ST Singaporean of the Year: Meet the finalists

11 award finalists, nominated for extraordinary acts and inspiring work, now up for public vote

During this season of goodwill and giving, many may be looking around for an opportunity to help others.

But throughout the year, a group of people have been doing good and making the news for coming to the aid of others.

These good Samaritans include the young Seng siblings, aged 15 and 13, who invented a device to make life safer for the elderly, and community policing officer Ahmad Fauzi Sani, 31, who looked past a minor case of shoplifting to find out more about the thief, and rendered help.

Ms Angie Chew, 56, drew on her own experience of depression to set up a charity for mental health support, while Mr Abraham Yeo, 38, gathered a group of like-minded volunteers to help the homeless.

This year's The Straits Times Singaporean of the Year finalists have inspired others with their warm hearts and kind acts, and their hope of seeing more good in society.

Food delivery rider Muhammad Riau Alfian, 28, who rescued an elderly man from a truck that had tipped over, said: "I would like to see more Singaporeans help one another because this is what we can do to build a stronger society."

For Senior Staff Sergeant Fauzi, going the extra mile extends to the times when he is off duty too. "I feel that we should help each other, even in the smallest form."

Siblings Seng Ian Hao and Seng Ing Le hope that in the coming year, they can get their friends to join their cause for Qanemate, a walking stick holder device. "We hope to participate in the President's Challenge again next year, and invite our friends to participate," said Ing Le.

Carousell founders Quek Siu Rui, 32, Marcus Tan, 36, and Lucas Ngoo, 31, want to inspire others to make a change to their lifestyles to help protect the earth. Their dream is that in five to 10 years, second-hand will be the first choice.

To get more people to play a part in fixing the gaps in Singapore society, hedge fund founder Danny Yong, 47, set up various platforms to help society, including Tangent, a social enterprise which urges employers to look beyond grades or experience. He said: "When we see gaps in society or injustice, let's not assume someone else will fix it. Every small act of kindness can make a difference."

Public voting for the ST Singaporean of the Year 2019 award begins today at str.sg/soty19vote and ends at 6pm on Jan 7.

  • CAST YOUR VOTE

  • Vote for who you think should be Singaporean of the Year 2019 at str.sg/soty19vote

    Voting closes at 6pm on Jan 7.

The outcome of the voting will be used as a reference by the judges when making their final decision.

Last year's award was won by Ms Siti Noor Mastura, who co-founded non-profit organisation Interfaith Youth Circle, which promotes a better understanding of the role that faith groups can play in an increasingly complex and divided world.

Previous winners of the award, which was first given out in 2015, include Dr Goh Wei Leong and Healthserve, an organisation that provides migrant workers with affordable healthcare; Olympic gold medallist Joseph Schooling and his parents May and Colin; and Madam Noriza A. Mansor, who won hearts when she helped an elderly man who had soiled himself in public.

 
 
 
 

Mr Warren Fernandez, editor-in-chief of the English/Malay/Tamil Media Group of Singapore Press Holdings and editor of The Straits Times, said: "Once again, we have an amazing group of Singaporeans who have, in their own ways, been doing some pretty extraordinary things in their lives.

"Their stories relate to some of the big issues of our times, such as environmental sustainability, an ageing society, inter-ethic relations and homelessness. But there are also some spontaneous acts of heroism and kindness, which are no less impressive and commendable.

"Truly, they are an inspiration to all, and each of them is a commendable nominee for the award. It will be very hard to pick just one winner."

Organised by The Straits Times, the Singaporean of the Year award is given each year to a Singaporean individual or group that has made an impact in society.

This could be through achievements which have put Singapore on the world stage, or for improving the lives of others in the community, or showing resilience in the face of adversity.

The winner will get a trophy and $20,000, presented by UBS. Each of the other 10 finalists, whether individuals or groups, will get $5,000.

The bank, which is supporting the award for the fifth time since its inauguration, also supports programmes that offer skills to develop entrepreneurship, self-leadership and communication to help youth here.

 
 

UBS also hopes to expand its initiatives to benefit those with special needs.

Other top brands have also lent their support to the award, contributing additional prizes for all finalists and the top winner. They are Singapore Airlines, Millennium Hotels and Resorts, and Osim.

The winner will be announced at an awards ceremony at the Istana on Feb 11. President Halimah Yacob will be the guest of honour.


Quick thinking prevented serious crash

CHALMERS CHIN, 31


Education consultant Chalmers Chin steered his car to cause an accident on purpose when he saw a taxi swerving in and out of a lane on the PIE and its passengers panicking, with the cabby unconscious at the wheel. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

Noticing a taxi ahead of him veering in and out of a lane as he was driving to work on the Pan-Island Expressway (PIE), Mr Chalmers Chin knew he had to do something to stop the vehicle.

