We embarked on an inspiring journey in March with #HerWorldHerStory – a collection of 60 real-life stories to celebrate Her World’s 60th anniversary this year. Through their tears and laughter, these women from all walks of life – from students to social workers to celebrities – moved us with their tales of passion, determination and kindness. Together, they give a snapshot of what it is to be a woman in Singapore today. In this final of our six-part series, we highlight 10 everyday heroes for stepping up to help the different communities in this difficult time, which has affected everyone of us. Read all 60 stories on www.herworld.com.
Ann Sim, 32
When flights were grounded, the stewardess took time off to return to nursing.
Patients are a lot calmer when being treated at home.
I’ve always enjoyed working in the frontline because I feel useful when I’m able to help people. During the pandemic, I was worried about the increasing number of Covid-19 cases, and my livelihood. I thought, what could I do to “fix” both problems. So when flights were grounded in March, I took a waiver of service from my cabin crew duties, and applied for a part-time staff nurse position at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital (KTPH).
I hold a valid nursing certificate from Nanyang Polytechnic. Before I became a flight crew eight years ago, I worked as a nurse at Changi General Hospital and KTPH, for several years.
My folks were happy when I told them that I was going back to nursing. Though they knew the risks that healthcare frontliners faced, they were proud of me that I wanted to do my part in a critical time.
In late March, I was deployed to KTPH’s Class C Renal Unit. But in May, I left to join Speedoc, an online house-call medical service, as it provided flexible working hours, in case flights resumed.
I work between nine and 10 hours a day as a house-call nurse. My day is planned ahead, according to patients’ pre-booked appointments and ad-hoc nursing services.
I visit up to five patients at their homes on a busy day for services they require like wound dressing, nasogastric tube insertion or urine catheterisation. I also help doctors with IV drips and injections on their house-call visits.
It’s a new experience for me. The job is exciting and I’m always on the move. Before entering the patients’ homes, I have to wear full protective gear (hospital gown, N95 mask, face shield and gloves) if I know that they have a fever or display upper respiratory tract symptoms, after going through the patient report through the Speedoc app.
I noticed that patients are a lot calmer when they’re being treated at home. And we’re able to detect the problem earlier and see if they need to be sent to the hospital for a more comprehensive care. Time is, in fact, a big factor when it comes to preventing strokes, heart attacks and of course, Covid-19.
If you ask me, the job of a cabin crew and nurse has similarities. Both focus on keeping people comfortable and attending to their needs.
I feel very empowered to be able to help others in a time like this. Although it can be stressful, I remind myself that I’m here to help people. And I want to continue doing so during the pandemic.
Sreya Dasgupta, 27
The IT consultant provided daily meals for migrant workers who didn’t have the means to break fast, and helped those without a salary pay their bills.
Through social media and word of mouth, we raised over$50,000 in six weeks.
No one should go hungry during Iftar (the daily breaking of fast during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan). When a friend told me in April that a group of Bengali Muslim migrant workers from Bangladesh had no money to buy food after fasting all day, I sprung into action the next day.
I ordered fast food for these workers for two days via Grab Food, spending $400 a day to feed 30 workers. As I couldn’t sustain it, I reached out to my friends for help.
Though social media and word of mouth, we raised over $50,000 in six weeks. I ordered a variety of food from caterers for the workers. Redmart on Lazada and SDI Academy offered help with the logistics and donations. Eateries like Hany’s Cookhouse and Rojakstory also sponsored meals.
I was juggling my job as an IT consultant and coordinating this after work. It was tiring but fulfilling. From a one-woman show, it grew into a team of more than 45 volunteers (30 home cooks and 15 delivery drivers) working on a weekly rotation to cook and deliver food to workers in different locations.
We managed to feed around 400 workers every day till June 8, providing Iftar meals throughout Ramadan, and lunch and dinner two weeks after Ramadan. I still can’t wrap my mind that we managed to feed 800 workers on Eid al-Fitr (the one-day celebration marking the end of Ramadan), exceeding the goal of 600 workers! I was very touched when they thanked me via text messages for the food. They said, “We’ll never forget the help you’ve given us.” Some wrote poems for the volunteers.
