How Ramadan Diaries series opened minds, homes and hearts

There are almost a million unskilled and semi-skilled foreign workers in Singapore, and those from Bangladesh form a large percentage of the group. They build our homes, clean our streets and take up essential roles in our plants and factories.

Yet, other than occupying the same crowded MRT trains on Sundays or shopping in Little India, Singaporeans hardly cross paths with migrant workers who mostly live on worksites and dormitories away from residential estates.
The lack of interaction does little to help counter stereotypes of the community which tend to make the news only when laws have been broken.

But how much do we actually know about the lives and struggles of these foreign workers?


When property developer Lendlease approached CNA Insider in April 2018 for a collaboration to highlight the lives of foreign workers during Ramadan – a time for family and reflection – the team saw an opportunity to challenge public perceptions that are often biased due to a lack of insight.

A group of four men aged between 26 and 33 was introduced to CNA Insider. They came from different parts of Bangladesh but shared a similar narrative – working in Singapore was their ticket out of a tough life back home.

At first shy and reticent, and self-conscious of their poor grasp of English, they were not the easiest subjects to work with. It took CNA Insider journalists several rounds of chat over home-cooked meals at their Mandai dormitory to get them to drop their guard and open up.

One of them clearly stood out.

Kadir Mohammad Abdul, 32. Source: Ray Yeh

Kadir Mohammad Abdul, 33, wore the taqiyah and kept a large beard. His appearance may intimidate strangers, but after getting to know him, the CNA Insider journalists were won over by his infectious smile and optimistic outlook in life.

They were also drawn to his story of perseverance. Starting out as a general worker who was berated daily by his supervisor, he climbed his way up the ladder to become a construction safety supervisor highly valued by his employer.

The first part of the Ramadan Diaries series offered a glimpse into the daily lives of Kadir and his colleagues during Ramadan – the hardships, sacrifices and the support that they received at work.
The accompanying video story received almost a million combined views on CNA Insider’s Facebook and YouTube pages, and prompted comments like this:

“Heartbreaking. Thank you CNA Insider for opening our eyes to the lives of unsung heroes who build the very homes that Singaporeans live in,” wrote Facebook user Grace Sun.

To maximise the series’ social impact, part 2 focused on what Singaporeans could do to reach out to migrant workers.

Kadir and friends sharing the iftar meal with Siti Zawiyah’s family. Source: Ruth Smalley

It featured a husband and wife pair, Fadzullah Hassan and Siti Zawiyah, who invited Kadir and friends – who had never been in a Housing & Development Board flat – to their home.

“We’ve been breaking fast at the mosque with them (foreign workers), and we’ve always wanted them at our house but we just don’t know how to approach them,” she said.

Being invited to dinner with the family was a “heart pain” experience for Kadir who, having spent six consecutive Ramadans away from his wife and three children, broke down crying.

Kadir getting emotional. He had spent six Ramadan away from his family.
Source: Ruth Smalley

He later said: “My family is just the same. We would break fast like this. I am very happy.”


The Ramadan series on Kadir and his co-workers touched the hearts of many viewers and readers, as seen from comments they left on CNA Insider’s social media pages.

To keep up the momentum, CNA Insider posed a simple question on Facebook: Would you invite migrant workers to your home for dinner?

An avalanche of responses followed. More than 50 families – both Muslims and non-Muslims – contacted the team to express interest in hosting foreign workers at their homes.

With facilitation by CNA Insider, eight families opened up their homes to migrant workers over two weekends.

The experience turned out to be more than hosts or guests had imagined – and the start of friendships for some. One family prepared a special Bengali delicacy for their Bangladeshi migrant worker guests. Another, not content with just a home-cooked meal, gave their guests Hari Raya gifts and food to take back to their dormitory.

At the home of Mohammad Hamim and Fatimah Sawifi. Source: Fatimah Sawifi

“I come this house, I feel like it’s my house,” said migrant worker Shariful Islam who was hosted by Fatimah Sawifi, a teacher, and her husband Mohammad Hamim.

Fatimah said: “It was so very enlightening, we were wondering what held us back (from talking to them) in the past.”

Nicholas Yeo, who is not Muslim, got a Muslim friend to whip up a home-cooked spread.
“We were able to relate with one another over many common experiences, despite being so seemingly different,” he said, adding that he would consider inviting the migrant workers over on other festive occasions.

