Veteran Volunteers Who Keep Going

Decades of volunteering have enriched both Dr Anamah Tan’s and Mr Lim Hock Heng’s lives, as well as those they serve, and they are still going strong, despite the challenges of COVID-19.

It is not often that strangers come up to you and say, “Thank you, you changed my life.”

Hearing this continues to inspire Dr Anamah Tan and Mr Lim Hock Heng even after decades of tireless volunteer work.

Said Mr Lim, 71, who has been befriending and helping youth offenders on probation for over 40 years: “It is most rewarding for me when I meet former probationers who say ‘hi’ to me on the road. They recognise me – I may not recognise all of them as they may have matured and grown up, but I am happy that they are doing well.”

Similarly, for Dr Tan, 80, one of her fondest memories is of a woman in her 20s who came to her office for a business meeting, who later revealed that she had met Dr Tan as a 12-year-old, when her parents were going through divorce proceedings.

“She remembered that I told her and her siblings to always keep in touch with their dad, who loved them. That is what they did, and she said they are most grateful,” said Dr Tan.

Origins of a Life Passion

Dr Tan is a pioneer in championing women’s development in Singapore. She was the President of Singapore Council of Women’s Organisations (SCWO) from 1991 to 2000, President of the ASEAN Confederation of Women’s Organisations from 2000 to 2002, and Chairman of the Mental Health Network under the National Council of Social Service from 2002 to 2004.

Beyond our borders, she also represented Singapore on the United Nations’ Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (UN CEDAW) in 2004.

The drive to serve started when she was a student at St Margaret’s School, when she went on regular service-learning trips to pig and chicken farms to tend to villagers there with wounds and sores. “From a very young age, we were taught to always be of service,” she said.

In her younger days, she and her fellow volunteers also went to factories armed with leaflets in the four major languages, to educate the female workers there on their employment rights.

She later became a tireless advocate for gender issues, particularly in the areas of domestic violence and poverty eradication.

In 1974, she founded the Singapore Association of Women Lawyers to raise legal literacy, especially among those in need and women in blue-collar jobs.

For Mr Lim, his interest in volunteering started in 1974.

Then, he was working as a clerical officer at Maxwell Road, and responded to a call for volunteers at the then-Ministry of Social Welfare nearby.

“At that time, I could see that there were youths from lower-income households who were committing offences, and I wanted to befriend and counsel them, and make a difference to them,” he said.

After some training, he started out as a befriender in 1975, engaging youth offenders and their families and trying to help them. He would visit their homes, boys’ homes, prisons and youth hostels to reach out to the youths there. He would also join excursions with youth offenders and their families to encourage bonding.

In 2000, he started conducting time-restriction checks on probationers as part of the Operations Night Watch (ONW) team. He would visit homes to ensure that the youth offenders were home by the required times. He became a ONW cluster leader in 2000, and has served as a ONW Assistant Manager since 2001.

Mr Lim is known to many as a volunteer who is always ready to support MSF’s probation officers, and goes the extra mile in undertaking checks. For instance, when a youth offender was staying in Ubi and none of the other volunteers were available, Mr Lim would take the bus from his Queenstown home to check on the boy.

They Never Quit

Both Dr Tan and Mr Lim have met with challenges in their many years of volunteering.

The hardest part of volunteering for Mr Lim is earning the trust of the youths.

“Some don’t want to talk. I have to gain their trust slowly, over time,” he said.

But the fruits of their labour are sweet. The youths have responded positively to him and Mr Lim had even supported the efforts of a youth’s family to upgrade from a 1-room rental flat to a 3-room flat, and helped the father to find a job.

Similarly, helping women and families in distress is no easy task for Dr Tan.

“One of the things that really makes a difference is whether or not you are able to empathise, and have the patience, tolerance and understanding of human nature,” she said.

She also worked hard to find a suitable place for the SCWO headquarters, and championed policy changes behind the scenes.

“My style of working is to never be confrontational, and never say something is impossible. If you can cooperate and work together, you can push boundaries,” she said.

Still Going Strong

Dr Tan’s days are now filled with work-from-home Zoom meetings and external meetings with clients. “I have a zest for it. I enjoy doing what I’m doing,” she said, laughing, when asked where her energy springs from.

“It can be very enriching for yourself when you volunteer. You may not see the results immediately, but like what Mother Theresa said, if you can’t feed 100, feed one!”

Like Dr Tan, Mr Lim is still checking on and connecting with youths via phone calls. He prefers to go “on site” where he can observe the youths’ physical environment, but he also had to adapt to the restrictions posed by COVID-19.

His advice: “Treat volunteering as a hobby. Rather than watch TV at home, get out of your comfort zone, learn about your own country and the people around you.”

Inspired to volunteer with MSF? Find out more about volunteering opportunities at