Community and grassroots volunteers among National Day Awards recipients

A total of 5,710 individuals, including public servants, community and grassroots leaders and educators, will receive National Day honours this year. Each year, the awards recognise individuals for their contributions to Singapore.

Here are profiles of 13 of this year's recipients.

Public Service Star (Bar)

Mr Zulkefle Abdul Rahman

Chairman, Kampong Chai Chee Community Club Malay Activity Executive Committee


ST PHOTO: MOHD KHALID BABA

It has been more than 20 years since Mr Zulkefle Abdul Rahman last lived in Kampong Chai Chee.

Even so, the 72-year-old returns to the neighbourhood nearly every day - sometimes to help with community work such as distributing Covid-19 test kits, at other times to catch up with old friends.

The retired operations controller got involved in community work in 1994, when Chai Chee was a new estate.

"At the time, all the residents were from different parts of Singapore. I was able to help get them together, to build very strong community bonds," said Mr Zulkefle, who has lived in Sengkang for the past two decades.

He speaks English, Malay and even a smattering of dialect, which helps him connect with Singaporeans of all backgrounds.

"Basically, I'm able to communicate with all races. When I speak to people in dialect, they tell me: 'Buay pai'," he said, using a Hokkien phrase meaning: "Not bad".

Mr Sarjit Singh Sarmukh Singh

Member, Central Singapore CDC


PHOTO: SKILLSFUTURE

As a boy, Mr Sarjit would accompany his grassroots leader father on walks through the neighbourhood, helping to take down issues that residents had. These experiences shaped his views on community service and drove home the important role mentors and role models can have in a young person's life.

The senior director in a professional services firm, who is in his early 50s, has previously taken leave from work to focus on fund-raising activities to help needy students pay for their education and mentors graduating students just embarking on their careers.

He and his wife have also set up an endowment fund for outstanding business students at the Nanyang Technological University.

Mr Sarjit, who is also vice-president of Sinda, said: "I truly enjoy mentoring and supporting everyone around me to achieve success in the way defined by them."

Mrs Fang Ai Lian

Chairman, MediShield Life Council


PHOTO: FANG AI LIAN

Last year, the MediShield Life Council chaired by Mrs Fang Ai Lian for six years undertook its first major review of the healthcare insurance scheme to keep pace with costs and the claims experience. "It has been a meaningful and fulfilling experience working with very competent colleagues on the council, and being supported by a strong Ministry of Health team - all for a very good cause for Singaporeans," said the 71-year-old.

The former chairman of Ernst&Young Singapore till her retirement in 2008 notes that the Medishield Life scheme is a key pillar of the healthcare financing framework, offering protection against large hospital bills.

"In carrying out the review, the council had to balance between providing better protection for Singaporeans and keeping premiums affordable. The council recommended many enhancements which will provide Singaporeans with added assurance for their healthcare needs," she said. "We were pleased that our recommendations were accepted by the Government."

The former Nominated MP was awarded the Public Service Medal (2001) and Public Service Star (2009).

Professor Ho Lai Yun

Deputy chairman, Singapore Children's Society


ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Professor Ho Lai Yun has always had a way with kids. A paediatrician by training, he founded the Singapore General Hospital's neonatology department and has spent more than 40 years contributing to efforts to protect children and improve their welfare.

His passion to help the young victims of abuse and neglect was born during his years as a houseman in the 1970s, when he noticed such children during his hospital ward rounds.

He began volunteering with the Singapore Children's Society in 1988 and now chairs its research and advocacy standing committee, which studies the different dimensions of child abuse in Singapore and raises awareness of such issues.

"Being a medical professional, I find that I have to actually go beyond my comfort zone in medical practice into education, social and community sectors in order to serve and protect the best interests of our children and their families," he said.

Public Service Star

Mr Abdul Rohim Sarip

Member, Yellow Ribbon Singapore Board


PHOTO: YELLOW RIBBON SINGAPORE

Lawyer Abdul Rohim Sarip, 58, said he was humbled by the award and grateful to his colleagues and fellow board members at Yellow Ribbon Singapore (YRSG).

"The work to help ex-offenders reintegrate into society is an important mission and I am happy to be a part of it. It is fulfilling and satisfying to see inmates benefit from the programmes and initiatives we rolled out and see recidivism decline when good career opportunities are created for them," he said.