Marlene Chua, 28 (extreme right) and her sister with their guests on June 17, 2018. Source: Marlene Chua

Another host, Marlene Chua, said “it is like having friends over”. “Migrant workers make up a huge part of our society and life, and yet we know so little about them,” she added.

The difficulty, Hamim said, is: “I think Singaporeans are very open, but we don’t know how to go about reaching out.”

But some viewers pointed out on CNA Insider’s Facebook page that one could easily do what one can, such as Noraini Khodri-Siebley who wrote that during Ramadan, she cooked an extra portion every weekend “for the Bangladeshi boy who cleans my block. He’s just like my son. Maybe he’s not comfortable sitting with my family … at least he would take his iftar which we prepared.”

The stories resonated for a long time, with readers sending questions and compliments for many months after publication.

“The response to this series highlighted how good journalism has the power to challenge stereotypes and be a positive force,” said Yvonne Lim, Supervising Editor of CNA Insider.

This story by Ruth Smalley and Ray Yeh was originally published by CNA on Aug 22. To read more click here.

Indian star tortoises homeward bound

Surya and Perumal are two illegal immigrants who have been living in Singapore for the past five years. On Nov 26, both will be sent back to their homeland – India – along with 48 others at a cost of about $50,000 (USD $36,300).

What’s so special about their return? Well, they are not humans – but Indian star tortoises who are now a step away from being listed as an endangered species under the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

The 50 Indian star tortoises who were smuggled into Singapore are lucky: They will enjoy a safe return home on Singapore Airlines as a result of an initiative by the animal welfare group Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres). They were rescued by members of Acres at various times and locations in Singapore over the past five years. This species, which is native to India and Sri Lanka, is noted for its distinctive star-patterned shells.

Indian star tortoises are seen as symbols of longevity by many. According to Ms Anbarasi Boopal, Acres’ deputy chief executive, they are also believed to lengthen a person’s lifespan if they are kept as pets.

She added: “These tortoises are meant to live in arid or dry climates and are not suitable for the humid weather of Singapore. By bringing them in illegally, these animals go through a great deal of torment.” The Convention on International Trade in Endangered

Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), of which Singapore is a signatory, protects the Indian star tortoises and bans their international trade.


Despite international sanctions, between 10,000 and 20,000 Indian star tortoises are smuggled out of India annually. They are usually taken to countries such as Thailand and Malaysia before being smuggled into Singapore, said Ms Anbarasi.

After being snatched from their natural habitat, they are drugged and restrained in tight compartments like suitcases. After which they endure long travel with little breathing space. Many of them don’t survive. Some that do become household pets. But, just like used toys, some owners get bored of them or simply cannot maintain them any more and release them.

Around a hundred of such abandoned tortoises have been rescued by Acres over the past nine years and have been fostered in their wildlife sanctuary. Next month, the 50 Indian star tortoises will be sent on a flight to Bangalore and subsequently to an appropriate wildlife sanctuary. SIA will absorb the flight costs.

“They will be packed in containers which are in full compliance with the IATA Live Animals Regulations. They will be loaded in cargo compartments with temperature control and ventilation,” said an SIA spokesperson.

Rescued Indian star tortoises which were housed at animal welfare group Acres’ (Animal Concerns Research and Education Society) wildlife sanctuary in Choa Chu Kang, taken on 26 Oct 2018. Source: Jonathan Choo

Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) has also expressed its support for the repatriation.

Since 2013, the AVA has handled more than 100 cases of illegal possession of wildlife in Singapore. Of these, 17 involved Indian star tortoises.

Enforcement action, such as prosecution in court, was taken and the seized tortoises were sent to the Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS).

“In this case, we engaged the Indian authorities and issued a CITES permit to Acres to repatriate the star tortoises to India,” said an AVA spokesperson.


Repatriating these tortoises comes with a price tag of at least $50,000 and Acres being a non-governmental organisation is entirely dependent on public funds to carry out the process, pointed out Ms Anbarasi.’

“The funds collected will be channelled towards flight tickets for personnel accompanying the tortoises, land transfer, specially-designed transportation crates, food for the animals during quarantine, erecting a soft-release enclosure with CCTV cameras and micro-chipping, manpower for daily monitoring and caring and quarantine and blood tests,” she said.

Acres is now collecting funds through crowd-funding websites! and Coupled with money given by their regular donors, the amount collected now stands at around $21,000.

Minister for Home Affairs and Law K. Shanmugam has supported the Acres initiative. He said in a Facebook posting: “Currently, Acres is trying to repatriate the Indian Star Tortoises back to India where they belong. It is a challenging task for the team and they are looking to raise funds to help in this exercise. You can visit the site link they have provided to learn more and extend a helping hand. Do help spread the word.”

