Ex-offender pays it forward via mentoring

Mr Siow Peng Guan with 16-year-old Ali Imran Rosli, whom he mentors at charity Tasek Jurong's Beacon of Life Academy, at the block of flats in Taman Jurong where the teenager lives.
Mr Siow Peng Guan with 16-year-old Ali Imran Rosli, whom he mentors at charity Tasek Jurong's Beacon of Life Academy, at the block of flats in Taman Jurong where the teenager lives.ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

Yellow Ribbon Fund beneficiary helps kids under Tasek Jurong's outreach scheme

When part-time service crew member Basriah Hassan, 53, went for her son's parent-teacher meeting last month, she was shaking with emotion as the teacher told her that her Secondary 4 son Ali Imran Rosli, 16, had placed second in class and fourth in his batch for the mid-year examinations.

"Even the teachers were shocked," Madam Basriah told The Straits Times. Ali Imran, a Normal (Academic) stream student at Hong Kah Secondary School, was not always a good student.

Madam Basriah said she and her son were called in to see the discipline master over the teenager's behaviour just two years ago. He was also last in class that year.

A large part of Ali Imran's turnaround is credited to charity Tasek Jurong and its Beacon of Life Academy (Bola), an outreach initiative for youngsters in Taman Jurong.

Ali Imran's mentor, programme manager Siow Peng Guan, said: "Ali used to be very jialat (Hokkien for terrible), but made a drastic change."

  • 60

    Number of boys under the Beacon of Life Academy (Bola) initiative.

    $230k

    What the Singapore Academy of Law-Yellow Ribbon Fund Bursary has given out to 23 recipients over four years.

Mr Siow's counselling provided support for the teenager and motivated him to turn over a new leaf.

Mr Siow himself is a bad-boy-turned-good. The 42-year-old joined a gang at 13 and spent a total of 18 years in prison, mostly for drug-related offences.

He narrowly escaped the gallows in 1997 when the heroin he was carrying missed the death penalty threshold by 0.55g.

The turning point for Mr Siow was a gang fight in prison. He was sent to a solitary cell for seven months, and did some serious soul-searching.

He decided to spend his last six years in prison studying up to the A levels, and did a diploma and degree in accounting and finance after his release.

His further studies were made possible by the Yellow Ribbon Fund's Star Bursary, which funds studies for ex-offenders. Mr Siow said education keeps people out of jail, and that he has never heard of a bursary recipient re-offending.

He is now a mentor to youngsters and ex-offenders at Tasek Jurong, alongside other Yellow Ribbon Fund bursary recipients.

Children like Ali Imran regularly hang out at Tasek Jurong's office, where Mr Siow and his colleagues keep an eye on them and provide guidance. Free tuition is also available.

"It makes me more energetic, and gives me a place to lepak", said Ali Imran, using the Malay word for relax. "They provide education, play and food."

The Bola initiative is a football club for 60 boys living in the area, and includes three football training sessions a week.

"It teaches them discipline, and is a way for them to come together," Mr Siow said.

Other programmes by Tasek Jurong include a Boys Club and Girls Club, with 150 children.

Mr Siow hopes to help the teenagers with his experience, and added that giving back was "a way to make up for past mistakes".

He said he benefited from a positive atmosphere and an "I can do it attitude" among peers at support groups under Tasek Jurong, and hopes more ex-offenders can receive support to turn over a new leaf. "I couldn't have done it on my own," he added.

To raise funds for the Singapore Academy of Law-Yellow Ribbon Fund Bursary, the academy is organising a charity futsal event on June 30. Children from Beacon of Life Academy will play alongside lawyers from prominent law firms.

Over the past four years, the bursary has disbursed $230,000 to 23 recipients for a wide range of diploma and degree courses.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 18, 2018, with the headline 'Ex-offender pays it forward via mentoring'. Print Edition | Subscribe