Glad to help

Glad to help
Yale-NUS College student Tara Dear (left with her mother, Dr Lynette Lim), who helped to organise a carnival recently for construction workers, travelled around the world with her parents at a young age and saw poverty.

Since she was a child growing up in Canberra, Australia, Singaporean student Tara Dear has been active in community work.

She volunteered at old folks' homes, raised funds for the Red Cross and, at 16, shaved her head in a show of support for leukaemia patients.

A deeper involvement came at age 18, when she took a gap year and spent six months in Ghana doing volunteer work independently and with Antipodeans Abroad, a travel company specialising in volunteer work.

"I have always felt it's important to identify with people who may be different from me," says Ms Dear, 21, who is studying liberal arts at Yale-NUS College.

"When I was 10, my parents took my older brother and me on a six-month tour around the world. India left a strong impression. It was my earliest memory of a developing country. I saw poverty and people begging in the streets. It made me aware of a world beyond my socio-economic class. Since then, I have travelled to other developing countries and have been involved in community projects in Peru and Borneo.

"This has helped me build an awareness of different communities and taught me to appreciate diversity."

Her mother, Dr Lynette Lim, 56, an adjunct professor in biostatistics at the National University Hospital, says: "My ex-husband and I were on sabbatical leave and we wanted to take the opportunity to show our children that the world is much bigger than the lives they lived."

She was recently divorced from her British husband, environmental health professor Keith Dear, also 56, after being separated from him since 2013.

Ms Dear was recently involved in organising a carnival for more than 500 construction workers, to thank them for building Yale-NUS College's 63,000 sq m permanent campus, which is in the final stages of construction.

She and her older brother Richard, 24, are the grandchildren of prominent local eye surgeon Arthur Lim, who died last year.

Why do you enjoy community work?

Ms Dear: I find it fulfilling. I've always felt it's important to be aware of the needs of the people around me.

Dr Lim: She's compassionate like her grandfather. She took up community work on her own and my ex-husband and I supported her. She enjoys connecting with people.

What is your parenting style?

Dr Lim: Both Tara and her brother like to travel and we are supportive so long as they let us know their itinerary and promise to keep in touch. They started to travel overseas on their own after high school when they were 17 or 18.

But I admit I was worried when almost three months into her Ghana trip, where she had been on a programme teaching English in a village school, she e-mailed me to say she would like to go to a poorer and more remote area to help out at an orphanage.

She said she met a woman who ran orphanages there and they were really in need of volunteers.

Even though I communicated with the woman through e-mail, I felt it would be better if I went to see the orphanage myself. So with Tara's approval, l joined her in Ghana. I left the orphanage after a week when I saw she was fine.

Ms Dear: My parents have struck a balance between giving my brother and me support on the one hand and letting us be independent on the other hand. They are involved without being claustrophobic.

Tara, what was your childhood like?

Ms Dear: I recall reading a lot as well as being outdoors often. I don't remember ever being caned or punished in any way.

My parents never hovered around my brother and me to get us to finish our homework, though if we had any questions, they would always be there to guide us.

Maybe it's also because both of us were pretty motivated to do well academically and otherwise. I am close to both of them, even now.

Dr Lim: She has always been rather strong-willed, even as a child. Once she sets her mind on something, she will find a way to get it.

With such a character, I was worried about what would happen if she fell into the wrong company. Thankfully, she has always mixed with the right crowd.

Since the children were infants, we have arranged for them to be in childcare.

But we would always be back in time to cook and have dinner with them. On weekends, we would go hiking or to the beach, or have picnics together.

When Tara was seven, however, I decided to work part-time so that I could be home when the children were out of school. We didn't rely on a nanny or childcare after that.

How did your parents' divorce affect you?

Ms Dear: It was initially difficult for me to accept it. Last year, I asked my mum to attend counselling sessions with me and, since then, I have adjusted better to the situation. I still keep in touch with my father.

Dr Lim: The children and I are still very much in touch with their father.

When we decided on the divorce, we wanted to make the separation amicable so it would have as little impact on our children as possible.

When Tara asked me to go for counselling, I was more than happy to go because I could see she was troubled about something and wanted to resolve it, but didn't know how to do it on her own.

When she's down, she tends to keep her feelings to herself. She would just appear angry and not want to talk about things.

If the parent-child roles were reversed, what would you do differently?

Dr Lim: I wouldn't have done anything differently. She is much more confident and independent than I was at her age.

Ms Dear: I respect many things my parents have done, especially in giving me independence and support. I would adopt the same approach.

leawee@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on April 26, 2015.
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