They were rescued by members of animal welfare group Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres) at various times and locations in Singapore over the past five years. The rescued are housed at Acres’ wildlife sanctuary in Choa Chu Kang, taken on 26 Oct 2018. Source: Jonathan Choo

Apart from local organisations, Acres has also reached out to Wildlife SOS India, which has agreed to support this cause. It is a non-profit conservation outfit based in India that has been actively involved in protecting, rescuing and rehabilitating wildlife.

“A team comprising a veterinary doctor, documentation expert and liaison officer will travel to Singapore and accompany the tortoises and the Acres team back to India,” said Mr Kartick Satyanarayan, the co-founder and chairman of Wildlife SOS India .

“They have been working closely with the state forest department to identify a suitable location for the release of these tortoises into their natural habitat. They will install radio telemetry devices to carry out post-release monitoring to ensure the tortoises’ survival in the wild.”

This story was first published in Tabla! on November 2, 2018.


Journalist Venga first found about the repatriation of the Indian Star Tortoises repatriation by Acres (Animal Concerns Research and Education Society) from the crowdfunding websites and The Facebook page of Acres had also shared some details of the project. The fact that the tortoises were a species native to India and that Acres had actually given the tortoises names such as ‘Surya’ and ‘Perumal’ caught the attention of the journalist who then pitched the story to the editorial team. Garnering the approval of the editor, Venga went to the Acres office on that afternoon itself. It was a Monday afternoon on a 22nd October 2018 when Venga first did the interview with Anbarasi Boopal, Deputy CEO of Acres who enlightened Venga with many details of the repatriation project. This included the common routes used to smuggle the star tortoises and that SIA will be sponsoring the flight cost of the tortoises.
Hearing the information, the editorial team of Tamil Murasu had thought that we could run a full feature on the story accompanying an Infographic. Art Editor Peter Thomas William played a crucial role in guiding the infographic to its final outcome and also suggested to do a video story. Having agreed upon the idea, Venga then arranged for videographer Gregory Marc Loo and did the video interview with Acres. The video comprised of the star tortoises, their living conditions, treatment received and information on their repatriation. Venga also did a PTC both in Tamil for Tamil Murasu and in English for Tabla!
Subsequently, an infographic for both Tamil and English was arranged by Venga with information on the common smuggling routes illustrated by the guiding arrows on a world map, coupled with essential facts and figures on the Star tortoises. Last but not least, two full-length features were written for both Tamil Murasu and Tabla! Including the infographic. All this work was done in just under a week. The team along with Venga did not want to wait to release this exclusive story.
The story along with the video was published on Tamil Murasu on 28th October 2018 whereas it was published on Tabla! on 2nd November.
The Acres tortoise repatriation story was published as features in both Tamil Murasu and Tabla!. The story came with an infographic and an accompanying a video story which was well received by the community at large.

From Singapore to India– on bikes

When Mr S. Balachandran and his two friends, who call themselves the 2019 Centennial Riders, decided to ride their motorbikes from Singapore to India, they were told that it was impossible.

“There was a lot of criticism and opposition to our idea. Some laughed at us and called us crazy. They said our bikes would break down and come back in pieces,” said the businessman.

The Singaporean trio, however, wanted to prove their critics wrong and so went ahead with the trip to commemorate Singapore’s bicentennial year. They also wanted to push the limits of their Honda Gold Wing motorbikes.

There was very little oxygen and we struggled to breathe. It was so cold that ice started forming on our bikes. But somehow we managed to persevere and reach the Everest base camp.

“We took it up as sort of a ‘resilience challenge’,” said Mr Balachandran.

“Singapore suffered through many challenges to get to where it is today. So we thought of accomplishing something similar. I believe the Gold Wing hasn’t been ridden in such a way, and we wanted to prove that it can be.”

Mr Balachandran, 56, and his friends, Mr P. Pannirselvam, 54, and Mr A. Arunagiri, 53, both of whom are Singapore Armed Forces regulars, started their road trip on March 26 and covered 13,458km, riding up to 400km a day, in 43 days.

From Singapore, their journey took them to Malaysia, Thailand, Myanmar, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Nepal, China and India.

They usually rode from 5.30am to 5pm and rested at night.

Each rode a Honda Gold Wing, a popular touring motorcycle which weighed about 500kg, and spent more than $10,000 on the trip.

