Making it possible for every young person…

Education is also a key enabler of social mobility. We cannot guarantee equality of outcome, but we seek to provide equal opportunity for every student. We thus…ensure that no child is deprived of educational opportunities because of their financial situation… – Mr Heng Swee Keat, Minister for Education, on “Education for Competitiveness and Growth”

These words echo loud within the Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC where many young people have been benefiting from its Community Scholarship programme.

One student is 18-year-old Ms Ong Boon Cheng from Toa Payoh East, who is pursuing a Diploma in Accountancy at the Ngee Ann Polytechnic.

Now in the first year of a three-year course, Ms Ong was pleasantly surprised when she was successful in her application. The former Cedar Girls’ Secondary School student had spent almost a year at a junior college before she opted out because of many challenges at home which distracted her. Then last year her dad passed away. Her mother, a secretary, had to shoulder the burden of raising the family.

Ms Ong went on to complete the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry diploma in computerised accounting and business studies. But she knew she has to do more than that if she was to achieve her dream to pursue a career in the accounting profession.

“I applied for the scholarship and I felt so relieved when I got it. I realised that there are people out there who care for me and my family. The scholarship lightened the financial burden and made it possible for me to pursue my studies, ” said Miss Ong who has since stopped giving private tuition so as to devote more time to her studies. She has an elder brother, who is now working, and a younger sister who is still studying.

Today, Ms Ong has learnt to put the past behind her and to look forward. She offers her time as a volunteer with the Toa Payoh East Youth Executive Committee (YEC) putting in some 10 hours a month on average to help other youths.

“l have gone through a difficult phase in life and I can feel for others who face such circumstances, ” she added. “We organise activities to engage the youths, giving out subsidized tickets to Adventure Cove Waterpark, The Escape Artist. We also bring under privileged children for cable car rides, River Safari, Sea Aquarium etc. ”

Ms Ong takes charge of one of the three groups – the Programme Group in YEC; the other two groups take charge of Engagement and Publicity.

” It is quite hectic coping with my studies but I am encouraged by my friends and family. I really enjoy my subject and so that helps.”

As a former brownie and a Girl Guide in her school days, she is used to interacting with people. Currently she is also giving service in the polytechnic’s BP-NP Mentoring Club which was founded in 1996 to aid academically weak students in primary and secondary schools. She also serves in Ngee Ann Rotaract Club.

“I am currently embarking on a project called “tabs” to make prosthetic legs for the needy in Singapore with the help of the Prostheses Foundation in Thailand, ” she said.

Ms Ong finds volunteering self-fulfilling. It helps her improve her interpersonal skills and how to be a team player. “It’s a way to give back to society. ”

– This article first appeared in a Town Council newsletter.

Image from Pixabay.


Be a responsible neighbour in your neighbourhood

Living in a HDB estate is akin to living in a large extended family. That can be a lot of fun and lively, or an absolute nuisance, depending on what the resi-dents make out of it. We share walls and corridors with immediate neighbours. We share common facilities across the estate. Beyond our apartments, there are no clear boundaries. What we do at home or in the estate may affect our neighbours one way or another.

Being responsible to our neighbourhood creates a pleasant and harmonious environment for us all to live in. Keeping our volume levels low at home would make our neighbourhood a peaceful and quiet one. Cleaning up after our pets would also keep the environment clean for us and our neighbours.

Littering, especially bulky litter, is one of the biggest problems that ruins the living environment of a HDB estate. Sometimes, bulky items are placed along the corridors or disposed at common amenities like lift landings, creating obstructions and potential fire hazards. Residents can approach the Town Council for help to dispose such items.

We can, and we must take it upon ourselves to protect the well-being of our estate. Residents and Town Council need to work together to achieve the ideal neighbourhood. Here are some examples of simple things we can do to maintain or even enhance the quality of life at home:

– Do not obstruct the corridors and common areas with litter and bulky items. If you require assistance with moving them, call the Town Council at 6259 6700 or email them at prm@btptc.org.sg for assistance.

– Bag all your litter and throw them inside the central rubbish chute or bring them down to the void decks where there are numerous rubbish bins.

– Use public property with care; damaging or defacing common property is vandalism and perpetrators can be penalised by the law.

– Leash your pets when walking them, and clean up after them in common areas.

– Feed strays in a responsible manner and clear all leftover food away after feeding. Feeding strays is not illegal, but littering and dirtying public spaces is. Regardless, one should not feed pigeons as they spread diseases.

– Do not let down your guard on Zika and Dengue mosquitoes. Ensure that your house and corridor are free of stagnant water.

If you see someone not doing things right, speak to your neighbourhood grassroots group. Most people are reasonable but simply lack the knowledge or self- awareness. They would be grateful to be informed. Bishan-Toa Payoh is home for everyone.

– This article first appeared in a Town Council newsletter.

Image from Pixabay


Book Review: Orphan Train

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

“They call this an orphan train, children, and you are lucky to be on it. You are leaving behind an evil place, full of ignorance, poverty, and vice, for the nobility of country life.”

Orphan Train is a fictional story based on factual events in American history. In the 19205, many orphaned children born of Irish immigrants were boarded onto trains, sent from crowded Eastern American cities to the rural Midwest. Families who needed servants, farm labourers or more children would come and see the orphans and take whoever they wanted home. Vivian Daly was one such orphan who found herself on an orphan train at just nine years old. In present times, she is a 91-year-old, living on her own, tormented by her troubled past.

