Learning > Inspiration

Engineer inspired by special needs students

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Boon Chan on 15 Oct 2017

The Straits Times

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We are looking at how we can transform lives, how programmes can nurture the children and how we can help the less fortunate. I think that is something that's very exciting.

 

MS EVELYN LEONG, Minds director of corporate development and outreach

 

In the 1980s, Ms Leong used to save up money to buy toys and books for the Sharity box. The box was part of a donation drive under the Sharity pink elephant campaign, which was introduced in 1984 to encourage young Singaporeans to give to the less fortunate.

 

That was her first encounter with active charity work.

 

Her parents are divorced and she was brought up by her two aunts, one a chef and the other a housewife.

 

She was influenced more by the latter, who always told her to help others if she could, and led by example by, say, donating to buskers or buying tissue paper from peddlers.

 

Trained as an engineer, Ms Leong later joined the oil and petrochemicals industry and, subsequently, the water treatment business.

 

But at some point, she found herself caught up in the corporate race and asked herself the big question: "Is this what I really want in life?"

 

As she was mulling over a career switch three or four years ago, a job opportunity at Girl Guides Singapore came up.

 

She took up the position of executive director - even though she had never been a guide. But she was drawn by the idea of reaching out to the community and empowering girls.

 

Moving to a Voluntary Welfare Organisation and uniform group required a change in mindset.

 

She says: "We are not into figure-crunching, but rather, we are looking at how we can transform lives, how programmes can nurture children and how we can help the less fortunate. I think that is something that's very exciting."

 

Through the Girl Guides unit in Fernvale Gardens School, she had several encounters with special needs students.

 

"They are quite inspiring. They are able to achieve more than what most people think."

 

Last year, she left the Guides to take up her current portfolio at Minds, which caters to the needs of the intellectually disabled in Singapore.

 

She is keen to empower the students to do more and is always looking for new collaborators.

 

For example, when the Ministry of Home Affairs expressed interest in working together but was limited by its budget, she proposed using its existing facilities, such as the Road Safety Community Park and fire stations, for the students to visit.

 

"We don't always have to do the usual things, like a picnic at the zoo," she points out.

 

For Ms Leong, who is married with no children and is now a certified Girl Guide, moving to the non-profit sector was not merely about switching jobs.

 

"It's more about what we can do to make that little difference and whether we can put others before ourselves."

 

Outside her work at Minds, she continues with acts of kindness by donating regularly through online portals.

 

"I can still do good even when I'm busy. This ties in with one of the key teachings of the Girl Guides, which is to do a good turn every day."

 

Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.