SUBANG JAYA: Dec 18, 2015, was a day that changed Billy Tang’s life forever. He was driving a Land Rover in Kota Damansara, Selangor when he swerved into a divider to avoid hitting a motorcyclist who was not wearing a helmet and was talking on his handphone.
Tang woke up in hospital and learnt he had injured his spine and broken six ribs. He also discovered that he was paralysed from the waist down.
Tang, 57, a father of two adult children, slipped into a deep depression. “For six months, I was thinking of how to exit from the earth,” he recalled.
He said he had a 20.32 cm titanium rod and 13 screws inserted in his spine, with one screw measuring 6.35 cm in length. He also said that he was “in excruciating pain 24/7”.
About a year after the accident, he started losing vision in his left eye due to nerve damage. Despite an operation, he has not regained full vision in that eye.
The support he received from family and friends however, helped ease him out of his depression, and Tang resolved to do whatever he could to make his life matter.
So, he used his experience as an agriculturist and private researcher to make safe and healthy food more accessible to underserved communities.
In 2018, he designed a box using soil microbiology that people could place in their homes to harvest vegetables such as red watercress and Brazilian spinach, giving even the poorest the ability to feed themselves continuously without any agriculture experience or knowledge.
The box, which measures 57.5cm x 43.5cm x 35cm, works as a small greenhouse. It requires ample sunlight, and must be watered two or three times a week. No fertilisers are required. “People are thinking out of the box, I have to think inside the box,” he joked.
According to Tang, even if the plants somehow die due to negligence, the soil remains alive to regenerate healthy plants for one year. The longest box, he added, has been regenerative for three years and counting.
He named his innovation “Organic Regenerative Vegetable Terrarium Hope Box”, which he described as the world’s first.
In 2019, he started a social enterprise called PWD Smart FarmAbility. Two years later, he introduced the “Regenerative Organic Soil-U-tion Aquaponics Satellite Farm System”, an organic way to farm freshwater fish such as red tilapia. This, he added, is also a world’s first.
To date, he said that over 6,000 Hope boxes and 20 satellite farms have been deployed throughout the Peninsula to B40 families, Orang Asli communities, orphanages, old folks’ homes and centres for persons with disabilities. More than 15,000 kg of fresh vegetables and 665 kg of red tilapia have been harvested as well.
PWD Smart FarmAbility is also collaborating with Vera Bella Enterprises, a Philippines-based food manufacturer, to produce tilapia ice cream and cookies. Tang hopes to channel a percentage of the sales towards empowering the disabled community.
Where there’s a wheel, there’s a way!
Tang has received several awards in recognition of his contributions to society.
A particularly memorable one was the Regal British Award he received in September last year. It was presented to him by the World Humanitarian Drive (WHD), an international NGO, in conjunction with Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations.
In July, Tang published his book, “The PWD Smart FarmAbility – Journey from Wheels to Farm” which illustrates details of his innovations and the impact these have made.
“Basically, why I wrote this book, number one, is to inspire. That we don’t have to give up our hope, our dreams, our lifeworks, even though we think that we cannot function physically,” he shared.
According to the social welfare department (JKM), there are 637,537 persons with disability in the country as of Jan 31 this year. However, it is estimated that there are over four million and many, it is believed, have not registered as a person with disability due to the stigma that exists.
“If given equal opportunity, they will have something to contribute to the nation, and they can also shine. So please extend equal opportunity to us.”