Generation Grit

Generation Grit: Despite his own constant pain, he helps others overcome theirs

Delane Lim came very close to killing himself. But a message from a friend pulled him back from the brink and he now runs a charity reaching out to troubled young people. This is his story, in a series by The Straits Times about inspiring millennials.

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Seven years ago, Mr Delane Lim nearly took his own life. He discovered that he had a serious heart problem, his business went under probe for corruption, and his girlfriend left him.
Mr Delane Lim, 32, with trainers of the HappYouth programme. The programme trains students how to spot signs of depression in their peers and help them. ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

SINGAPORE - Seven years ago, almost to the day, Mr Delane Lim climbed out to a ledge on the 21st storey of the Bras Basah Complex.

He was only 25, but his life was unravelling in ways beyond his comprehension.

Months before, he had collapsed at work, the result of a previously undiscovered heart malfunction that caused his heart to "pump like crazy all the time, even while he's sleeping", his doctor told The Straits Times.

He was told he could die of a heart attack in less than a year if he did not have it operated on, although the procedure itself had a high chance of failure.

What was more, this brush with mortality was coming in the midst of a stressful corruption probe into the company he had started, Agape Group Holdings.

The firm had provided consultancy services to a secondary school whose principal was being investigated by the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau. Mr Lim said he was hauled up for questioning as well. During the year-long probe, his business took a nose-dive.

But the straw that broke the camel's back was when his girlfriend of two years broke up with him. She did it just before the surgery, which she did not know about, since he had told no one, not even his family. He had not wanted them to worry.

The break-up blindsided him.

So, there he was, on Feb 15, 2011, high above the ground in a building near Raffles Hospital, where he had been admitted for the operation.

"I was sitting on the ledge and thinking about ending it when my friend WhatsApped me to ask if I was free for coffee. I didn't tell him where I was but I told him I was in pain and needed major surgery," he said.

"He said God wouldn't remove the pain but He would give me the strength to go through it. During our conversation, I calmed down. I had allowed negative thoughts to take over my mind. I realised if I died, people would assume I had bribed the principal. I felt I should continue to fight."

In a better frame of mind, he climbed off the ledge. The operation went well two days later and his heart condition improved.

He said his company was eventually cleared of all suspicion of corruption and business picked up.

After that fateful day, he started a charity called the Character and Leadership Academy, which would go to schools to train students on how to spot signs of depression in their peers and help them.

Since the launch of the Academy's HappYouth programme in 2014, it has reached out to more than 16,000 youth, said Mr Lim, who conducts the training himself.

Mr Delane Lim with trainers of the HappYouth programme. Conducted by the charity he founded called the Character and Leadership Academy, the programme trains students how to spot signs of depression in their peers and help them. The trainers include his staff and also volunteers, who are students themselves. ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

A spokesman for Raffles Institution, one of the schools which have participated in the programme, said its students found the awareness training to be beneficial.

Mr Lim has also visited countries such as Japan, the United States and the United Kingdom to learn about suicide prevention.

Now 32, he said: "I always thought that only the weak suffer from depression or think of suicide. I had always thought of myself as strong but when everything hit me all at once, I was overwhelmed too."

Every crisis offers a chance to grow and to build resilience, said the bachelor.

The younger of two children of a taxi driver and a housewife, Mr Lim's enterprising ways began in primary school, when he sold cakes and ice cream to his classmates for a small profit. At the age of 15, he stopped taking pocket money from his parents to lighten their financial load.

He also became a part-time bowling coach, earning up to $1,000 a month while he was still at Bendemeer Secondary School. However, his grades suffered when he skipped class one too many times to go to work instead.

He scored 30 points in the 0-level examinations, but he later managed to earn a Business Administration degree from Curtin University in 2010.

At the age of 20, the Christian began Agape Group Holdings with two friends. The firm provided consultancy services in human resources and also organised camps and leadership development for students.

The first year was tough and he did not take a salary until the business became profitable. In 2016, the firm was wound up amid unfavourable business conditions.

Ever entrepreneurial, however, Mr Lim set up FutuReady Asia, a business to train youths in Asia to develop leadership skills and other areas of potential. He has about 30 staff in Singapore, Hong Kong and the Philippines.

Today, he says his firm enjoys a "steady pace of growth" and he earns over $100,000 a year, excluding bonuses.

Ms Malathi Das, president of the Zonta Club of Singapore, a women's group, has worked with Mr Lim to co-organise forums for young people to raise their awareness of violence against women, bullying and mental health issues.

Ms Das, a lawyer, said: "Delane not only overcame the turning point in his life, but used it to inspire others and do good. It takes a lot of courage to share his vulnerability with the rest of the world. This sharing helps others, as he has been through it himself."

But though Mr Lim is financially comfortable, life is still bittersweet. The pain in his body never leaves him.

Aside from the heart problem, he has a degenerative spine condition for which he has had six operations since the age of 18. They have helped, but not completely. The pain, he said, is so bad at times it is difficult to even move.

But move, and go on, he will.

He said: "After my heart operation, I realised it's not all about making money. Making money is important, but my motivating factor is to change lives. The legacy I want is to provide meaningful jobs and be a good boss."

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