The taxi's hazard lights were blinking as he passed it on the right.

As the taxi veered into the lane behind him, the education consultant jammed on his brakes, causing it to strike the rear of his car, bringing it to a halt.

Mr Chin was unquestionably a hero to the group of hapless taxi passengers whom he saved from a potentially serious accident on Oct 1 with his quick thinking and bravery.

The taxi driver was unconscious at the wheel, most likely having suffered a heart attack.

Mr Chin said it had been instilled in him at a young age to help others, be they friends or strangers.

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Helping others overcome mental health woes

ANGIE CHEW, 56


Former computer professional Angie Chew, who went through an emotionally painful period in her life, set up a charity where people can get health education as well as emotional and mental support. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Having been through emotional bullying, depression and anxiety issues, Ms Angie Chew turned to mindfulness, the practice of paying attention to the present moment in a non-judgmental way.

Seven years ago, she set up Brahm Centre, a charity where people can get health education as well as emotional and mental support.

"After having gone through such a painful period in my life, I decided that instead of condemning the darkness, I wanted to light a candle," said the former computer professional.

The centre provides free health education and offers other kinds of support, such as counselling and exercise sessions. The centre also teaches mindfulness skills to help people cope better with stress.

There are now three Brahm Centres - in Novena, Simei and MacPherson - with a fourth to open in Tampines next year.

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Advocate for more open-minded hiring

DANNY YONG, 47


Mr Danny Yong's job application to an investment bank was almost rejected, but a trader there took a chance on him. Now, Mr Yong pays it forward, having co-founded The Majurity Trust, under which is Tangent, a social enterprise that urges employers to look beyond grades or experience. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

Hedge fund founder Danny Yong was once the recipient of a life-changing opportunity.

A year after completing university, he applied for a job at an investment bank. But his application would have been rejected if not for a bored trader there who chanced upon the application and recommended him.

Now, Mr Yong gives to society to show gratitude for his good fortune.

He co-founded The Majurity Trust, which provides philanthropic advice and grants.

It also creates solutions to tackle social issues.

Under the trust is Tangent, a social enterprise that urges employers to look beyond grades or experience, and be open-minded when hiring.

"Someone once gave me an opportunity, so I would like to pay it forward where I can," he said.

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Offering friendship to the homeless

ABRAHAM YEO, 38, AND HOMELESS HEARTS OF SINGAPORE


Mr Abraham Yeo co-founded Homeless Hearts of Singapore to offer food and drinks to the homeless and befriend them. The charity hopes to dispel the misconception that homeless people are to blame for their misfortune. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

On a trip to Japan in 2012 after the country was hit by a tsunami, software developer Abraham Yeo was struck by how the homeless survivors felt they were forgotten and left behind.

Back in Singapore, he noticed that the elderly here felt forgotten too. In 2014, he and a friend started the Homeless Hearts of Singapore, an outreach group. Every other week, about 30 volunteers give food and drinks to those sleeping in the rough and befriend them.

They split up into groups and do night walks in various areas to check on the homeless. "We don't just want to give them food and walk away," said Mr Yeo. "We want to sit down and talk to them as friends."

The charity wants to dispel the misconception that homeless people are lazy or brought their misfortune upon themselves.

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Start-up that serves the community

QUEK SIU RUI, 32, MARCUS TAN, 36, AND LUCAS NGOO, 31


Carousell co-founders Marcus Tan (right), Quek Siu Rui and Lucas Ngoo (far right) aim to build their online marketplace platform into a meaningful and enduring business. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

While many start-ups might be dreaming of reaching unicorn status, Carousell co-founders Quek Siu Rui, Marcus Tan and Lucas Ngoo are more concerned about building a meaningful and enduring business.

"For us, it has always been about how we can best serve our community. If you do that really well, then valuations and titles like 'unicorn' become by-products," said Mr Tan, referring to the term that describes companies with a valuation of more than $1 billion.

The online marketplace has had more than 250 million listings on the app since it was launched.

Environmentally sustainable practices are something Carousell is keen to inspire.

In 2017, it ran a campaign encouraging sellers to give away items to those in need. It had also previously devised a lesson plan to teach the elderly how to use the app.

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Green champion pays it forward

VEERA SEKARAN, 58


Mr Veera Sekaran, who received help from a stranger to pay his university fees, pays it forward by hiring former convicts. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

A kind act from a stranger helped him to get to where he is today.

When Mr Veera Sekaran could not afford to pay university course fees for a degree in botany, lawyer Haridass Ajaib stepped in to bear the cost. All he asked in return was for Mr Veera to pay it forward.

Decades later, Mr Veera is now the founder of Greenology, which develops ideas for green walls and urban farms, and offers horticultural consultancy services.