As a board member, Mr Abdul Rohim used his legal experience to give advice on corporate governance and legal matters. He guided YRSG's reorganisation of the management and board composition of YRSG's subsidiary, YR Industries.

He previously served on the audit and risk management committee from 2012 to 2018.

Between 2015 and 2019, he was appointed as a member of YRSG's Industry Development Committee where he gave advice on industry trends and developments that might impact YRSG's business and industrial activities.

He also helped to find possible business opportunities that YRSG could take on to provide the relevant work training for offenders.

"I truly believe in giving everyone a second chance," he said.

Mr Philip Antony Jeyaretnam

Former chairman, Maxwell Chambers


PHOTO: PRIME MINISTER'S OFFICE

Mr Philip Antony Jeyaretnam, 57, served as the chairman of Maxwell Chambers from 2010 to Dec 31, 2020 when he stepped down to take on his appointment as a judicial commissioner of the Supreme Court.

The senior counsel told The Straits Times: "Maxwell Chambers has been at the heart of Singapore's journey as a leading seat for international arbitration, and I am very privileged to have played a role in its success."

Under his leadership, Maxwell Chambers became one of the world's most preferred hearing centres for alternative dispute resolution, recognised for its quality infrastructure and high standards of service.

It has also attracted top international dispute resolution institutions, and is now home to the highest concentration of case management offices globally.

Mr Jeyaretnam also spearheaded the refurbishment of the facilities, enabling Maxwell Chambers to offer online hearing services during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Public Adminstration Medal (Gold)

Professor Chong Tow Chong

President, Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD)


PHOTO: SUTD

Professor Chong Tow Chong, 67, has walked every step of SUTD's journey, from fledgling institution with no faculty to one embarking on its next phase of growth supported by artificial intelligence and data science.

He is especially proud of setting it up from scratch in 2009, with first-of-its-kind interdisciplinary education and research, and a strong focus on design. Today, it has over 1,000 partnerships with various agencies, and a host of internships and exchange programmes for students.

There are "good employment prospects and strong demand" for them, he says, noting that they have been snapped up by employers such as the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore, Dyson, Citi, IBM and the Ministry of Defence.

"I want to thank my team of SUTD colleagues who have worked hard with me to build the university from scratch. This award would never have been possible without their relentless effort and commitment," he said, adding that the board of trustees and Ministry of Education have provided support and guidance.

He previously led A*Star's Science and Engineering Research Council and Data Storage Institute. He has been SUTD president since April 2018, and was its founding Provost from 2010 to 2018.

Public Adminstration Medal (Silver)

Mr Yeo Kirk Siang

Director of Heritage Research and Assessment, National Heritage Board


PHOTO: NATIONAL HERITAGE BOARD

When Mr Yeo Kirk Siang attended the Unesco intangible cultural heritage nomination process in Colombia in 2019, he saw a chance to put Singapore on the map.

He had been overseeing the Republic's bid to put hawker culture on the list since the year before, and was present to better understand the procedure.

Under his lead, Singapore's dream of having an intangible heritage item listed by Unesco came true in December, nearly three years after opinions were sought from the public to decide on the most suitable candidate item for the bid.

"Engaging with hawkers was really memorable for me. They told me why they are so proud to be hawkers and the hard work that they put in," he said.

"Young hawkers also told me about why they chose this path. I feel really proud to be able to contribute to their efforts."

He also played a major role in the excavation of two historic shipwrecks - the first ones predating World War I ever found in Singapore waters - announced in June. He was involved in planning, securing funding for field work, and procuring necessary approvals.

Adjunct Associate Professor Tracy Carol Ayre

Group Chief Nurse, Singapore Health Services


PHOTO: SINGHEALTH

A distressing experience with her grandmother's death nearly 40 years ago made Adjunct Associate Professor Tracy Carol Ayre - then just 15 - set her heart on nursing as a profession.

Today, Dr Ayre helms the country's largest nursing workforce, with all of SingHealth's 11,500 nurses under her charge.

She has also been chief nurse at Singapore General Hospital for the past nine years, and contributed to her profession in ways big and small. She has received the President's Award for Nurses - the highest honour in nursing - for her work in caring for patients.

