Without colour, creed or race

Walter Boyd stands outside a poor family's house in Bandar Seri Begawan for an assessment. Pictures: BT/Rudolf Portillo

Saturday, January 8, 2011

‘I get upset when people come up to me and ask why I am helping a Muslim woman.’ There is no need for race, religion or skin colour to get in the way when you’re giving back to society, 66-year-old part-time charity worker Walter Boyd tells HADI MAHMUD

IN RECENT years Brunei has witnessed a sea of change in the charity sector there has been a surge in the number of voluntary groups committed to charitable acts and individuals are increasingly inspired to take action, seeking to achieve sustained social change.

Perhaps it is a collective effort in heeding the repeated calls by His Majesty to achieve zero poverty in the next two decades, but there seems to be an increasingly shared sense of embracing charity amongst the populace to give back to society. If one could call it a movement, 66-year-old retired police officer Walter Boyd would be one of the few individuals spearheading it.

He is responsible for an informal group dedicated to helping the less fortunate inhabitants of this country, formed when his daughter (who works with a local English daily) came home from work one day and told him about the plight of Dyg Sunnah Jambol, a woman about his age so destitute (at least by Brunei standards) that her rundown home does not have a toilet.

Out of sheer compassion, the mixed-race Brunei native formed a "loose" group for a project to help renovate Dyg Sunnah's run-down home in Kg Lugu. From nine core members, the group had expanded up to 20 volunteers by the first week it started the project, joined in by other small charity groups and several university students from the UK who were coincidentally in the country and stumbled across a Facebook page dedicated to the group's intentions.

After weeks of renovation works, volunteers had successfully repaired decayed floorboards, constructed new drains to avoid water stagnation under the house, and even built her an indoor toilet and bath.

"We still visit her. I still go there every now and then, buy her food. She likes prawns so I would go to Jerudong and buy her some before heading over. I'm not a rich man. But I know I am more fortunate than her, so I try and help in any way I can," said Walter.

"You do get what you give. But I'm not doing it for gifts from the Lord. I just feel like I'm in a better position to help."

Background

Born Walter Douglas Wayne Boyd to mixed race parents on November 25, 1944 in Brunei, he grew up listening to stories from his father, who was a guerilla during the Japanese invasion in the 1940s, about helping people in hardship during the war.

"My father, like me, was mixed blood Filipino and Irish. The Japanese at the time, if you had mixed blood, they didn't like you. Because of that he went into the jungle and worked with a lot of other people to provide food and shelter to those in need, against the Japanese."

His mother, a mix of Melanau ethnicity from Sarawak and English, died when he was seven. He has seven other siblings; four boys and three girls.

After graduating from Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien College, Walter went on to enlist in the police force and served for 35 years, before retiring in 1999 at the rank of senior superintendent as the Deputy Head of Criminal Investigation. Immediately the following year he set up a private detective firm, Boyd Investigation and Risk Management.

His zeal in helping the less fortunate developed further during his years in the force. "You come across police cases like domestic violence wives getting beaten, parents refusing to give money to their children for support and so on. So what I do when I come across cases like that I try to refer them to the right people, point them in the right direction because I cannot help them by myself all the time," he said.

If one does enough research there are surprisingly quite a few informal groups out there reaching out to those in need. It may be a group of businessmen, giving help as discreetly as possible ranging from paying for tuition fees in the country and medical fees abroad, or a group that is part of an afterschool extra-curricular activity.

But what makes Walter and his group stand out from the rest is his willingness to lend a helping hand to whoever genuinely needs it regardless of race or religion.

You're human, just like us

"I am a Catholic Christian. In church we always encourage helping people in need. Colour, creed or race means nothing to me. I just look at another person in need as another human being in need."

Being a "mixed blood" he has faced a fair share of prejudice as an officer coming up the ranks in the police force. "I get along with society just fine, no problem. But I probably have this approach because of my bitter experience of the way people treated outsiders or simply those who weren't of their kind.

"I get upset when people come up to me and ask why I am helping a Muslim woman then I think to myself 'why do people have that kind of mentality?'

"There is only one God, one Almighty. It's just that we have different ways of worshipping. But our intentions are the same."

He is as optimistic as the humble, gentle and down-to-earth person he is, on His Majesty's target of zero poverty. "It is achievable. Brunei actually has everything in place to make it possible. But the mechanism is not properly oiled."

In the case of Dyg Sunnah, she had applied for the baitulmal financial assistance programme but was never approved. Six or seven weeks after Walter's group started on the project to rebuild her house, she received a letter saying it has already been approved, but the letter was backdated to August 17th.

"But to me there was no such thing. My deduction was that because of all the publicity surrounding her plight there was a bit of pressure, so they backdated the letter to the 17th of August."

Spurring a movement

"What I'm trying to say is that what we did sort of generated a movement towards improving efforts to make this vision a reality. But what makes me happy is that I've met a few of my old friends that say to me 'You're doing a good thing.' No one has said, 'you're not Muslim, so how come you're doing this?'

With this wave of volunteerism and charity-giving seemingly well under way, perhaps authorities and those involved can already start paving the way towards promoting philanthrophy. While charity is relieving sufffering, philanthrophy seeks out the root of the problem, to empower and enable sustainability.

As they say, charity is for today. But philanthropy is forever.The Brunei Times