Mr Kew's wish

Mr Kew’s (with bear) last wish was to have a photoshoot at East Coast Park with his wife, four daughters and two dogs. He was the first to have his wish granted by volunteers from Ambulance Wish Singapore. All photos courtesy of Carol Wee and Ambulance Wish Singapore.

Madam Lin’s dying wish was to see her two young sons “able to take care of themselves”.

Together with a team of volunteer wish granters from Ambulance Wish Singapore (AWS), her younger son, age 11, spent an afternoon learning to make fried rice using his mum’s favourite recipe. The young boy had expressed a love for cooking, and the team felt that the hands-on activity could help him process that his mother would be leaving soon.

An AWS volunteer (top right) teaching Mdm Lin’s son, 11, basic cooking skills so that he could make his mother’s favourite fried rice and fulfil her last wish. Mdm Lin (with bear), is pictured with her husband and sons, 11 and 17.

Mdm Lin has since passed on. AWS is currently in the process of gifting Mdm Lin’s sons with customised aprons plus a cookbook containing her signature recipes. 

“We want to help patients and their families see that even at the end stage, their life is worth celebrating.”

Like the wishes AWS fulfils for terminally-ill patients of all backgrounds and religions, Mdm Lin’s one was very simple – nothing material.

“I felt very moved that the mum could see her son becoming independent, even through this short experience of cooking”, Carol Wee, 44, founder of AWS, told Salt&Light as she dabbed away a tear. 

AWS is an offshoot of Ambulance Wish Foundation (AWF), which was established in 2006 in the Netherlands. The mission of the secular organisation is to fulfil the last wishes of patients, age 19 and above, who have less than 12 months to live. 

Having their hands full with the day-to-day care of their loved ones, some families do not have the time, energy or resources to fulfil their final wishes. Some patients may also require special transportation and need to be accompanied by medical staff on outings.

AWS matches each wish request to a team of three to four wish granters who have the right gifting, resources and contacts to make the wish come true.

Rather than simply presenting a cake for a request for a birthday party, for example, volunteers dig deeper to make a difference. For a woman who loved to sing, the team put together a singalong party, complete with Mandarin song sheets.

Supporting the terminally ill through the simple but deep act of wish granting is AWS founder Carol Wee’s way of further connecting with and serving patients. “It has been humbling and rewarding,” said Carol who has been wish-granting for 14 years.

“We want to help patients and their families see that even at the end stage, their life is worth celebrating. There is so much that they have been able to offer and wish-granting is a way to honour them and to give them hope,” explained Carol. 

More than “liking” a FB post

When she entered the workforce, Carol began her volunteering journey working with children, even though she had a soft spot for the elderly.

“I can’t speak dialect,” she explained of the barrier in communicating with seniors. 

Then in 2016, a Facebook post of an article on terminally-ill patients living out their final wishes caught Carol’s attention. The wishes were granted by Ambulance Wish Foundation, based in the Netherlands.

Carol had then been granting wishes of critically-ill children between 3 and 18 for eight years via Make-A-Wish Singapore.

Themed parties (left) are common requests from children via  Make-A-Wish Singapore. Over at Ambulance Wish Singapore, Carol organised a birthday celebration for 69-year-old Mdm Chin (right), who had never had one.

The article tugged at Carol’s heart.

“For children, a fulfilled wish gives them something to cherish in the years ahead. They are likely to live on, grow old and remember the wish experience. But for someone at the end stage of life, having a heartfelt wish fulfilled can give them and their families hope, and bring comfort and closure.”

“Volunteering is not just about giving back to society … It’s about asking God to lead and show how I can serve Him.”

Carol wondered if she could do something beyond just “liking” the post.

By her own description, she was not a garang (Malay for fierce) person.

As a first step, Carol reached out to AWF founder Kees Veldboer, a Dutch paramedic, through Facebook Messenger. 

When she did not get a response, she made five subsequent attempts to reach him via the UK branch of AWF. These were also to no avail.

“Maybe this is not what God wants me to do”, thought Carol, who had become a Christian two years earlier, as she let the idea go.

