The Straits Times Singaporean of the Year 2017/Satwant Singh

A Christmas gift for Punjab's children - renovated schools

Satwant Singh founded the Young Sikh Association in 2003 and started Project Khwaish, a community service project to help villagers in Punjab.

The Straits Times Singaporean of the Year seeks to honour Singaporeans whose extraordinary acts of goodwill have improved their community and the lives of others. Today, ST announces the latest batch of finalists for the third edition of the award.

December means a festive-season slowdown for many people but it signals a time when lawyer Satwant Singh goes well out of his way to help people far less fortunate.

Every December for the past 14 years, Mr Singh and a team of volunteers have lent a hand to schools in Punjab, India.

He told The Straits Times by phone from the village of Ratokke in the state's Sangrur district: "At the end of the day, we see a different society at play here: What sort of lives do they have in the village, and what are their concerns?"

Mr Singh, 53, is there with a team of 20 young Singaporeans from different ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds, who are living among the villagers as part of a fortnight-long project. Their goal is to paint and renovate the village's rundown school, build a library and stock it with 3,000 books, install a water filtration system and rebuild the school's dilapidated toilets - all in time for Christmas.

The school will be the 17th Mr Singh has rebuilt and repaired with groups of young volunteers. Their efforts are part of Project Khwaish, which he set up with the Young Sikh Association - an organisation he started with some pals in 2003.

The National Youth Council supplies some of Project Khwaish's funding with Mr Singh and his volunteers raising the rest. Before every December expedition, Mr Singh takes an exploratory trip to India, paid for out of his own pocket, to scout out schools that need upgrading.

His community work has also made him grateful for what he has.

"Over here (Ratokke), the whole system is not up to par (but) they don't complain the way we do (in Singapore)," said Mr Singh, who had humble beginnings as one of eight children of a policeman-turned-bus driver/chauffeur and a housewife.

Every December for the past 14 years, lawyer Satwant Singh and a team of volunteers have lent a hand to schools in Punjab, India. They rebuild and repair schools that need upgrading.
Every December for the past 14 years, lawyer Satwant Singh and a team of volunteers have lent a hand to schools in Punjab, India. They rebuild and repair schools that need upgrading. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

 

What brings most satisfaction is when kids from the schools he has helped end up going to university. "Volunteering is never about just doing an act. You interact with people, share stories about yourself. There's that hope you inspire in them."

Mr Singh, who is also vice-chairman of Mercy Relief, said volunteer work has changed him: "I see things differently now. It's no longer about I, myself. It's about me, us.

"If I have something extra, I should give the extra that I can."


MORE INFORMATION

Members of the public have been nominating Singaporean individuals or groups to be considered for The Straits Times Singaporean of the Year Award.

A judging panel has selected the 10 finalists. Public voting will begin on Dec 25 and end on Jan 14 at 6pm. Judges will use the results as reference when making their final decision.

To find out more about The Straits Times Singaporean of The Year award, go to http://str.sg/soty17

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 18, 2017, with the headline 'A Christmas gift for Punjab's children - renovated schools'. Print Edition | Subscribe