Devotion to causes dear to Datin Dona’s heart

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Dona’s love for animals has paved the way for her to be involved in the SSPCA.

THE passion that Datin Dona Drury-Wee has for the environment, music, Sarawak’s culinary and cultural heritage, animals, and photography finds expression in her work and activities for the non-governmental organisations (NGO) that she is involved in.

Talented, attractive, and friendly, she admits that she devotes a lot of her time to promoting the welfare of stray animals, while also supporting the preservation and promotion of Sarawak heritage, particularly its culinary arts, and helping disabled children.

She started actively participating in NGOs after her children had grown up, especially after her daily responsibilities as a mother of school-age children were finished and she had more time to devote to the causes that are dear to her.

Her love for animals paved the way for her to be involved in the Sarawak Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SSPCA) at a time when the society needed to be revamped. She first became involved with the society as a committee member in 2009, following the organisation of a fundraiser for SSPCA by the Sarawak Eurasian Association, of which she was the president at the time.

Two years later, she was elected president of the society, a position that she continues to hold today.

Caring for animals since young

“I love animals. When I was young, I wanted to be a veterinarian. I used to carry kittens home from school, especially at the end of the year when we had to clean our classroom and bring a bucket each for the job.

“When I got home, I would have a little kitten in my bucket or in my pocket. Then my Mom would exclaim: ‘Oh, another cat!’” she laughs.

Today, Dona reaches out to people across Sarawak in her effort to make life better for animals and create awareness of the importance of animal care and welfare.

“We usually go to schools to give talks to the students and then we ask them to tell their parents about animal welfare, on how to be responsible pet owners, why they shouldn’t dump their animals, if they don’t want more animals, they should neuter their pets, and so forth.”

Dona Dona giving a talk on animal welfare at Kampung Semaba in Kuching.

Dona is multilingual. When she goes to the villages, she delivers her talks in Sarawak Malay, which she picked up when she was in school.

She is very down-to-earth and always obliging as she endeavours in earnest to accomplish her mission.

“When rabies struck in 2017, we had to learn how to handle the disease fast and work rapidly with the government as it came upon us quite suddenly.

“In fact, we already had dialogues on the disease earlier on just after we heard of the outbreak in Kalimantan. We were worried about the rabies spreading to Sarawak through the border, which eventually it did.

“I remember a time in Peninsular Malaysia when rabies was spreading from the Malaysia-Thai border, many dogs in the streets were killed as a result, and the public was very upset about it.

“So when the outbreak happened in Sarawak, we tried to get the government to say, ‘the only way to battle the disease is to provide rabies vaccination for the animals’.

“And we worked closely with the Veterinary Services Department (DVS) as it was short handed to cope with the situation.”

Advising villagers on rabies prevention

When the disease first hit, Dona drove to Serian almost every day with her team from SSPCA together with the DVS to visit all the villages there, meeting and interviewing the people, giving advice on what to do, and creating awareness of the causes, symptoms, treatment and prevention of rabies.

They conducted a three-month programme in Batu Kawa and went to every single house with teams form the DVS and Health Department in their effort to combat the disease.

The routine looked exhausting, but as in her words: “When you have the passion, you will find the energy.”

Dona has so much of it – passion. When she was president of the Sarawak Eurasian Association, as a culinary arts enthusiast, she saw how food bound the members together.

They came from different stocks.

Legacy cookbook

Her father was American and they had members who had British, German, Scottish, Hungarian and other European roots, and they took pride in their family recipes.

That was how the idea of their award-winning ‘Legacy Cookbook’ came about.

Dona with her certificate presented after the Sarawak Eurasian Association’s ‘Legacy Cookbook’ won the ‘Gourmand Award for World’s Best Local Cuisine’ in Paris.

‘“We came up with all the family stories behind our families’ favourite recipes. I put in my American grandmother’s crazy frost apple pie and brownies and my Mom’s ‘tuak’ (rice wine), including photographs of her making the rice wine, which was something I had learned from her and which she had passed down to my son.”

The book is a compilation of family recipes that have been handed down through generations of Eurasian families in Sarawak, and the stories behind the cuisines as well as photographs dating back to the colonial days. Launched in 2011, the publisher submitted the cookbook to the World Malaysian Gourmet Award where it won the prestigious award.

The book was consequentially submitted to the World Gourmet top Awards in Paris.

It was a proud moment for Dona when she attended the Paris event and she was dumbfounded when she heard her society’s name mentioned on stage – the ‘Legacy Cookbook’ won the ‘2011 Gourmand Award for World’s Best Local Cuisine Cookbook’.

Culinary Heritage and Arts Society

It was the success of the cookbook that inspired Dona and a group of her like minded friends to set up the Culinary Heritage and Arts Society Sarawak (CHASS) where she was voted the chairperson.

