In celebration of World Humanitarian Day, here are some of the women who have inspired me as a charity worker, and spurred me to continue doing my part to make the world a better place.
1. Jane Addams (September 6, 1860 – May 21, 1935), Founder of Hull House
(Image : PBS)
"The good we secure for ourselves is precarious and uncertain until it is secured for all of us and incorporated into our common life."
Known as one of the pioneers of modern social work, Jane Addams was an American activist, social philosopher, and international peace advocate. In 1889, she and her partner founded Hull House, a settlement house, in a poor industrial neighbourhood in Chicago, Illinois. Hull House served as a center for research and study on social issues, as well as a place for the privileged to interact with the neighbourhood and experience the real life of the majority of the population.
At its peak, the Hull House team provided a vast range of services for the community, including childcare, cooking classes, English classes for immigrants, job training, and even night classes for working adults. Jane’s goal was to get educated and privileged people to take an active role in empowering others to gain a better quality of life.
Jane spent her life advocating for marginalized communities, women’s rights, and peace. She conducted investigations into her community’s health, food, and sanitation needs, and then campaigned to raise funds to provide for them. She herself took an active role in the groundwork needed to help her community, while also working towards changes in policy with her local government. Her lifelong efforts earned her the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931, the first American woman to win the prestigious award.
2. Sarimah Amat, Foster Mom, Founder of Project Pencil and Volunteer with Yishun 71
(Image : The Straits Times)
"If a child is hungry or thirsty, you can buy them food or drinks. But if they need love or guidance, you can’t buy these from 7-Eleven off the shelf. It’s something that must really be taught and come from the heart."
After a lifelong career as a kindergarten teacher, Mdm Sarimah Amat’s love for children has not waned even a little. When she was working as a part-time silat instructor, she encountered many kids from broken or troubled families. She made it her mission to be a safe place for these kids, and did her best to help their families as well. After retiring, she was determined not to sit idle. Instead, this mother of 3 decided to find more ways she could help children in need. In 2012, she signed up to be a foster mother, and has since fostered 5 children.
Her drive to help others was what led her to found Project Pencil in 2014, while she was still fostering. After hearing that a friend was visiting an orphanage abroad and looking for donated school items, she decided to help spread the fundraiser, and managed to single-handedly collect a whopping 70kg of stationery. Seeing how much of an impact she could make, Mdm Sarimah started Project Pencil, and went on to do multiple projects in Singapore and abroad to help disadvantaged children.
Her community efforts did not stop there; in 2020, amid the chaos of the COVID-19 pandemic, she was part of a group of volunteers in her area who rallied together to check in on elderly neighbours and raise funds to help them with essentials like groceries, cooked meals, and more. The group, named Yishun 71, has now grown to encompass 16 blocks in the Yishun area, and has become a lifeline for the many low-income families living there.
3. Dian Alyan, Founder and CEO of GiveLight Foundation
(Image : GiveLight Foundation)
"Instead of waiting for the world to change or to be drowned by sorrow, I changed myself.I hope that long after my physical trace in this world is gone, the legacy of my children and my greater family of children will live on in humanity."
Dian Alyan led a glamorous lifestyle, travelling across the world as an executive at big-name companies. But she always felt that something was lacking. When she finally married and had two sons, that hole began to fill itself. But then tragedy struck, and Dian was left reeling - until she found her true purpose.
In 2004, Dian lost 40 relatives to the devastating tsunami that struck her hometown of Aceh, Indonesia. She watched in horror as thousands of children were left orphaned, with nowhere to go and no-one to care for them. As a mother, she knew that she had to put her skills to use and do something to help. She put together a team of trusted people, and the first GiveLight house was built in Aceh just one year later.
Now, GiveLight has programs in 12 countries around the world, helping and nurturing almost 1000 orphaned children to live fulfilling lives. Under Dian’s leadership, GiveLight doesn’t stop at putting a roof over their heads. Dian ensures that each child is given love, guidance, and diverse education opportunities, just as they would have gotten from their families.
Chicago – Michals, Debra “Jane Addams.” National Women’s History Museum. 2017. www.womenshistory.org/education-resources/biographies/jane-addams.