Although my goal was to support the migrant workers during Ramadan, I’m now focusing on a new initiative. That’s helping those who’re still not drawing a salary, with their medical expenses, rent and other bills, through donations by word of mouth.
The whole exercise has made me realise how fortunate we are, not having to worry about basic necessities. I’m glad to have met many generous people who made a difference.
Qurratu Ain Mohamed Yusope , 47
The real estate agent started an initiative to deliver sponsored meals to Malaysian workers who were stranded in Singapore.
One family even paid for 100 packets of chicken rice.
I can’t imagine being stranded in another country alone with no money. This was the plight of many Malaysian workers in Singapore when Malaysia announced the Movement Control Order in March. They were given little more than 24 hours to return to Malaysia in the wake of the pandemic. Many faced financial difficulties with job losses. I read about their plight on social media and learnt that many needed food. The workers were used to having or packing their meals in Johor Bahru before commuting to Singapore, where food cost much more. Their savings depleted quickly. I told my husband, “Let’s help as much as we can”.
We formed an informal initiative to deliver daily meals like fried rice and briyani. To reach out to the affected workers, I posted the initiative on my Facebook account to provide us with their names, numbers and addresses in Singapore. The post caught on with so many people! Through word of mouth, food sponsor Dignity Kitchen, reached out to us.
Every day, we set off in our car at 4pm to collect the sponsored meals by different eateries as well as the public, who paid for it in advance. Then, we distributed the meals to about six locations like Alexandra and Sembawang. By the time, we were done, it was 10pm.
We relied on food donations and paid for the travelling expenses from our own pockets. From delivering 80 packets of food daily, it went up to nearly 500 packets at one point.
One family even paid for 100 packets of chicken rice... I was so touched by the many who came forward to help.
It’s tiring having to juggle this on top of my real estate job. But as long as I’m healthy, I’ll keep helping them.
What I enjoy most is meeting new faces during deliveries. I can see the smiles in people’s eyes even though they’re wearing a mask. I’ve become friends with the workers... they call me, “kakak” (Malay for sister). They’d come up to me to give me a hug... it moves me to tears each time I think about it. It shows how much they trust us even though we’re complete strangers.
Suriana Sanwasi, 47
The nurse took it upon herself to get donations for essential items for Covid-19 patients who were migrant workers.
No words could describe their joy when they opened the bundle to see all the essential items inside.
I’ve seen many difficult things in my 22 years working as a nurse at Singapore General Hospital (SGH). But seeing a Covid-19-infected foreign worker praying on the cold, bare hospital floor without a prayer mat was one of the most heart-wrenching moments.
I remember that day in early April... it had been about a month since I moved from the surgical wards and was tasked to convert normal wards to isolation wards to accommodate the rising number of Covid-19 patients, a large number of whom were Bengali Muslims from Bangladesh.
Quickly, I distributed hospital blankets to the workers to use as temporary prayer mats. But we were also in need of a huge supply for fresh clothing, as the hospital supplies were being depleted, with more workers being admitted every day.
The patients’ old clothes were contaminated, and the virus may spread via the soiled clothes, but they didn’t have new ones. Their stay included the days spent at the hospital wards, and the Community Care Facilities (CCF) when their condition improved.
Seeing the urgency, I asked my colleagues, friends and family to donate prayer mats and clothing. From the moment I sent my first Whatsapp message, donations came pouring in.
Suriana (right) with her colleague sorting out the care packages.
We received well over 500 pieces of mats and clothes, along with other essential items, enough to assemble care packages for patients who were on their way to the CCF.
My family helped collect donations from more than 50 families, sorting out the items in bundles at home before sending them to me at SGH. There were others who brought the items to the hospital.
The donated items included belts, body washes, shampoos, toothbrushes, towels, water bottles, instant coffee, biscuits, and even notes of encouragement!
It was a mammoth task sorting out the piles of clothing by size, and making sure that they were in good condition. It took days to do this and my staff helped me every day. At the end of their shifts (even though they were very tired), they would ask if there was more they could do.
We’ve given out over 500 care packages to the Bengali patients before they were transferred to CCF. Although there was a language barrier, no words could describe their joy when they opened the bundle to see all the essential items inside.
As I said goodbye to each of them, some stood at the exit and cried before leaving the hospital ward. One walked out but came back to say, “Thank you for everything”. That moment still moves me to tears.
