Thomas Wee, left, and Maria Teresa set up the orphanage in 2008. Photo: Facebook/ Willing Hearts Orphanage, Our Better World

An elderly Singaporean man who got rich from illegal bookmaking and running motels in Indonesia has become a philanthropist after being inspired by his former Filipina maid, who set up a shelter for homeless children in Bulacan, in the Philippines.

Thomas Wee, 78, who first worked as a bookie lending money to colleagues with an interest rate as high as 10%, then bought properties in Indonesia. He turned them into motels, although most of the units were believed to be brothels, Lianhe Zaobao (Singapore) reported.

Wee recalled how his life had become very different after encountering Maria Teresa, a 57-year-old caring and kind-hearted Filipina domestic worker whom he hired between 1970 and 1982. The pair kept in touch as good friends after she returned to the Philippines.

One day, Maria sent a rather odd donation request for food and clothes, not for herself, but needy people in her community. Wee did just what she asked without hesitation, sending her a 50-kilogram package of necessities. In fact, he began to do it every month.

Two years later Mr Wee and his wife, who were curious about Maria and what she was doing, paid a visit to their former maid’s home. They found a crowded shed in a remote village housing 20 people, 14 of whom were homeless children that Maria had taken off the streets.

Around that time, Wee was recovering from an accident and was lucky to save his right leg from being amputated. He decided to do something good, by supporting Maria and helping to improve living conditions for the homeless children that she was taking care of.

Later, Wee, after sold some properties in Indonesia and his Singapore home, he had capital to set up the Willing Hearts Orphanage in Bulacan with Maria. This became a home for 38 boys and girls aged from four to 12 years old.

Recently, Wee and Maria started a weekly soup kitchen to serve 300 malnourished children and elderly people in the neighborhood with nutritious meals.

The Wee couple also started a small business – St. Isidore Thrift Shop on Serangoon Ave 3 in Serangoon, Singapore – to help raise funds for shoes, clothes and food, with the profit being used to support the operation of Maria’s orphanage.

He explains how this happened in a video:

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