OP-ED: EDITORIAL – The Straits Times says ‘Fitting tribute for migrant aid group’


The migrant spirit deserves to be kept in the spotlight because that is what helped to make Singapore what it is. Nurturing that spirit amid everyday hardship is the quiet work of a general practitioner and the healthcare charity that he co-founded. It is thus fitting that The Straits Times Singaporean of the Year award for 2017 has gone to Dr Goh Wei Leong and HealthServe.

The team provides migrant workers with affordable healthcare. This is laudable, as are the contributions of the other finalists not just this year but also since the inaugural award in 2015. This time, there were a film-maker, a conductor, a cartoonist, a para-athlete, an indoor skydiver, a student, a lawyer, a martial arts instructor, and two emergency responders. Each of them exemplifies the pursuit of excellence, an inherent capacity for commitment and an enduring sense of purpose in making Singapore a better place.

All acquitted themselves well but just one had to be picked for the award via a rigorous process. First, the finalists were selected from 60 nominees by a panel of 15 judges who took the results of a public vote into account. They included editors from The Straits Times as well as notable figures from society at large, such as a social entrepreneur and activist, civil servants, bankers, a chef and restaurateur, and a singer-songwriter.

The criteria the nominators and judges kept in mind included the ability to strive against the odds, voluntary aid for the needy which created a significant impact, putting one’s life on the line for someone in distress, or innovative ways of doing social good. The challenge is to keep a constant eye out for such qualities so that the unsung work which inspires nominations can, through the award, be an inspiration to all Singaporeans.

What makes Dr Goh’s work stand out is the breadth of the selflessness. HealthServe, which runs dental and medical clinics, also offers social assistance, skills training and a food programme. These support structures are a boon to the one million or so low-wage migrant workers from the developing world who make up nearly 30 per cent of the workforce. These migrant workers are instrumental in building, cleaning and greening Singapore, but some of them face problems that require the sustained attention of other Singaporeans. Dr Goh is one of them, and HealthServe is a prominent example of how Singapore can reach out to its migrant workers, assuring them that they are a part of its concerns.

In a metaphorical sense, all the finalists reflect the migrant spirit in venturing out of a comfort zone into an uncertain area for the sake of change. Overcoming their sense of smallness to make a difference in key spheres was the microcosmic challenge that pioneers faced. The finalists show how the spheres can be expanded to encompass ordinary folk and migrant workers too.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 08, 2018, with the headline ‘Fitting tribute for migrant aid group’.

The Straits Times


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