Enter teenage rebel Molly Ayer, a beneficiary, or rather, victim of the sometimes-flawed modern-day child welfare system. As punishment for one of her petty crimes, she has to take on a community service position to help an elderly woman — Vivian, clean out her home.

In spite of the vast age gap, their lives share similar parallels. Vivian’s voice and courage touched Molly, who came to see her as an inspiration and role model. In turn, Molly teaches the old lady that it is never too late to learn something new, and hope is never too much to ask for.

The horrors of Vivian’s story, which continue to ring true for less fortunate children in many parts of the world today, are a page turner. It is impressive how the author has turned a heartbreaking and distressing situation into a feel-good story by the end of it. In spite of the heavy subject matter, the writing style manages to be charming and uplifting, sometimes channelling humorous sarcasm.

Some readers however disliked the common negative stereotypes found in the characters. They also found Molly to be unlikable due to her bratty behaviour. It would also be prudent to note that the book features some swearing and coarse language.

– This book review first appeared in a lifestyle magazine.


Get a Full Recharge from Good Quality Sleep

In movies, we view scenes of people waking up with a start from a nightmare, or because there’s a blood thirsty psychopath or a ghoul lurking in the house. In reality, our sleep can get interrupted due to very mild distractions or even for no apparent reason. This can be a horror in its own right. After all, without good quality sleep, we’d spend the next day feeling fuzzy, agitated and lacking in concentration.

If it is a challenge to stay asleep throughout the night, you might want to consider making some changes to your sleeping habits.

Watching when and what you eat and drink can greatly help to improve your sleep. Generally, try to give at least two to three hours buffer time before your bed time. Don’t go to bed hungry or stuffed. Slot in a light snack 45 minutes before bed if you really must. But it’s not a good habit. Get your eight glasses of water in the earlier part of the day as drinking before bed can lead to midnight trips to the bathroom. Avoid nicotine and caffeine as these have stimulating effects. Alcohol before bed is also generally not a good idea as it reduces REM sleep (the stage of sleep when people dream), which can lead to loss in concentration and day time drowsiness.

Let your body know it’s about time for bed. About an hour before bedtime, put your work away, dim the lights, put on comfortable pyjamas, listen to soothing music, essentially do anything that will help you unwind. Relaxing activities can promote better sleep by bridging the transition between wakefulness and sleepiness.

A clean and comfortable environment makes a difference. It’s challenging trying to fall asleep in a room where the air-conditioning is too strong, or a room so stuffy and humid that you spend the night tossing and turning in bed. If there are mosquitoes in your house, you might want to consider mosquito repellent. Invest in some good noise plugs if crying babies (not yours), screeching vehicles and your snoring partner are a regular affair. Also keep your surroundings as dark as possible as a little light can disrupt melatonin production, thus interrupting your sleep. An alternative is to cover your eyes with an eye mask.

Power napping is another factor that can affect sleep. While these naps are lauded as the new trend to greater efficiency at work, keep them short, no more than 10 to 30 minutes, and only in the mid-afternoon. Long naps and excessive napping can make you feel sleepier otherwise, and also cause difficulties in achieving sound sleep at night.

Additionally, stay active, as exercise can help you to fall asleep faster and enjoy deeper sleep. A research done by Northwestern University’s Department of Neurobiology and Physiology, in Illinois, US, reported that sedentary adults who exercised four times a week experienced improved sleep quality.

A little discipline goes a long way in improving your lifestyle. If you still have persistent problems falling asleep, do consult a doctor.

Picture from Pixabay

– This article first appeared in a lifestyle magazine


Book Review: The Yellow Envelope

The Yellow Envelope by Kim Dinan

Kim Dinan always wanted to travel the world. Tired of how little is happening in her life, she decided to quit her job and pursue this dream. She persuaded her husband to do likewise and they sold all their possessions. Before they left, their close friends gave them a yellow envelope containing $1000 to be spent or given away as they saw fit during their travels.

The Yellow Envelope was in fact a project she started in November 2016. She asks blog readers if she could mail them a yellow envelope. All they had to do was to use their yellow envelope to commit a random act of kindness.

Back to her travels, the couple had some great adventures together, but their relationship was frequently challenged. At one point, Kim even considered leaving her husband despite he being supportive of her.

Indeed, travelling the world is rarely romantic and idyllic It takes a lot of courage to give up stability for adventures, the unknown and unpredictable, and to cope with the societal pressures. Those who have contemplated doing the same may find this memoir a wake-up call, or be even more inspired to venture out of their comfort zone.

This book focuses on Kim’s emotional struggles and epiphanies, which would be disappointing for those who are expecting a travelogue or adventure book. Certainly, there are some content about what the couple saw and did, and the people they encountered in Ecuador, India, and Nepal, among others. There is a section for each country visited but the description is superficial. Some of the travel stories are rather interesting. Kim didn’t forget the yellow envelope. The $1000 was put to good use, feeding dogs and helping needy children. It reminds readers that travel is not just about enjoying and experiencing the sights, but it is also about reaching out to those in need.

Kim has a beautiful descriptive writing style. She uses simple words but weaves them together with interesting metaphors, making it easy to relate to her thoughts.

– This book review first appeared in a lifestyle magazine.