When police and civil defence personnel converged at a neighbouring block one evening two months ago, 65-year-old Annie Lim rushed to the scene immediately.
No, she wasn’t acting out of kaypoh tendencies. Mdm Lim’s first thought was to check on the residents affected, an instinct that came naturally to someone who has lived in the Ang Mo Kio Avenue 8 neighbourhood for 24 years.
As it turns out, a drug offender had threatened to kill his mother and ignite the gas canisters at his home. His actions sparked a stand-off that lasted 13 hours and his neighbours were evacuated for their safety. Pulling out chairs, snacks and blankets to the void deck, Mdm Lim and her fellow volunteers cared for those who were unable to return to their homes as they waited through a long and uncertain night together.
A familiar face to many who live in the area, Mdm Lim’s commitment to helping others is something she lives and breathes. In a neighbourhood of 13 blocks with a significant elderly and lower-income demographic, there are always new initiatives to try and more people to help, even if she has been going at it for more than 10 years.
“I started out wanting to do more for the children here by introducing tuition classes for those whose families couldn’t afford it. But gradually, I noticed that there were also people who didn’t have money to pay for their meals so I began thinking of ways to help them,” she told The Pride in Mandarin. This guiding thought has precipitated weekly tuition classes for children from underprivileged families, monthly food drives, as well as exercise classes and free haircuts for the elderly, all of which she initiated and oversees with an infectious energy.
Mdm Yogeswari R, a physical instructor who has been conducting exercise classes for the elderly, was one of those infected by Mdm Lim’s energy. Some eight years ago, Mdm Lim asked her to help out in the community, and she hasn’t looked back since.
“I always tell her that she motivates others. She never turns down anyone who comes to her with a problem, always helps others,” said Mdm Yogeswari R.
Mdm Lim’s heart for charity comes from her own experience of growing up in an underprivileged household. She said, “When I see some residents not having enough to eat, I’m reminded of how I went hungry as a child.”
From then on, volunteering became a way of life for Mdm Lim, starting from her late teens when she helped out at a temple located at Jalan Eunos, driving out to buy ingredients for free meals prepared for the needy. The eldest of 13 siblings, the veteran volunteer has the nickname “chyun jeung”, a Cantonese phrase for “village chief”, that the residents and hawkers in the neighbourhood affectionately call her.
Also the chairperson of the area’s residents’ committee, Mdm Lim is quick to deflect praise to the other heroes who help, from volunteers who teach the children, to corporate entities and temples that donate food items. Many approach her through mutual contacts and some even do so anonymously, like a lady who provides $400 worth of cooking oil, snacks and instant drinks for their monthly drives. Till today, Mdm Lim still doesn’t know who the lady is.
More recently, Dr Yap Boh Wei who runs a nearby clinic, approached her to start a free medical consultation for senior citizens in the neighbourhood. As many of the elderly with health problems are chronic patients, his monthly clinics help to monitor and manage their conditions in between their polyclinic appointments.
“With old people, you need to constantly remind them that diet and exercise are very important. Through my conversations with them, I know that some of them stay alone… and taking care of the house themselves is not an easy task. You need to break the barrier in order to get to know them better. So you need to put in effort to understand them, which Annie is doing,” said Dr Yap.
At an age when most would prefer to retire comfortably, Mdm Lim gives most of her time to community work, leaving just one day in the week for her part-time job selling Tupperware containers. Asked for the secret to her youthful looks and effervescent personality, Mdm Lim, who is widowed and lives alone, said with a glint in her eyes, “Life is about being happy. When you live happily, you feel and look younger too.”
Rain or shine on weekday evenings, she sits at the coffee shop located at Block 505, pen and clipboard in hand, fenced in by some 50 packets of economical rice on the table. It is a curious sight that clicks when a steady stream of elderly folks begin their approach. The meals generously sponsored by a hawker father-and-son duo are given out over easy banter in the inflections and lilts of different dialects, and always with an assuring smile from chyun jeung.