Ms Rahayu Mahzam
by Darrell Koh (16A13A), Justin Lim (16A01B), Md Khairillah (16A01B), Adelyn Tan (16A01E)
‘I think it is important to savour the different aspects of life and treasure the people around you. For me it’s about building relationships and building positive goodwill. Have compassion and sensitivity for the people around you because not everything’s about you.’
Family lawyer, wife, Rafflesian and Member of Parliament, Ms Rahayu first became interested in volunteering at 17 years old, when she attended a volunteer induction programme.
Over time, she was exposed to numerous volunteering opportunities with various organisations. This eventually crystallised her passion towards serving the wider community; that has continued to be the guiding principle for her decisions and the work she does.
Ms Rahayu feels strongly about the importance of setting clear priorities and possessing clarity regarding one’s own vision. She appreciates the different challenges of the new generation. Given that school concerns can be overwhelming, Ms Rahayu is of the view that having a vision to focus on allows one to strive for excellence without losing sight of one’s dream. That said, she advises us not to be fixated with goals.
She feels one should cherish the different aspects of life and treasure the people you meet. She encourages young people to volunteer, experience new things and build relationships. The possibility of someone you know now becoming a colleague, employer or client is higher in Singapore given her smaller geographical area. It is good to start early, building networks and connecting with others. She feels volunteering is a good platform to develop as an individual as you not only help the community but also build social capital and positive goodwill through interactions with others.
This awareness and desire to promote positive relationships between people aids Ms Rahayu in her job as a family lawyer. When asked why she chose to focus on family law as compared to other more popular areas such as corporate or civil litigation Ms Rahayu shared that ‘I’m a very conciliatory and emotional sort of person who tends to care lot about what people feel. The other aspects of law can sometimes be clinical and cold which puts me off.’
To aspiring lawyers, Ms Rahayu notes that the rigour and challenge of the profession are some things that one must be prepared to face. She also warns against unrealistic romanticising of law as a heart-warming profession where everything ends well, for conflicts can end up in ugly disputes and a lawyer needs to be firm and mentally resilient.
Surprisingly, Ms Rahayu named the ‘war-stories’ of preparing for a trial as one of the more enjoyable parts of her job. ‘Trial is the most exciting part of my career. It’s extremely fun preparing for trials with my colleagues and staying late at the office. As you can see, our office is quite small we are all closely knit, and the team spirit really encourages and spurs us on.’
She also credits her family and her husband in particular as a bedrock of support for her. This support is especially meaningful to her as her schedule has become increasingly hectic, thanks to her Member of Parliament duties.
Ms Rahayu attributes her transition to becoming a Member of Parliament to the opportunities to develop as a leader while volunteering in various organisations. Over the years, her role expanded from carrying out menial tasks as a student to sitting on boards deciding on strategies. She was doing grassroots work and helping out at the Meet-the-People Session in Tampines West before eventually being asked to contest as a candidate with the team at Jurong GRC. On entering politics, Ms Rahayu notes that while there is an increased weight of responsibility, it is also a great privilege and opportunity to serve and learn more about oneself. Ultimately, she believes that, ‘At the end of the day, politics is about service, and engaging the people around you. If you do it for the wrong reasons, then it’s really sad for the community.’ She notes the importance of learning to engage the people around oneself, for a politician cannot be successful without knowing the concerns of the very people they aim to help.
One challenge Ms Rahayu notes arising in Singapore is dealing with the increased diversity of communities living in our country as well as diversity of ideas and opinions. Our attitudes towards diversity should therefore move beyond passive tolerance to active appreciation. She feels we need to learn to understand each other better, harness and synergise differing ideas to make diversity our strength.
She also feels strongly about improving social mobility and notes that ‘it’s about offering support to lower income groups who need really need it, so that their children especially, can escape the vicious financial cycle of their families.’
Through her experience as a Member of Parliament, one area that she notes is deserving of reflection among Singaporeans is to have a more comprehensive understanding of national issues. An increased awareness on national issues can then lead to more constructive feedback and ultimately foster greater opportunities for valuable conversation between the public and the government. There is a need for people to understand that certain issues cannot be solved so simply. Solutions need to be sustainable and address the interests of various groups. One cannot just look at his or her own needs but think about the bigger picture and the needs of the community as a whole.
She believes that the responsibility also lies with young people to be increasingly involved in current issues and make constructive contributions. For Ms Rahayu, the strength of our youth today is their idealism and creativity. This energy should be harnessed by allowing them space to come up with creative solutions, while nurturing and edifying them with the realities of the world today.
Ms Rahayu was not a confident person when she was in school. She shared with us that ‘I had difficulty fitting in RGS at first as I had this severe inferiority complex when I was younger. I was always thinking that I wasn’t good enough.’ Fortunately for her, ‘There was one event which changed me. Our examination papers were returned and I caught a glimpse of the results of the best girl in the class, then my own, and they were the same. That was when I had the epiphany that “Wow! I’m not as bad as I thought!” So that really changed my perspective; as long as I put in the hard work I stood a fighting chance in school. Her changed perspective fueled her diligence and determination in her studies and subsequently her career.
