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Nov 11, 2007
Meet Bukit Panjang's 'ang moh leader'
Englishman is one of 900 permanent residents who volunteer at grassroots groups, and the number could rise with more foreigners becoming PRs
By Jamie Ee Wen Wei
PERMANENT RESIDENTS (from left) Shi Yunlan, D. Senbagamaran, Anthony Fulwood and Yahya Dauda have stepped forward to serve their communities. -- ST PHOTO: WANG HUI FEN
AROUND the Bukit Panjang neighbourhood where Englishman Anthony Fulwood lives, he is simply known as the 'ang moh leader''.

Residents go to him when they want something fixed, such as when the lift breaks down.

Mr Fulwood, who has been living in Bukit Panjang for two years, holds three positions in grassroots bodies, including the chairmanship of Zhenghua Integration and Naturalisation Champions Committee, which aims to help new immigrants settle in.

Residents were initially surprised to see a Caucasian turning up on their doorsteps during house visits by grassroots leaders.

'In the past, they would just stare at me. But now, nobody stares anymore. I'm just part of the furniture in the estate,' said Mr Fulwood.

The People's Association said there are about 900 permanent residents (PRs) here who volunteer as grassroots leaders.

While the PRs form just 3 per cent of the 26,000 grassroots leaders here, the number could very well grow, with more foreigners becoming Singapore PRs.

In the first nine months of this year alone, 46,900 foreigners were granted PR status, compared to 57,300 for the whole of last year.

The PRs who are grassroots leaders hail from countries such as Myanmar, Germany, Australia and the United States.

Mr Fulwood, 28, a teacher, has always liked helping people. When he was in London, he volunteered at a church by taking senior citizens to mass every Saturday evening.

When he came here in 2004 to marry his Singaporean girlfriend, he volunteered with the Singapore Sports Council and helped out in events such as the annual Standard Chartered Marathon. He was also a guide for foreign delegates who attended the International Olympic Committee Session here in July 2005.

So when he moved into his HDB executive flat in Segar Road, he called up the residents' committee there to offer his services.

The father of a one-month-old son relishes the smiles and thank-yous from the residents he serves.

He said: 'Knowing that I've helped them, that's all the satisfaction I need.'

When Chinese national Madam Shi Yunlan, 35, moved into her Sengkang flat with her Singaporean husband four years ago, she thought that joining the RC would help her make more friends.

Now, she plays badminton at the community centre with a group of more than 10 neighbours every weekend.

The software designer said PRs who are grassroots leaders often have to overcome language and cultural barriers.

It took her 10 years of living in Singapore to learn English and to understand Singaporeans.

As the vice-chairman of the Sengkang West Zone C RC, she makes an effort to dress more conservatively when she visits a Malay family, and not in her usual T-shirt and shorts.

She has also picked up the lahs and lors of Singlish.

'My fellow grassroots leaders still tease me about it,' she said.

Talk to Nigerian Mr Yahya Dauda, 40, and terms such as CPF and HDB upgrading roll off his tongue as easily as that of a native Singaporean. The financial planner, who has been here since 2005, is married to a Singaporean and the couple have a two-year-old daughter.

As the block representative of Marine Terrace Breeze RC, he bones up on government policies so that he can explain them to his neighbours.

For him, joining the grassroots is the best way to learn about Singapore - and discover Singaporeans' quirks.

'They complain a lot. And the funny thing is, sometimes you don't even understand what they are complaining about,' he said with a laugh.

Businessman D. Senbagamaran, a PR from India, has been serving the Bishan East Zone 5 RC for seven years. Two years ago, he collected an award for five years of service to the community.

Mr Senbagamaran, 51, who hails from Tamil Nadu, said he became a grassroots leaders to pay back Singapore for giving him a 'safer environment to live in'.

It bugs him that many of the Singaporeans he meets are not interested in grassroots work. He is trying to get his two daughters, aged 10 and 18, interested in grassroots volunteerism by taking them to block parties and functions.

He said: 'We need to come up with some new exciting programmes to attract youngsters to become grassroots volunteers.'

jamieee@sph.com.sg

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