Photo by Kim De Araujo

11-year old Georgetown girl raises money for family in Malaysia

This past summer, 11-year old Ella Pung began a journey that took her from her mother’s garage sale in Georgetown to helping those in need in Malaysia. Ella was born in the United States, but she has relatives in Malaysia. Her family makes the trip to visit their relatives every few years, but they remain in frequent contact through Facebook.

Ella’s great-uncle Patrick Teoh is a well-known deejay and actor in Malaysia. He also has polio. “That’s why we followed the story in the beginning,” Ella’s mother, Corrine, explains. She was worried when Patrick announced over Facebook that he would be riding a bike from Malaysia to Thailand for charity. It didn’t make Corrine feel any better when she learned his riding partner, David Chin, had cancer. “So two men in their late sixties, one with polio and the other with cancer, decided to ride bikes from one country to another,” she thought. Concerned, the Pung family closely monitored Patrick’s expedition on Facebook.

But the ride opened up other discussions as the family began to talk about why Patrick felt it necessary to make his trip. Patrick is friends with David Wu, founder of Projek Wumah, an organization dedicated to assisting the less fortunate. Over dinner one night, Patrick and David decided to join forces to assist people who needed serious repairs to their homes but couldn’t afford to fix them. One particular family was headed by a widow with eight children. David wanted to raise money to rebuild her home. Patrick and David came up with a plan: they would cycle from Malaysia to Thailand to China to raise money.

Patrick Teoh and his riding partner, David Chin, made the journey to Thailand over 30 days. David Wu continued on to China. And then little Ella Pung from Georgetown, Texas, stepped in. “I decided I want to help them after seeing their story on Facebook,” she explains.

The day her mother decided to have a garage sale, Ella asked if she could set up a lemonade stand, but Corrine vetoed the idea because she thought it was too much trouble. Realizing her daughter really wanted to do something, Corrine donated a 12-pack of soda for Ella to sell. “I thought, how hard can this be?” Corrine says.

It was a slow day for the garage sale. “Really, nobody came by,” Corrine says. At this point, she was more worried about Ella than her garage sale, so she got on Facebook. She posted that Ella was selling soda for her uncle’s charity ride and asked friends to stop by and buy a can. Friends in the neighborhood and around town immediately responded—not just on Facebook, but in person as well. Soon Ella was out of soda, and her mother ran to the store for more. The new supply disappeared just as quickly. “Never in my wildest dreams did I think it would take off like that,” Corrine says. “Social media—who knew?”

On the Projek Wumah Facebook page, David Wu hesitates to call the organization, which relies on public contributions, a charity. He writes, “It is an extension of friendship, plain and simple.” Corrine says Ella has always been willing to give to others, but the family had no clue how much she truly had to offer. Even after the soda cans ran out, the money kept pouring in, not just in Georgetown but also in Malaysia. Patrick posted a picture of Ella on Facebook, bragging about his little American niece and the money she had earned. Inspired by Ella’s story, people following his Facebook page began to donate more.

This last summer, the Pung family took their scheduled trip to Malaysia. By the time they arrived, Ella was a minor celebrity. Unlike during past trips, they didn’t spend the time just with family. This visit also included meet-and-greets and interviews for Ella. Before their arrival, Corrine had been interviewed via email by the Malaysian newspaper The Star. The American Embassy in Kuala Lumpur saw The Star’s article and posted it to the embassy’s Facebook page. Still amazed, Corrine shakes her head. “It went from such a tiny thing to something big.”

But most exciting for Ella was when she got to meet David Wu. He tried to give Ella the shirt and bandana he wore on his trek, but she asked if he had washed them first. He assured her he had, so Ella accepted them. “They smelled like Downy!” she recalls.

When asked if she raised more money than Patrick and David did on their ride, Ella is quick to point out that it wasn’t a contest, but smiling slyly, she says, “I think I did.”

Home from her adventures in Malaysia, Ella was able to see the fruits of her labor as she followed the repairs to the widow’s house on Patrick’s Facebook page. Ella hopes to keep on helping people, but she’s not actively looking for a new project right away. After her exciting summer, Ella already had a new undertaking marked on her calendar—her first day of middle school.

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