Four new faces speak on volunteering and giving back

(From left) Lawyer Kawal Pal Singh (Kembangan-Chai Chee), chief executive Rachel Ong Sin Yen (Telok Blangah), senior lecturer Wan Rizal Wan Zakariah (Pasir Ris East), and lawyer Alex Yeo (Paya Lebar). ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO
(From left) Lawyer Kawal Pal Singh (Kembangan-Chai Chee), chief executive Rachel Ong Sin Yen (Telok Blangah), senior lecturer Wan Rizal Wan Zakariah (Pasir Ris East), and lawyer Alex Yeo (Paya Lebar). ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

Residents of Aljunied GRC know the situation on the ground and are "well capable of making decisions for themselves", said People's Action Party (PAP) member Alex Yeo, 40, yesterday.

"As PAP activists on the ground, we just concentrate on continuing to serve them," added the lawyer, who has chaired the party's Paya Lebar branch in opposition-held Aljunied GRC for two years.

"The most important part of it is that we must convince them that we are here to stay."

He was responding to reporters' questions on the residents' reaction to the Aljunied-Hougang Town Council judgment, which was released by the High Court last month.

As for the party's efforts to win back the GRC, which it lost in 2011, Mr Yeo stressed the importance of rebuilding trust on the ground, a point that he also made in his speech at yesterday's PAP convention. "Rebuilding trust takes a long, long time," he told reporters.

He was one of four younger party activists who shared their experiences of growing up in Singapore, in front of 2,500 activists at the Singapore Expo. The others were Republic Polytechnic senior lecturer Wan Rizal Wan Zakariah, 41, chief executive Rachel Ong Sin Yen, 47, and lawyer Kawal Pal Singh, 36.

In previous years, some of those who have spoken at the party's conventions and conferences have gone on to be fielded as election candidates. But when asked if this would be the case for them, all four activists said the decision was not theirs to make.

Dr Wan Rizal, who has been seen walking the ground with Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC MP Zainal Sapari and Punggol East MP Charles Chong, shared how he was from the Normal (Academic) stream and went on to get a diploma in electronics.

But one incident during a stint as a physical education teacher - when he modified a game of handball so as to include a student in a wheelchair - made him want to do more as a teacher. At 31, he obtained his degree and now has a doctorate.

 
 
 

As for Mr Singh, he said he became dejected after entering the EM3 and Normal (Technical) streams in primary and secondary school. He went on to study at the Institute of Technical Education (ITE), which his classmate jokingly said stood for "It's The End".

But his teachers in ITE told him not to lose hope. He took night classes in legal studies, before pursuing a law degree at the University of Southampton in Britain.

"Some of my fellow students (in university) were from top junior colleges in Singapore. Given my history, I questioned whether I'd be able to do well," he said.

But he did, with aplomb. The father of two, who is the nephew of former PAP MP Inderjit Singh, was made a partner just three years after joining law firm Tito Isaac & Co.

Having served in Kembangan-Chai Chee for almost three years, he said he never felt his academic background put him at a disadvantage.

"I was welcomed (by the party) with open arms... It is important to have a diverse group of volunteers to help diverse people," he said.

For Ms Ong, volunteering with the PAP continues a family tradition started by her uncles and father.

 
 
 

Ms Ong, the chief executive of consultancy firm Rohei, who is with the Telok Blangah branch, set up Trybe, an organisation that helps at-risk youth. Trybe runs three entities - youth probation institution Singapore Boys' Hostel, a Community Rehabilitation Centre for first-time drug abusers, and Growing Resilient Youth In Transition, an aftercare programme for youth offenders.

"We work with very marginalised children and youth. We also work with their parents to help them rehabilitate and become contributing citizens again," Ms Ong said.

Asked if she would run in the coming general election and potentially replace former trade and industry minister Lim Hng Kiang - she helps out in his ward - she laughed and said: "I think that's a party decision."

Mr Lim retired from the Cabinet in May last year.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 11, 2019, with the headline 'Four new faces speak on volunteering and giving back'. Print Edition | Subscribe