“Kees Veldboer was a kind gentleman with a big heart to serve,” said Carol of the founder of Ambulance Wish Foundation (top row, middle). He died suddenly from a cardiac arrest three months after this Zoom celebration of the Singapore arm’s second anniversary in May 2021.

A year later, her dream was rekindled at a talk given by Dr Goh Wei-Leong on the founding of HealthServe, which provides medical care and other forms of support services to migrant workers. 

“It had nothing to do with AWS or wish-granting, but I was really inspired by what he shared about the process of setting up the organisation,” Carol said.

There in the auditorium, Carol decided to reach out to Kees one more time. 

This time, a single Google search turned up his email address. Kees’s response was speedy and supportive. 

No completion date

“Oh man, I have to decide: Is this what I really want to do?” Carol thought after finally reaching Kees.

“I saw AWS as a lifelong commitment,” said Carol, comparing it to her current day job at National Dental Centre where projects she handles have a completion date.

“For someone at the end stage of life, a wish fulfilled can give hope, comfort and closure.”

She did not know where to start. 

Forming the board was her first major hurdle; members needed to be experienced, have the right skill sets and the right connections.

Praying about it, Carol saw God “opening the doors to bring in people who were willing and able to contribute to AWS”. They included three experienced doctors in palliative care, as well as veterans in the legal and financial service industries – beyond Carol’s regular circle of healthcare contacts.

God also gave her wisdom and patience.

One board member joined only after months of persistent persuasion and scriptural verses from Romans that Carol shared. She had been studying the book during Bible Study Fellowship (BSF) at that time.

“Romans 12:3-8 on the unity and diversity in the Body of Christ is wonderfully exemplified in the formation of the AWS board, where all of us with different gifts and experiences are brought together to do this meaningful work,” said Carol (front row, centre).

The newly-formed board then approached established organisations that focused on palliative care in the hope that one might adopt AWS.

AWS only needed five board members to register itself as a charity … God had brought on board 10. 

When Carol was turned down by the CEO of a particular organisation, she hid in a changing room of a department store and cried her heart out: “Oh God, where do we go now?”. 

After numerous rejections, it became apparent that the only way forward was to build AWS from scratch as an independent charity.

This turned out to be a blessing, for the freedom from budgetary and organisational constraints conferred AWS the autonomy in designing their wish-granting process. 

AWS only needed five board members to register itself as a charity. In the last year, God had brought on board 10. 

The misdirected call

While AWS was still being set up, Carol got a phone call she was not supposed to have received.

She had just moved from a department in SingHealth which approves requests for venue rentals. Not knowing this, a colleague had passed Carol’s mobile number to the caller.

“There are occasions where patients pass on before we can complete a wish, but we just try our best.”

It transpired that the mother of a bride-to-be was battling stage 4 liver cancer, and was not expected to live long. The to-be-weds hoped to hold their solemnisation ceremony at Singapore General Hospital, where the bride’s mother was warded; she wanted to witness her daughter get married.

“I was thinking to myself, this is exactly what we are going to do at AWS,” said Carol. 

And so AWS swung into action to fulfil its first “unofficial wish”. 

Sadly, Auntie Janette passed away a few days before her daughter’s wedding.

“There are occasions where patients pass on before we can complete a wish,” said Carol, her voice falling to a hush. “But we just try our best.

“We had to call it off and cancel all the orders. The service providers – sponsors for the balloons, wedding lunch, cake and party favours – were all very understanding,” said Carol.

However, this first experience gave her “the conviction to press on”. 

“It gives us so much encouragement that the community sees the value of our work, and that it’s a cause they believe in as well”, said Carol, grateful for the supporters who have come alongside AWS.

Germinating seeds

God’s timely intervention was as evident in the formation of AWS, as in Carol’s coming to Christ.

“Spiritual seeds may take years to grow,” said Carol, looking back on the efforts of Christian friends, who sowed into her life.

Carol with a close friend, Felicia, who had invited her to church back when they were in secondary school.

Even though she had not felt “terribly excited or even curious about God” in her secondary school days, Carol accepted friends’ invitations to church, not wanting to “appear rude by turning them down”.

