Live To Last

Change-maker Deborah Chan urges us to pursue a greater purpose in life with new memoir.

For some of us the thought of uprooting our family – including a toddler – to a third world country to take part in community service helping out the locals may not sound appealing. But then again we are not all Deborah Chan. Where we see inconvenience, the Good Samaritan sees a need for assistance as well as the importance of action, and hopes to inspire the younger generation to find a purpose larger than ourselves to pursue.

A former sustainable tourism consultant at a boutique consultancy in Kuala Lumpur, Deborah Chan decided to leave the corporate world to the rural countryside of Battambang, Cambodia with her childhood-sweetheart-turned-husband and then one year old baby in 2014. Together as a family, they raised funds and physically built four literacy centres for children in villages without access to a proper education. In addition, they provided training for rural teachers and have also found an amazing volunteer programme called STORM (Short Term Operation Relief Mission) to bridge the gap between urban and rural communities. All this in two years!

Nonetheless, Deborah is quick to point out that her volunteering trip to Cambodia with her husband, Terrence and son, Seth was not an impulsive decision but rather a well-thought-out resolution.

“We had put a lot of talk, thought and prayer into it before making the big crazy move. We realised that our life is too short to waste just living for ourselves and there was a need outside of our corporate circle that we can help meet. Plus, we just had a baby, and as crazy as it sounds, we needed to up our game and live our lives so that our son can model after – even at a young age. We drew up a budget for a year and set out to raise the amount and within months, we had enough to last us a year.”

We realised that our life is too short to waste just living for ourselves and there was a need outside of our corporate circle that we can help meet.

For the change-maker, the Cambodian expedition was not something entirely out of the ordinary either. Previously, she had already invested time in local communities in Sarawak and Sabah, Aceh and Dumai (Indonesia), New York (USA) and Chiangmai (Thailand) since her teenage years. However, Deborah assures that it is never too late to start being involved in social service.

Having spent so many years in the field, playing witness to poignant everyday moments is a given. “(The most touching incident) would have to be the little girl in Vietnam sharing a bowl of rice with a dog. I was traveling Sapa at that time and I snaked off the beaten track on a hike when I stumbled on that sight. It was heartbreaking and absolutely life-changing. It wasn’t that this girl had no other food to eat, although she was poor, there were other food options like corn and sweet potato on the table, but she ate with the dog. I was torn in the face of poverty and the lack of education and awareness.”

This want to raise awareness amongst the younger generation as well as craft a legacy that sticks led Deborah to compose an intimate memoir titled Live to Last. Presented in bite-sized chapters that shift one’s perspective on life, the well-received book draws lessons from pivotal events in Deborah’s life ranging from the devastation of the World Trade Centre to her heart-wrenching journey of becoming a mother. It aims to inspire anyone out there who seeks a greater purpose in life beyond our own.

Currently based in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, the newly-minted author and her bigger family (Seth has since gained younger sister Enya) are now working closely with the indigenous people of the land. What has Deborah and her family learnt from all these years of volunteering? “(I)n retrospect, it taught us how to be better people, to live simpler lives, to always keep our doors open and to be even more generous with what God has given us.”

Live to Last by Deborah Chan can be found in all MPH and Times bookstores in Malaysia. For more information about the book, please visit or email Deborah Chan at

Short Term Operation Relief Mission (STORM) is a life-changing partner-volunteering programme with local organisations that have grassroot impact in communities. STORM will rock your boat, makey ou uncomfortable and stretch you in ways you would never imagine. For more information, visit:

Vimal Palasekaran

Vimal Palasekaran

Loud laugher. TV buff. Hispanophone.
Vimal Palasekaran

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