When Ms Eileen Cheong, 25, took to the Internet to seek help to bring her father home from Tokyo, she was at her wits’ end. Her attempt to raise $250,000 was a last resort.
Her father, who is in his 70s, had a heart attack on 19 April, the first day that the family landed in Japan for a holiday. He was resuscitated and admitted to Toho Medical University Omori Hospital where he remains in the intensive care unit (ICU).
The trip was, ironically, to commemorate Ms Cheong’s mother’s recovery from ovarian and breast cancer last year.
As each day passed and Mr Cheong’s condition not improving, the bills started to pile up. According to Ms Cheong, each day cost them $10,000. And to bring her father back to Singapore would cost a further $120,000. Ms Cheong estimated that she would need $250,000 to pay the bills and evacuate her father to Singapore.
Being a new graduate with a salary of not more than $3,000, with student loans to pay herself, and also with a mother who needed medical care although her condition had recovered, Ms Cheong was desperate.
She and her parents have exhausted all their savings.
Ms Cheong then turned to Give.Asia to crowdfund the $250,000, so that her father can be brought home.
Within just a matter of days, the goal was met, by both public donations through the online petition and private donations.
Singaporeans and the public had risen to the occasion and shown that compassion in this little island is still very much alive.
The generosity shown to Ms Cheong comes on the back of other incidents in recent weeks and months which showed the ugly side of Singaporeans, and is a much needed reprieve from the negativity.
There was the incident in a Toa Payoh hawker centre where a couple bullied a senior citizen, a younger man who ridiculed a taxi driver, a woman who assaulted staff at an optical shop, and various other incidents of the ugly Singaporean (and others).
To be sure, these may just be a few, isolated incidents, but because of their sensational nature of the incidents, these get much publicity. But let us remember that every day, many Singaporeans and members of the public do good deeds quietly, which go unreported.
In a National Values Assessment survey in 2015, Singaporeans ranked “compassion” at number 8 in how they saw themselves. It was the first time that the value had made the top 10.
The survey, conducted with 2,000 respondents, also found that compassion ranked 4th in what they would like to see in Singapore society.
The survey results came after a BBC article a year earlier sparked public debate about whether Singapore was a caring society.
The BBC’s Charlotte Ashton wrote an op-ed piece entitled, “Does Singapore deserve its ‘miserable’ tag?”, in which she related an incident she had, while pregnant, when travelling on the train system here.
She said she was crouched on the floor on a packed train, holding her head in her hands and feeling faint but was “completely ignored, for the full 15 minutes it took to reach (her) station.”
“Nobody offered me (a) seat or asked me if I was okay,” she wrote. “For the first time Singapore had made me feel unhappy. I had been vulnerable — completely reliant on the kindness of strangers. Singaporeans, I felt, had let me down.”
She concluded that “in the Singaporean rat race, you are certainly on your own.”
“An unhappy conclusion, I am afraid, from misery city.”
Her article prompted 2 ministers here to remind Singaporeans to be gracious.
“We do hear stories of people being callous, indifferent, unfeeling,” then Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-jin said. “And I guess we need to look at ourselves and ask if we too sometimes reflect these ugly traits in the little things that we do or say, or don’t do and don’t say when we really should do the right thing. Truth is, we often do know what is the right thing to do. And we can, if we choose to.”
The then Minister for Community, Culture and Youth, Lawrence Wong, said, “We are and we can be better than this.”
“Amid our fast-paced lifestyles, let us take the time to reflect on how we lead our lives; to ask ourselves if we’ve shown enough kindness and compassion to the people around us,” Mr Wong said. “Because in the end, that’s what matters above all else.”
Being compassionate and kind towards our fellow travellers here on earth make life easier, and soften the sharp edges of everyday living. At times, there are others who call out for help because life throws them curve balls which come out of the blue, and which they have no means of dealing with.
As indeed is the case with Ms Cheong and her family.
It is times like this that we need to come together and pitch in. With more shoulders to the wheel, the task becomes easier.
So, while there will always be those who are ungracious, who are selfish and who will care for no one but themselves, we also need to remember that there are many – the majority, in fact – who are not like this.
Thank you to every one who pitched in to help Ms Cheong.
We send our best regards to Ms Cheong and wish Mr Cheong a speedy and full recovery.