Global Family, Local Legacy

For the Edmonton-based Goon sisters, charity begins at home.

Life in a family of 10 siblings is seldom boring, and it’s certainly never lonely.

For sisters Liuting, Liuyoon, Liushien, Eleanor and Jacqui Goon, and Siauping Goon Yeung, family gatherings are lively affairs. Whether everyone is in the same room, or even the same country, their family ties run deep.

Gathered around Liuting’s dining table on a sunny Saturday morning, the women chat excitedly about their family.

“We’ve got siblings in Malaysia and in Singapore as well,” says Liuyoon, the third-eldest child in the family. “There are 10 of us altogether, and six of us ended up living in Edmonton.”

There’s rarely a moment of silence as the women, who have lived in Edmonton for more than 40 years, bounce between topics, discussing everything from their most recent family trip to Florida to their volunteer work, their shared history, and their hopes for the community. They finish each other’s sentences, laugh, and talk over one another.

“Our events can get quite big, especially when our extended family joins us,” says Liushien.

Chatty, approachable and well-educated, the women were born and raised in Malaysia in a tight-knit and supportive family. Their father spent each day working hard at a coconut oil mill, while their mother stayed home taking care of the family. Both parents encouraged the girls to pursue further education and explore as many opportunities as were presented to them. The girls attended schools around the world — from Dublin to Montreal — before settling in Edmonton.

The first to move to Edmonton was Liuyoon, who came to Canada to begin her career as a doctor in 1970. “I came because I wanted to do my internship here but I hadn’t planned on staying in the long term,” she says.

However, her plans changed when her sisters followed in her footsteps. In 1971, Liuting moved to the city to establish her own career and, within five years, four more sisters were living in Edmonton. None of the women had planned to live in Alberta for long, but established roots in the city over time.

“It made sense for us to move here – there were lots of jobs available, lots of opportunity,” says Eleanor. “And we really liked it.”

“After a couple of years, a few of us were here, we all had jobs, and we became a part of the community,” says Liuyoon, as her sisters nod in agreement. “We had no reason to go anywhere else. We wanted to be here.”

Three sisters entered the medical field, while the other three became teachers. They built their careers, married, had children, and became fully integrated in the community. The sisters were raised in a compassionate, caring household. Each Chinese New Year, the family would donate to local charities, including The Little Sisters of the Poor home for the elderly. This generous and benevolent spirit created a strong sense of empathy in the Goon children that is evident now in their career choices and their philanthropic efforts.

“For years, we’ve seen our parents supporting various organizations in Malaysia,” says Liuting. “We’re used to seeing them giving, so now it’s not even something that we have to think about. It’s just something we do.”

This charitable mindset is a family legacy that all 10 siblings proudly carry on. In Malaysia and Singapore, the Goon siblings have supported local and global causes, including the YWCA and the Rotary Club. Here in Edmonton, the Goon sisters still donate their time to local schools, hospitals and organizations, including the ASSIST Community Centre (supporting the transitions of new Canadians), Project Adult Literacy Society (helping adult learners with communication skills) and Catholic Social Services (offering a range of social services for all ages). Throughout their careers, the Goon sisters hosted newcomers to Canada, helped local adults improve their literacy, and supported the education of the next generation by volunteering in local schools.

In 2013, the sisters decided to start a family fund at Edmonton Community Foundation (ECF) to give back financially, as well.

“For many families, a fund like this is a great option because it offers flexibility to support the community in a meaningful way,” says ECF donor advisor Noel Xavier. “Families can spread out their support a little more than they might be able to do through in-person volunteer work.”

The sisters say the Goonchen Family Fund was inspired by the two people who had instilled this philanthropic spirit in the family for decades – their parents.

“Goonchen is a combination of our parents’ last names,” says Liuyoon.

“We’re continuing the tradition of giving that they had – just in a new location,” adds Liuting.

Now, the sisters meet annually to discuss which organizations they would like to support, exploring options based on current needs. The fund allows them to support multiple organizations, and they can change where their support goes each year. ECF facilitates the process by identifying organizations in need of support.

“ECF is naturally connected to the charitable sector, and we understand what the emerging needs and priorities are,” says Xavier. “So when a family comes to us with their priorities, we can give them guidance as to where they may want to devote their philanthropy in any given year.”

In the first two years of the Goonchen Family Fund, the sisters have supported the Edmonton Food Bank and local women’s shelters.

“Our focus is on social needs in the community,” says Jacqui. “Last year, we decided to give to the Food Bank because of what happened in Fort McMurray, and we knew that they really needed the help.”

“If we can help in any way, that’s what matters. Helping even a family or two is better than helping none at all,” adds Liushien.

Although the family has only recently started their ECF fund, they’re positive it was the right choice for their current and future needs.

“What we like about it is even if we’re not here, the fund continues with our interests in mind,” says Eleanor.

Siauping adds, “My daughter may take an interest in it one day, but we don’t know. Right now we’re just happy that no matter what, the community support will continue, even if we’re not around.”

Even with their family spread across the globe, the women are clear on their dedication to the Edmonton community. Though they can choose to support organizations across Canada through their ECF fund, their interests are local.

“Edmonton has been the place that we’ve called home the longest,” says Jacqui.

Siauping chimes in, “We travel quite a bit and we’ve got family in other cities, but we’re connected to Edmonton. I don’t think I could ever leave.”

“We’ve worked here, we’ve lived here, our lives are here,” adds Liuyoon. “This is our home.”