ST Singaporean of the Year winner Siti Noor Mastura humbled by award

Front row, from left: UBS head of Asean equities Yeoh Choo Guan, UBS Asia Pacific president Edmund Koh, Singaporean of the Year 2018 winner Siti Noor Mastura, UBS chief of staff for Asia Pacific Teo Lay Sie, President Halimah Yacob, Singapore Press H
Front row, from left: UBS head of Asean equities Yeoh Choo Guan, UBS Asia Pacific president Edmund Koh, Singaporean of the Year 2018 winner Siti Noor Mastura, UBS chief of staff for Asia Pacific Teo Lay Sie, President Halimah Yacob, Singapore Press Holdings chairman Lee Boon Yang, Straits Times editor Warren Fernandez, SPH deputy chief executive Anthony Tan, and nominee Nizar Mohamed Shariff (seated). Second row, from left: Nominees Bjorn Low, Teo You Yenn, Harbhajan Singh, Robert Chew and Teo Yee Ming. Back row, from left: Nominees Kenneth and Adeline Thong, Annabelle Kwok, Elizabeth Tan, Poh Kok Wee and Douglas Yeo.ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID

28-year-old recognised for overcoming the odds, helping the needy and interfaith work

How does one decide what acts of generosity or heroism to recognise, Ms Siti Noor Mastura humbly and philosophically asked as she was announced as The Straits Times Singaporean of the Year 2018.

"Honestly, I (feel like I) suffer from imposter's syndrome, so I don't think I am fully deserving of the award," the 28-year-old said at the Istana, tears streaming down her face.

She was referring to when a person doubts the extent of his or her accomplishment.

Ms Noor Mastura's award citation recognised her for overcoming the odds, for her passion to help the needy and for her interfaith work.

And she promptly and aptly cited an anecdote, the gist of which can be found in religious texts, to illustrate her point.

"If we have a person donating $10 and another donating $2, you would automatically think the person donating $10 is more generous. But what if for the person donating the $2, it is everything that he could possibly have?" said Ms Noor Mastura, adding that everyone has the capacity to do great things.

Ms Noor Mastura, who co-founded non-profit organisation Interfaith Youth Circle, beat 10 other finalists for the award, which is now into its fourth year. Organised by The Straits Times and sponsored by UBS Singapore, the award honours Singaporeans who have put the country on the world map, persevered through incredible adversity or made the community a better place through selfless acts.

Interfaith Youth Circle seeks to promote a better understanding of the role that faith can play in an increasingly divided world. It conducts monthly scriptural reasoning sessions, where people discuss passages from religious texts of different faiths that are on common themes. It also encourages people to host others from different faiths at home during religious festivals.

Ms Noor Mastura also started in 2013 non-profit group Back2Basics, which delivers free halal groceries to the doorsteps of beneficiaries such as the home-bound elderly.

President Halimah Yacob, who is patron of the award, presented her with a $20,000 cash prize and a trophy at a ceremony at the Istana.

In her speech, Madam Halimah noted that interest in the award has not waned four years after it began. "The Straits Times continues to receive a respectable number of nominations totalling about 74 individuals or groups. This also shows that there are many people out there doing good for the community, and which is acknowledged by the public who have in turn nominated them for the award," she said.

In the running this year were 11 finalists, whose ages range from 26 to 78. The 10 who missed out on the top prize each received $5,000.


I don't think I am fully deserving of the award. Every one of us has the capacity to do great things. How do you decide what is more heroic and what is more generous?


They are Thai cave rescuers Douglas Yeo and Poh Kok Wee; teacher Teo Yee Ming; sociologist Teo You Yenn; urban farmer Bjorn Low; technopreneur Annabelle Kwok; blood donor Robert Chew; veteran nurse Harbhajan Singh; Mr Nizar Mohamed Shariff and Free Food for All, a charity that provides free cooked meals for the needy; entrepreneur Elizabeth Tan; and couple Kenneth and Adeline Thong, who are "parents" to young adults.


Fourteen judges went through three rounds of selection to pick 11 finalists, and took into account the results of a public vote. The judging panel included senior editors of The Straits Times, UBS Asia Pacific president Edmund Koh and UBS head of Asean equities Yeoh Choo Guan, social entrepreneur and activist Saleemah Ismail, chef and restaurateur Willin Low, poet and civil servant Aaron Maniam, and youth leader and educator David Hoe.


The inaugural award for 2015 went to Madam Noriza A. Mansor for helping an elderly man who had soiled himself in public, and the 2016 award went to Colin, May and Joseph Schooling for creating Olympic history for Singapore.

The 2017 award was given to Dr Goh Wei Leong and the charity he co-founded called HealthServe, which provides migrant workers with affordable healthcare.

Dr Goh said the win gave him the platform to promote awareness of the needs of migrant workers. A private hospital has since stepped in to subsidise costly medical investigations for foreign workers, and a couple in London who had read about HealthServe in the papers last year came forward to donate a large sum of money and visited migrant workers in Geylang last month.

"The finalists are all very accomplished and inspiring individuals, and I hope this award will give them the platform to further their interests and causes for the common good," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 13, 2019, with the headline 'ST Singaporean of the Year winner humbled by award'. Print Edition | Subscribe