By Theresa Ellsworth
From a diver who headed to Chiang Mai to help with the Tham Luang cave rescue mission to a couple who has opened their home – and hearts – to the vulnerable, meet five local superheroes whose stories inspired us in 2018.
Answering a “calling” for Thai Cave Rescue
On the afternoon of July 10, Douglas Yeo was part of the underwater human chain carrying four boys and their football coach, the last of a group of 13 trapped in a partially flooded cave, to safety. The group had entered the cave in Thailand’s mountainous Chiang Rai region on 23 June, scrambling onto an elevated rock when the monsoon rains poured in. A diver with 26 years of recreational and salvage-diving experience, Mr Yeo said he felt a “calling” after reading news reports, and became part of an international rescue effort that riveted the world, diving through freezing, muddy waters, where zero visibility forced rescuers to feel their way along a rope.
Always room at The Last Resort
For more than a decade, Kenneth and Adeline Thong have welcomed strangers into their home. At any given time, their four-storey terrace house in Seletar has been a refuge for children from abusive or dysfunctional families, unwed mothers, and those with mental problems, among others, who stay anywhere from a day to three years. The Thongs aim is to provide a sense of what a normal, safe, and functional family looks like. The Last Resort is a finalist for The Straits Times Singaporean of the Year 2018.
Gardens that nurture communities
This has been a big year for Bjorn Low, who started Edible Garden City, an urban farming social enterprise in 2012, and has gone on to involve the community in farming. Citizen Farm trains seniors, prison inmates, pre-dementia and psychiatric patients, as well as students with special needs in farming techniques, serving both their employment and therapeutic needs. In August, Mr Low was named a fellow of non-profit organisation Ashoka, which supports social enterprises addressing social, human and environmental problems, and secured a $500,000 grant from Temasek Foundation Ecosperity. Low, who is also one of the finalists for The Straits Times Singaporean of the Year, believes that by nurturing life, we nurture ourselves.
Adding sparkle to the lives of vulnerable youth
Diamonds on the Street was among social enterprises recognised this year in the ChariTrees project at Marina Bay. Founder Crystal Goh helps vulnerable youth come to terms with their life experiences and relationships through storytelling and song. The social enterprise was born out of the 32-year-old’s own experience. An aspiring singer-songwriter, she was devastated by a 2011 diagnosis of spasmodic dysphonia, a rare neurological condition that causes the throat to spasm. She discovered, however, that sharing her story in song brought hope to others and began her own healing. Diamond on the Street has helped more than 200 young people find their voices.
A lifetime of social work
One of Singapore’s first female Justices of Peace, Gnanasundram Thevathasan, celebrated her 100th birthday and a lifetime devoted to social work this year. She was just 21 when she arrived in Singapore from her native Sri Lanka in 1939, at the start of the Japanese Occupation. Moved by the plight of the children who loitered in the streets as their parents eked out a living, she organized a makeshift school at a wet market, offering both math lessons and free food. Her appointment as Justice of Peace in 1948 saw her visiting prisoners, acting as a count mediator, and solemnising marriages. Age has not slowed her down. Earlier this year, Madam Gnanasundram helped certify a visa application to Australia, because she wants to help where she can.
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