our formal, monthly dinner meetings at the iconic and impressive Majestic Hotel in Kuala Lumpur. The hotel is located almost directly opposite another famous landmark, the Moorish styled Kuala Lumpur Railway Station. Sometimes at these meetings, we had only about ten members in attendance! We invited excellent individuals known to the members to address us on topics of the day. We did not dare invite well known speakers because we were unsure of the response from our members and their invited guests.

Slowly but surely we managed to increase the number of members. We then decided to move the dinner meetings to the smart, newly opened Plaza Hotel in downtown Kuala Lumpur. Incidentally, Kiwanian Aaron Looi was the general manager at that time. We had many productive and enjoyable Kiwanis dinner meetings here. We then began inviting well known speakers to address us at the monthly dinner meetings.

Our meetings then had all the formality of such occasions, including the pomp and ceremony associated with a formal dinner meeting. It was quite a sight to see the Kiwanis Flags of Nations and the beautiful, big Kiwanis Bell and gong placed strategically on the main table of a U table seating arrangement. The Welcome Remarks, the Reading of the Objects of Kiwanis and the Vote of Thanks were all carried out with the solemnity and dignity required of such an occasion. Lest it be forgotten, these events were also enjoyable and we had great pride of association with an international community service club.

Many older members may also remember that quite a few Kiwanians actually chose to host their celebratory wedding dinners at the Plaza Hotel! Such was its popularity, reputation for good food and level of excellent service.

Extraordinary Malaysian Standard Bearers for Kiwanis

Today everyone readily agrees that Kiwanian Hwang Chia Sing and to a lesser degree Kiwanian Lee Kuan Yong are the internationally recognised and respected standard bearers for the Kiwanis Clubs in Malaysia. Both these outstanding individuals have been duly elected to high office as International Trustees of Kiwanis International and had served in that capacity with uncommon passion, effectiveness and great dignity. I understand that evergreen Kiwanian Hwang is slated to move to an equally high position, this time at the Kiwanis International Foundation.

What many may not know nor appreciate is that there is yet another individual who deserves to be recognised for being the internationally recognised standard bearer for a number of years during an earlier period when we were not a Kiwanis district.

That individual is Kiwanian Michael Wong Sek Peng, a past president of the Kiwanis Club of Kuala Lumpur. He is a giant of a man in more ways than one! He made a point of introducing many members to the clubs; he was firm and steadfast in his resolve to revive the Kiwanis Club of Kuala Lumpur; he made time to meet up with visiting Kiwanis International staffers and presidents when they were in the city; he was also the only representative at all the yearly regional Kiwanis meetings; and finally it was Michael’s bold and brazen proposal, after we had moved the dinner meetings to the Plaza Hotel, that we bid to host the 8th Asia Pacific Kiwanis International Conference in Genting Highlands, Malaysia in 1982. We needed something big to raise our spirits and galvanise our members into action. Do keep in mind that at that time there was just one club in Malaysia! We won the bid and the rest is history.

Growth and Development of Kiwanis Clubs in Malaysia

A four man team was responsible for the growth and development of the first eight Kiwanis Clubs in Malaysia. The team was headed by the late Kiwanian Lim Eng Seng and included Michael Wong, Kiwanian Tony Leow and Benedict Morais. Tony is a past president of the Kiwanis Club of Kuala Lumpur and a past Area Coordinator for Malaysia. He is medically out of action now but often remains in our thoughts.

The team went on club building missions to Malacca, Ipoh, Seremban, Klang, and Johore Bharu and then much closer home to areas like Ampang, Damansara, Petaling Jaya, Subang and Bukit Bintang. Lim Eng Seng would brief the target audience on the specifics of Kiwanis, Michael would regale them with his exploits at Kiwanis International meetings in the Asia Pacific and Tony would relate how he was introduced to Kiwanis and the reasons that persuaded him to join the club. I would then have the task of ‘selling ‘ the benefits of Kiwanis membership. Incidentally, I was the one who introduced Tony to the Kiwanis movement. He was my classmate at St John’s Institution, Kuala Lumpur.

We would travel to these meetings in Michael’s fawn coloured, sturdy Peugeot 504 or in Lim Eng Seng’s comfortable, cool blue Mercedes Benz 200. Along the way, we would enjoy good food, great camaraderie and on the way back we would conduct a post mortem on our efforts. In outstation locations when it was not possible to return home the same night, we pooled resources and shared hotel rooms to keep the costs down. All these trips were incidentally, self funded. That was a measure of our commitment to Kiwanis and we did so with contagious enthusiasm!

The Mother of All Motoring Treasure Hunts

The first major Kiwanis Club of Kuala Lumpur fund raising project was the Kiwanis Motoring Treasure Hunt held in 1984. Many young Malaysians chose to participate in this inaugural event. They had the satisfaction of knowing that the funds raised by this major project would go towards our community service projects. In addition, they would enjoy themselves together with their fellow passengers by participating actively in the hunt. It was all good, clean fun and was usually a family affair.

We had positive and ready support from the very start. Among our early corporate supporters and sponsors were the following organisations: Star Publications, Tan Chong & Sons Motor Company Sdn Bhd, Malayan Banking and Cheq Point, a local credit card company. The inaugural event more than doubled its target and the lucky recipient was the Selangor Chesire Home which received RM 50,000. The Kiwanis Motoring Treasure Hunt has been faithfully organised on a yearly basis ever since and with increasing success.

This unique Kiwanis event really fired up the imagination of the Malaysian motoring public and became so famous that many other organisations and bodies decided to jump on the bandwagon. However, the gold standard for excellence and the mother of all treasure hunts is still the Kiwanis Motoring Treasure Hunt. Kiwanians take pride in the fact that they have consistently promoted motor treasure hunting to such an extent that many others also want to organise such fun events.

A key reason why the Kiwanis Motoring Treasure Hunt got off to such a great start was the fact that we had an effective organising committee under the dynamic chairmanship of Lim Eng Seng. Tony Leow was roped in to serve as technical adviser / committee member. Tony is a well known navigator in motor rallying circles. He was also one half of the team that won the inaugural Kuala Lumpur to Vientianne ASEAN Rally way back in the seventies. Other individuals who served in the large organising committee included Chooi Tat Wai, Michael Wong, Fred Tan, Samuel Goh and Benedict Morais.

(Benedict Morais served as president of the Kiwanis Club of Kuala Lumpur in 1982.)


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