Everyday pioneers tell their stories

Everyday pioneers tell their stories
Ms Joycelyn Yeo (seated) and Dr Yap Swee Cheng (standing) documented the stories of 50 pioneers and compiled them into a book.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

In a five-month labour of love, two women sought out 50 everyday pioneers to detail their lives in early Singapore.

The free book, An Extraordinary Ordinary Story, was launched yesterday.

The stories were compiled by Dr Yap Swee Cheng, 48, a self-employed trainer on active ageing, and retiree Joycelyn Yeo, 62, for the nation's Golden Jubilee celebrations.

They tell of how the pioneer generation worked hard for a brighter future. For example, Ms Siow Set Nyok, 84, recounted how she worked as a seamstress, cleaner and packer to raise her two children alone after finding out that her husband was married to someone else.

Another interviewee, Mr Tan Kia Kwee, taught himself to read and write while working as a captain in a Western restaurant.

"I came to Singapore from Hainan Island when I was a teenager, alone," said the 99-year-old. "My clan members helped with lodging and employment, but I could work only as a runner in a coffee shop."

Ms Yeo, who worked in finance for 25 years, said: "We wanted a book that commemorates our pioneers' contributions. A lot of books are on famous people and politicians. We wanted to do something for the everyday people."

The cost of printing 3,000 copies, which amounted to about $38,000, was borne by the SG50 Fund and corporate sponsors.

The idea for the book, which is in English and Chinese, came to the two women last year. Interviews were conducted between March and May, and the book was sent for printing in July.

The authors hope it will help the pioneer generation recognise their contributions to the nation.

"Some (of the elderly) who were housewives, midwives or nurse assistants felt that they did not play a big role in nation building," said Dr Yap. "We wanted to change their opinions with something concrete, a book, that they can show to others."

To get a copy, e-mail Dr Yap at asksweecheng@gmail.com.

This article was first published on November 1, 2015.
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