Early in her working life, one of Carol’s bosses had given her a Bible. “I had no interest in reading it and kept it in the drawer, untouched for many years,” revealed Carol. That Bible is now her most precious possession.

“The patients were all strangers, but many were saying that it was their faith that got them through difficult times.”

Four years later, while working at SingHealth, the seeds planted started to germinate.

Carol’s department was in charge of organising events such as the annual awards for inspirational patients and caregivers, and she was tasked to collate a souvenir book of their stories.

As she sat in on interviews with patients and read through the stories, she noticed a common thread. 

“They were all strangers, but many were saying that it was their faith that got them through difficult times.”

Carol was a freethinker, and her parents were believers of another religion.

“Faith was not something that we talked about openly. And I didn’t think faith was something I needed in my life.

“It was a time in my life where everything was going smoothly. I had family, friends and a job which I enjoyed,” said Carol. “Still, I felt like something was missing, though I didn’t know what it was.” 

When she confided in a friend about the missing piece, her friend encouraged her to go to church.

The Singapore Health Inspirational Patient & Caregiver awards was started in 2010 to recognise exceptional qualities which such individuals have demonstrated in battling illnesses.

Carol chose to go to St George’s Church, where she had been invited to Christmas carolling sessions. 

Powerfully loved through a song

Of her early days in church, Carol said: “I enjoyed the worship, but couldn’t understand the sermons, nor did I know who Jesus was.”

“I felt indescribable joy and peace knowing that God loves me. I believe it was the work of the Holy Spirit”

While her initial intention had been to explore, Carol now sought to have a deeper understanding of the Christian faith and signed up for the Alpha course.

During a special session on the Holy Spirit, as The Power of Your Love was sung, “I felt indescribable joy and peace knowing that God loves me.

“I believe it was the work of the Holy Spirit,” she said.

Three short years after first attending Alpha in 2014, Carol took on the role of Alpha coordinator at her church.

“Today, seven years since coming to Christ, I continue to learn and grow through Alpha,” said Carol.

Inspired by a 73-year-old

Carol was spiritually mentored by Margie Teo, then 73 and coordinator of their church’s Alpha course for 15 years. Auntie Margie, as she is known, was an intercessor for Prisons Fellowship International, and was also rallying friends to sponsor the education of prisoners’ children in Cambodia.  

Inspired by her mentor, Auntie Margie (left), Carol wondered how she, too, could put her faith into action. AWS was God’s answer to that prayer.

“Through Auntie Margie, I came to understand what it means to put our faith into action. Her passion in serving Christ truly amazed me,” said Carol.

Carol then asked herself how she could, too, do the same. She prayed daily: “Use me, Lord, to serve You in whatever way. Show me, tell me what I can do for You.”

She added: “When you come to Christ, volunteering is not just about giving back to society … It’s about asking God to lead and show how I can serve Him.”

She believes that through this prayer, she was prompted to do more than “like” that Facebook story.

“If I had seen the Facebook post before coming to faith, I would not have taken the step to set up AWS.” 

Four times the target

Carol has also seen God’s timely provision for AWS.

Such as when AWS held its first fundraiser, Eat and Celebrate, around the National Day period in the midst of the Covid pandemic last year. 

“The idea came to me when I was in my room three weeks before National Day,” admitted Carol. “So it was a mad rush to organise it.”

In quick time, the team rounded up 25 friends to cook 10 to 20 portions of anything they wished, and 27 volunteer drivers to send the food to 97 points around the island.

The quantities were not large. And yet they raised $12,000 – four times the target of $3,000 that Carol had made on the fly.

For the first AWS fundraiser, friends cooked their specialty dishes, including (clockwise, from left) glutinous rice and a Singapore flag-themed cake. These were delivered by volunteer drivers (bottom right) to about a hundred locations islandwide.

“God made it all work,” she said.

Contacts for a printing job

This year, God showed Carol that what He had done over three weeks, He could also do in a moment. 

