Cooking Up Classrooms – Award-Winning Restaurateur Builds Schools


At home, she shares her love through building restaurants that serve unforgettable delicacies. Overseas, she builds schools and brings education to those who need it. Chief Operating Officer of TungLok, Mdm Tjioe Ka In was among more than 200 volunteers the YMCA of Singapore brought to expand an elementary school in Nepal, where there is a lack of schools and education is not easily accessible. Thanks to their building efforts and donations, the number of classrooms at Janajagriti Elementary School has doubled.

Alongside her husband and 17-year-old son, 54-year-old Mdm Tjioe Ka In trekked the bumpy roads of mountainous Bhakunde Besi to the school where the restaurateur mixed cement and stacked bricks one by one to form walls as part of her family vacation in December 2018. It was a part of a YMCA International Service Programme (ISP) aimed at improving access to education in a sustainable way.

After students finished their final grade at the elementary school, they had to travel for more than an hour by foot to the next school to further their studies. As it was difficult for parents to send their children so far away from their agricultural village, most students stopped schooling instead. The new classrooms will host three more grades of students, allowing them to further their studies before having to switch schools. The expansion is expected to be completed by May this year. A Completion Ceremony will be held to commemorate the event.

Mdm Tjioe and her fellow volunteers also raised funds for this project, facilitated by the YMCA of Singapore. The volunteers also participated in other community service activities, such as teaching English and crafts to the students. With her husband, Mdm Tjioe also cooked for a children’s home they visited.

Mdm Tjioe and her family were not new to such trips. Her family, consisting also of her 19-year-old daughter, has participated in YMCA ISPs since 2012, and made it their annual tradition as they very much enjoyed the experience.

“It’s an excellent bonding trip. You get to do many things you wouldn’t get the opportunity to do in Singapore, while experiencing and learning about other cultures. Even though it is community service, you get to enjoy trying new things, like local food, meeting the natives, and sightseeing,” said Mdm Tjioe.

Back then, her son and daughter were only 10 and 12 years old respectively. She shares: “For our first three trips, we went to the same children’s home in Cambodia. The kids have become such good friends with the residents there that they even keep in touch through Facebook!”

The trips have value-added not only to the communities that they wanted to help, but to themselves, as well. Mdm Tjioe described how her son had been “passive” as a child, but has become more confident and takes more initiative.

“This trip really allowed me to see the transformation my son has gone through. The construction project involved a lot of physical work and I saw just how much he has grown, into the strong, young man that he is today. I felt so proud,” said Mdm Tjioe.

She also says he has grown more mature, and that they learned many life skills and to innovate for creative solutions where “resources were scarce”. She adds that “learning has no boundaries”. The combination of enjoying new things and interactions, personal growth, family bonding and helping others has her family coming back year after year.

“When our part of the project was done, the sense of satisfaction was so great. We could see the fruition of everyone’s efforts, of us working together in harmony. It felt so good, and I just thought, ‘how nice’!” she said.

“It has been such a joy seeing people from all walks of life coming together to do something good for those in need. Some participants perform beyond their own expectations and grow in confidence, inspiring those around them to join the cause as well. I look forward to continually working with everyone to create positive social impacts around the world,” said Joyce Yu, International Programmes Manager, YMCA of Singapore.

In a partnership with Living Hope Nepal, The YMCA of Singapore brought volunteers there over 10 trips since December 2017, including tertiary students, corporations such as PricewaterhouseCooper, and a Parents-Child Open Team.

YMCA of Singapore International Service Programmes works with local partners in other countries to identify and respond to essential community needs in sustainable ways, such as improving access to education, livelihoods and infrastructure. They intend to provide aid to more schools in the future.


Contributed by Sim Yu Xiang

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