Singapore's Outstanding Young Persons: Filled with pain, fuelled by willpower

Navy serviceman Jason Chee (front) and Dr Siew Tuck Wah (back), president of animal welfare group Save Our Street Dogs are shortlisted to represent Singapore for the Oustanding Young Persons in the World Programme.

He never gave up, even when he first lost most of his limbs.

And he is not about to give up now, though he can barely walk 200m in 20 minutes.

Many remember navy serviceman Jason Chee from a horrific mishap on Dec 10, 2012.

He lost both legs and his left hand in an accident involving a motorised winch and a rope on board a ship he was working on.

He fell into a two-week coma after that. When he woke up, he knew life would never be the same again.

But he went on to represent Singapore in this year's ASEAN Para Games in Myanmar.

His tenacity touched many, including Junior Chamber International (JCI), a worldwide federation of young leaders and entrepreneurs. They shortlisted him to be among 10 Outstanding Young Persons, aged 18 to 40, who excel and create positive change in their chosen fields.

"The accident happened (for a reason). It was fated," he told The New Paper yesterday.

He is just 31. He has many dreams to accomplish, such as getting that university degree "so I can finally throw the (mortar board) into the air, like I promised my (late) mother".

Mr Chee's quest to walk again is a tough one. But despite his struggles with rehabilitation, he is forging on.

"Walking with prosthetics is five times harder than using your legs," Mr Chee said. "I feel very tired using my upper body muscles to walk 200m."

The pace is often slow and it takes up to 20 minutes.

When physical strength fails, the son of a retired vegetable seller calls on sheer grit to push all 12kg of carbon fibre forward.

"The prosthetics are so heavy because of the knee joints. After a while, my shirt will be stained with sweat," he recounted. "Then I'll rest for five to 10 minutes, stand up and continue again."

Despite the struggles, he perseveres.

To "build endurance", he wills himself through 5½ hours of prosthetics training at Thye Hua Kwan Hospital from Monday to Saturday.

MEDALLIST

The ASEAN Para Games table-tennis bronze medallist spends Monday to Wednesday nights training at the Table Tennis Association for the Disabled. Weekends are spent on archery training at a community centre.

He is relishing the upcoming air-rifle training at Bukit Timah and maybe, just maybe, a shot at donning national colours during the next Para Games on home ground.

"Winning a medal is not important. (What's) important is representing Singapore and making the nation proud," Mr Chee said.

That aside, the Mathematics undergraduate at UniSIM is also resuming his studies and completing the required modules to graduate in three to five years.

Though "very surprised" to be nominated, Mr Chee is happy at the opportunity to give back to society.

"Many Singaporeans helped me with the recovery process. I'm happy I can inspire disabled people through what I do. I hope to tell them they are abled, nothing is impossible.

"And for the able-bodied, think positive. Just be happy, live day by day."

Dog-eat-dog world nearly made him quit

When the year started, Dr Siew Tuck Wah almost gave up rescuing strays.

The president of animal welfare group Save Our Street Dogs (SOSD) was fed up with nips and bites - from his two-legged peers rather than four-legged canines.

Certain animal lovers were jostling to be top dog, "so the flak came in nonstop".

"There we were, working so hard till late at night and these cyber bullies just kept spewing hate," he recalled. "I was very depressed and couldn't sleep well for a while."

Some naysayers accused the aesthetics surgeon of using animal advocacy for fame and glory.

Others branded him racist, after SOSD took in lighter-coloured puppies instead of the entire litter due to limited resources.

Some people even claimed he was misappropriating funds, a defamatory accusation and lie. This prompted his well-wishers to advise him to take legal action, which he decided not to.

Dr Siew, a Buddhist, relied on his faith to see him through the trying period.

"I would rather maintain kindness," he said. "These (critics) don't realise how important it is for groups to stay together and champion the cause more effectively, rather than treat one another as competition."

Dr Siew is adamant about the need for a balanced voice, saying: "Animal welfare is not just for animals, it also has to be for Singaporeans. It's about harmony and interacting together. We must care about humans as much as for animals."

AWARENESS RISING

Still, he is happy that animal welfare awareness seems to be rising.

From starting out with "almost nothing two years ago", SOSD now has about 200 volunteers and reaches more than 200,000 people on Facebook.

But there is still lots to do, like increasing the adoption rate, planning the first-ever charity pet walk at West Coast Park next month ("a 500-strong turnout will get us into the Singapore Book of Records") and finding new premises when the Pasir Ris lease runs out.

Eventually, the group will be self-sufficient enough for Dr Siew to step back, "maybe in five or 10 years"

Candidates shortlisted to represent Singapore

Come May 15, one or more of the 10 young leaders that non-governmental organisation Junior Chamber International shortlisted will represent Singapore at the 10 Outstanding Young Persons of the World Programme. They are:

Edward Chia, co-founder of music lifestyle company Timbre Group

Luke Lim, chief executive of strategic brand consultancy AS Louken Group

Nick Shen, artist

Azariah Tan, musician and PhD student

Michelle Tham, speech therapist and clinical director

Olivia Choong, president of environment group Green Drinks Singapore

Dr Siew Tuck Wah, president of animal welfare charity Save Our Street Dogs

Dr Carolyn Lam, cardiologist

Mohamed Faizal, general counsel and director (legal) of Singapore Medical Council

Jason Chee, serviceman and disabled athlete

kohht@sph.com.sg

This article was published on April 17 in The New Paper.Get The New Paper for more stories.