One woman, one calling, many ways to do good during Covid
Christine Leow // September 7, 2020, 3:43 pm
Tan Shook Wah (extreme left) with the recipients of the Dare to Dream scholarship for children with special needs. She named the scholarship in honour of a teacher who didn't reprimand her for daydreaming in class but told her to "dare to dream" instead. All photos courtesy of Tan Shook Wah.
It started with a newspaper article early in February this year about a strange virus that was spreading insidiously across Asia.
“I remember sitting there on my sofa reading it and having a sinking feeling that we are in for bad times. My first thought was, ‘What can we do?’,” said Tan Shook Wah, 63.
The retired civil servant decided to reach out to her friends in the healthcare sector to offer her help.
What started out as a project for the moment has lasted more than six months.
“I even offered to be a temperature-taker but they said I was too old,” she said of their unwillingness to expose her to the coronavirus because of her age.
Instead, they asked her to raise funds for meals for healthcare workers. Thinking it was too big an undertaking, she offered instead to try organising weekly morale-boosting teas to bring cheer to the healthcare personnel fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.
What started out as a project for the moment has lasted more than six months. Every week, some 1,000 snacks are distributed to the hospitals and polyclinics under the National University Health System (NUHS) cluster.
“I have been blessed with good contacts. I started with those I knew, asking them to sponsor these teas. Then, one contact recommends me to another.
“We have had wholesalers and retailers come on. There has been an outpouring of gifts.”
“You don’t need a big team to do something significant.”
Tan believes people have been more willing to donate because “we try to keep the budget low”.
“They don’t need fancy stuff. One bubble tea, a curry puff, even ice-cream potong and they are very happy. It’s the gesture they appreciate.”
Tan has also kept operations simple. The whole initiative is a two-person job – she looks for sponsors while one administrative staff from the cluster handles the distribution.
“You don’t need a big team to do something significant.”
From tea to treats
After a few months of organising the weekly teas, Tan felt compelled to do more.
“I kept thinking: ‘How else can I support the healthcare workers during this COVID-19 pandemic?’.
“Our copywriter said to name it ‘lions’ because healthcare workers are like lions protecting us.”
“They have to don those suits that look like something from outer space in weather like this. They work in situations that are quite frightening because in the beginning they didn’t know if they would catch the virus. No one wants to be in their shoes.”
This time, she decided to tap on the resources she had – her husband, Adrian, 64, and the company he founded, Ad Planet Group, Singapore’s largest local independent advertising group.
“I had this idea from looking at companies who were offering discounts to healthcare workers. The offers were all over the place – ad hoc and individually done.
“I thought: ‘Why not put them onto a single platform?’.”
That was how Tan and her husband ended up creating Lions of Healthcare by tapping on personnel from Adrian’s team in the office who took it on as a community project.
“Our copywriter said to name it ‘lions’ because healthcare workers are like lions protecting us,” explained Tan.
“God has been opening doors even when I am fearful to ask.”
The website aggregates discounts and offers to healthcare workers in public healthcare institutions.
“We’re like a message board where enterprises can say ‘thank you’ to healthcare workers,” said Tan.
Launched in early August, some 65,000 healthcare workers and their families will benefit from the deals. But getting retailers on board has been tough.
“They are facing such challenging times. Often, they love the idea and want to support the healthcare workers but many feel they can’t afford it,” said Tan.
Which is why she is so grateful to the over 100 retailers who have come on board.
“God has been opening doors even when I am fearful to ask. But one contact just leads to another. All this depends on the kind support that we get.”
The plan is to keep the offers coming in till Christmas.
“Longer than that it’s bad news because it means Covid-19 hasn’t left us,” said Tan.
Grace for good works
Asked why she keeps looking for new ways to appreciate healthcare workers, Tan talked about the verse she lives by – Ephesians 2:10: “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
“Some of the staff would share their problems on raising their special need kids.”
“Faith can be shared through works,” she said. But she also emphasised Ephesians 2:8-9: A reminder that it is grace through faith, not works, that we have been saved.
It isn’t just healthcare workers that Tan has helped. She has been supporting children with special needs through a scholarship scheme she started called Dare to Dream. The scholarship was so named because one teacher she had didn’t reprimand her for daydreaming in class but told her “it’s all right to dare to dream”.
“When I was working, some of the staff would share their problems on raising their special need kids.”
Those conversations made her realise that work opportunities for these children were not plenty yet many had great talent in the arts. So, she decided to do her bit to support such special needs children.
Working with LASALLE College of the Art and Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA), Tan has been supporting two students in each institution since 2013. Because of her example, some of her friends have also offered to contribute to the scholarship.
“If everyone does something small, it adds up to more than the whole.”
“My aim for them is to give them dignity, help them to be fairly independent.”
Tan isn’t one to simply provide financial help. “I keep in touch with the kids, meet them for chats and mentor them. I also help them find employment.
“I want a personal relationship with them. That’s why the number has been kept small.”
She is very vested in each person she helps, talking about them with the pride of a mother.
“One girl who has a rare genetic disorder and is also deaf is a wonderful photographer. She is plucky, fun-loving and optimistic.
“I have another boy who has spina bifida. He went into advertising after graduation. Things have been hard for him. He was brought up by his grandmother who is now wheelchair-bound. He just wants to make sure he gets a job to support her.
“My aim for them is to give them dignity, help them to be fairly independent so they can sustain themselves.”
This is, for Tan, is faith into action.