Touched by strangers' kindness

Touched by strangers' kindness
(From left) Mr Daniel Heng, Ms Joann Heng, Tampines GRC MP Irene Ng and Madam Poa Beng Hong. In 2004, Ms Ng helped Madam Poa set up a trust fund using public donations after her husband died.

For two years after the 2004 Nicoll Highway collapse, Madam Poa Beng Hong looked out of her kitchen window every evening, waiting for her husband to come home.

Her husband, foreman Heng Yeow Pheow, was dubbed "Hero Heng" after he died saving eight workers when the supporting scaffolding and structure around the Circle Line excavation site collapsed on April 20, 2004.

His body was never found.

"There is no tombstone to mark his burial, no place to pay respects," said the 45-year-old widow, describing how hard it has been for her to find closure.

A few weeks ago, a bench in memory of Mr Heng was unveiled at Tampines Tree Park, which he frequented with his family.

Madam Poa's turning point occurred when her son came up to her while she was keeping vigil by the window and said: "Mum, can you stop doing this please? I've already lost my father. What if you jump? I can't lose my mother too."

It made her realise how her actions were affecting her two children. "I have to be strong for my children," she said.

She was not without support. Since her husband's death, she has received about $2,500 monthly from a trust fund that Tampines GRC MP Irene Ng had set up for her using public donations.

The sum will rise to $3,600 next year and $4,500 from 2016, taking into account the higher education expenses of her children.

Madam Poa said that during her darkest days, it was Ms Ng who played a big part in helping her pull through. The MP had made a public call for donations, and it was recently revealed that more than $630,000 was raised.

Ms Ng told The Sunday Times her priority was to give emotional and financial support to Madam Poa so she could focus on raising her children and getting her life back on track.

The trust fund will last until 2019. By that time, Madam Poa's children would have become working adults and able to fend for themselves and help support the family. Any remaining amount will then be transferred to the members of the Heng family in equal share.

Madam Poa also received a settlement of $380,000 from the three construction firms involved in the accident. She is entitled to half while the rest will be shared between son Daniel, 20, and daughter Joann, 18, when they turn 21.

The money remains untouched in a fixed deposit account. "I withdraw only the interest during Chinese New Year so I can buy clothes and food for my children," said Madam Poa.

After her children started secondary school, Madam Poa started working. She now sells drinks at a school canteen and makes about $500 a month. "It helps me to keep occupied," she said. "Otherwise all I do is stay inside these four walls and miss my husband."

The Nicoll Highway disaster had put the Hengs in public view. There was generous support, but there was also a flip side.

"When I did not work, people would ask me if it was because I was rich... when I worked, they would ask why I was working when I had so much money," said Madam Poa. "If I had a choice, I would trade it all for my husband."

This article was first published on July 06, 2014.
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