SINGAPORE – Struck by the loss of a close friend to suicide about 12 years ago, private-hire driver Khairiah Hanim Mazlan, 44, has made it her personal mission to take passengers to a safe place, not just physically but mentally as well.
“You don’t know whether someone is leaving for a holiday or rushing home for a funeral, so for me, I will always check if my passengers are okay and pray for them, hoping that they are well,” said the former paramedic, who started driving for Gojek in 2018 to free up time to care for her elderly parents, who both have cancer.
Ms Khairiah said her attempts to gauge whether distressed passengers have suicidal thoughts have helped her intervene at crucial moments, and recalled how she talked a passenger out of killing herself at an office building late at night in September 2021.
Before arriving at the destination, she noticed that the woman was tearing up in the back seat of the car.
Said Ms Khairiah: “Eventually, she opened up and shared that she had been facing business problems during Covid-19.
“After advising her on what she could do, we went to get coffee and I sent her home instead.”
In recognition of her selflessness, the Singaporean has been nominated for The Straits Times Singaporean of the Year award, which is in its eighth edition this year.
The award, presented by global wealth manager UBS, aims to celebrate the extraordinary impact ordinary Singaporeans have on society.
Striking up conversations about the thorny topic of suicide, however, did not come easy for Ms Khairiah, despite having been a prison officer assigned to check on suicidal inmates every half hour. She was in the service from 1997 to 2003.
She said she found it easier to broach the topic only after attending a training course on it in February 2021 conducted by suicide prevention charity Caring for Life.
There were times when the authorities got involved after her conversations with some passengers revealed graver issues.
On one occasion in 2021, she called the police for help after learning that her young passenger had run away from her foster mother, who allegedly abused her.
She said: “Before the girl left, she thanked me, saying that she didn’t expect to have someone down-to-earth to talk to.” The girl also told Ms Khairiah she was grateful for not being judged and labelled a juvenile delinquent.
But there were also passengers who were reluctant to share their woes.
Said Ms Khairiah: “I will just let them be and pray for them in my heart. Sometimes, it’s not in conversation but your actions that speak louder than words.”
Outside of work, Ms Khairiah, who is single, spends her free time volunteering at charities, including the Children’s Cancer Foundation where she ferries cancer survivors to and from events.
Said the foundation’s social work associate Fyda Kassim: “She’s willing to go all out to ensure that beneficiaries are comfortable, even asking if there’s a need for her to provide a wheelchair when we don’t require our volunteers to do so.”
Nominations this year for The Straits Times Singaporean of the Year are open until Dec 15 at https://str.sg/soty22nominate.
Nominees must be Singapore citizens, and recognised for performing an act of service in 2022. The award is presented by UBS.