SINGAPORE- While some may feel overwhelmed by difficulties life throws at them, Miss Sharon Khoo Kwee Lan's selflessness transcended her own challenges.
In 2004, she adopted the son of a close relative, a single mother who had died. Seven years later, she lost her husband to an illness and had to single-handedly raise her own son and adopted son who has global developmental delay, a condition where a child takes longer to reach development milestones.
Despite these curveballs, the 62-year-old stayed resilient for her two sons and even found time to help out in the special needs community.
On Saturday (Aug 27), Miss Khoo was one of four inspiring individuals honoured at the annual Singapore Silent Heroes Award ceremony held at the Shangri-La Hotel.
Miss Khoo said she started to volunteer at organisations that help persons with disabilities (PWDs) so that she could better understand the needs of her adopted son.
"I had no idea what special needs was all about. I needed to learn ways in which I could teach my son, and volunteering and teaching others has allowed me to learn a lot about myself," she said.
"I am very honoured to receive an award but what is more important is that throughout this process, I have surprised myself about how strong I am as a person."
The award, in its ninth year, is organised by non-profit Civilians Association Singapore (CAS). It recognises everyday Singaporeans, permanent residents and foreigners residing in Singapore who have quietly made a difference across families, communities, and society without seeking recognition or monetary benefits.
From an initial pool of nearly 52 nominations, 13 were shortlisted as finalists, out of which four were awarded the winner trophies in four categories.
Miss Khoo was conferred the Heart of Humanity award for finding greater fulfilment in serving others.
She gave up her full-time career as a caregiver to pay special attention to her adopted son, and guided his development till his graduation last year from the Hotel and Accommodation Services programme, offered by APSN Delta Senior School.
In the mornings while her adopted son was at school, she spent time with other children with special needs as a part-time teacher aide at Awwa, a social service agency.
She also arranges social gatherings for children with special needs so that they can bond with others, and volunteers at social enterprise Faith Music Centre, to teach PWDs how to play various musical instruments.
The award in the Inspiring Youth category was given to Mr Owen Tan, an active volunteer with Youth Corps Singapore. Mr Tan also initiated a project in 2016 to bring residents of Thong Teck Home for Senior Citizens for monthly meal outings. The project was well-received by both the youth volunteers and seniors.
Mr Tan, 32, said: "We are in an ageing society and we need to rely on our youth to step up and help those that are in need. The act is a simple one but if I can raise awareness of how easy it is to help others, I am grateful."
Mr Derek Ong won in the Outstanding Adult Category for his drive to redistribute unsold food to the needy, and Mrs Carol Chong clinched the Compassionate Foreigner award for leading seniors in exercises despite facing her own injuries.
Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong, who handed out the awards on Saturday evening, said the award winners and finalists all embody the heart and soul of Singapore: having looked out for and supported each other, and pulling together as a united people to take the country forward.
The pandemic spurred many Singaporeans to go the extra mile for others, and the Government will continue to partner and lend its support to these citizen-led initiatives, he said.
For instance, the Our Singapore Fund will support 400 new projects in the next three years, he said. The fund was launched in 2016 and to date has provided grants to more than 260 ground-up projects that strengthen social cohesion and address community needs.
Mr Tong said he hopes the winners' stories will inspire more people to support and look out for one another and build a caring Singapore.