AMANDA CHONG (b. 1989)
LAWYER, POET, SOCIAL JUSTICE ADVOCATE
Amanda Chong discovered the power of storytelling when she was 10. Upon seeing a bald girl in the lift of a hospital, she blurted out to her mother, “Why is she botak?”. She learned about cancer that day, and the resulting guilt led the voracious reader to write a story to make other children more aware of the illness. “Best of Friends” was published by Marshall Cavendish, with proceeds going to the Children’s Cancer Foundation. “That was my first brush with making socially conscious work,” she says.
Amanda’s list of achievements, along with her penchant for social justice, have only grown since then. She studied law under a government scholarship, attending Cambridge University and then Harvard, where she specialised in International Human Rights with a focus on gender. She worked as a sex crimes prosecutor for six years before moving into public international law.
Storytelling has always been a feature in Amanda’s life. She spent two weeks on the Thai-Burmese border listening to refugees talk about their experiences of crimes against humanity while living in Myanmar. Speaking to migrant wives in Singapore made her realise how pigeonholed and disempowered they were in the eyes of Singaporeans. “Nobody had actually asked them, what is your story? I realised that the act of storytelling gives someone dignity because it places them as the protagonist of their own lives,” she says.
Amanda co-founded ReadAble in 2014, a non-profit which runs English literacy and language classes for children and migrant women in low-income communities. She has seen how these skills have led to real change. Mothers are able to read stories to their children. A Tiger Beer server manages to get a job as a receptionist. For her work in social justice and the arts, Amanda was awarded the Singapore Youth Award in 2018.
Her book of confessional poetry, Professions, was nominated for the Singapore Literature Prize for poetry in 2018, though Amanda wryly notes that no woman has ever won the award in its 28-year history. This gender-based inequality is not just personal, nor is it new. She exclaims: “80% of women and girls brought into Singapore in the 1880s were essentially sex trafficked in. The history of Singapore women actually begins with this sort of oppression. Why are we not talking about this?” With her voice, she unearths these silences.
To know more about ReadAble, visit www.readablesg.com.