At the conclusion of the interview, she said that a lot of the worries we might have now as students will become obsolete in the future, and that there is always an opportunity to be a better person and do better the next time. She hopes for us to enjoy school no matter how taxing it might be, school is somewhere students can still handle challenges at their own pace all whilst discovering themselves in the process.
Mr Saktiandi Supaat
by Monica Lee (16S06J), Justin Lim (16A01B), Md Khairillah (16A01B), Adelyn Tan (16A01E)
Mr Saktiandi’s relentless focus on the community – particularly with regard to the elderly and the youth – is patently evident from the numerous interviews he has spent discussing it. It has become, so to speak, his calling card. This is hardly surprising – Mr Saktiandi identifies the camaraderie and atmosphere he experienced in his formative years as having had the greatest influence on him. Further affirming his commitment to the community are the numerous years he spent contributing at the grassroots level. Mr Saktiandi’s grassroots experience began when he joined the youth wing of the Association of Muslim Professionals (AMP) – a Malay-Muslim self-help community group – in 2003. It continued when he began helping out at Meet-the-People Sessions in 2008, starting out at Kolam Ayer before moving onto Bishan and finally Toa Payoh.
He has credited his years volunteering with giving him better insight and understanding of where the gaps in society are, how it might be possible to nurture a more vibrant community and how to do so more efficiently. Years spent as a volunteer both at the AMP (where he would lead as head of the Youth Wing and board member) and at the PAP branches were crucial to easing his transition into the arena of politics.
Additionally, he has previously worked in the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) and in the financial industry, and is now currently the Executive Vice President and the Head of Foreign Exchange Research in the Maybank Group. The combination of Mr Saktiandi’s experiences at the grassroots level and his training as an economist has proven useful, giving him an awareness of and exposure to the impact that the economic environment can have on Singaporean citizens, especially the Malay-Muslim community.
All this has paved the way for an emphasis on helping those who have fallen through the cracks and on fostering what Mr Saktiandi has called the gotong-royong spirit: communal cooperation, or mutual aid, a desire to help and contribute without having first been requested to do so.
The idea of ‘kampung spirit’ may seem a tired and overworn cliché to many of us. Time and again, politicians have trotted out the phrase in a bid to boost their own popularity and credibility; and yet, Mr Saktiandi may be one of the most qualified politicians to have used the phrase – he has actually lived in a kampung before. It is clear from his work’s focus that the kampung spirit is sincerely at the heart of all that he does for his constituency: the Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC. As he has said: ‘There’s an issue about infrastructure… people come back from work tired and busy, so they just close their doors and don’t interact with their neighbours.’
Mr Saktiandi’s plan for promoting gotong-royong and kampung spirit is multi-faceted, and is primarily concerned with involving the elderly and the youth. Given Toa Payoh’s demographic make-up, he has identified its rapidly ageing population as one of their main concerns, believing that it is necessary to upgrade physical infrastructure in order to improve the mobility of the elderly.
More importantly, Mr Saktiandi advocates for the creation of a community that works together and for social capital, seeking to encourage Singaporeans to work towards the common good. His plan is two-pronged. The first part is focussed on getting youths to be more invested in the community – especially within their constituency. The second is about strengthening intergenerational bonds by encouraging the elderly to engage with the youth and share their hard-earned knowledge and wisdom.
As for what exactly it is that youths can take part in should they wish to contribute back to society, Mr Saktiandi offered several suggestions – youths could create awareness, or get involved in grassroots activities, or begin their own startups and projects with support from organisations who fund youths willing to contribute to the community. There is no lack of opportunity for youths seeking to involve themselves in the community. It is hence fundamentally about inertia, and whether youths are prepared to commit the time and effort necessary to play a role in the community. As Mr Saktiandi has pointed out, it is necessary for youths to move beyond the mentality of participating in community service merely for Co-Curricular Activity (CCA) points, and towards an understanding of how their service may benefit the community and society. Only then can service be sustainable. Certainly, the sustainability of a social enterprise depends on how innovative it can be – but when all is said and done, as Mr Saktiandi has said, what determines the success of any social enterprise is passion.
When asked about any advice he might like to give to students aspiring to join politics, Mr Saktiandi gave the standard answers – to join Meet-the-People Sessions and get directly involved in the political parties themselves – but beyond the usual, he also urged youth to be more aware of the issues that the average Singaporean faces, and to remember that politics is, at its heart, about making an impact and a difference. As he put it: ‘You help individuals, residents, bit by bit. Even if you don’t help a hundred people, you help one.’ His remarks help to remind us that we should return to the original purpose of politics – and most important of all, remember why a person might choose to become a politician: to help those who have fallen through the cracks.
