When the People's Association set up a Malay Activity Executive Committee (MAEC) in Tiong Bahru Community Centre in 1998, it had just two members: husband-and-wife team Ibrahim Bahrudin and Sa'amah Mak Noh.
In its early years, the pair struggled on their own, collecting food items, packing them at home, and distributing them door to door to needy families during Ramadan.
But they persevered. Over the years, the Tiong Bahru CC MAEC has grown into a full-fledged, close-knit community with Mr Ibrahim, now 75, still at its helm.
The efforts of volunteers in these groups around the island, and their role in promoting a cohesive and harmonious society, are captured in a new coffee-table book, At The Heart Of Volunteering.
It was launched yesterday by Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim at a Hari Raya gathering for grassroots leaders from the MAECs at Gardens by the Bay.
Dr Yaacob, who is Communications and Information Minister, wrote in the book's foreword that the MAECs and Malay community leaders "played a pivotal role in galvanising the Malay community to step forward and contribute to the nation-building process".
"Fifty years on, MAECs have evolved into a social glue that brings various communities together to promote multiracialism in a culturally diverse Singapore," he added.
Last night, Dr Yaacob also lauded the progress made by the Malay-Muslim community, and urged MAECs and community leaders to carry on the legacy of the nation's founding fathers, such as Singapore's first president Yusof Ishak and its first prime minister Lee Kuan Yew.
"By staying true to our values and commitment to serve the community, we can elevate the Malay-Muslim community to even greater heights in the years to come," he said.
MAECs were started to help promote Malay culture and heritage as well as promote the spirit of "gotong royong" or community spirit among residents.
They have also helped foster greater understanding between the various ethnic communities, and several MAECs have active non-Malay members.
They include Madam Jacqueline Lim, 52, vice-chairman of Anchorvale MAEC. "In order for the country to move forward together, we need to understand one another's cultures and religions," she said.
The book also features younger MAEC leaders, such as Mr Mohamad Noh Mohamad Sani, 28, who is chairman of Leng Kee CC MAEC, following in the footsteps of his grandfather and uncle.
Dr Yaacob said MAECs must be on the lookout for Malay-Muslim youth with leadership potential, and reach out to groom them for leadership roles.
"This will ensure that the Malay-Muslim leadership in our MAECs is constantly rejuvenated and renewed," he said.
He also gave recognition awards to 13 pioneer MAEC leaders. Among them was Madam Saoyah Mohd Som, 66, a grassroots volunteer for the past four decades.
Said the chairman of Ayer Rajah CC MAEC for the past 10 years: "There is a need for sincerity in the work we do. As a volunteer, I always come with an open heart."
This article was first published on Aug 15, 2015.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.