‘“We do inventing, experimenting, collaborating with other chefs to see what can be done to promote local food and help locals to start and promote their businesses.

“Moving forward, we want to hold more workshops where we can engage our vendors and knowledge-holders to share their knowledge. They don’t have to be qualified chefs as these are the people who have the skills and knowledge in traditional cooking methods.

Dona and her mother showcasing the art of making ‘tuak’ during their ‘Sarawak Culinary Adventure’ in Hong Kong in 2019.

“We want to work with some of the culinary schools to promote our culinary heritage. It may not be in their syllabus, but we can do it in workshop-style so that the youngsters can learn more about local dishes, ingredients and so forth as most of the schools are mainly into western style food.”

CHASS was one of the NGOs that played a key role in Kuching’s successful bid to be recognised as ‘Unesco City of Gastronomy’, and a member of the Creative Cities Network; hence, Kuching becoming the first city in Malaysia to be given the coveted title.

Passion for cooking

Dona has been passionate about cooking since her schooldays.

“I learned domestic science in school,” she said, recalling how she would cook for her father and her brother when her mother went to play golf.

“She only played golf when we were not having exams.

“Dad, being American, always had his afternoon milk and wanted biscuits. I baked biscuits for him and I would also sell them for pocket money.”

Through her involvement with Friends of Sarawak Museum (FoSM), where she sits on the committee, she learns more about plants and becomes more and more intrigued by the beauty of nature.

The society helped to develop the Beccari Heritage Trail in Matang, which is now a tourist attraction. The trail was named after an Italian botanist Odoardo Beccari who came to Sarawak during the time of James Brooke and stayed in Matang for a couple of years to study the plants there. His work on palms in Matang earned him a name as a world specialist.

“We went with our botanists to explore the trail, and also got to know about the palms and other plants that were found there, taking their leaves to study and putting up information boards about the plants.

“I love doing all this because we learn a lot along the way, and I’m usually the one taking photographs.”

‘Profound fulfilment’

Dona finds profound fulfilment in being able to give back to society and she never looks back. The Sarawak Trefoil Guild Girl Guides, where she is actively involved in, brings her closer to children with disabilities.

One of the organisation’s favourite projects is the ‘Feel, Hear and Smell Walk’ where they take blind children from the Special School for the Blind on a nature walk.

“The children get to feel the moist ground, the leaves, flowers, and so on. The first time we did the walk, some of the wardens cried because they were so touched.

“My Mom, also a member of Trefoil Guild, also cried. She couldn’t help saying how blessed and grateful she was that her children and grandchildren could see.”

Dona’s empathy towards children with cancer moved her to shave her hair and go bald to help raise funds for the Sarawak Children’s Cancer Society (SCCS) during the society’s flagship ‘Go Bald’ fundraiser, an annual head-shaving event that raises funds and spreads awareness of childhood cancer.

Dona, flanked by her supportive mother-in-law Datin Amar Kathryn Wee (left) and her mother Sue Drury, after she shaved her head to help raise funds for the SCCS during the society’s Go Bald fundraiser.

She did it as a family with her two granddaughters going bald like her.

“When a child has cancer, I can’t imagine the struggles that the whole family goes through – the child, the parents and even the siblings.

“I pray for them that they may find strength, and I applaud the work of the SCCS in trying to alleviate their sufferings.”

Filial obligations

Dona’s nurturing and caring nature first manifests itself in her home, where she feels incredibly fortunate to have both her mother and mother-in-law present. Both of them are still going strong at 90.

Despite her dedication to NGO causes, Dona prioritises the needs of the elderly folks. Prior to attending meetings or engaging in other activities, she would make sure that they are all right.

“We still have to make time for them. Family is still family, no matter how old we have grown. I believe in looking after our parents. They looked after us when we were small until we could stand on our own two feet and now, it is part of our responsibility to look after them as they age.”

According to Dona, showing a parent a child’s love and care, even for a brief period of time, is all that is required to make them happy in their old age. She also says that her favourite time as a parent is when her house is full, which is when her children are all home for the holidays. It becomes so because loved ones are there.

“Even in the morning before going to a meeting, I would just sit down there for 10 or 15 minutes just to listen to my Mom when she has something to tell, maybe about something funny that happened to her yesterday – it doesn’t matter.

“Then I would inform the meeting that I would be a little bit delayed.”

Dona with volunteers from Universiti Malaysia Sarawak during an activity at the SSPCA premises in Kuching.

Dona is steadfast in her commitment to the cause, whether it is her crusade for animal welfare, her love of music, Sarawak’s culinary and cultural heritage, or the environment.

Her dedication, which spreads happiness and hope throughout the community she serves, is sustained by her passion and love for what she does.