Izzuddin Taherally lost his father at age 11 and was so poor that he did not even have a proper home.
But he rose from poverty through education and wanted to show others they could do the same. "That motivated me to do something so that other people will not go through what I went through," said Mr Izzuddin, 62, who went on to serve about four decades in the social service sector.
Yesterday, at the 2015 Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) Awards, he won the Jasa Cemerlang (Excellent Service) award for his lifelong achievements and contributions.
He has been president of the Malay Youth Literary Association for 25 years. In his role, he helped initiate programmes such as Ramadan on Wheels, in which youth volunteers give out food to the needy, and Enhance Step-Up, which offers counselling to at-risk youth and school dropouts.
"Community work is a marathon, there's no ending to it. We should continue as long as we feel we can contribute," he said.
Long-service awards were also given to eight winners, and for the first time, a Muis SG50 award was given to 11 people for their contributions to Singapore's development.
Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim said of the winners: "They have gone out of their way... to ensure a strong foundation for the Muslim community to forge ahead. I hope the younger generation will be inspired to carry on this legacy."
The Hindu Endowments Board (HEB) also lauded its volunteers and partners last night at its biennial awards ceremony attended by 550 people at Safra Toa Payoh.
A new Friend of HEB Award was introduced and presented to the Sri Thendayuthapani Temple for being a partner of the board since the early 1980s. Other winners include the late Mr S. Ramanathan, who received the Meritorious Award. He was a HEB and Hindu Advisory Board member from 2002 until his death last year.