An interview with our Friend of Water, Mr Lee Keng Mun
People who often visit Marina Barrage or have participated in World Water Day 2014 at Jurong Lake may remember meeting an energetic and cheerful senior, with a big smile and an even bigger heart. He would often be seen in a Friends of Water polo t-shirt and cap, and is always happy to share Singapore Water Story.
Mr Lee Keng Mun, both a retiree and grandfather, started volunteering with PUB in 2010. Now, Mr Lee displays great enthusiasm as a volunteer at NEWater Visitor Centre and participates in various water-related programs. Let’s have a talk with Mr Lee to find out more about his volunteer journey and his personal motivation for contributing to the water cause.
What inspired you to dedicate your time and effort for the water cause?
As a retiree, I have to keep myself constantly active and engaged, lest I become senile. Some people questioned why I put in so much effort as a volunteer for water, when I could spend my time playing poker or mah-jong instead. But my respond to them is that I am driven by the memories of my youth.
Now, at seventy years old, I still remember how difficult it was to get water back then. I grew up on the top floor of an old three-storey building in Chinatown. Whenever my family needed water, we had to shout to the people living below to turn off their taps. There was not enough clean water and the water pressure was too low. We barely had enough water for daily usage. The dry seasons were particularly harsh. Water rationing was frequently exercised. Thus, whenever we needed water, we had to bring down pails and queue in front of the water truck to get our supply.
Not only that, since my house in Chinatown was very near to the Singapore River, it was incredibly smelly and full of rubbish back then. And also because getting clean water was a challenge, we never even dreamed of having clean and beautiful waterways. Compared to the old Singapore River, what Singapore currently has is almost like heaven. Now, whenever I looked at the black and white photos that remind me of my childhood days displayed at NEWater Visitor Centre or Marina Barrage, I tell myself to remember the difficult times, to be grateful for what we have today and to keep trying my best. I am very happy to have not only my wife and children supporting me in my decision to become a volunteer, but also getting words of encouragement from long-time friends and classmates as well.
Could you share the challenges you face and some particularly enjoyable movements during your volunteering journey?
As much as I love volunteering, there are times when the program schedule and my available time clashes. As a result, I have to turn down some opportunities. Ultimately, I am a husband, father and grandfather before I am a volunteer, so making trade-offs is something I often have to consider.
During my time as a Marina Barrage Ambassador, I realized that engaging others to spread the water message can be a bit difficult. This is because majority of the people come to Marina Barrage for leisure and fun activities, so getting their attention is not an easy task. Over time, I learned how to gauge the audience and engage the right people. On rare occasions, I joined them in their activities too so that it allows me to share on the water messages.
What I enjoy most as a volunteer is meeting fellow retirees and others of my age. Being able to talk about the good old times, catch up on memories and feel nostalgic together is a very special feeling, something that I would like to think of as a rare privilege of old age. Telling stories to children and visitors about how incredibly Singapore has changed over the years is another thing I never get tired of.
Do you have any word of advice for other volunteers and people of the next generation?
My advice to all volunteers and anyone who is thinking of becoming one is to know what the cause of their volunteering activity is and why it matters. When I was volunteering at Marina Barrage, I was moved by two of the sculptures there. One of them is called “Force of Nature”, showing a woman trying to wrestle the Earth into her control and the other statue has two circles lying on top of each other to form the number 8 which is called “What Goes Around, Comes Around”.Both statues remind me to always be mindful of our actions and the consequences. I feel that we should never be complacent and take things for granted, especially when it comes to how we treat our precious water resource. Having been through the hardship of constant water shortage, I believe that we should do our part to preserve it.
Hence, I would like to remind those who are considering to volunteer to think about the importance of their actions. As long as we are aware of the cause that we are volunteering for, we would definitely not hesitate or be reluctant in doing what is right.
By Noorliana Sadli and Tran Dac Trung
Friends of Water aims to recognize, inspire and encourage community stewardship of Singapore’s water resources.
A little effort from the heart goes a long way when everyone plays a part.