I’m so humbled by the experience – and the quick response from people who came forward to help. It was a great collective effort to be there for the foreign workers at a time when they needed help the most.
Quek Hui Ying, 20
This undergrad started a free online tutoring service during Circuit Breaker to help any student who wants to learn.
I know that many kids are left out because their families can’t afford private tuition.
I started a free online tutoring service for underprivileged students in April, a day after the Circuit Breaker measures were announced. I know that many kids are left out because their families can’t afford private tuition. I’ve been giving tuition to underprivileged students since I was in secondary school.
For this initiative, I roped in two of my best friends to form a team and we contacted social organisations, student care centres and family services centres to get in touch with students.
Three more people joined us through word of mouth. Together, we set up an online tutoring support programme and formed the Covid-19 Tutoring Support (CTSS) core team in less than a week.
Students get a free weekly lesson of up to two hours, and this is not meant to replace the schools’ home-based learning. All the subjects covered in the primary, secondary and junior college syllabus are included. I was very touched when so many people responded to the call for help on social media. In less than four months, we paired 1,000 tutors with students!
The volunteer tutors include undergraduates, professionals and even those serving national service. We vet the tutors and they must provide us with their certification (recognised diploma, degree, GCE ‘O’ and ‘A’ Level certificates. They go on rotation based on their schedules. We have another 500 tutors who have yet to be paired with students, so we always have ready “manpower”.
So far, we’ve received positive feedback on the programme. Parents and students have also reached out to us via CTSS social media accounts. We don’t set any financial criteria to determine whether a student is eligible for the program. We provide support to every student who wants to learn.
The parents told me that the pandemic has affected their kids, especially those taking their national exams. They had issues adapting to the quick transition from classroom to online learning.
Many of our tutors use Bramble, an online tutoring platform. It lets them share the resources on screen over video calls. The sessions are recorded and sent to the students so they can refer to them.
With 700 students in the programme now, I hope to reach out to more students in need. Contributing to the education industry has been my dream. I firmly believe that everyone deserves an equal shot when it comes to learning.
Fion Phua, 50
The club membership broker helps the elderly with their daily necessities and enables them to stay connected.
We can practise social distancing, but not social isolation.
In our masks, gloves, shields, and full personal protective equipment (PPE), we look a little intimidating... but we’re volunteers from Keeping Hope Alive (KHA), which I founded over 20 years ago. Every Sunday, we go door-to-door at the one-room rental flats around Singapore to identify the residents’ needs and seek their permission to allow us to help them.
When Covid-19 hit, I was worried for this group of elderly and those living alone. They were stuck at home with no one visiting them. I thought, we can practise social distancing, but not social isolation. As we’re an essential service, I decided to continue our volunteer activities but on a fortnightly basis instead of weekly. We came up with new ways to help the old folks: handing out donated (used) smartphones and teaching them how to use them, as this has become the only way to stay connected to the outside world.
We also helped them to apply for Singpass so they can access grants and upskilling courses. Many lost their jobs as cleaners, shop assistants and road sweepers. There was a 60-something granny who lost her dishwashing job at a coffee shop when dining out wasn’t allowed during Circuit Breaker. She thought she had no other option until we introduced her to government portals like www.wsg.gov.sg . Through it, she found a new job packing fish balls! When we visited her again, she was so happy that she was working shorter hours but earning more.
During our visits, we also helped the elderly to change light bulbs, cut their nails and hair, and clear the rubbish, while giving out donated food, masks and sanitisers. Some accidentally soiled their bed sheets so we washed and replaced them. A few volunteers who were nurses also checked their blood pressure.
With 10 volunteers, we split into groups of three to five people. Each group would visit different HDB blocks at the estate. Only one person from each group would enter each home to offer help. We set off at 7.30am in a van with boxes of donated food and household items. By 2.30pm, we would’ve covered 600 to 800 units.
We’d knock on one unit on each floor to ask if they needed anything, and they would shout along the corridor to ask the neighbours too. When we returned to the floor later, everyone would be waiting for us.
By the time we were done, our bodies would be aching all over... sweating buckets. The visits are exhausting, but the reactions we get make it all worthwhile. Some seniors are very cute, they call us “Robin Hood”!
