Lee Kuan Yew: An expat’s tribute to Singapore’s founding father

Rana Wehbe

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Yesterday as it rained, Singapore laid her founding father to rest. A man whom the whole nation owes their identity and progress to. But it’s not just Singaporeans who owe Mr Lee Kuan Yew – it is everyone who lives in this multicultural metropolitan, locals and expatriates alike.

Before I set foot in this little red dot that I now call home, I had no idea what to expect. I remember looking through the history and instantly, I developed respect for the man who in one generation could transform such a small new nation into the first world country we know today: Mr. Lee.

Coming from the volatile Middle East region, it first struck me how peaceful and harmonious Singapore was, despite its diversity. Politically it seemed stable and most importantly I could feel a true sense of patriotism in all Singaporeans, regardless of their age, background or ethnicity. They identified themselves as Singaporeans before anything else. Whether young or old, one needs to only observe the pride in their eyes as National Day approaches every year – it’s such a beautiful thing to watch and envy if I may say.

But how could there be no conflict in such a culturally, religiously and racially-mixed place? How could a small country fit so much diversity and remain peaceful? And above all, how could a place with no natural resources whatsoever become one of the strongest economic forces in the continent within such a short time span?

I believe one man made this possible. Mr Lee Kuan Yew was visionary enough to figure out a system which has made Singapore the envy of many countries, both in the East and West. But most importantly, and unlike many leaders elsewhere, he put the country and people’s benefits first even if sometimes that meant he may not have been quite the crowd-pleaser.

I believe that makes him a great leader. In fact, one of the greatest in modern history. While many authority figures talk and promise – he took action. His vision must have been so strong that he never lost his way or determination. He never wavered.

For me personally, I look to Mr Lee as a leader I wish my country had. Honestly, I wouldn’t have had a reason to leave and seek the not-so-easy and homesick life of an expatriate if that was the case. Don’t get me wrong – I love my country (Lebanon) and I am proud of where I come from, but continuous wars, corruption and dead ends back home left me with no choice but to seek a better future elsewhere. And here I  am, 8000 km away yet feeling right at home.

While Mr Lee set regulations and protected the citizens’ security and welfare, he also made it possible for people like myself to build a future and find a home away from home. Something I will be eternally grateful for.

Mr Lee’s Singapore is a heaven for every hard-working person where dreams can come true with enough effort and determination. At least this is what the nation gave me after so many things in my life – and country – fell apart.

I can never be thankful enough for a place and people who took me in and where I never felt discriminated against based on my skin colour or nationality. Having lived as an expatriate for almost a decade now – 3 and a half years of which in Singapore – I can confidently say that Singapore is the only place where I found a second home and felt like I was a part of the society rather than a stranger.

Again, I believe this was no coincidence. The tolerance and acceptance which he promoted and built this country upon is what made it possible. For that, he set an example that the rest of the world has yet to follow.

For these reasons and more – I feel very honoured to have the chance to experience and live in Mr Lee’s modern Singapore. This country gave me what my country never has: peace, acceptance and a chance to make my dreams come true. So thank you Mr Lee Kuan Yew, for giving an expat like myself a home, a place where I’d want my future children to grow up feeling safe, accepted and have the childhood I never had.

May you rest in peace.

Rana Wehbe

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