Mr Dennis Tan Lip Fong
by Nicole Tan (16A13A), Justin Lim (16A01B), Md Khairillah (16A01B), Adelyn Tan (16A01E)
One of the great mysteries of Rafflesian school life was solved at last, during our interview with Mr Dennis Tan. Cohorts of RI boys making the transition to Raffles Junior College or what is now Year 5-6 in RI have long wondered about the genesis of the folded sleeves and pleats on the back of the shirt that distinguish their uniform from that of their juniors.
As it turns out, it was the Welfare Committee of the 7th Students’ Council that was tasked to look into feedback from the student body that the RJC uniform didn’t seem quite befitting of older students – this was, of course, the late ‘80s, when the A-line skirts of Hwa Chong JC and Victoria JC were the height of cool.
The Welfare Committee, of which Mr Tan was a part, delved with gusto into the matter. What they found out surprised them: RJC girls preferred to forego the vacuity of coolness for the comfort of their flared skirts. As such, the skirt was left as it was, while subtle changes were made to the male shirt as a result of the 7th Council’s Welfare
For Mr Tan, it was an ongoing lesson in the art of leadership and listening that had begun in his NCC Sea days. Part of this stemmed from the fact that NCC Sea lacked a direct teacher I/C, which saw the seniors take a much larger role in the running of the CCA. ‘We would learn from them, and we looked up to them. They were mentors to us,’ Mr Tan recalls fondly. ‘They taught me how to get along with people, how
There is a quiet intensity about Mr Tan, and a thoughtfulness and a quality of attention he brings to the conversation that is arresting without being overwhelming. He is actively listening to our every question, and speaking as if we are the only people in the world who matter at the moment. We wonder to ourselves if this was something he picked up from his NCC Sea seniors.
Mr Tan’s favourite subjects in school – History and Literature – certainly shaped his way of seeing and being with the world – and account in no small part for that thoughtfulness about him. History classes, he notes, ‘gave me an understanding of the histories of the countries around us, the histories and politics of the world.’ Mr Tan was particularly struck by how colonialism affected Southeast Asia, and how nationalism emerged as a political response to that in the course of the 20th century. And it was his Literature teachers in Sec 3 as well as JC that opened his eyes to poetry: ‘There was a lot of rote learning involved in Lit back then, but my teachers who thought me in those years made me look at things – at life – in a different way. I learnt how poetry mirrors life, how when you learn about literature you learn about different ways of seeing life. In the years that followed, I was reading a lot of poetry.’
History, Literature, NCC, Council – all this set the stage for Tan’s turn towards politics; attending political rallies first with his parents and later with his classmates too, galvanised his nascent political consciousness.
One of the decisive factors that drew Mr Tan into politics was the felt sense that income inequality has become the defining issue of our time. In recent years, Mr Tan’s volunteer work brought him into contact with many Singaporeans who had fallen through the cracks. ‘A lot of Singaporeans need help – they don’t live as comfortably as other Singaporeans.’
He feels that Singaporean politics has been a little too right-leaning in its political orientation. ‘We’ve treated social welfare as taboo, a dirty word. But that’s missing the point,’ he asserts. ‘The point should be about how you’re going to narrow the income gap, so that the country can progress as a whole in this fast-paced, competitive environment.’
‘How can Singapore push ahead and not leave any of our citizens behind? Especially those who may not be as well-educated and privileged as far as economic opportunities are concerned?’ Clearly, Tan’s heart is with those on the margins, and the issue of social justice weighs heavily on his mind.
Mr Tan continues, ‘It’s pride that causes people to think that they are better than others. It’s very tempting for someone who’s a high achiever to think that they know everything. Humility is important, as is respect for the people around regardless of their educational background.’
Mr Tan’s other top concern for Singapore relates to our level of political maturity as a country: ‘Everybody should have an interest in politics and the political development of Singapore – it’s not something that is the sole province of politicians,’ he says.
For him, this is a crucial matter because of our country’s size. ‘Survival is never easy for a small country – changes tend to have a disproportionately large effect on us.’ As such, ‘it’s important that we can collectively take ownership of our future, and it shouldn’t be a decision left to a ruling government.’
‘An elected government always has a role to lead the country, but Singaporeans should tale a greater interest in where we want this country to go, and be more vocal about their views.’
But would that greater vocality and increased debate lead to more fractures and fissures, we wonder aloud. Mr Tan gently disagrees, ‘Even though these debates may be divisive at times, as we develop to be a more mature society, we must learn to be more mature about handling these debates. We can’t just pretend that it doesn’t happen. We have to figure out the rules of engagement.’
He pauses, and, steepling his fingers, says decisively, ‘People need to learn how to grow and decide things for themselves. We’ll know that we’re a mature country to the extent that people can decide for themselves.’