We’re now back to our weekly visits on Sunday, but we still put on our PPE and practise safe distancing.
We have the old folks to thank, as they trust us wholeheartedly – that keeps us going even through tough times.
Ski Yeo, 36
To prep the elderly about covid-19, this volunteer created videos in three dialects.
The People’s Association even played our videos on loop on a billboard.
I have a soft spot for our dialect-speaking seniors... They have so many life experiences and stories to tell. But they’re often unheard, partly because of the language barrier.
That led me to co-found LearnDialect. sg with my husband in 2018. We conduct dialect-speaking workshops for medical students, healthcare professionals, social workers and volunteers, to help them communicate with the elderly. Many healthcare professionals and volunteers can’t speak dialect, and the older folks are reluctant to open up or seek help.
In January, we stopped all visits to the nursing home where I’m a volunteer, when they told us that all meetings would be suspended due to the coronavirus outbreak. I was worried. How would the old folks understand the situation if we couldn’t explain it to them in person?
So my husband and I worked over four days on a set of Covid-19 videos in Hokkien, Teochew and Cantonese. The two-minute videos, each with English and Mandarin subtitles, explain the coronavirus infection, symptoms, and basic precautions to take, such as covering one’s mouth and nose while sneezing and coughing. The videos were launched on the Learn Dialect Youtube channel in February. They can be played to the elderly by healthcare workers or anyone who doesn’t speak dialect. Within a few days, it saw over 100,000 views!
A foreign domestic helper told us after she showed the video to the 94-year-old lady whom she was looking after, she was no longer upset when told to stay home during the Circuit Breaker. Many people are helping to spread the message, including the nursing homes circulating it to their nurses. The People’s Association even played our videos on loop on a billboard at Heartbeat@Bedok lifestyle hub. This was a big step in reaching out to more dialect-speaking seniors who don’t have social media, as Bedok has the largest population of seniors in Singapore.
The most rewarding part is the appreciation we got from the seniors. They reminisce about the old days, especially how much they miss the radio shows and news in dialect!
Wei Man Kow, 33
The UX designer is helping children and adults learn about the coronavirus through a fun, multi-language comic series.
I wanted to use art to spread awareness on Covid-19.
Comics are a useful medium for public health communication, and should not be overlooked as a way to spread critical information in a pandemic. Not everyone has the time to go through elaborate medical journals on Covid-19. So I simplified the information into a comic that can be easily understood by the young and old.
The comic explains how coronaviruses spread and what precautions people can take to stay safe. While I did my research, fact-checking is important. I asked my friends who’re doctors to vet my work. I began working on my comics in January, when I was down with fever and a persistent cough. I had time to research and create the comic in January while on a month’s medical leave.
I took less than a week to come up with the first infocomic on Covid-19. I posted the comic on my social media accounts and it went viral internationally. It gave me the idea to create more useful Covid-related comics. I spent about another month and a half to work the rest of the comics. Many international organisations like the Consular Section of the Embassy of Mexico in the United States have reached out to me to help translate the text into different languages for their communities. The comics are now available in over 40 languages.
I’m grateful to hear that the comics have helped parents and teachers in China and Indonesia explain Covid-19 to kids, and also encouraged them to wash their hands regularly. I recently worked with a senior doctor to create an updated version of the comic that went viral (How Covid-19 Spreads). This version includes new findings and precautions. It’s available on www. comicsforgood.
I’m currently working with my volunteers to revamp the Comics For Good site to collect and showcase informative comics on social good issues by a variety of artists, so that the public can find easy-to-digest information on various social issues. I want to use art to spread awareness on Covid-19, and I hope more organisations would consider illustrations as a key part of their healthcare communication.
Hann Chia, 41
The co-founder of Fawn Labs used her lab to formulate hand wash and sterilise bottles to give out to low-income families.
A woman donated 260 new bottles when she heard what we were doing.
I wanted to put my botanical science knowledge to use when I saw a volunteer group on Facebook asking for used-bottles donations, so that they can fill self-bought sanitising solutions in them and give them out to low income families.
While I was touched by the initiative, I was worried because making sanitisers from home is risky. I wrote a post on Facebook to share that basic hygiene habits are more effective than any hand sanitisers. You need industry grade sanitisation tools to sterilise bottles.