“These bikes are luxury bikes which are meant for well-paved roads and not tough terrains. This proved to be a challenge, especially when we went to the mountainous regions of Nepal and Tibet,” said Mr Balachandran.

Three Singaporean bikers pose infront of at Tamilnadu’s Brihadishvara temple or Thanjai periya kovil. Source: P. Pannirselvam


The trio feared that they would be hit by wet weather during the trip. Instead, they faced extreme weather conditions.

India is particularly hot during the summer (March to May), when temperatures in the north can be 40 deg C or more.

Said Mr Balachandran: “The biggest challenge for us was the extreme weather conditions. Certain parts of India, especially the north, were so hot that it went over 50 deg C. Lucknow got as high as 51 deg C. But at the Everest it got as cold as minus 3 deg C.

“When it was hot, we were so tired and thirsty that we had no appetite to eat. We just drank water and took many breaks. We also allowed the bikes to cool. The tyres could have burned if they were in contact with the ground for too long.

“In some places, there were no air-conditioners. We had only fans, which blew hot air at us while we slept at night. Imagine how uncomfortable it was.”

The highlight of their journey was the ride to the base camp of Mount Everest in Nepal, which sits at an altitude of 5,157m.

They started from Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital, on April 14 and it took them four days to cover the 714km to the Everest base camp. The route took them through Kerung, a village on the Nepal-China border, and Tingri, a picturesque town in southern Tibet.

The bikers were not prepared for the cold and the low oxygen levels, but they had thick clothing.

“Travelling in the Everest area was difficult,” said Mr Pannirselvam, an army warrant officer.

“There was very little oxygen and we struggled to breathe. It was so cold that ice started forming on our bikes. But somehow we managed to persevere and reach the Everest base camp. We are very proud as we believe that we are the first group of riders to take the Honda Gold Wing bike to such heights.”

From the Everest base camp, the bikers returned to Kathmandu and then headed for Varanasi, the holy city for Hindus in India, via Sonauli and Gorakhpur – a two-day, 482km trip.

Bikers at Northern part of India riding past snow-capped mountains. Source: P. Pannirselvam

Other than dealing with the climate, the trio also had to contend with less-than-ideal roads.

“In Kathmandu, there were places without roads, just sandy paths which served as makeshift roads. Heavy pebbles and potholes were common. I fell from my bike many times,” said Mr Pannirselvam.

“Once, the gear-shifting mechanism in my bike broke and we were stuck in the middle of nowhere. Thankfully, we hailed a lorry and the driver was kind enough to load the bike and take it to a mechanic.

The riders also had to cross 57 flimsy bridges in Myanmar.

“They were mostly wooden and had not been maintained for many years. We had to push our bikes across most of them,” said Mr Pannirselvam.

In India, the trio were greeted like celebrities. Big groups gathered to gawk at their luxurious bikes, which are rarely seen on Indian roads. People in cars and motorcycles who rode past them often slowed down to take photos.

Crowds also gathered wherever they stopped.

“At times, we couldn’t even see our bikes because people would cover them,” said Mr Balachandran. “We had to push our way through to reach them.

“One guy even tried to climb onto a bike for a photo despite repeated warnings from us. He fell but luckily didn’t injure himself.”

Dodging animals such as cows and dogs on narrow Indian roads was another issue for the riders. Since their motorbikes were big, it was difficult to manoeuvre past the animals.

To ensure safety, they had to maintain speeds of 50kmh to 60kmh, which made their entire trip longer.

This photo was taken in a wooden bridge in Myanmar where a biker had to struggle his way through the bridge. Source: P. Pannirselvam

In Mangaluru, a city in Karnataka, hordes gathered when they parked their motorbikes at the Patillion.

This attracted the attention of a reporter from Kannada daily Hosa Digantha, whose offices are located right next to the hotel.

Their story made the headlines in the newspaper on May 2.

Their arrival in Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu, on May 5 also attracted wide media coverage. They were featured prominently in the Vikatan and Deccan Chronicle.

They usually rode from 5.30am to 5pm and rested at night. Each rode a Honda Gold Wing, a popular touring motorcycle which weighed about 500kg, and spent more than $10,000 on the trip.

At most of the hotels where they stayed in India, the three men put up stickers celebrating Singapore’s bicentennial.


The bikers began planning their trip in June last year. They first charted the route, engaged agents and identified accommodation.

They then booked their lodgings all the way to Tibet, while keeping their options open in India.

Mr Balachandran acknowledged that there were many questions and doubts in the beginning.