For the past two years, Dr Ayre has chaired the Singapore Nursing Board, which governs the practice of nursing here. She has also been part of efforts to attract people to the profession and retain and develop existing talent.

Commendation Medal

Ms Aryati Hajis

Deputy Director, Service Ambassador and Transport, Sentosa Development Corporation


PHOTO: SENTOSA DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION

When the Covid-19 pandemic struck, tourism to Singapore was wiped out, disheartening many of the hospitality staff on Sentosa.

But Ms Aryati Hajis, Sentosa Development Corporation's deputy director for service ambassador and transport, rallied her staff.

"I made a conscious effort to constantly motivate the team, so that we can continue to perform our best to ensure safe management measures are in place, while creating fun and memorable moments for our guests," she said.

She oversees a team of service ambassadors who are stationed at areas where staff come into contact with guests across the island, including on board the beach trams and at Sentosa Express stations.

She pays tribute to her team. "I am honestly surprised to be given this award," she said.

"I believe there are many other deserving Sentosians and industry colleagues, and we are all doing our little part. We will continue to delight our guests every day."

Public Service Medal

Mr Jeremy Monteiro

Former Council Member, National Arts Council


PHOTO: JEREMY MONTEIRO

Jazz stalwart Jeremy Monteiro has been flying the flag high for Singapore music since the mid- 1970s.

He has released over 40 of his own albums and played in other artistes' recordings. He has performed all over the world, from the Esplanade Concert Hall here to the prestigious Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland.

As the executive director and music director of Jazz Association (Singapore), he ensures that young jazz talents improve their musicianship through mentorships with their more experienced peers.

In 2002, Monteiro was conferred the Cultural Medallion, and served as a council member at the National Arts Council from 2006 to 2009.

He says he is honoured and grateful to the Government for recognising his work and efforts.

"This award serves as a great encouragement to me to keep working hard to be the best musician I can be, to bring the joy of jazz to people in Singapore and all over the world, and also to help the younger musicians in Singapore rise to global visibility," he said.

Mr Bernard Menon

Executive director of Migrant Workers' Centre


PHOTO: LIANHE ZOABAO

Mr Bernard Menon, executive director of NTUC's Migrant Workers' Centre, had to "pivot the entire organisation usually focused on employment in peace time" and do whatever was necessary to help migrant workers through a crisis when the coronavirus began spreading in dormitories.

He immediately deployed his ambassador networks to dorms to distribute essential items that were sorely lacking - masks, hand sanitiser, even shampoo and soap.

He also spent a lot of his time negotiating salary disputes, making sure workers were repatriated and linking them with the emotional counselling they needed as the construction industry took a nose dive.

"It is common knowledge that migrant workers were having quite a hard time. We were so grateful to have so many in-kind donations from ordinary Singaporeans who had, before this, kept a bit of an arm's length between themselves and the workers," he said.

"I am optimistic that when we come out of this situation there will be renewed energy in advocating for migrant worker protection and welfare," he said.

Mr Loh Lik Peng

Chairman, Asian Civilisations Museum (ACM)


PHOTO: ALICIA CHAN FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

Looking back on his six years as ACM chairman, Mr Loh Lik Peng, 49, is happy to see the museum reaching out to new and younger audiences. He added: "The award is a tribute to the team at ACM, especially museum director Kennie Ting, who took up his position at about the same time as me. They took the museum to another level."

Mr Loh, a restaurateur who owns the Unlisted Collection group of eateries, says his role as chairman lies in "shepherding the team to bring the museum up to date. Our efforts were to make it relevant to a wider segment of society, so it's not remote or academic".

The museum put on successful exhibitions like one on the Tang Shipwreck collection salvaged from a ship discovered off Belitung island, Indonesia. It is currently holding a show called Life In Edo|Russel Wong In Kyoto featuring 40 of the home-grown photographer's shots of Kyoto.

Mr Loh said after that ends next month, the ACM aims to put on an exhibition on Singapore's history as a trading station. "It will be an eye-opener for many Singaporeans to find out that Singapore has been the hub of Asia for a very long time. There were Chinese junks sailing in our waters 1,000 years ago," he said.

The full list of the 2021 National Day Award recipients is at the Prime Minister's Office website.