Song lyrics hit home, truly

He was once labelled a severe drug addict and he once nearly received a death sentence. He never thought he would have a chance to play a part in Singapore's jubilee celebrations.

Yet, this year, Mr Tan Kay Aik, 55, was one of the voices in StarHub's Home by Homes video.

The three-minute long clip is a multi-lingual rendition of Kit Chan's 1998 classic Home and it was released as part of the SG50 celebrations.

Mr Tan, who volunteers at Breakthrough Missions, a halfway house for former drug offenders, was surprised to be chosen to sing the Mandarin chorus.

He told The New Paper in Mandarin: "During the filming, I felt grateful. It was by God's grace that a group of unworthy drug addicts like us got to be part of this video."

Drugs and prison shadowed most of Mr Tan's past.

In April 2004, it was uncertain if Mr Tan would see that year's National Day, or any after.

He had faced the death penalty for drug trafficking after being found in possession of 36g of heroin. Any person with more than 2g of heroin is presumed to be trafficking.

With a history of drug convictions going back to the mid-80s, Mr Tan only escaped the gallows after proving that he had no intention of trafficking and that the heroin was for his own consumption.

He spent the next decade in prison, where he became determined to put his past behind him.

In May last year, Mr Tan was transferred to Breakthrough Missions for the remaining six months of his sentence.

As he was grateful for the home's help, he decided to stay on as a volunteer.

"(This) is a new chapter in my life. I was only able to change my ways because of this halfway house," he said.

Although the staff were there to guide him, Mr Tan also had to help himself. At first, he found the strict timetable - waking up at 6.30am and helping to clean the home - tough.

"I did not like some of the activities, but I had to be obedient. It slowly became easier," he said.

He added: "It's not simply about wanting my own way."

Mr Tan also received addiction counselling.

"(Counselling) really helps," he said.

"Starting anew is not easy. You need to relate to people, start from zero and your mindset is important."

"You have to be willing to accept and learn. Then, you'll be able to build on your foundation."

While at Breakthrough Missions, Mr Tan met his "brothers" - and Home co-singers - Mr Timothy Tan, 49, and Mr Samuel Lim, 45.

Mr Lim found the line "A spark of hope is all that is needed for your dreams to take off" from the Mandarin version of Home particularly poignant and one that provided a valuable life lesson.

Breaking out of his drug bondage seemed impossible until Breakthrough Missions gave him a glimmer of hope in 2008, said Mr Lim.

Starting afresh

It was an opportunity to start afresh and learn new skills.

His "work" used to involve selling drugs and gambling.

After becoming a part of Breakthrough Missions, he started washing cars and even picked up the guitar.

Mr Timothy Tan, who also sang for the video, recalled that he used to feel a sense of bitterness towards Singapore after he had been sent to jail a number of times for drug-related offences.

He said: "I have been incarcerated more than 10 times and I have wasted over 20 years of my life in prison."

His admits that his feelings at that time were misguided.

"We felt that because we purchased drugs with our own money, why did they have to arrest us? That's why we resented the Government."

For most of his life, prison was the only home that Mr Timothy Tan knew.

This changed when he found refuge at Breakthrough Missions.

He said: "I saw how (the home) transformed the lives of others. Eventually, my life changed too. My family members also started to accept me."

Every Sunday, he visits Changi Prison to share his story, hoping to help inmates make the right decisions in life.

He, too, feels that lyrics of Home have a special meaning for him.

"I was reminded of many things when we recorded Home. That Singapore is our home. It is where we can feel safe."

He added: "When I was feeling helpless and lost and wanted to change, I also realised that Home's lyrics (are about) keeping your head up when you are feeling low, because you'll rise again one day."

This article was first published on August 8, 2015.
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