How five people went beyond the call of duty for Total Defence

(Clockwise from top left) Ms Evelyn Khoo, SV1 Jeevita Ravidran and her family, Mr Clarence Ching, Mr Venod Kesavan and Corporal (NS) Ummar Adib Ibrahim Al-Johar receiving his NSF of the Year award last year from Chief of Army Goh Si Hou. PHOTOS: SAMUEL ANG, MINDEF, SINGAPORE HEART FOUNDATION

SINGAPORE - Feb 15 marks the day Singapore fell to the Japanese 80 years ago in 1942. The Straits Times speaks to five people who have gone beyond the call of duty to strengthen Total Defence - introduced in 1984 - to emphasise how every Singaporean plays a part in the country's defence.

Providing support for people with aphasia

Ms Evelyn Khoo founded Aphasia SG to assist and empower people with aphasia and their caregivers. ST PHOTO: SAMUEL ANG

After seeing the lack of social support for people with speech and language difficulties following brain damage, speech and language therapist Evelyn Khoo decided to do something about it.

In 2018, she founded a volunteer-run, not-for-profit group which today helps about 160 people with aphasia, and their caregivers.

Aphasia SG’s programmes include “chit chat” coffee sessions three times a month for members to practise communication, and singing in choir sessions conducted by music therapists twice a month. These have been held virtually since the pandemic began.

Aphasia is a disorder that occurs after the parts of the brain that control language are damaged, such as after a stroke or head trauma. It impairs a person’s ability to speak, read and write, although cognition is not affected.

This can affect a person’s everyday interactions, such as ordering food, as well as their employability, said Ms Khoo, 45.

Someone with aphasia may feel is if he were teleported to a foreign country where he does not understand the language being spoken or written. “You have all your thoughts in your head, but the language part is impaired,” she said.

International studies show that about a third of stroke patients would have aphasia. Based on this, Ms Khoo estimates about 3,000 adults in Singapore would be diagnosed with aphasia every year.

As an advocate, she hopes for greater awareness about aphasia, which is often an “invisible” condition as people with the condition do not appear to be physically unwell.

Aphasia SG has found that usually only about 15 per cent of people would have heard of the condition.

Ms Khoo said: “This tells us that so much more needs to be done. When people understand there is such a condition called aphasia, and they meet someone who communicates differently, they can be more patient, kinder, and less judgmental.”

Volunteer soldier helped in Covid-19 fight

SV1 Jeevita Ravidran in basic military training in 2016. During the pandemic, she manned hotlines for the home recovery programme. PHOTO: MINDEF

For two weeks between November and December last year, volunteer soldier Jeevita Ravidran rang Covid-19 patients to see if they were comfortable recovering at home, or if they needed help getting food and understanding the measures they had to follow.

Though she is trained to be a naval workplace safety engineer in the SAF Volunteer Corps (SAFVC), SAFVC Volunteer 1 (SV1) Ravidran, 35, said it was a rewarding experience to be able to contribute directly to national efforts during a pandemic.

She and others in the volunteer corps were called up to help when the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) was roped in to man hotlines for the home recovery programme.

Official phone lines had been swamped with calls from Covid-19 patients anxious to know what to do about isolating at home when the programme began in August.

That was SV1 Ravidran’s second deployment with the SAFVC. In 2018, she helped with crowd management at the National Day Parade.

SV1 Jeevita Ravidran (centre) with other Navy personnel during her deployment at the National Day Parade in 2018. PHOTO: MINDEF

With her parents, husband, and younger brother all having served in the SAF at some point, her decision to sign up for the SAFVC in 2016 hardly came as a shock to her family.

The SAFVC allows those who are not liable for national service, such as Singaporean women, to serve in the military.

“I thought this was the best way that I can contribute to my country while keeping my job and my career as well – I can do two things at the same time.”

The environmental health and safety leader for the Asia-Pacific region in the aviation industry, who has two children, said one benefit of being in uniform is to be able to join in the conversations at the dinner table.

It used to be the case that everyone had some story to share, and she was just on the listening end, she said.

“But I guess now is different when we have meal times, I have stories of my own.”

Giving career guidance to less-advantaged students

Mr Clarence Ching founded Access Singapore, which aims to help provide underprivileged students with more opportunities. ST PHOTO: SAMUEL ANG

Mr Clarence Ching believes social mobility cannot be achieved unless students have equal access to opportunities.

Specifically, he wants to help Secondary 3 students in Normal (Academic) or Normal (Technical) courses and those on financial assistance schemes to land work attachments, and be in mentorship programmes and career workshops.

To this end, the 27-year-old, a former Normal (Academic) student who studied political science at Durham University in Britain, founded non-profit Access Singapore in 2019, which he runs full-time. It has about 60 volunteers and has helped about 150 students from secondary schools, the Institute of Technical Education and junior colleges to date.

“Essentially, this is our little experiment to see whether we can really tackle social mobility by providing more opportunities,” Mr Ching said.

Other than getting funding, one challenge is getting companies to believe that providing work stints for young people is a worthwhile endeavour.

While the long-term impact of Access’ work is still unknown, some students have seen their confidence bolstered.

Mr Ching said: “One of our students went to (social media website) SGAG to do a work attachment, and two months after, his teachers were telling us he’s much more vocal.”

Teaching adults how to perform CPR

Mr Venod Kesavan (centre) conducting a basic cardiac life support and automated external defibrillator class. PHOTO: SINGAPORE HEART FOUNDATION

In his years of teaching adults how to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), Mr Venod Kesavan found that many of them do so because they have lost a loved one, or experienced a close shave.

The freelance life support and first aid instructor, 35, has seen his fair share of people who were moved to action by tragedy since he started teaching professionally in 2010.

He said: “I had one class where all of them were golfers, and they came because they lost one of their friends on the golf course.

“So knowing both the stories with happy and sad endings, that keeps me going now.”

In 2015, he joined the myResponder app as a first responder. This means he is alerted by the Singapore Civil Defence Force to people within a 400m radius who need help before a paramedic can get there.

He has responded to about seven cases.

A memorable incident was when he was called to help an older woman trying to perform CPR on her husband in their home.

Her sense of relief was palpable when she saw help arriving, because she was exhausted and her efforts at CPR were not effective, said Mr Kesavan.

“It really brought home why as a community, we need to be there for one another.”

Military police outrider won NSF of the year award

Corporal (NS) Ummar Adib Ibrahim Al-Johar (right), who won the NSF of the Year award last year, with Major-General Goh Si Hou, Chief of Army. PHOTO: MINDEF

As a military police traffic outrider during national service, Corporal (NS) Ummar Adib Ibrahim Al-Johar was part of a team that escorted military assets from one camp or training site to another on public roads.

The full-time national serviceman (NSF) was also given the additional administrative responsibility as the Mileage IC for his unit, for which he had to keep proper records of the mileage covered by his fellow riders. Riders who do not clock enough distance on the roads are sent for re-training to ensure that their skills remain current during operations.

For his professionalism and meticulousness, the 23-year-old, who completed his full-time service in 2020, was recognised as NSF of the Year in 2021.

He said it was important for an outrider to maintain a professional image and not appear tired or “slack” when they were in the public eye.

The banking and finance undergraduate at Nanyang Technological University has maintained a positive attitude towards national service.

“Some people may see it as just another two years, and try to just go through and tahan (Malay for tolerate) it.

“To me, if you’re given two years to experience something that is uniquely Singaporean because every Singaporean son has to go through it, I feel you can try to make the best of it,” he said.

SPH Brightcove Video
Two survivors of the Japanese Occupation of Singapore recount their memories of World War II.

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