Community heroes hailed for kind acts amid Covid-19

Awards for 31 individuals, groups that helped others despite challenges posed by pandemic

Ms Sherry Soon was among the 31 award recipients of this year's President's Volunteerism and Philanthropy Awards. PHOTO: COURTESY OF SHERRY SOON
Mr Muhammad Arshad Fawwaz Mohamed Ali (left) and Mr Loh Chi Jie are both award recipients at the President’s Volunteerism and Philanthropy Awards ceremony. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

With the coronavirus pandemic raging, Ms Sherry Soon, 39, founder of local ground-up movement Be Kind SG, wanted to give front-line healthcare workers an extra boost.

In early February, she galvanised corporate sponsors, schools, non-profit groups and the Singapore Prison Service to put together 7,000 care packs containing items such as snacks, toiletries and thank-you notes for healthcare staff.

That was one of more than 10 initiatives led by Ms Soon amid the Covid-19 period.

For her efforts, Ms Soon was among 31 recipients presented with an award by President Halimah Yacob at this year's President's Volunteerism and Philanthropy Awards (PVPA) ceremony held at the Istana yesterday.

A record 236 nominations were submitted for the PVPA this year, more than twice the number received in 2018.

In her address at the ceremony, Madam Halimah noted that despite the Covid-19 pandemic posing a great challenge, it has also brought out the best in many Singaporeans.

"Over the past few months, I have seen many Singaporeans from all walks of life coming together to help others. It inspires me greatly to know that in the most difficult of times, humanity still prevails," she said.

"This is why I have decided to dedicate this year's PVPA to recognising these unsung heroes who have given selflessly during the Covid-19 outbreak."

Organised by the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre, the PVPA recognises individuals and organisations that have achieved excellence in giving to the community.

The award recipients made contributions in various domains such as food security, accommodation, procurement and distribution of medical supplies, and dissemination of critical information to those without access.

For Ms Soon, the award is not only an individual honour but also recognition of the dedication from the volunteers who helped her.

"Despite facing their own difficulties, the volunteers took time out to help us with these initiatives," she said.

"We have also seen how a spotlight was thrown on less visible groups like our migrant workers or students with special needs," she added.

"I hope that people continue to remember that there are communities out there that may be under-served and our little acts of kindness can really bond us together."

Helping people through 3D-printing of face shields

When Mr Loh Chi Jie set up his 3D-printing company Siege Advanced Manufacturing in 2017, he never expected to be printing about 30,000 face shields in the midst of a pandemic.

Since March, Mr Loh, a graduate in mechanical engineering from the National University of Singapore, has worked with his firm's team to produce reusable plastic face shields, distributing them to 13 local organisations and 14 other beneficiaries across the region.

Mr Loh, 28, received the People of Good award at the President's Volunteerism and Philanthropy Awards ceremony at the Istana yesterday for his contribution.

"My team and I wanted to do what we could to help people in need, especially after we saw images of healthcare workers in the region using trash bags or cling wrap as personal protection equipment.

"It was a round-the-clock process and I slept in the office for about four months so that I could replace the printers with new material once one round was completed," he recalled.

For Mr Loh, the long hours paid off when he saw an image of Indonesian healthcare workers using his company's printed face shields.

The firm pushed on, adapting to new challenges as the months progressed.

When face masks became compulsory in Singapore, Mr Loh heard of complaints from the public about pain building behind the ears from prolonged use of the masks.

The team gave out 30,000 ear savers to Singapore residents for free through its website as well as online platform Carousell.

Looking back, Mr Loh said he was proud of what the company had achieved: "This award is a recognition of the contributions of the 3D-printing industry during the pandemic. There is more potential for social good that can be achieved through such technology."

Providing 'special needs' creative platform

As a child, Mr Muhammad Arshad Fawwaz Mohamed Ali loved to show off his performance skills in singing, dancing and magic tricks.

Mr Arshad, who has autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, realised that there was a dearth of platforms for people with special needs to showcase their creativity.

With his mother's support earlier this year, he set out to create a virtual show, titled Inclusivity 4 All, reaching out to local celebrities like Gurmit Singh and Fauziah Laily for their support.

"I thought to myself, 'what if I am not the only one who felt like they needed a good chance and platform?' I wanted to give talented people with special needs a space to show how good they were," said Mr Arshad, 23.

The first edition of the show, posted in May on Hari Raya Aidilfitri, garnered over 1,000 views on Facebook and YouTube.

For his efforts to promote inclusivity during the pandemic, Mr Arshad was given the special commendation award in the People of Good category at the President's Volunteerism and Philanthropy Awards ceremony at the Istana yesterday.

After the success of his first show, Mr Arshad went on to post two more editions of Inclusivity 4 All, promoting community causes such as animal welfare, and raising funds for the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Going forward, he aspires to take on a project linking local celebrities with individuals with special needs through a creative mentorship programme.

"Getting this award has been a surreal experience, and through this I want the public to recognise that people with special needs can be good contributors to society," said Mr Arshad.

Malavika Menon

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 17, 2020, with the headline Community heroes hailed for kind acts amid Covid-19. Subscribe