THE STRAITS TIMES SINGAPOREAN OF THE YEAR 2018: FINAL BATCH OF NOMINEES

The Straits Times Singaporean of the Year nominees: Striving to improve the lives of others

The final batch of finalists for the fourth edition of The Straits Times Singaporean of the Year comprises 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 advanced the discussion on inequality here.

They are Mr Robert Chew, 69, one of the oldest and top blood donors; rescuers Douglas Yeo, 50, and Poh Kok Wee, 57; Miss Siti Noor Mastura, 28, who founded non-profit group Back2Basics; Mr Nizar Mohamed Shariff, 48, who founded the charity Free Food for All; and Associate Professor Teo You Yenn, 43, who authored the book This Is What Inequality Looks Like.

The award seeks to honour Singaporeans whose extraordinary acts of goodwill have improved their community and the lives of others.

LIFETIME BLOOD DONOR INTENDS TO KEEP GIVING

Semi-retired businessman Robert Chew has given blood a total of 184 times, with the latest donation as recent as Nov 20.

"From early on, I knew my purpose is to donate blood and save as many lives as I can," said Mr Chew, who contributes to the blood bank three to four times a year, every year.

He is among the oldest and top blood donors in the country, said the Singapore Red Cross, which recruits blood donors.


Mr Robert Chew. PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

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THEY RISKED THEIR LIVES TO SAVE BOYS TRAPPED IN THAI CAVE


Mr Douglas Yeo and Mr Poh Kok Wee. PHOTOS: ALPHONSUS CHERN / COURTESY OF POH KOK WEE

Mr Douglas Yeo, 50, a diver with 26 years of recreational and salvage-diving experience, arrived at Tham Luang cave in Chiang Rai on July 10. By then, eight of the boys had been rescued, but he played a key role in the evacuation of the last five victims.

Mr Poh Kok Wee, 57, who runs a company that installs high-rise signs and solar panels in Nonthaburi, near Bangkok, also played a vital role in the rescue efforts. On June 27, four days after the boys went missing, he and four of his workers arrived at the cave, only to see operations stalled by heavy rain and flooding.

He said: "We are all just small candles, but this international rescue effort showed that many small candles can light up a dark cave and bring hope."

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SHE REACHES OUT TO OTHERS WITH FOOD AND FAITH


Miss Siti Noor Mastura. PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

In 2013, Miss Siti Noor Mastura 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.

She also started a non-profit organisation called Interfaith Youth Circle, which conducts monthly Scriptural Reasoning sessions where people of various faiths discuss religious texts from different faiths, but of the same theme.

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PROVIDING FREE HALAL FOOD AND GROCERIES TO THE NEEDY


Mr Nizar Mohamed Shariff. PHOTO: JONATHAN CHOO

Mr Nizar Mohamed Shariff noticed that few charities were providing halal food regularly to the needy when he was taking a break from running his shipping business back in 2014.

Hoping to contribute socially, he decided to pour in a large part of his savings to start a charity called Free Food for All to provide balanced halal meals as well as food and groceries to the needy.

Mr Nizar, 48, found his calling doing charity work, and decided to focus on such work full-time.

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BRINGING INEQUALITY TO FOREFRONT OF DISCUSSIONS


Associate Professor Teo You Yenn. PHOTO: ETHOS BOOKS

In 2013, Associate Professor Teo You Yenn, head of sociology at Nanyang Technological University, began a study to better understand the lives of people who live in Housing Board rental flats.

Over three years, she spoke to more than 200 people in their homes about their experiences.

In January this year, she published a book of essays drawn from her ethnographic research.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 18, 2018, with the headline 'Striving to improve the lives of others'. Print Edition | Subscribe