by Marilyn Peh on

The coronavirus outbreak has left many Singaporeans on edge, both over health concerns and over its disruption to our lives.

Social entrepreneur Tong Yee knows those concerns well.

In a Facebook post published on Feb 8, he described the past week as “emotionally draining” for many, and said that he had to tackle many problems that arose, including helping Singaporeans stranded overseas to get home, handling work cancellations and counselling others to manage their fears.

He wrote: “Frankly, I didn’t feel like doing anything. Somewhere deep in my mind, I found myself saying, ‘I’ve played my part and done enough, let others step up this time’. So I’ve been quiet, handling internal systems, while largely keeping abreast of the news.”

Daughters wanted to do something nice for hospital staff

The inspiration to do more would come from an unexpected source – his young daughters Rui’en, 10, and Ruirui, six.

On the morning of Feb 8, they shook Tong awake at 6.40am, and asked if they could do something for those working at hospitals. So father and daughters went to Ghim Moh Market to buy breakfast for some of Tong’s healthcare worker friends.

Image Source: Facebook / Tong Yee

Said Tong: “Doctors, nurses, administrators, allied health professionals are really tired. They have had their leave cancelled, hours lengthened, on top of all the normal healthcare needs. And they keep us protected.”

When the trio went to buy halal and non-halal comfort food, they bumped into Tong’s friends, who decided to join in and get more food.

Tong said that his own feelings of fatigue and frustration dissipated as he and his daughters went about their good deed. Instead, he felt proud of them for taking the initiative to brighten someone else’s day.

“I was quite moved, when we collected all our blessings and took them to the hospitals. The kids wrote messages on the boxes… and we went to wait for our doctor friends to collect the food for their colleagues.”

Tong told TODAY: “After everything was over, they didn’t keep looking for me for approval. They weren’t doing it to please me. They were satisfied that they had spent the morning doing something valuable for other people. I think that was the moment of pride (for me).”

A teacher’s reflections

In the past few weeks, some Singaporeans have overreacted to the crisis, going so far as to shun healthcare workers in public, hoard sanitisers and face masks, and even stockpile necessities in an unnecessary panic.

But for one educator who goes by the name of Yuwen Cass on Facebook, the situation made her even more eager to impart the right values and lessons to her students.

In a post published on Feb 8, she recalled her experiences as a young student during the SARS crisis in 2003, noting that she hadn’t taken it seriously then.

But now, Yuwen Cass expressed her determination to help her students be better informed and more importantly, to encourage them to be civic-minded citizens.

Image Source: Instagram / thingsourboysforget

In class, her students have asked her many questions related to the coronavirus, how it started and spread, what is being done in Singapore about it, and even why some Singaporeans are hoarding necessities.

Even though she did not have all the answers to their questions, Yuwen Cass tried her best. She wrote: “I read extensively so I could share with them what I know. I shared with them the story of Dr Alexandre Chao (the Singaporean doctor who died fighting the SARS epidemic in 2003), I shared with them the SAR-vivor Rap video, I shared with them how we can play our parts in small ways. I shared with them how masks work, I shared with them how to spot fake news, I shared with them how to look out for one another. I shared with them how to ‘be more than’.”

She also expressed her desire, more than just empowering them with knowledge, to nurture the right values in her students.

“I want to protect the good in them. The part that still wants to learn. The part that doesn’t discriminate against an entire nation just because that is where the virus originated. The part that cares for the frontline workers and the families suffering bereavement. The part that questions the illogical behaviour of some Singaporeans.”

Yuwen Cass also emphasised the need for Singaporeans to set the right example for their children.

“We need to reach out and care for one another, we need to discern misinformation and we (seriously) need to be good examples for our children.

“How we act today determines how they act tomorrow. And it is my sincerest hope that we raise a generation of Singaporeans who can ride out the storms together.”