The Good Samaritans behind Generation Grit

Generation Grit Award 2018 nominee Kelly Goh (left) with family friend Stella Soh, who took her in and looked after her after her parents died. ST FILE PHOTO Generation Grit Award 2018 nominee Lim Bo Zhi and his former school counsellor Christina Tan
Generation Grit Award 2018 nominee Lim Bo Zhi and his former school counsellor Christina Tang-Lien, who looked out for him after his mother died. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH
Generation Grit Award 2018 nominee Kelly Goh (left) with family friend Stella Soh, who took her in and looked after her after her parents died. ST FILE PHOTO Generation Grit Award 2018 nominee Lim Bo Zhi and his former school counsellor Christina Tan
Generation Grit Award 2018 nominee Kelly Goh (left) with family friend Stella Soh, who took her in and looked after her after her parents died. ST FILE PHOTO

A school counsellor never gave up on a teen who skipped school for two years after his mother's suicide. A family friend took an orphan into her home after the young woman's father fell tragically to his death.

They are just two of the Good Samaritans who have gone out of their way to help some of the 24 nominees for the inaugural The Straits Times Generation Grit Award 2018 through their darkest days.

The Straits Times, in partnership with reinsurance firm Swiss Re, created the award to honour the millennials in the Generation Grit series who have shown remarkable courage, resilience and service to the community. Three winners will be picked for the award and the award ceremony will be held next Monday at the National Library.

After Mr Lim Bo Zhi's mother killed herself when he was just 14 years old, he shut himself from the world and hid in his room for the next two years.

The St Joseph's Institution (SJI) student lost all motivation to study, contemplated suicide and spent his days playing computer games.

Mr Lim, now 24, said: "I didn't have the mood then to go out or see anyone. I was afraid people would judge me and ask me many questions about what happened."

In the two years that he played truant, his teachers kept visiting him at his home to persuade him to go back to school. One person in particular, Mrs Christina Tang-Lien, 52, a former SJI counsellor, never gave up on him.

Mrs Tang-Lien, who was interning as a school counsellor, visited him almost every other day for a few months. At times, he did not open the door. At other times, he went out with her for a walk or a meal.

"Bo Zhi had lots of guilt and issues after his mum's suicide. He was so afraid of going out and being with people," she said. "We had to help him process all of his emotions and spring clean his baggage."

One day, he decided he had enough of "rotting away" at home, after talking to a gaming buddy who was going to university.

He was also moved by Mrs Tang-Lien's unwavering care for him.

So he went back to SJI in 2011.

He did well enough for his O levels to qualify for the computer engineering course at Singapore Polytechnic. But soon after he received his results, his father, who ran a small hardware store, died suddenly in his sleep.

Mr Lim, an only child, became an orphan. His father's siblings also took back the flat his family lived in as it belonged to his grandmother.

So Mrs Tang-Lien, who is married with two grown-up children, again raised funds from her friends and colleagues for Mr Lim's living expenses.

One of her friends, a housewife, sponsored his stay in a hostel and gave him a monthly allowance.

Both sums added up to about $1,500 a month.

"He has no one to depend on," Mrs Tang-Lien said. "We kept an eye on him but he really gave everything to his studies. I feel very proud and happy for him now."

Mr Lim is now a first-year computer science student at Nanyang Technological University, and is on a Defence Science and Technology Agency scholarship.

He said: "Without Ms Christina, I wouldn't be where I am today. She really had a big impact on me."

Mrs Tang-Lien is just one of the kind-hearted souls to have made a difference to some of the Generation Grit Award nominees.

Another Good Samaritan is Ms Stella Soh, 46, who took Miss Kelly Goh into her home after the then 20-year-old student witnessed her father falling to his death in 2013.

About a year before her dad's death, her mother died while undergoing treatment for late-stage breast cancer. Miss Goh is an only child.

Her father, a taxi driver, had climbed down from their ninth-floor flat window to an air-conditioner ledge one floor below to retrieve her shoes, which had fallen there. He was trying to climb back up when he fell.

Ms Soh, who is a family friend of the Gohs, said: "I couldn't bear to send Kelly back home alone. She was traumatised. I had to make sure she did not fall into depression."

Ms Soh, who has three children aged between 10 and 27, treated Miss Goh like she was her daughter.

Miss Goh lived with the family for five years before moving out to live alone.

Ms Soh, who manages a minimart and is a grassroots leader in Bedok, also introduced Miss Goh to grassroots activities to keep her occupied and to learn to help others.

Under her guidance, Miss Goh went from being a teen who depended on her parents to an independent young woman.

Miss Goh , now 26 and working in the minimart Ms Soh manages, said: "Auntie Stella taught me almost everything, from doing housework to volunteering and surviving in this world.

"I'm very thankful that God has sent her and her family to lift me up when I was at the lowest point of my life. Without them, I cannot imagine where I would be now."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 01, 2019, with the headline 'The Good Samaritans behind Generation Grit'. Print Edition | Subscribe