Passionate about compassion

Passionate about compassion
Mr K.V. Veloo (right) shakes hand with former president S.R. Nathan (second from left) during the launch of his book titled "Life And Times Of A Social Worker - A Personal Memoir" on 11 January 2014.

Age has slowed down Mr K.V. Veloo considerably. He is 80 and suffers from musculo-skeletal problems. This means he can hardly walk.

He needs the help of a walking cane or wheelchair all the time. He is on dialysis, spending what he calls "41/2 boring hours" three times a week at a dialysis centre.

But while the medical conditions have made him more frail, they have not deterred him from devoting whatever time he can to his passion - social work.

He spent five tireless decades in social work and aftercare of offenders, especially the rehabilitation of drug addicts, before retiring in 1993 as director (welfare) from the civil service and in 2002 as consultant/director (special projects) from the National Council of Social Service.

Today, however, Mr Veloo continues to be deeply involved with the Sathya Sai Social Service (4S), a voluntary welfare organisation that he helped set up in 1996.

He has also recently been inducted into a new programme launched by the Indian community called the Indian Community Aftercare Council (ICAC). The programme helps prisoners and drug addicts integrate into the community.

The ICAC, under the chairmanship of Ambassador K. Kesavapany, is recruiting members from the Indian community to be trained as "befrienders" to hand-hold discharged prisoners as they try to sort out their problems of reintegration.

Befrienders are given training on lay-counselling and matched with discharged prisoners who express a desire to change.

Mr Veloo says: "We are having a problem in hand with a disproportionate number of Indian prisoners. They need our concern, care and help.

Society is hesitant to give them a second chance. Many of them can be rehabilitated and helped to lead socially useful lives if given goodwill, understanding and opportunity."

It is for this remarkable attitude, for this indefatigable spirit and his determined, path-breaking work in the field of social work for many years, that tabla! has proudly chosen Mr Veloo as its Community Champion this year.

The award was set up four years ago to honour individuals from the Indian community who have made a lasting impact in society.

Mr Veloo says that the award means a lot to him, but at the same time he is mindful of many others who are in the same field and work relentlessly without seeking any fame or reward for their contributions.

He thanks tabla! and the State Bank of India, which presented the $10,000 cheque to him and dedicated the award to the volunteers in many areas of social work in Singapore - culture and arts, sports and athletics, education, health and welfare and rehabilitation of offenders and drug addicts.

He says: "The important thing is to help with love and not seek the fruits of one's action. I have learned to detach and transcend myself from expectations of recognition no matter how deserving I feel.

There are many other people in the community, welfare and correctional fields who carry on their volunteer work without thumping their chests."

The beginning

Mr Veloo was born in Penang on Jan 15, 1934. Seven years later, after his father died, his widowed mother and three unmarried elder sisters came to live with another married sister in Singapore. And since then Singapore has been his home.

He was educated in Telok Kurau Primary School and Raffles Institution and received a scholarship to study social work in the then University of Singapore. He landed his first job as a probation and aftercare officer in 1964.

Over the years, he has held senior positions like chief probation and aftercare officer, executive secretary, Singapore Anti-Narcotics Association and director (Welfare).

Mr Veloo says his interest in social work can be traced back to the history of the Katong Boys' Club. The club was established in 1946 by a group of professionals made up of lawyers, teachers and businessmen.

It was supported by the judiciary and the police. The aim was to prevent young boys who after the war (Battle of Singapore) were at the fringe of delinquency and crime. Many were out of school or unemployed.

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