I contacted the volunteers on Facebook in February and offered the resources through Fawn Labs, which conducts workshops for people to learn to formulate bespoke clean beauty products and sustainable beauty.
I hold two full-time jobs. Other than working at Fawn Labs, I am a managing partner at Xennial Capital, a family office that manages the private wealth of Asian families.
My interest in sustainable beauty and wellness was a result of a health scare six years ago. I was suspected of having contracted tuberculosis (which later turned out not to be the case) when my violent coughing persisted. I tried botanical supplements on my own (and felt better). It piqued my interest.
I am currently pursuing an advanced diploma in Cosmetic Science at Formula Botanica, an online organic skincare school in the UK. I am also certified with an Organic Skincare Formulations diploma from the same school.
By March, we received a total of 600 used bottles (100ml to 500ml), after I put out a call for more used-bottle donations on Fawn Labs’ Facebook page. We placed baskets outside our lab at Tras Street for people to drop their used bottles. A woman who owns a castile soap business donated 260 new bottles when she heard what we were doing.
I also formulated hand soaps in my lab to give away, while sterilising the used bottles. It takes about 12 hours to sterilise 30 small bottles or 24 larger-sized ones. My team of four and I rotated shifts every day, including weekends to complete this task. It was tiring as some of us have day jobs.
So far, I have sanitised 600 bottles and distributed (with the volunteers) sanitisers and hand wash to the lower-income families.
We take turns to visit them in various HDB estates. The most rewarding was seeing the smile on people’s faces when they received the bottles of sanitisers.
We’re still open to collecting more used bottles. I’m also focused on spreading awareness on clean beauty and sustainability through workshops and other virtual events.
It’s one of my ways of turning scientific information into digestible content for the public.
Janet Lee, 43
The co-founder of Food Rescue @Sengkang reduces waste by redistributing food to low-income families and migrant workers.
Residents can collect fresh fruits and vegetables from community fridges.
There’s so much food waste in Singapore. During the pandemic, food wastage increased at wholesale centres. I also realised that affected individuals needed our supply of food more than ever. My husband and I ramped up our efforts in our food distribution, “rescuing” edible foods from more than 10 wholesalers and retailers.
I started distributing food in Sengkang (where I live) on a small scale with five to 10 neighbours in 2018. The distribution has grown into an island-wide food wastage reduction initiative. Families from all over Singapore are regulars at our weekly distributions. The volunteers and I distribute the food collected such as vegetables, fruits and bread.
During the Circuit Breaker, we increased the frequency of our food “rescue missions” as there were more families affected by job losses. In April, various migrant worker dormitories reached out to me via Telegram and Facebook. So we sent food to the dorms.
The migrant workers need our support as they’re one of the communities affected by the pandemic. Many were jobless, others were forced to take leave with no income. We now supply food to them on an ad hoc basis. There’s nothing more fulfilling than seeing how happy they are when they receive food from us.
We hold two types of food distributions – one for bread and a weekly one (Saturday) for fruits and vegetables. From Monday to Friday, we head to the bakeries at 9.30pm to collect leftover bread. The loaves will be given out at the void deck of Block 415 Fernvale Link on the same night before 11.30pm.
On Saturday, we start at 10am. We drive to wholesale centres to collect rejected fruits and vegetables. We are lucky to have volunteer drivers who provide transport.
Then we sort the food into cartons and set up our distribution “pasars”. Our largest drive is at a sheltered public pavilion in Fernvale, which is our headquarters. Volunteers are also stationed at smaller drives at Jalan Kayu and Anchorvale. Each family gets about a week’s worth of vegetables.
It’s a lot of work, and many of us (40 volunteers) have day jobs. I run a corporate gift business, and my husband and I also have a home services business.
Still, we enjoy seeing the happy faces of our food rescue recipients. We take a break on Sunday so we don’t burn out. We now have over 300 families (about 1,500 people) coming to us at our distribution points.
We’ve also allocated some portion of food for the fridge restock programmes at locations like Punggol and Tampines. Residents can collect fresh fruits and vegetables from these community fridges at the ground level of the blocks.
My husband and I are committed to doing this for a long time. If I meet with manpower issues, I’m not shy to ask for help. Reducing food waste through charity is my way of giving back to the community.