All about the family

by | January 8, 2013

The President’s Award for Volunteerism (Individual) 2012 recipient shares how he started on the road to giving back.


BY: Eleanor Yap


Lim Soon Hock receiving the award at the President's Volunteerism & Philanthropy Awards 2012.

Family means a lot to Lim Soon Hock. To understand the man who won the President’s Award for Volunteerism (Individual) 2012 is to understand his humble beginnings. The 62-year-old lived in a kampong in the Towner Road area (where the Central Sikh Gurdwara Temple now stands) with his parents, two brothers and one sister. He recalled: “I came from a poor family. Back then, we stayed in zinc huts in sparse settings and my only luxury was a piece of straw mat to sleep on.”


Remembering the past

His father, the “only English-educated person in the kampong”, worked then in the electricity department as a clerk. And even having little, the family continued giving back by helping their neighbours to fill out whatever forms they needed. Though poor, the family was seen as quite fortunate relative to their neighbours. Said Lim: “Our meals were quite complete. There would always be a vegetable dish, fried eggs, a soup and occasionally pork to go with the rice – we even had seafood on festive occasions. Most of my neighbours considered themselves lucky when they had two meals a day. Sometimes, the meals were porridge with black sauce.”

While some of us today can’t possibly fathom having only two meals a day, what existed more so then was a kampong spirit where neighbours supported each other as if part of an extended family, and bonded “through a common simple and unostentatious life”. Lim said that his parents would cook extra deliberately so they could share with their neighbours for them to enjoy some small and simple pleasures of life.

For Lim, it was him growing up in this environment that has inculcated the values and philosophies that he possesses today. “It was very touching to see the profound gratitude and appreciation of our neighbours. The great feeling of that has stayed with me for a very long time, and that sort of gratitude is something money cannot buy.”


His many causes

Lim's first volunteer experience doing a "gotong-royong" project.

His first volunteer experience was in 1972 where he was involved in a “gotong-royong” (a Malay phrase describing the concept of reciprocity) project to clean up Kampong Geylang Serai. “I must confess it took me a while to get used to the filth and stench in the clean-up exercise. But those were little things, in comparison to the overwhelming warmth, profound appreciation and immense gratitude of the kampong folks that opened my eyes to the whole new world of giving. I was touched.”

It was from this experience that Lim made it his mission to give his time to serve the community, not solely volunteering but also in raising funds. And he doesn’t choose just any cause to support, his choices are strategic and they must be something that he “believes in passionately”.

Talking about his volunteering in education, he explained: “I believe that education is a great leveller of society so I willingly accepted an appointment in the Universities’ Endowment Fund to raise money, to take university education to higher levels.” He is also a member and chairman of the Governing Council of the Singapore Institute of Management where he supports giving working adults, who missed the opportunity to further themselves for whatever reasons, a second chance to get an education.

Lim volunteering at the Rotary Club.

And going back to his roots and promoting strong family bonds, he also is the chairman of the National Family Council. “The family is under threat in today’s globalised world. We need to preserve and promote the family as it is the basic unit and bedrock of society. There is no resilient society without resilient families.” This goes hand-in-hand with his role as chairman of the non-profit Centre for Fathering (CFF) where he promotes the importance of the men having a shared role in parenthood and to be “active and responsible fathers”.

Through his many volunteering activities, he shares he gains a lot. “One of the benefits I glean from giving and volunteering is learning about humility. I also realise through the experience, that often, I would not have been successful without the involvement of others, who have extended a helping hand.” With CFF, he set up a board that is tasked to raise funds, among other things. They now have enough reserves to fund the Centre for the next three years and the board has formulated a new 5Es strategic plan called “Educate, Enlighten, Enable, Equip and Empower” to take the Centre to a higher level.

He has been actively volunteering for over 20 years and has managed to juggle these activities with managing PLAN-B ICAG, his own corporate advisory practice, and certainly having time for his family. Lim shared: “When you have passion, you will always find the time to do whatever you need to do, and to do it well. That includes time for the family, over and above one’s commitment to work, business and volunteerism. It is about time management and I think I am pretty adept at it.”

Asked what is next for him and whether he plans on taking on more volunteering activities, he gave some insights to his next plan of action – “I am currently in Plan B of my life where my time spent on work as well as public service and community work are more or less of equal proportions. In Plan B, I have the luxury of choosing what I want to do. In my earlier Plan A, much of my time, about 80 percent was spent on work and building my career and less than 20 percent on volunteerism.

Lim giving a token of appreciation to former President S R Nathan at the Centre for Fathering 10th anniversary charity gala dinner in 2011.

“Going forward when I am in my late 60s, I would like to implement Plan C. The ‘C’ comprises a big ‘C’, which stands for Christ, Charity and Community Service; it also embodies a small ‘c’ which stands for corporate. I hope to devote at least 80 percent of my time on the big ‘C’ and up to 20 percent on the small ‘c’.”

And as an award winner for volunteerism, he is happy to take on yet another role of advocating volunteering. “Firstly, I think that ‘no time’ should never be an excuse for not volunteering. I believe that everyone can volunteer according to his or her capabilities and capacity. I also believe that no effort is too small, and no skill or action is too insignificant. When we give of our time in this time-impoverished world, we bear the gift of time to others who need it more than we do.”

He added, “I urge more to get on their feet and take this first step towards starting this amazing journey.”


(** This story is being reprinted with permission from NVPC’s SALT Online.)


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