Eurasian Association gets first woman president in retired bank exec Sandra Theseira

Ms Sandra Theseira will serve as president for a term of two years running from now till April 2024. ST PHOTO: NG WEI KAI

SINGAPORE - Ms Sandra Theseira has just been voted as the new president of the Eurasian Association (EA) and she is already looking into grooming the next set of leaders for the community.

The 72-year-old, the first woman to helm the EA in 103 years, also has her sights set on getting young Eurasians more deeply involved in the association.

She said: "The EA needs to stay vibrant and relevant and attract more people to get involved, especially the young, and we want them to feel like they belong."

Speaking to The Straits Times in an interview at the Eurasian Community House in Ceylon Road in Joo Chiat, she said her focus will also be on helping the underprivileged.

Ms Theseira, a retired banking executive whose career spanned 47 years, will serve as president for a term of two years running from now till April 2024, after being voted in at the association's annual general meeting on April 23.

She ran unopposed, and replaced Dr Alexius Pereira, 55, who served two terms as president from 2018 to this year.

The EA has 6,700 members as at last month, and Singapore's 2020 population census found that there are about 18,000 Eurasians living here.

Eurasians are people with mixed European and Asian lineage. Most Eurasians in Singapore can trace the European part of their ancestry to the Portuguese, Dutch or British. The Asian component is usually Chinese, Malay or Indian.

Eurasians in the public eye over the years include Dr Benjamin Sheares, Singapore's second president, former law minister E. W. Barker and actress Eunice Olsen.

Ms Theseira began volunteering at the EA in 2009 and over the past two years has served as the association's honorary treasurer.

She said that while she was deeply honoured and humbled to be elected the first female president of the EA, gender has never been a stumbling block for her.

She said: "The way I look at it, we're just human beings, and if we are given a role, we should just take it."

Singapore's move to relax its Covid-19 restrictions on social gatherings is good news and will give the EA a chance to move on getting young people and young families to help them feel a sense of belonging to the Eurasian community, she said.

The grandmother of two added: "We can resume organising physical activities for the community - we are all starved of interaction."

To facilitate this, Ms Theseira's committee is intending to organise a family tree exhibition in September, a project where Eurasian families can trace and display their roots.

Her team is also organising a football tournament in July which will see members of other ethnic self-help groups participating to grow inter-ethnic understanding and ties, she said.

It will be the first time the EA is inviting the other self-help groups to this tournament, which it has organised in the past for its members.

Building these ties and breaking down barriers between Singapore's ethnic groups through initiatives like this is another one of Ms Theseira's goals as president.

Lower-income Eurasian children will participate for free, she added.

But beyond participating, she wants young people to get involved behind the scenes in volunteering, organising and creating activities, she said.

She added: "We need to nurture a strong sense of connection among the Eurasian community to our unique culture and heritage.

"Eurasian culture is a mixture of different people and influences from Asia and Europe - I have English and Portuguese ancestors alongside my Asian ones myself - and if we allow it to get diluted, it can just disappear."

Apart from running activities and strengthening connections to the past, Ms Theseira has also been leveraging her experience in the banking industry to tackle the financial side of the house at the EA.

A veteran of banks such as HSBC, Rabobank and Merrill Lynch, Ms Theseira said she will be looking at how to best invest the EA's funds.

Ms Theseira, who has one daughter and whose husband is a retired scientist, added that after retiring from banking in 2015, her focus has been on giving back to her community.

She said: "My big boss upstairs - the divine - has given me all these advantages. I want to give back, I definitely have to give back."

The EA was formed in 1919 and was given its status as a self-help group in 1994 by the Government to act on behalf of the Eurasian community in Singapore.

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