“When I got the idea for the trip, I approached Pannirselvam,” said Mr Balachandran.

“He asked me many tough questions, such as: ‘What would we do in case of a breakdown? What do we do if there are no roads? If someone fell sick or got into an accident, would we still carry on?’

“I did thorough research to convince my two friends that it was possible to do the trip and that it would be a great achievement if we were to complete it. Every problem has a solution, and I was determined to find the solution and attempt this venture.”

The trio wanted to travel to Sri Lanka too but this fell through because of travel restrictions to the country following the Easter Sunday bombings this year.

They returned to Singapore from Chennai on May 8. Their bikes were shipped back on June 15.

This story was first published on Tabla!, Jun 21, 2019, Tamil Murasu, Jun 23, 2019, The Straits Times, Jun 25 2019

The story was first published on Tabla! Followed by Tamil Murasu and then The Straits Times. It was an inspiring story portraying the strong nationalistic spirit of three Indian men who rode across 9 different countries in 43 days on their Hold Gold Wing bikes. The trip was intended to commemorate Singapore’s bicentennial year. The story was first tipped off to us by readers through our Facebook. Journalist Venga caught on these leads and started contacting the riders as soon as they came back to Singapore. Venga met and interviewed the riders at their usual coffee shop at Bedok where the riders meet to hang out and plan their trips. The Straits Times picking up the article from Tabla! was the icing on the cake. It brought the inspiring story of the riders to the national audience. Reporter Venga was involved in the process of the story, infographics, photos and social media reach of the story throughout.

Delivery lady with cerebral palsy

Like any other food deliverers, Ms Sumaiyah Ghazali is willing to travel under the scorching hot sun and the cold rain to ensure the food is safely delivered to the customer’s doorstep.

However, unlike other deliverers who ‘run’ to deliver their food on time, Ms Sumaiyah, 40, go through her everyday tasks on a wheelchair.

Despite being diagnosed with cerebral palsy and is unable to walk ever since her birth, her physical disadvantages have never been a hindrance for her to be independent and for her to give back to society.

“I am unable to walk, but with this wheelchair… it’s akin to my legs. At least, I can move, I can work,” said Ms Sumaiyah who started to work as a deliverer with GrabFood since four months ago.

The eldest among four agrees that her siblings who were born normal and have high income are able to cover her living expenses.

However, Ms Sumaiyah wants to make a living on her own.

“If I don’t work, and only my siblings work, I will feel as though I’m useless.

“I do not want to burden anyone, they have to take care of me… till when?” she said.

Ms Sumaiyah has worked in the administration line at an office before, but her fingers were weak which made typing difficult.

Because of that, she decided to switch jobs to a food deliverer with GrabFood.

Ms Sumaiyah works five days and spends six to eight hours a day.

During an interview with Berita Harian (BH), Ms Sumaiyah shared that one of the challenges was to ensure food is delivered on fast and on time.

Besides getting around in a wheelchair, Ms Sumaiyah also takes the public transport to reach further destinations beyond her place in Tampines.

She has received a complaint regarding food delay, but upon reaching the destination, the customer understood and empathise her condition.

Now, Ms Sumaiyah ensures that she informs her customers that she’s disabled to avoid misunderstanding.

“I feel satisfied when I manage to send food orders on time…

“I feel good when I deliver food to people, this means my service is useful to the community…

“Don’t just sit down and do nothing,” she added.

This article by Nur Humaira Sajat was originally published by Berita Harian on April 4, 2019.

Published on April 4, 2019, journalist Nur Humaira Sajat’s story in Berita Harian drew attention to the disabled community who makes a living out of food delivery. Inspired by a cerebral palsy lady who earns a living through food delivery, and gets around via a wheelchair, Humaira decided to highlight a day in a life of the disabled woman. She said: “With the society’s growing dependence on food delivery – receiving their food at their doorstep in the quickest time possible – many are not aware of the challenges faced by the minority who are disabled and have difficulties moving around quickly. We barely hear a first hand account of a disabled delivery rider.” Getting Ms Sumaiyah Ghazali to share her story was not easy. It was only after days of convincing and a few phone conversations that Ms Sumaiyah agreed to open up. The journalist then followed her around on foot and public transport as she does her deliveries around Tampines estate. Humaira witnessed the challenges faced and the resilience Ms Sumaiyah had in ensuring she delivers food on time despite the limitations of her condition and the wheelchair. After running the video and story, positive messages flooded the comments section of the story, and many shared the video while spreading appreciation messages to the disabled like Ms Sumaiyah who displays hardwork and determination despite their setbacks. Humaira said: “Emotional stories that tug on the heartstrings make people empathise more easily. Even though only one individual is highlighted, the story can be representative of the disabled community, and hopefully this can foster values like patience and understanding especially in a fast-paced society like Singapore.”

