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FION PHUA (b. 1970)

FOUNDER, KEEPING HOPE ALIVE

When Fion Phua got married at age 16, she felt it was time to get rid of her collection of stuffed toys she had amassed over the years. She and her husband went to orphanages and homes for the elderly and disabled, but were told that the toys were not suitable donations as they could contain dangerous parts or cause allergies. “Even if you really treasure the item, if it’s not to the person’s needs, it doesn’t end up being practical and useful,” she says.

That incident opened her eyes to the realities of the lives of the residents of these homes, and lit a spark inside her. At the time, she worked as a waitress and her husband was a bartender, and they eked out a modest living that didn’t allow for trips overseas. She recalls: “I told my husband, why don’t we just holiday in Singapore? So each time there was an eve of a holiday, me and my husband would go and visit those homes.”

They went door to door, asking the residents what they could help with. Their spirit of volunteerism attracted others, and in 2007 Keeping Hope Alive was formed. The group of dedicated volunteers visit different low-income estates in Singapore every Sunday, sometimes spending the whole day helping with anything from cleaning houses to paying bills, getting rid of bedbugs and fixing broken lights. The group, which has over 9,000 volunteers, received the President's Volunteerism and Philanthropy Award in 2015.

Some of the more unique ways they’ve helped the community include adding light sensors on doorbells for deaf residents, installing motion sensors to wheelchairs, and fixing bicycle bells and LED lights on bicycles for seniors. These solutions are specifically tailored for the needs of the community, who often live alone. The spunky 50-year-old proudly shares that in two blocks of flats in Chin Swee Road, the majority of the elderly residents don’t need spectacles because the group has diligently brought them for eye check-ups and operations over the years.

Fion, who works as a club membership broker, sees the irony in the fact that she rubs shoulders with the rich in the day and shakes hands with the less privileged at night. Interestingly, she seldom solicits cash donations for Keeping Hope Alive. Funding helps to keep the projects afloat. But what matters more for the wellbeing of the community is walking the talk – even if it is hard work.

She says: “If there’s a toilet that is dirty, you have to wash it. If you need to change a bedsheet, you have to do it. There’s no such thing as getting your maid or your office worker to do it. You have to come. Your light, your courage, your time, your strength is what I want.”

Keeping Hope Alive is one of the 7 projects supported by T:>Care, an initiative established by T:>Works to support projects created and developed by women to make positive change in our communities. To know more about Keeping Hope Alive, visit its Facebook page @keepinghopealive.