If you had done a Captain America, and spent the past few decades frozen in a block of ice to be brought back to your living, breathing self in 2016, you’d surely be looking at the world around you and wondering – what on earth is going on?
Tales of war and suffering, and shock events spun out of divide and dissonance, are less of sensationalist headlines and seem more like daily occurrences these days. Salvaging slivers of hope and good news can be a real challenge at times – which is also why the team at The Pride takes, err, pride, in lending a special focus to the good things that happen around the community.
So in the spirit of taking stock and adding on to the 500 other year-in-review articles that are lighting up your newsfeed, we’re giving props here to a few individuals who have lit up the lives of others this year.
Here are our picks for The Pride’s very first Hero of the Year and their stories.
We think Steve Rogers would approve.
Dr. Lim Chin Siah
In an exclusive interview with The Pride, Dr. Lim Chin Siah laid bare what it takes to work on the frontline of war-torn disaster zones as a medical volunteer with the Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), also known as Doctors Without Borders.
Based in Singapore, where safety is often seen as a given, Dr. Lim shed light on his trips to places where doctors and emergency responders rush to save lives under the cover of war and devastation. Juggling his day job as a consultant at the Singapore General Hospital with annual stints with the MSF that last between three to six months, he most recently served in Yemen in early 2016 at a hospital in Saada, when the city was besieged by daily airstrikes. Describing the unsettling experience, he recounted, “Whenever we heard a plane, we wondered whether we would be hit next.”
It did not help that the immunity accorded to medical volunteers with organisations like MSF have proven increasingly fragile in recent times, with hospitals in Afghanistan’s Kunduz and Syria’s Aleppo bombed in 2015 and 2016 respectively.
Despite having personally lost friends in the Kunduz bombing, and knowing that each mission sees him putting himself in the line of fire, the 36-year-old is resolved to continue helping the helpless in conflict zones and even contemplated becoming a full-time volunteer with the MSF.
“If MSF isn’t there, these people will have a zero chance of help at all. But at least if we’re there, we can give them a chance. We can’t save everybody, but for those whom we can, they definitely benefit from our presence.”
Schooling may have captured the world’s attention when he shattered the Olympic 100m butterfly record in 50.39s this year, but it was what he did after that made us nominate him as one of the Hero of the Year.
In the face of his stunning success, Schooling has remained humble and chose to pay tribute to his competitors, stating that he was honoured to have gotten the opportunity to swim alongside greats like Chad Le Clos and Laszlo Cseh, and his childhood hero Michael Phelps. In appreciation of the sacrifices that him and his family had made so he could pursue his dreams, Singaporeans young and old declared that his feat had taught them to dream big again and to pursue their ambitions with courage.
Acts of charity by the big-hearted swimmer have been documented in the past, and he’s certainly keeping up with the altruistic gestures. From supporting The Straits Times School Pocket Money Fund which helps underprivileged children in their pursuit of education, to participating in a golf fundraiser, Schooling is no stranger to giving back.
And even when controversy reared its head, the 21-year-old was not afraid to make a stand. When netizens unfairly targeted his Filipina domestic worker as “riding on his fame”, he was quick to shut them down and call out the unfounded comments, openly professing to seeing her as his “second mom”. Talk about character.
In place of grocery bags or golf clubs that seem to clutter most cars, Dipa Swaminathan’s vehicle is more attuned to a different kind of cargo.
Raincoats. More specifically, raincoats that she gives out to migrant workers who work outdoors without any protection against the heavy downpours that Singapore is known for.
The idea first came to her in 2014 after she saw a group of migrant workers working without proper rain gear amid a thunderstorm. Dipa promptly ferried them to her home and gave them warm drinks and dry clothes, in a gesture that then inspired her to start #itsrainingraincoats – a ground-up initiative that helps migrant workers with small gestures of care and concern.
Since then, the spirited 44-year-old has organised countless donation drives for everyday items like telephone cards, umbrellas, razors and electronics that make life a little bit easier for Singapore’s migrant workers. More recently, Dipa has made it her mission to redistribute good quality unsold food to migrant workers, rather than let it all go to waste.
A burgeoning initiative with Starbucks lets volunteers collect unsold food at the end of the day to be distributed to migrant workers who seldom get to enjoy these treats. She now has 18 outlets onboard, with a pool of some 150 volunteers helping with the weekly pick-ups and distribution.
Outlining her appreciation for the hard work migrant workers do to build up Singapore’s infrastructure, Dipa explained that she felt strongly that they ought to be treated with more kindness and consideration.
Speaking to The Pride, she said, “If someone in a stronger position, any member of the public such as myself can help with little expense of time or effort – why not? Small acts of kindness from the ground up can help transform a society into becoming more tolerant.”