Scholarship fund by women lawyers calls for fresh ideas

From left: Singapore Association of Women Lawyers (SAWL) Scholarship Fund honorary treasurer Anne Choo, SAWL executive committee member and chair of the fund's board of trustees Foo Siew Fong, and SAWL president and the fund's honorary secretary Ong
From left: Singapore Association of Women Lawyers (SAWL) Scholarship Fund honorary treasurer Anne Choo, SAWL executive committee member and chair of the fund's board of trustees Foo Siew Fong, and SAWL president and the fund's honorary secretary Ong Lee Wha with the SAWL's two books - Teens And The Law, and You And The Law.ST PHOTO: LIM YAO HUI

Singapore Association of Women Lawyers struggling to raise money to help those with disabilities

Growing up deaf, Mr Benedict did not think that he would one day be able to get a good job, much less graduate from university.

To help his taxi-driver father support his family of five, which included his housewife mother, he even thought of quitting school to find a job. He was then only 15 years old.

"Of course, this wasn't a very ideal outcome, when I liked learning new things," said Mr Benedict, now 34, who was diagnosed with profound hearing loss in both ears when he was just aged one.

But thanks to a scholarship started by a group of women lawyers, he was able to complete his studies and eventually graduated from the National University of Singapore in 2005.

The scholarship, established by the Singapore Association of Women Lawyers (SAWL) in 1987, provided him with between $300 and $5,000 a year, from secondary school to university, to help finance his studies for 10 years.

FUND HELPS INCLUSIVENESS

I see this scholarship as something very much in line with our efforts to build an inclusive society that supports each individual to go as far as he or she can, irrespective of starting point or disability.

SENIOR MINISTER OF STATE FOR LAW INDRANEE RAJAH, on the SAWL scholarship's efforts to help beneficiaries.

SAWL, set up in 1974, started the scholarship to help those with disabilities. While it has helped about 800 needy beneficiaries who have disabilities, the 30-year-old fund has been struggling to raise money recently, said Ms Foo Siew Fong, an executive committee member of SAWL and chair of the fund's board of trustees.

To date, the fund has given out scholarships worth a total of $662,200, with about $40,000 disbursed annually in recent years. Recipients are Singaporeans or permanent residents.

Speaking to The Straits Times, Ms Foo said: "We are a small charity with limited resources. It hasn't been easy, with so many charities out there with big marketing budgets."

Fund-raising efforts have now become more urgent with Raffles Country Club, one of its main donors, due to shut by July next year, she said.

But for a start, the fund has been renamed for the first time since its inception to make it simpler to remember, said Ms Ong Lee Wha, SAWL president and the fund's honorary secretary.

Formerly known as the Tah Ah Tah-SAWL Fund, it was officially launched as the SAWL Scholarship Fund at a gathering last Saturday which was attended by Senior Minister of State for Law Indranee Rajah.

Supporting the name change, Ms Indranee said: "I see this scholarship as something very much in line with our efforts to build an inclusive society that supports each individual to go as far as he or she can, irrespective of starting point or disability."

SAWL has been raising funds through the sale of its books, but this is "no longer sustainable", said the fund's honorary treasurer Anne Choo.

"Circumstances have changed. Selling books may have worked in the 1980s but it is no longer a practical way to raise funds, if people can easily get information online," she said.

SAWL has published two books - You And The Law ($18) and Teens And The Law ($10).

Ms Choo has called for more young lawyers to come on board to inject fresh ideas into fund-raising efforts.

"Beyond doing pro bono work in legal clinics, lawyers can contribute to society and the underprivileged in other areas," she said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 05, 2017, with the headline 'Scholarship fund by women lawyers calls for fresh ideas'. Print Edition | Subscribe