Return of the native - and there's much to celebrate

Return of the native - and there's much to celebrate

A 75-year-old Chinese clan with just over 220 members who trace their roots to China's Fujian province has been making its mark in recent years.

The Singapore Leong Khay Huay Kuan has won honours at the annual Clan of the Year Awards for the past three years, and everyone says it has to do with businessman Ko Oon Joo taking over as its president in 2011.

That year saw the clan winning an excellence award for its many welfare programmes, including full sponsorship for members aged 75 and older to travel to their native home in China. That was the first year the Singapore Federation of Chinese Clan Associations (SFCCA), an umbrella body for more than 200 clan groups, gave away the awards.

The following year, Leong Khay picked up another excellence award for erecting a foundation stone in the clansmen's hometown in China bearing the Chinese characters for Leong Khay, to revive the forgotten name of their native home which was merged in 1963 with another county, Long Cheng, to become Long Hai.

And last year, it was among five associations named Clan of the Year - the highest honour - for launching a $10 million bursary fund to help needy members' children complete their tertiary education.

There was a buzz when Mr Ko, 60, rose to accept the latest award at a special presentation ceremony last month.

Leong Khay is one of only two clans to win awards three years running, the other being the bigger Fujian group, the prominent 5,000- strong Singapore Hokkien Huay Kuan which has been named Clan of the Year three times in a row.

Given its relatively small size and modest resources, being named Clan of the Year last year was quite a feat for Leong Khay.

Tucked in the middle of a row of two-storey, pre-war conservation shophouses along Cantonment Road, its premises include an activity hall for members and a conference room. Bigger events such as anniversary dinners and other celebrations are usually held at hotels.

The low-key association used to organise just a few events in the past because its members were ageing. But recent years have seen it reaching out to younger people, especially new citizens from China, and expanding its list of activities.

So who is its leader, Mr Ko Oon Joo?

His late father Ko Teck Siang and uncle Ko Teck Kin were better known in the Chinese community. The brothers made their fortunes in rubber plantations and property soon after World War II.

But the younger Mr Ko, 60, eldest son of Teck Siang, has made his presence felt in the community in a short span of three years and now leads three Hokkien clans concurrently.

In 2011, he was elected president of the Koh Clan Association, for those with the surnames Koh, Ko or Gao. He took over at Leong Khay later that year. Last month, he was elected president of a third group - the Chang Chow General Association, which represents a district in Fujian province.

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