The Straits Times Singaporean of the Year 2018

Siti Noor Mastura: She reaches out to others with food and faith

Ms Siti Noor Mastura's personal struggles with hunger and homelessness spurred her to start Back2Basics, a volunteer group which distributes groceries to underprivileged families.
Miss Siti Noor Mastura started Back2Basics, which delivers free halal groceries, in 2013. She also started a non-profit organisation called Interfaith Youth Circle, which brings together people of various religions.
Miss Siti Noor Mastura started Back2Basics, which delivers free halal groceries, in 2013. She also started a non-profit organisation called Interfaith Youth Circle, which brings together people of various religions.ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

The Straits Times Singaporean of the Year seeks to honour Singaporeans whose extraordinary acts of goodwill have improved their community and the lives of others. Today, The Straits Times announces the last batch of finalists for the fourth edition of the award - a long-time dedicated blood donor, two men who risked their lives to save Thai boys trapped in a cave, a young woman driven by interfaith work, a former businessman serving up free food to the needy and an academic who has advanced the discussion on inequality in Singapore.

Siti Noor Mastura

After her parents divorced when she was 17, Miss Siti Noor Mastura often endured sleepless nights on an empty stomach.

She, her elder sister and her mother moved 11 times in five years, not wanting to outstay their welcome in relatives' homes.

Her elder sister had bipolar disorder, and her mother sank into depression. Miss Noor has two other sisters who lived with their father.

Miss Noor was on the verge of committing suicide twice but was held back by her strong faith in God.

After completing secondary school, she took on teaching and property jobs to support the family. Her family is now more financially stable and live in a flat in Serangoon bought by her uncle.

"Those were dark times, and the reason I am doing the things I am doing now," said Miss Noor, who is now 28 and a flight attendant.

 
 
 
 
 

In 2013, she started Back2Basics, a non-profit group that delivers free halal groceries to the doorsteps of beneficiaries such as home-bound elderly and single mothers, the first such service for halal food items.

Miss Noor went on to be involved in interfaith work as she felt deeply about her Muslim faith and the beauty of faith in general.

In 2014, she was saddened and angered when she read about atrocities committed by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militant group against Christians in Mosul, Iraq, and the hostility shown by some Singapore netizens against Muslims.

She wrote a letter denouncing the terror acts, reiterated that Muslims stand in solidarity with Christians for peace, and e-mailed it to over 200 churches here. Her letter garnered many positive responses online and from church leaders.

Encouraged, Miss Noor wanted to take part in interfaith dialogues, but many of these were only for academics or invited guests.

So, she attended a Cambridge University summer programme in interfaith work in 2015 and came back to start a non-profit organisation called Interfaith Youth Circle.

It conducts monthly Scriptural Reasoning sessions where people of various faiths discuss religious texts from different faiths, but of the same theme.

It also runs campaigns like SGMuslimsforEid, which encourages Muslims to open their homes to celebrate Hari Raya Aidilfitri with strangers from other religions.

Miss Noor, who won a youth category award under the President's Volunteerism and Philanthropy Awards in 2016, will soon quit flying to focus on her non-profit work.

"I want to create safe spaces for our youth to have honest conversations about their faiths," she said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 18, 2018, with the headline 'She reaches out to others with food and faith'. Print Edition | Subscribe