Carol had been looking forward to running an encore of Eat and Celebrate over the same period. But in the middle of July, two major Covid clusters emerged, sparking heightened restrictions on gatherings and postponement of the National Day Parade.

One patient’s dying wish was to share her life story in a 10-page book. On the very same day that Carol was sourcing printing quotations for this book, she received a phone call from a potential volunteer who specifically mentioned her ability to help with “any printing jobs”.

The team had already gathered a list of contributors and dishes and was on the verge of sending out flyers.

On the very same day that Carol was talking through her decision with her sister to cancel the fundraiser, she received a text from Dr Keith Goh, an advisor to AWS. He told her about a woman who wanted to donate $10,000 – their target for the fundraiser.

On the very same day that Carol canceled the fundraiser, she received a text about a woman who wanted to donate $10,000 – their target.

“God closed one door, but He opened another,” said Carol in wonder.

Carol has also seen God’s timely intervention in bringing in volunteers with specific resources to fulfil specific wish assignments.

One patient’s dying wish was to share her life story in a 10-page book. On the very same day that Carol was sourcing for quotes to print the book, she received a phone call from a potential volunteer. 

Carol said: “When I asked her to tell me more about herself, she said, ‘If you need any printing jobs, I have contacts.'” 

There was no way this caller could have known about the wish. Now a regular wish granter with AWS, this woman has since shared that she was going through a low period of her life, but experienced God’s encouragement through the opportunity He gave her to contribute to the charity. 

Carol has also seen volunteers pay for items needed in wish-granting – instead of seeking sponsorship from service providers.

Her own wish

Carol’s one wish is to see her siblings and parents come to saving knowledge of Christ “in His own timing”. For now, she is able to share openly about her faith with her supportive family, and has had opportunities to pray for her mother’s knee.

“I hope that from the work AWS does, my family will also see that it is God at work. He plays a key, key role in all of this. He is the Enabler that makes all of this happen.

“I pray my loved ones will have a special encounter with God and experience for themselves the love and grace of God.”

“As volunteers, we often say that we get back more than we give. It is true,” said Carol. AWS currently has 115 “creative, resourceful and dedicated” volunteers.

She wishes the same for volunteers and patients whom AWS serves.

On wish-granting day, curious patients have asked her: Why do you do this? 

“It’s to spread the love which God has given us,” she would explain. 

“AWS is a charity of love. Whenever there is an opportunity to share about Christ, I definitely would, because He is all about love.”

On paper, Carol Wee is vice-chair and founder of AWS. She insists, however, that God really is the Founder.

“I like to use the analogy of an orchestra when I talk about AWS. An orchestra has many players who play different roles. When we look to God the Conductor, we can play a beautiful piece of music.”

“I’m just one of the many orchestral players, doing what He wants me to do.”


How to get a wish fulfilled

If you would like to send in a referral of someone who is terminally ill, email [email protected]

Get the consent of the patient before sharing wishes with Ambulance Wish Singapore, who will then review it for eligibility. The assigned team will initiate a phone or video conversation to get to know the patient’s personality and values. They will then seek out relevant service providers, and also be present on wish day to facilitate the fulfilment of the wish. AWS will gift the family a scrapbook of photographs from wish day.


Contribute to AWS’ wish-granting efforts

There are various ways you can contribute to Ambulance Wish Singapore beyond being a volunteer or donor. Click here to find out more. 

You can also support AWS through the upcoming charity concert, Vivi con spirito, organised by Project Gift of Song, a group of students passionate about music therapy in palliative care to relieve pain, reduce anxiety and lift spirits. The group comprises current and former students from National University of Singapore High School of Math and Science. All proceeds will go to Ambulance Wish Singapore.

Date: Friday, December 3, 2021

Time: 8pm – 9.30pm

Location: Live-streamed on Youtube

Click here for more information. 


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About the author

Konstanze Tan

Konstanze Tan is a graduate student researching population health. Outside work, she can be found in the kitchen conceptualising below-10-minute one-pot meals. Her love for the written word was birthed in an English tuition class she attended back in primary school after a series of failed English exams. Konstanze is an intern at Salt&Light.