At the start of every month, without fail, Mr Loh Hong Kang makes a trip to the Institute of Mental Health (IMH).
He goes there from his flat in Yishun to visit a man who has no other visitors, except for Mr Loh.
This year, Mr Loh, a 62-year-old part-time cleaner at Hort Park will have been making his monthly visits for close to 18 years.
This is one reason Mr Loh is one of the three recipients of the Big-Hearted Family Award, which the Ministry of Social and Family Development is handing out in collaboration with the National Day Parade 2014. (See report above.)
Nominated by his 31-year-old son Billy, Mr Loh says that he visits this man, a close childhood friend, as a show of friendship and support.
"I have known this man since we were teenagers. We grew up together and met up frequently. Now that he is in IMH, none of his friends or family visits him, so I go to give him my support," said Mr Loh.
He also explained that his friend was admitted to IMH in 1996 following a deterioration of his mental health and was also experiencing serious family problems at the time.
"It is mainly because of this that his family members have neglected him in IMH," said Mr Loh.
He usually brings food or fruits and spends several hours talking to his friend, whose mental health is improving.
The two men have built a good friendship.
But this was not the sole reason that Billy nominated his father for the award.
In 1997, while Mr Loh was working as a ship welder on board a ship somewhere between Singapore and Batam, a fire broke out after a suspected gas leak.
There were about 20 people on board the vessel and about five them, including Mr Loh, had been working in a compartment below the deck.
"The only way out of this compartment was up a ladder, so everyone was rushing towards it to escape," recalled Mr Loh. "I remember someone got in my way. Everyone was rushing out."
But Mr Loh ensured that every colleague made it out before trying to escape himself.
"It was a lucky escape for my dad," said Billy.
"Someone pulled my dad out of the compartment at the last minute. If not for this, he might not have survived the fire."
Mr Loh survived, with 22 per cent burns, especially on his hands and arms, mid-section and face.
He was hospitalised for 10 days and had to get skin grafts on his arms.
Mr Loh estimates the cost of surgery and hospitalisation at about $17,000.
Although Mr Loh's boss at the time paid for the bulk of the expenses, Billy said his father's medical expenses remained high even after he was discharged.
"We still had to pay for our daily expenses and sustenance for my father with our own savings," he said.
Mr Loh briefly went back to welding and later worked as a part-time cleaner. He also did security work.
While he was recovering from his injures, he was unable to visit his friend at IMH.
"For about two to three years, I couldn't visit my friend. But after I got better, I began seeing him every month like I used to."
On his feelings about receiving the award, Mr Loh said, "I'm happy that my son nominated me and that I won. But I'm even more relieved that I survived that fire."
Billy hopes that his father's story can be an inspiration to others.
"My father has been making sacrifices for his friends and family for years. This is one way I can show him my gratitude," he said.
About the big-hearted family award
The Big-Hearted Family Awards contest was organised by the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) in collaboration with this year's National Day Parade (NDP).
In celebration of the International Year of the Family (IYF), MSF and NDP have launched the contest to honour the acts of service by members of our community.
From May 5 to June 16, members of the public were invited to submit a Big-Hearted Story of someone who has made a difference in their lives.
The top three winners were recently announced last month and will be featured in an NDP 2014 trailer.
The IYF was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in 1994 to promote the role of the family. It celebrates its 20th anniversary this year.
This article was first published on July 22, 2014.
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