Meet the Samaritans who supported Generation Grit youth through tough times

Gen Grit Award nominee Lim Bo Zhi and his former school counsellor Christina Tang-Lien pose for a photo at St Joseph's Institution on April 24, 2019.
Gen Grit Award nominee Lim Bo Zhi and his former school counsellor Christina Tang-Lien pose for a photo at St Joseph's Institution on April 24, 2019.ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

A school counsellor never gave up on a teen who skipped school for two years after his mother’s suicide. A family friend took an orphan into her home after the girl’s father fell tragically to his death. They are just two of the good Samaritans who have gone out of their way to help some of the 24 nominees for the inaugural The Straits Times Generation Grit Award 2018 through their darkest days. The Straits Times, in partnership with reinsurance firm Swiss Re, created the award to honour the millennials in the Generation Grit series, who have shown remarkable courage, resilience and service to the community. Three winners will be picked for the award and the award ceremony will be held on Monday (May 6).

SINGAPORE - After Mr Lim Bo Zhi's mother killed herself when he was just 14 years old, he shut himself from the world and hid in his room for the next two years.

The St Joseph's Institution (SJI) student lost all motivation to study, contemplated suicide and spent his days playing computer games.

Mr Lim, now 24, said: "I didn't have the mood then to go out or see anyone. I was afraid people would judge me and ask me many questions about what happened."

In those two years that he played truant, his teachers kept visiting him at his home to persuade him to go back to school. One person in particular, Mrs Christina Tang-Lien, 52, a former SJI counsellor, never gave up on him.

Mrs Tang-Lien, who was then interning as a school counsellor, visited him almost every other day for a few months. At times, he did not open the door. At other times, he went out with her for a walk or a meal.

"Bo Zhi had lots of guilt and issues after his mum's suicide. He was so afraid of going out and being with people," she said. "We had to help him process all of his emotions and spring clean his baggage."

One day, he decided he had enough of "rotting away" at home after talking to a gaming buddy who was going to university.

 
 

He was also moved by Mrs Tang-Lien's unwavering care for him.

So he went back to SJI in 2011.

He did well enough for his O levels to qualify for the computer engineering course at Singapore Polytechnic. But soon after he received his results, his father, who ran a small hardware store, died suddenly in his sleep.

Mr Lim, an only child, became an orphan. His father's siblings also took back the flat his family lived in as it belonged to his grandmother.

So Mrs Tang-Lien, who is married with two grown-up children, once again raised funds from her friends and colleagues for Mr Lim's living expenses.

One of her friends, a housewife, sponsored his stay in a hostel and gave him a monthly allowance. Both sums added up to about $1,500 a month.

"He has no one to depend on," Mrs Tang-Lien said "We kept an eye on him but he really gave everything to his studies. I feel very proud and happy for him now."

Mr Lim is now a first-year computer science at the Nanyang Technological University on a Defence Science and Technology Agency scholarship.

He said: "Without Ms Christina, I wouldn't be where I am today. She really had a big impact on me."

Mrs Tang-Lien is just one of the kind-hearted souls to have made a difference to a few of the Generation Grit Award nominees.

Another good Samaritan is Ms Stella Soh, 46, who took Ms Kelly Goh into her home after the then 20-year-old student witnessed her father falling to his death in 2013.


Ms Kelly Goh (left) with family friend Stella Soh, who took the her in and looked after her after her parents died. PHOTO: ST FILE

About a year before her dad's death, her mother died while undergoing treatment for late stage breast cancer. Ms Goh is an only child.

Her father, a taxi driver, had climbed down from their ninth-floor flat window to an air-con ledge one floor below to retrieve her shoes which had fallen there. He had been trying to climb back up when he fell.

Ms Soh, who is a family friend of the Gohs, said: " "I couldn't bear to send Kelly back home alone. She was traumatised. I had to make sure she did not fall into depression."

Ms Soh, who has three children aged between 10 and 27, treated Ms Goh like her daughter and Ms Goh lived with the family for five years before moving out to live on her own.

Ms Soh, who manages a minimart and is a grassroots leader in Bedok, also introduced Ms Goh to grassroots activities to keep her occupied and to learn to help others.

Under her guidance, Ms Goh went from being a teen who depended on her parents for her every need to an independent young woman.

 
 

Ms Goh , now 26 and working at the minimart Ms Soh manages, said: "Aunty Stella taught me almost everything, from doing housework to volunteering to surviving in this world.

"I'm very thankful that God has sent her and her family to lift me up when I was at the lowest point of my life. Without them, I cannot imagine where I would be now."

Then there is Mr Lee Yong Jie, who suffered a massive stroke in 2014 when he was just 19. He had to learn how to walk again, among other things, during his rehabilitation.

The SPD, a charity that supports people with disabilities, provided physiotherapy and other forms of therapy. It also helped him to find a job as a programmer, but he was retrenched after less than two years when his company fell on hard times.

For Mr Lee, now 25, the good Samaritans in his life were his social worker Gina Tan and physiotherapist Pauline Koh, who helped him get back on his feet.

Ms Tan has since left the SPD, while Ms Koh, 34, is still working at the charity.

"I asked Pauline why although her work is so physically and mentally challenging, yet she seems so happy. She said she has a very meaningful job," he said.

"Gina has also helped me a lot by being a listening ear and helping me to move on as I felt very lost due to the stroke."

Inspired by them, Mr Lee, who still cannot use the fingers of his left hand, is now studying social work at the National University of Singapore.

Before his stroke, he had wanted to run an information technology firm and make lots of money.

But now he sees things differently.

He said: "I survived a major stroke and life has given me a second chance. I feel that social work is a more meaningful career as I can help others."