He kept his promise and pays it forward by hiring former convicts, and helping the elderly and children with special needs.

An advocate for sustainability, he plans to leverage on technology, by using sensors and data to control the environment and mitigate climate change.

He is also the founder of VertiVegies farms which, when fully operational in 2021, will be the largest indoor farm here.

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Temple visits to bridge cultural gaps

SARABJEET SINGH, 35


Young Sikh Association president Sarabjeet Singh and a group of young Sikhs invited a social media influencer to a temple to learn about Sikh traditions, after she had posted a comment about two men with turbans. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

A social media influencer's post calling two men with turbans "huge obstructions" to her view at the Singapore Grand Prix went viral to a flurry of criticism.

When Young Sikh Association president Sarabjeet Singh heard that some people in the Sikh community felt uncomfortable about the issue, he and a group of young Sikhs chose the unconventional path to deal with it.

They invited the influencer, Ms Sheena Phua, to a gurdwara, or Sikh temple, to learn more about Sikh traditions.

Since then, other groups have approached the association to organise similar dialogues, and the association tries to help increase cultural exposure through its activities.

Said Mr Singh: "It is through these person-to-person interactions that the gap between cultures can be overcome."

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Mobility aid invention benefits the elderly

SENG IAN HAO, 15, AND SENG ING LE, 13


Seng Ing Le and her brother, Ian Hao, with the QaneBrella - a two-in-one walking cane cum umbrella - and a walking stick fitted with the Qanemate, a clip that secures the walking aid to a railing or table to prevent it from falling over. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

They may be young but they are full of ideas and dreams to make a concrete change.

About six years ago, the Seng siblings were at a hawker centre when they witnessed an elderly woman fall while trying to pick up her walking stick that had slid to the ground. Wanting to find a way to prevent such a mishap, Ian Hao and Ing Le invented a walking stick holder they named Qanemate.

More than 1,000 of the devices have been given out since 2013 in Singapore and in countries as far as Britain and Finland. The device is now on its 17th prototype after going through rounds of feedback from the elderly at nursing homes.

All profits from Qanemate are channelled to a non-profit arm, Qares, which the siblings set up in June to fund public education on usage and maintenance of walking sticks, among other things.

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Going beyond call of duty

AHMAD FAUZI SANI, 31


Police officer Ahmad Fauzi Sani's sharp instincts led to a needy mother of five getting financial assistance. ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID

Community policing officer Ahmad Fauzi Sani sensed there was more to the story when a Yuhua resident was arrested twice in 2017 for stealing milk powder from a supermarket.

When he visited her home, he found she was a mother of five young children and her husband was the sole breadwinner.

Knowing how expensive milk powder can be, the father of two contacted government agencies and organisations to get help for the family.

Thanks to his efforts, the family received financial assistance from the Ministry of Social and Family Development, and vouchers from ComCare.

Now, the woman is doing well and running a pastry business with friends, said Senior Staff Sergeant Fauzi, who is based at Jurong East Neighbourhood Police Centre. He still visits her regularly to check on how she is doing.

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Tech boost for eldercare

GILLIAN TEE, 37


Ms Gillian Tee's start-up Homage matches professional caregivers with seniors who need their services via a mobile app. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

Former technology consultant Gillian Tee gave up a career in New York City and Silicon Valley to build an eldercare start-up here.

She has always had a soft spot for seniors because when she was growing up - apart from her mother - her grandmother and an elderly nanny also took care of her.

Ms Tee is the co-founder and chief executive of Homage, which aims to make a positive social impact on Singapore's ageing population.

The three-year-old start-up uses smart technology via a mobile phone app to connect professional caregivers with seniors.

It hosts more than 1,000 local caregivers on its online platform.

"I wanted to combine technology and the best professional care services to bring about social change and make a positive impact," said Ms Tee.

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Quick to save trapped driver

MUHAMMAD RIAU ALFIAN, 28


Food delivery rider Muhammad Riau Alfian rushed to the site of an accident and pulled an elderly driver out of his toppled lorry. ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

The lorry had tipped over and the elderly driver was trapped inside.

Worried that the spilt fuel on the ground would catch fire and endanger the people looking on, food delivery rider Muhammad Riau Alfian rushed to the site of the accident in Boon Lay on Aug 10.

Without wasting a moment, Mr Riau climbed onto the lorry and tried to open the door on the passenger's side, but found it stuck. Using a crowbar a passer-by had obtained from a nearby construction site, Mr Riau broke the window and pulled the man out of the lorry.

The driver's family later contacted him to say that the elderly man was fine.

Mr Riau said: "During the National Day Parade, we always sing 'one people, one nation, one Singapore'. It takes each and every Singaporean to build a better Singapore."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 25, 2019, with the headline 'Extending a hand to help others'. Print Edition | Subscribe