Pioneers share stories of bravery at new exhibition at Woodlands Regional Library

SINGAPORE - British Prisoners-of-War forced to collect human faeces from homes in Malaya found some reprieve from brave individuals such as Madam Tan Yoon Yin who dropped them soap, cigarettes and matches near collection points.

Madam Tan, now 86, said it required some courage on her part. "We did not dare talk to the prisoners because we would get in trouble. I knew how the Japanese soldiers tortured people... I often heard the screams and shouts of men young and old when the soldiers jumped on their stomachs," she said.

Her story of perseverance is one of 39 profiles of pioneers at a new Singapore Memory Project exhibition at Woodlands Regional Library, called The Greatest Gift of a Generation: Life Stories. On Friday, Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim visited the exhibition, which will run till May next year.

During the Japanese Occupation, Madam Tan would also cycle for two hours through rubber estates to get to class. She would abandon her bicycle and behind trees whenever she heard a Japanese convoy in the distance.

"I didn't like farming. I wanted to study. There was no public transport but I didn't want to spend my life working in a plantation," said Madam Tan, who eventually earned a colonial government scholarship to study physical education and later started both the Singapore Women's Hockey Association and Singapore Women's Netball Association.

The other stories featured include that of Ms Bibi Mendro, 81, who adopted 14 children from different races from kampungs here; and Ms Kirpal Kaur, 71, a retired teacher and trainer who worked to change the perception that women should only take care of the household.

On the exhibition, Ms Kirpal said: "I read the stories of my fellow pioneers and found something common among all of us - the geniune desire to want to contribute and to do something to benefit others."