When I was 13 years old, my mother forced me to work on weekends as a volunteer in Klong Toey Slum, one of Bangkok’s most impoverished slums with a population of 100,000 people. I hate to admit it, but I was initially reluctant to do it and I even tried my best to get out of it. It ended up changing my entire perspective on life.
I vividly remember walking into Klong Toey Slum for the first time. It was around 730am in the morning and the stench of urine and garbage immediately assaulted my senses. Visually, I was shocked by the unspeakable poverty of families huddled up together in unsanitary, make-shift, rusty tin abodes. As I walked deeper and deeper into the slums, I remember growing fearful for my safety. It was an alien world to me, and familiar “civilization” was nowhere in sight. I saw little kids without shoes, sniffing paint thinner and getting high. I saw disgusting mountains of waste and wet garbage intertwined with the tin shacks where families lived. I saw buckets of dirty, brown drinking water and flies everywhere. After walking for what seemed like an eternity, we arrived at a makeshift elementary school in the heart of Klong Toey Slum organized by a local charity. My volunteer job was to teach basic mathematics to 7-9 year olds. I saw so much hope, innocence, and love in the kids as they ran up to me and squealed and hugged me. At the end of each day of volunteer work, I would come home in a pensive, melancholy mood. Over time, I grew attached to these beautiful kids and it hurt to know that they had virtually no opportunity to escape poverty. At the same time, it ignited a desire in my soul to change the world for the better. Volunteer work became a regular part of my life (and it still is today) from that experience. Up until that point in my life as a kid, I had never experienced such devastating poverty in my life. As a kid, I grew up in a comfortable, loving home. It wasn’t until years later that poverty would rip my family apart. My parents lost everything in the Asian Financial Crisis and became homeless, jobless, and penniless before my father eventually abandoned us. Fate often works in mysterious ways.
*Photography Courtesy of Gerry Yaum
During those precious volunteer days at Klong Toey Slum, my mom also introduced me to the extraordinary work of Mother Teresa. And for as long as I can remember, Mother Teresa’s life story has inspired me. She changed the world through her heart of gold by helping those who were long forgotten by society. In her own words, her mission in life was to care for “the hungry, the naked, the homeless, the crippled, the blind, the lepers, all those people who feel unwanted, unloved, uncared for throughout society, people that have become a burden to the society and are shunned by everyone.” If you have a moment, I strongly encourage you to read about her life story; it will inspire you to live your greatest life too. I always tell everyone who works with me that, “If you are not fighting for something bigger than yourself, then you are dying for nothing.”
Here is one of my favorite poems by Mother Teresa; it resonates deeply with me, and exemplifies why she was such an extraordinary soul.
People are often unreasonable, illogical and self centered;
Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives;
Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies;
If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you;
Be honest and frank anyway.
What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight;
If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous;
Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow;
Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough;
Give the world the best you’ve got anyway.
You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and your God;
It was never between you and them anyway.
Success can never be measured by big houses, luxury cars, or fancy clothes. For me, greatness can only be measured by what you do for others. You see, I don’t believe that we were put on this Earth just to live an easy, comfortable life. No, I believe that we were put on this Earth to unleash our potential so that we may give back to the world more than we receive.
Do what it is that ignites your soul. Do good in the world. And never give up.
Chatri Sityodtong is a self-made Harvard MBA entrepreneur. His rags-to-riches life story has been profiled on TV around the world on Bloomberg TV's High Flyers, CNBC's Entrepreneur Asia, and other media. He is currently the Founder and Chairman of ONE Championship, Asia's largest sports media property with with a global broadcast to over 1 billion homes around the world. Sityodtong's business holdings include companies in sports, media, technology, beverages, and real estate industries. His businesses have been featured across the globe on CNN, Wall Street Journal, CNBC, Forbes, Bloomberg TV, Reuters News, Fortune, Yahoo!, Fox Sports, ESPN StarSports, Channel NewsAsia, New York Times, and many other media. He is also an Entrepreneur-in-Residence at INSEAD, Europe's top business school.