Like most Singaporeans, Dr Samuel Yeak, Mr Vincent Li and Ms Boey Lai Hsia usually find their schedules packed. From job and study commitments to family errands, there are a myriad of responsibilities which keep them occupied daily.
Unlike most Singaporeans, though, the three of them often choose to spend what little free time they have helping the underprivileged in Singapore.
The three are volunteers with Bike-Aid (Singapore), a non-profit organisation which raises funds – through their annual long-distance cycling event, Ride for Rations (RFR) – to buy food and necessities for the needy.
This year’s RFR will see participants cycle from the Malaysian city of Kuantan, the capital of Pahang, to Penyabong in Johor – a distance of about 260km – in a bid to raise at least S$429,600, which will go towards providing food rations to 440 needy households, as well as monthly breakfast packages for 200 school-going children.
Among those who have signed up for the charity ride this year are returning participants Dr Yeak, Mr Li and Ms Boey. Apart from the ride itself, all three are also personally involved in the monthly distribution of rations.
The Pride speaks with Dr Yeak, Mr Li and Ms Boey about their journey with RFR, and why they are willing to sacrifice their personal time to give back to society.
Ms Boey Lai Hsia, full-time student
When Ms Boey first started distributing rations to the needy in 2012, she was taken aback by the living conditions of the beneficiaries she encountered.
Some of the houses she saw were “spartan” and without any of the usual comforts that you would find in most homes. There was no television set, sofa, or even a fan.
Other houses, however, were extremely cluttered and dirty. At times, it was even hazardous.
“There was once when we saw that an elderly beneficiary had overloaded a power socket…the wires were exposed as well, so it was very dangerous as it could electrocute someone or cause a fire,” Ms Boey told The Pride.
“Thankfully, we spotted it before it could do any damage, and we eventually got a volunteer electrician down to help solve the issue.”
Getting involved in the ration distribution opened Ms Boey’s eyes to a facet of Singapore society she had not encountered before – that of the poor and underprivileged.
Moved by what she witnessed during the distribution, Ms Boey decided to continue volunteering with Bike-Aid (Singapore) and RFR as a way of giving back to the society.
Six years on, Ms Boey’s commitment to helping the underprivileged remains as strong as ever. She even played an integral role in starting a new Befriender programme for RFR earlier this year, which focuses on reaching out to the socially isolated elderly in the Chai Chee area.
“After speaking to the staff at Sunlove’s senior activity centre in Chai Chee, we realised that there were several elderly residents who don’t come out of their houses to mingle or take part in the activities organised for them,” Ms Boey explained.
“Through the Befriender programme, we actively reach out to them instead by going to their homes. Unlike the last time, we don’t just pass them the rations…we’ll use the opportunity to engage them in conversation instead, so we get to know them personally and this way, we know how exactly we can provide the sort of assistance they need.”
As a full-time student concurrently pursuing two Masters degrees – in Applied Gerontology (the study of ageing), and Geography – time is a luxury for Ms Boey. So, it is perhaps surprising to learn that she did not hesitate in accepting the task of helming the Befriender programme and all the responsibilities that came with the role.
Ms Boey says that one of the reasons she took on the role was that she believes the elderly are an oft-neglected demographic that could do with more help.
“Having written a paper on elderly loneliness as part of my studies, I realised that there are actually a lot of elderly out there who are living alone,” she said. “They don’t need material gifts. All they really want is a listening ear, for someone to keep them company and be there for them.
“We feel really touched when we see how happy the elderly residents are when we visit them, and how they’ve welcomed us into their lives. After all, it’s really about being a more inclusive society…let’s not isolate the elderly, and do more to make them part of our society.”
Dr Samuel Yeak, Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) specialist
While Dr Yeak may be a decorated ENT specialist who currently helms his own practice at Mount Elizabeth Novena Specialist Centre, he believes there are more meaningful things to life than just a successful career.
It is why the 54-year-old continues to regularly volunteer his time at charitable organisations such as RFR despite his busy work schedule.
“I believe in doing good where I can,” Dr Yeak said. “I also think that the more we receive, the more we should give back to the society. Obviously, I’ve been very blessed, so I want to bless others as well.
“(Volunteering) is also a more worthwhile use of our time than some of our other usual activities, and it makes us feel good because we know that we are making a positive difference in the lives of others. After all, at a basic level, I think most of us wanted to become doctors because we want to do some good.”
When Dr Yeak first volunteered with RFR last year, he was able to rally a sizeable number of doctors at the Mount Elizabeth Novena hospital to either take part in the charity ride itself or pledge their financial support for the cause.
In total, Dr Yeak estimates that they managed to raise close to S$120,000 from the group of doctors.
This year, however, is different. Due to the hospital’s decision to support a different charitable cause, Dr Yeak has found it much more challenging to raise support for RFR.
Nonetheless, he remains committed to helping RFR reach their targets, as he has seen first-hand how their work has benefited the needy.
“I was impressed at how well-run RFR is despite not having any full-time staff,” said Dr Yeak. “There is a closeness among the volunteers, and everyone is working wholeheartedly for the same good cause.
“Personally, I find it enriches me as an individual, and it also helps that I now enjoy cycling and do it quite often, so the charity ride is something that appeals to me as well. Ultimately, though, I can see for myself, from taking part in the ration distributions, that what Bike-Aid does really benefits the needy.”
Mr Vincent Li, service engineer
By his own admission, Mr Li says he has skipped RFR’s monthly ration distributions on occasions as he just “needed to sleep in” on Sundays.
After all, the 36-year-old, a service engineer at an established local sales, integration and technical support company, has multiple work and family commitments to juggle, which often results in him having barely any time to rest and recover from the week’s exertions.
So, why does Mr Li still want to volunteer for RFR?
The answer, he says, lies in the smiles and gratitude of the beneficiaries that he helps.
“There are times when we are distributing the rations, the beneficiaries will come up to us and tell us how much we’ve helped them…how we’ve brought some brightness to their life, and they’ll thank us for our hard work,” Mr Li recounted.
“Seeing the sort of impact our efforts have made on them, and hearing from them how they’ve benefitted, it’s served as an encouragement and motivation for us to keep going.”
An avid cyclist, Mr Li has been tasked to be a marshal at RFR’s charity ride – this means he will either be at the front leading the cycling group, or at the back, as the last cyclist. It also means he will have to take additional responsibility during the ride in ensuring that the group takes the right route, and that everyone is accounted for during the ride.
However, Mr Li admits he has not had much time this year to prepare for RFR, and says he will be relying on his “foundation in cycling” to complete the charity ride.
“There will be several challenges with the ride itself, ranging from the unpredictable weather to the irregular terrain,” said Mr Li. “So, I’m expecting it to be quite tough, but personally, I’m still looking forward to it because it’s always a learning journey for me, especially as I’m in a leadership position.
“But overall, I think my only objective in RFR is to help the community. I’m not looking for any medals or prizes. I just want to make the lives of the underprivileged better, and ultimately, I hope what I do will inspire others to give back to society as well.”
To find out more about Bike-Aid (Singapore) and Ride for Rations, visit this page.