Poor schoolboy in National Day Parade film meets kind teacher again - after 46 years

On Aug 11, 2018, Mr Veera met his teacher, Mrs Chee Siew Chuan, whom he has not seen since he left Canberra Primary, at her home in Yio Chu Kang.
On Aug 11, 2018, Mr Veera met his teacher, Mrs Chee Siew Chuan, whom he has not seen since he left Canberra Primary, at her home in Yio Chu Kang.PHOTO: COURTESY OF VEERA SEKARAN
On Aug 11, 2018, Mr Veera met his teacher, Mrs Chee Siew Chuan, whom he has not seen since he left Canberra Primary, at her home in Yio Chu Kang.
On Aug 11, 2018, Mr Veera met his teacher, Mrs Chee Siew Chuan, whom he has not seen since he left Canberra Primary, at her home in Yio Chu Kang.PHOTO: COURTESY OF VEERA SEKARAN

SINGAPORE - Mr Veera Sekaran never forgot his primary school teacher's act of kindness 46 years ago.

When she found out her Primary 4 pupil's family could not afford to buy him a pen for class, she got his classmates to give him a set of stationery and a school bag.

"I was very touched by her kindness," said Mr Veera, now 56. "(The gifts) made a big difference in my life. I really treasured them."

Mr Veera's story, along with Mrs Chee Siew Chuan's kind act, was featured in a 10-minute film that was shown during this year's National Day Parade. The film tells the story of five Singaporeans who have overcome adversity.

On Saturday (Aug 11), Mr Veera met his former teacher, whom he has not seen since he left Canberra Primary, at her home in Yio Chu Kang.

Mrs Chee's daughter, Dr Cornelia Chee, had contacted Mr Veera after reading a Straits Times article about him earlier this month.

"It was amazing," he said of meeting his teacher after so many years.

Mrs Chee, 75, said she was very happy to see her former pupil.

"It was quite a surprise," she said.

 
 
 

While she does not remember putting together the gifts for him, she recalled that the "children then were all quite poor".

"At first, I thought that he might have gotten the wrong person," she said with a laugh.

Her former pupil admitted he took a while to recognise Mrs Chee as she used to have long, straight hair.

"She has short hair now," said Mr Veera, who brought orchids and fruits for their meeting. "When she showed me photos (of her younger self), I knew it was her."

The two spent about an hour catching up on each other.

Mrs Chee, who is married with two daughters, retired from teaching in 2001. She last taught at Huamin Primary School.

As for Mr Veera, who had to take on part-time jobs to support his family during his school days, he managed to get a place at the National University of Singapore - but did not have enough money to pay the course fees.

Fortunately for him, friends introduced him to a man who would change his life - lawyer Haridass Ajaib offered to pay his fees.

"I promised to pay him back, but he told me to pay it forward," said Mr Veera, who graduated with a degree in Botany. Today, he is the founder of Greenology, which develops ideas for green walls and urban farms and offers horticultural consultancy services.

He has kept his promise to Mr Haridass by hiring former convicts, buying food for the elderly, and helping old people and children with special needs.

He said he hopes his reunion with Mrs Chee can inspire others to remember who had been there for them and helped them.

"I hope that more people can seek out those who have helped them to thank them... especially teachers who have helped so many people," he said.