Who they are

Captain P. Rajkumar (left) and Commander Vijay Varma were among India's navy pilots who undertook high-risk missions to save people from rooftops and isolated land as the southern state of Kerala battled a flood crisis in August. The AHA Centre was e
Madam Sharon Ng, with her son Marcus, receiving the award for her late husband Ng Kok Choong (below left) from Mr Warren Fernandez, editor-in-chief of Singapore Press Holdings' English/Malay/Tamil Media Group and editor of The Straits Times. ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG
Captain P. Rajkumar (left) and Commander Vijay Varma were among India's navy pilots who undertook high-risk missions to save people from rooftops and isolated land as the southern state of Kerala battled a flood crisis in August. The AHA Centre was e
Mr Nasaruddin Shafawi, executive director of Mercy Relief, receiving the award from Mr Fernandez yesterday. ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG
Captain P. Rajkumar (left) and Commander Vijay Varma were among India's navy pilots who undertook high-risk missions to save people from rooftops and isolated land as the southern state of Kerala battled a flood crisis in August. The AHA Centre was e
MR NG KOK CHOONG.
Captain P. Rajkumar (left) and Commander Vijay Varma were among India's navy pilots who undertook high-risk missions to save people from rooftops and isolated land as the southern state of Kerala battled a flood crisis in August. The AHA Centre was e
Dr Sutopo Purwo Nugroho speaking to the media in September about search and rescue efforts for Central Sulawesi earthquake victims that month. PHOTO: EPA-EFE
Captain P. Rajkumar (left) and Commander Vijay Varma were among India's navy pilots who undertook high-risk missions to save people from rooftops and isolated land as the southern state of Kerala battled a flood crisis in August. The AHA Centre was e
The AHA Centre was established by Asean member states to facilitate cooperation and coordination of disaster management within the bloc. PHOTO: AHA CENTRE/YOUTUBE
Captain P. Rajkumar (left) and Commander Vijay Varma were among India's navy pilots who undertook high-risk missions to save people from rooftops and isolated land as the southern state of Kerala battled a flood crisis in August. The AHA Centre was e
Captain P. Rajkumar (left) and Commander Vijay Varma were among India's navy pilots who undertook high-risk missions to save people from rooftops and isolated land as the southern state of Kerala battled a flood crisis in August.

MR NG KOK CHOONG

He helped save lives in the Central Sulawesi quake in Indonesia, like other individuals who rushed to the scene of disasters, including the Tham Luang cave rescue in Thailand.

When the Sept 28 earthquake and tsunami struck Palu, Indonesia, most of the foreigners in town for a paragliding event fled. Not Singaporean Ng Kok Choong, 53, a former commando who sat for hours in the dark and risked his life to help a woman trapped under the rubble.

His courage left a deep impression on fellow paraglider Francois de Neuville, 29, who told The Straits Times later: "Despite the obvious danger of staying there, KC didn't run away. Thanks to him, this woman is alive today and reunited with her family."

Alas, less than a month after escaping death, Mr Ng was killed in a paragliding accident in India. But the memory of his selfless act lives on.


MERCY RELIEF

A home-grown NGO instrumental in humanitarian assistance in the aftermath of natural disasters

Mercy Relief marked its 15th anniversary earlier this year, and in the short span of time it has been around, the Singaporenon-governmental organisation with roots in a Malay/Muslim community group has made an outsized contribution to helping disaster victims in the region.

Since its formation under the auspices of Perdaus, the disaster relief organisation has responded to more than 71 humanitarian tragedies and natural disasters, with more than $34.3 million in relief provided across 25 countries. It has also set in motion more than 50 initiatives for sustainable development, and touched more than two million lives.

It does not focus on just handing out cash aid or supplies, but also works on longer-term programmes to uplift and empower communities in the key areas of water and sanitation, shelter, sustainable livelihoods, healthcare and education.

As the group itself says on its website: "When disaster strikes, it is easy to see those affected as victims: desolate, destitute and defeated. Here, at Mercy Relief, we see things differently. We see people coming together to help one another, fight back and protect their way of life. We witness their indomitable spirit, and are committed to supporting it."

 


DR SUTOPO PURWO NUGROHO

The spokesman for Indonesia's National Agency for Disaster Management put a face to the hundreds of government and military personnel involved in disaster relief efforts in South-east Asia.

Dr Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, 49, spared no effort in updating the local and international media round the clock on the Sept 28 Central Sulawesi earthquake even though he was battling Stage 4 lung cancer.

A household name in the disaster-prone archipelago, he has continued to tirelessly be the public face of his country's disaster relief efforts. He has also taken to social media to counter "fake news" on disasters at a time when disinformation can not just spread easily but also cause unwarranted panic and fear, and soldiers on despite the grim prognosis doctors have given him.

He told The Straits Times this month: "The meaning of life is not determined by how long you live, but by your contributions to the community. We don't know how long we will live, but we should do good, and be useful to others.

"Illness or death is in God's hands, but while I am still alive, I still want to do my best to serve others."


ASEAN COORDINATING CENTRE FOR HUMANITARIAN ASSISTANCE ON DISASTER MANAGEMENT

The AHA Centre led the region's response to various disasters that have struck South-east Asia this year, especially in the Philippines, Laos and Indonesia.

The AHA Centre is an inter-governmental organisation established in November 2011 by Asean member states to facilitate cooperation and coordination of disaster management among themselves.

The centre primarily works with national disaster agencies of the various Asean countries and partners international, private sector and civil society groups, such as the Red Cross and Red Crescent and the United Nations, to deliver aid speedily.

In major disasters, the Jakarta-based centre works closely with the Asean secretary-general to mobilise more resources and coordinate efforts with Asean leaders and other partners.

It also has a stockpile of relief items and continues to build capacity so that an Asean Emergency Response and Assessment Team can be deployed at short notice to support affected members.


INDIAN NAVY CAPTAIN P. RAJKUMAR AND COMMANDER VIJAY VARMA

They performed death-defying rescue flights during the floods in Kerala, India.

Flying dozens of navy helicopters, India's navy pilots undertook high-risk missions to save people from rooftops and isolated land as the southern state battled a flood crisis in August.

Commander Vijay Varma, 42, who was widely praised for leading the rescue in a district of the state's major port city of Kochi, winched up a heavily pregnant woman who gave birth just after being airlifted to safety.

Captain P. Rajkumar, 54, winched 26 people up from a rooftop in Kochi while hovering between trees and other houses just two days after receiving a medal for saving a fisherman last year. A video of his Sea King helicopter pulling up a pregnant woman who was a wheelchair user was widely shared on social media. He ended up with 32 people on board.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 29, 2018, with the headline 'Who they are'. Print Edition | Subscribe