Millennials who rise above their troubles

Mr Delane Lim helps vulnerable young people.
Mr Delane Lim helps vulnerable young people.
Mr Thomas Liao became a social worker after jail.
Mr Thomas Liao became a social worker after jail.
Mr Lee Wee Yong survived a stroke at 21 years old.
Mr Lee Wee Yong survived a stroke at 21 years old.
Ms Ju-Ann Thong has braved many storms in her life.
Ms Ju-Ann Thong has braved many storms in her life.

Depressed about a $1.5 million debt and a failed relationship, a 29-year-old man was planning to end his life in August last year.

His car workshop business had gone downhill, he had chalked up massive debts from gambling and his fiancee had called off their wedding and left him.

The day before John (not his real name) was set to end it all, his friend sent him a story of Delane Lim in The Straits Times' Generation Grit series.

Mr Lim had almost jumped off a block in 2011 but changed his mind when a friend serendipitously texted him - without knowing he was sitting on the ledge of the 21st floor - asking him out for coffee.

Mr Lim replied that he was in pain and needed major surgery, and the friend replied: "God wouldn't remove the pain but He would give you the strength to go through it."

That conversation made Mr Lim change his mind about suicide.

John, who is a Christian, said: "Reading Delane's story was like a wake-up call to stop all the nonsense suicidal thoughts I was struggling with."

He found Mr Lim's e-mail address on the Internet and wrote to him. Mr Lim called John and spent four hours listening to him and talking him out of suicide.

"Delane encouraged me and gave me ideas on how to repay my debts, instead of running away from it all. He's very willing to help and he's a very warm-hearted man," said John.

John has started attending a support group to quit gambling, found a job in procurement and gone back to attending church services.

As for Mr Lim, he is now executive director of Character and Leadership Academy, which he started in 2013 after he was pulled back from the brink of suicide. The charity trains students on how to spot signs of depression in their peers and help them, among other things.

"I think everyone has a responsibility to be a gatekeeper of other people's lives, whether the person is a stranger or not. We've to try to convince them not to commit suicide," said Mr Lim, 34, who is also executive director of an architectural firm.

His own suicidal experience - due to health and business problems and a failed relationship - made him realise his own vulnerabilities and sparked in him the need to reach out to vulnerable young people.

He still struggles with a degenerative spine problem and takes four strong painkillers daily. But the constant pain does not stop him from coming up with more community service initiatives.

Last month, he pledged $10,000 of his own money to start the My Dollar Story project. He plans to give 10,000 students $1 each to encourage them to pay it forward.

He said he gave a group of students $1 each last year as an experiment for the project and a teenage girl multiplied $1 to $82, which she donated to charity. She had used the $1 to buy colour paper to fold into stars, sold the stars at three for $1, earned $12 from the sale, and then bought erasers to sell. And she ended up with $82.

Mr Lim has given out $1 each to almost 4,000 students so far and said he is open to pledging another $10,000. "Don't look down on $1. I want to spur students to think about paying it forward."

He is one of the 24 nominees for The Straits Times Generation Grit Award 2018. 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 May 6. The public can vote for their favourite nominee at http://str.sg/ggaward until Sunday. As of Monday this week, over 2,700 votes had been received.

Readers have also sought the help of a few others featured in the Generation Grit series.

For example, some asked Mr Thomas Liao, 31, for ways to help their children who are hooked on drugs.

Mr Liao is a former gangster and drug trafficker who was sentenced to 5½ years' jail and 10 strokes of the cane. After his release from jail, he became a social worker.

Mr Liao, now a senior social work associate at Fei Yue Community Services, said: "These readers read my story and saw that I have a similar background as their sons. Through my sharing, I hope they have better insight on how to better manage their situation."

  • The Straits Times Generation Grit Award 2018

  • The Straits Times Generation Grit Award 2018 seeks to honour millennials featured in this column who have inspired readers with their resilience and heart for the community.

    The award, presented by reinsurance company Swiss Re, is given to those who are in their 20s to mid-30s.

    Three winners will be selected from a pool of 24 individuals, whose stories were told in this column from December 2017 to December last year.

    Cast your vote for your favourite nominee at http://str.sg/ggaward

    Voting ends on April 7.

    The award ceremony will be held on May 6.

He has been invited by various groups - such as the Tanah Merah Prison School and Singapore Boys' Home - to give talks.

Then there is Mr Lee Wee Yong, 26, who almost died of a massive stroke when he was just 21. After a long rehabilitative process, he can now walk short distances with the help of a walking frame. He obtained a degree in social work last year.

Mr Lee, who works as a social worker at Viriya Community Services, visited a depressed man in his 40s who had also had a stroke. The man's sister had read Mr Lee's story and asked if he could visit her brother in hospital to encourage him.

Besides offering encouragement or help, some of those featured in the Generation Grit series have received help from readers too.

For example, Ms Ju-ann Thong, 35, received supermarket vouchers from a few readers. A tutor also offered to teach her eldest son for free.

Her 49-year-old husband, a part-time mattress salesman, suffers from a rare cancer and they have three children aged between two and 13. To make ends meet, Ms Thong works as a bank administrator in the day and fries crab sticks for sale at night. She said: "In fast-paced Singapore, you wonder if there is warmth. But you realise there are people coming forward with a gesture of kindness and encouragement. This compels me to do better in the situation I'm in."

Theresa Tan

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 03, 2019, with the headline 'Millennials who rise above their troubles'. Print Edition | Subscribe