As Christmas trees and carols signal the beginning of the festivities, we wonder what presents to buy, what gifts to give, what celebrations to plan. But stop for a minute and think—when was the last time you gave the gift of yourself?

It all starts with a spark. The revelation or urge to give back to society often comes as a eureka moment in the midst of a life well lived, but it is a call that many hesitate to answer. In this season of giving, we reached out to four inspiring individuals who have touched the hearts and lives of many. Whether it is to return dignity to the marginalised, provide cheer to the sick, or reviving a lost art and the people whose lives depend on it, these men and women embody the spirit of giving back to society and do it all with a smile.

Meet Iskandar Syah Ismail a.k.a Dr Bubbles, Dr Madhusudhan Shanmugam a.k.a the Teddy Bear Doctor, Sasibai Kimis the founder of Earth Heir and Jennifer Friis of Charwiki

This is a story of hope and the people who bring it. 


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Above Iskandar Syah Ismail a.k.a Dr Bubbles, a professional clown for ill children.

Dr Bubbles, describe the moment you realised you wanted to do become a professional clown doctor.

It was scary, because I was doing something nobody was doing. In fact, when I told my mum, she asked me whether I was going to work in a circus. But I am stubborn, so I took it in stride and set out to prove the naysayers wrong. I kept trying to attend classes and courses. I believed that for a hundred no’s, there was one yes, and that was good enough for me. The defining moment for me was when I saw two clown doctors go inside a room housing a child in a coma. They started singing a lullaby, and strummed their ukulele. I was watching all this unfold: I saw the heart rate monitor go from something mellow to something filled with energy. It was magical. 

What keeps you going?

The thing is, we have to realise that the work is not about us. The work is about other people. For me, in any charitable endeavour, the moment you say “What about me?” then maybe it isn’t for you. That’s what I keep telling young volunteers and donors. Once you start granting people’s wishes without condition, and then suddenly you think that something is too big for you to fulfil, or if it’s not sexy, then you need to evaluate your priorities; about whether it is all for you, or for others.

Your message to those during the year-end festivities?

Just continue to bring joy to people who need it the most, in any way possible. There are so many projects that you can take part in. I read this one Indonesian novel, Laskar Pelangi by Andrea Hirata, wherein a quote stated (in Malay): Hidup ini adalah untuk memberi sebanyak-banyaknya, dan bukan untuk menerima sebanyak-banyaknya (this life is about giving as much as you can, not receiving as much as you can). I always keep that in mind.

For me, in any charitable endeavour, the moment you say “What about me?” then maybe it isn’t for you.
Dr Bubbles

How did you wind up as 'Teddy Bear Doctor'?

First of all, it was never my intention! [laughs] I love children. I used to always have a lot of teddy bears in my car, owing to this foundation I used to be in, where we fulfilled the wishes of children, and gave away teddy bears. I continued to give them away to the children who came to the mobile clinic. I would organise a drawing competition and those who returned the next week with a drawing will get a teddy. One day, a news reporter from The Star was there when this kid shouted, “Eh, Teddy Bear Doctor sudah datang! [The Teddy Bear Doctor is here!]” Everyone thinks it’s because of my size though! 

Thoughts on people doing charity?

It has to come from you. Many people do it for fame. You can see it when they post it on social media. We do that too, but it’s because we want people to know what we are doing, and where the funds are going. You can’t be forced to do charity. Follow your interest. You might be interested in animals, old folks, etc… There are so many NGOs out there, you should just start somewhere. There is no point thinking about it for too long and eventually ending up not doing anything.

Your message to those during the year-end festivities, with regard to giving back?

Enjoy yourself, have fun… but do remember that there are people out there who cannot enjoy as much as you do. Do things for them. For example, giving away leftover food that is still good. So many homes would be so happy to receive them; these are not the types of food they get often. Oh, also, play safe with the fireworks.


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Above Teddy Bear Doctor a.k.a Dr Madhusudhan Shanmugam, the founder of Teddy Mobile Clinic – an NGO that provides free medical care for the poor.
There are so many NGOs out there, you should just start somewhere. There is no point thinking about it for too long and eventually ending up not doing anything.
Teddy Bear Doctor
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Above Sasibai Kimis, Social entrepreneur and founder of Earth Heir.

What were some of the setbacks you faced when it comes to running Earth Heir?

In many ways, running a social enterprise in Malaysia has proven to be harder than anything I have endeavoured to do in my life. Running a regular business is tough enough, running a social business is even more difficult. The gestation period of a social business to reach success is much more consuming than that of a regular business. I spent the first few years building Earth Heir by trying to find the artisans, developing relationships with them, identifying what the root problems were, the list goes on. To work so hard and not see that work translating into visible results can be incredibly discouraging. I had to keep reminding myself that this is the groundwork to build the foundations for something greater, for this nation. This has proven to be true. In the last two years, I am seeing the past years of hard work really begin to bear fruit. Today, Earth Heir impacts over 100 artisans across six states in Malaysia, and we work across a variety of raw materials, craft techniques and communities. 

Could you share some of the causes you are most passionate about and why?

We focus our time on championing these three areas: socio-entrepreneurship, ethical fashion, Malaysian heritage and craftsmanship. Our vision as a brand is to build nations and generations as heirs of the Earth. As a Malaysian brand, we feel strongly about showcasing Malaysian heritage, thus raising the value of Malaysian craftsmanship, which will in turn preserve our heritage for future generations. Without good design, the value of Malaysian craftsmanship will remain low, which will also mean the artisans will not earn enough to sustain themselves. Therefore, educating the public about why something hand crafted with heritage skills is valuable, is highly necessary to raise the value of local craftsmanship, plus of course the pieces must be well-designed. Currently, awareness of ethical fashion, fair trade and appreciation for hand craftsmanship is still low among Malaysians. 

Your message to those during the year-end festivities?

A life well lived is one that is generally selfless.


I realised that I was tired of sitting back and complaining about Malaysia. I’ve always thought that if you want to create change, you need a nucleus. A nucleus of people doing good.
Sasibai Kimis

What do you hope to achieve with Charwiki?

Impact individuals and communities in a major way, who will then go on to help others. That all the children who pass through Charwiki go on to become independent, resourceful, and great leaders of their community.

Could you share some of the causes you are most passionate about and why?

I’m passionate about children’s rights. Every child is entitled to basic rights like freedom, protection and education. And I believe that it’s our responsibility not only to safeguard, but also to make these rights available and known to them. At the moment Charwiki is building its first refugee school and I’m proud of how we have made education accessible to a sector of children who would otherwise not have had it.

Your message to those during the year-end festivities?

Make a connection with someone unexpected or completely outside of your comfort zone. When people ask me, “Where should I start?” I tell them that giving back starts with relationships.

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Above Jennifer Friis, founder and director of Charwiki.
The opportunity to impact the lives of children is a feeling that you can’t put a price on. I wake up every day feeling so extremely blessed to be able to focus on others and not myself.
Jennifer Friis

For the full and detailed version of this issue, pick up a copy of the Malaysia Tatler December 2018 issue in major bookstores.

  • Art DirectionSyahlia Albina Sari
  • PhotographyBrian Fang/M8 Studio
  • Make-UpJoey Yap
  • HairAngeline Low & Rachel Tiong
  • WordsKathlyn Ursula D'Souza & Rachel Ng
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