SINGAPORE - A day after he spoke of her in a speech at an international interfaith conference here, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat joined Madam Ratnah Mohari for dinner at the void deck outside her first-floor Tampines flat on Saturday (June 22).
Holding an open house and dinner for friends, relatives and neighbours of different races and religions has been an annual tradition during Hari Raya for Madam Ratnah ever since she moved to Tampines 18 years ago.
Mr Heng, who is an MP for Tampines GRC, had cited Madam Ratnah's hospitality and generosity in a speech at the inaugural International Conference on Cohesive Societies on Friday as an example of what individual Singaporeans can do in building a "democracy of deeds".
The phrase refers to a society where citizens work in partnership with the Government, taking action to solve problems and make a difference. It was coined by pioneer leader S. Rajaratnam in 1971.
Madam Ratnah, 56, said she first invited Mr Heng for dinner in 2013. Saturday was the first time Mr Heng had joined her and her family since he recovered from a stroke in 2016.
"We started doing this because it's good for all the neighbours to know each other and for everyone to be closer to each other," said Madam Ratnah, who used to run a restaurant but is now retired.
Her husband Abas Abdul Rahman, 63, added: "Most of the people around the area know us. Every morning we sit outside to eat breakfast together and when the neighbours pass by on the way to the market they will say hi to us."
Mr Abas has been an SBS Transit bus driver for almost 20 years. The couple have two sons and a daughter who are all married. They have two grandchildren, the elder of whom lives with them to look after his grandparents.
Madam Ratnah estimated that about 200 people turn up for her open house every year. Of these, about half are made up of friends from her alma mater, Kaki Bukit Primary School.
Not all of them are from the same class or even batch but have stayed in touch through mutual friends and relations.
"We split up for many years and then we found each other again through Facebook about 10 years ago. (Ratnah) is one of a few of us who organise reunions," said Madam Yanna Salleh, 55, who used to run on the school's 4x100m relay team with Madam Ratnah.
Madam Nafisah Ariff, 55, a batchmate of Madam Ratnah's, added: "Because we have met up often over the years, our children and grandchildren also know each other. They are almost like brothers and sisters, like family now."