Three S’porean sisters married to three Indian brothers

Mrs Jaya Lakshmi Kanniyappan, a Singaporean mother of five children (four daughters and a son), had nurtured the hope that her three eldest children – all girls – would get married to boys from one family, like her mother and two aunts had done in the ’60s.

Little did she know that it would become reality.

“For many years I did prayers and made vows to see my daughters marry into the same family. If they married separately, I was afraid that they might get separated over time,” she said. “I also felt that too many problems could arise if they got married into separate families.”

Now, Mrs Jaya Lakshmi, 50 and her husband Suppiah Manikam, 57, are happy parents. Their eldest daughters – Raynuga, 30, Jayanthi, 27, and Gowri, 25 – have married three brothers – Arun, 31, Balaji, 30, and Hariharasudan, 29, respectively – who hail from the Ramalingam family with origins in Sirkazhi, a town in Nagapattinam district in Tamil Nadu, India.

“Now my eldest three daughters have the same in-laws. They are very nice and supportive. I am sure that no matter what issues arise, they will be able to tackle it together as one family. My daughters are in safe hands,” said a beaming Mrs Jaya Lakshmi.

The wedding ceremonies involving the three couples took place almost at the same time on Nov 24 last year at the Singapore Khalsa Association.

The couples recently celebrated their first Pongal (an Indian harvest festival celebrated by Tamils) together.

The first Pongal celebrated after marriage is called “Thalai Pongal” and is considered auspicious as it symbolises the joy they will receive for the rest of their lives.

All three couples live together in a four-room rental flat in Compassvale, a neighbourhood in Sengkang New Town. The three couples share the cost of the rental flat equally.

The sisters are Singaporeans and hold decent-paying jobs in private companies. Only Arun, among the brothers, is working here as a landscaper. The other brothers, who have long-term visit passes, are seeking jobs .


Destiny played a role in all three couples coming together.

It all started in June 2015 when the Suppiah family decided to go on a 10-day sightseeing trip to Tamil Nadu.

Their tour guide was Arun, who was based in Chennai along with his other family members and had eight years’ experience taking people around cities and towns in the state .

“I used to work at Changi airport and my colleagues recommended Arun to me,” said Raynuga. “It was important to have a reputed guide who could be trusted as we were travelling overseas for the first time.

“Arun treated us like his own family. Once we returned to the hotel late because of an accident on the way and we couldn’t find dinner. The eateries and shops in India close early. Arun found food and brought it to us. It may have seemed like a small gesture, but I was very touched by it.”

Raynuga was 28 then and her parents were keen to see her get married.

The family decided to pray at the Sri Kalyanasundareswarar Temple in Thiruvelvikudi, Nagapattinam district, which is famous as a place where singles seek divine intervention to find suitable spouses. The Hindu temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva.

Raynuga received a hint of who her future husband would be after she circled the deity nine times.

“ I ended up seeing his (Arun’s) face,” she said. “I already knew that destiny had something in store for us. I began developing feelings for him, but I didn’t explicitly express them.”

After the family returned to Singapore, she continued to be in touch with Arun through video calls and messages. Soon, they openly expressed their love for each other.

“I missed Raynuga and her family. It was like being separated from a very important relationship when they left,” said Arun.

In October 2015, Arun and his family came to Singapore to discuss and confirm the marriage. The couple held their solemnisation ceremony on Aug 19, 2016.

During the ceremony, Arun’s younger brothers – Balaji and Hariharasudan – met Raynuga’s sisters Jayanthi and Gowri. They became friendly and soon deeper relationships developed.

“After the ceremony, when Balaji’s family were heading back to India, I had no heart to see them leave,” said Jayanthi.

Added Gowri: “During our trip to the airport, I was driving the car and Hariharasudan was in it. He played the song “Mane Mane” from the movie Uriyadi on his phone . He wanted to dedicate the song to me indirectly. My family and I eventually found out that he was trying his best to confess his love to me.”

A month later, Hariharasudan and Balaji returned to Singapore. They stayed for a month and professed their love for Gowri and Jayanthi respectively.

“I am a soft-spoken person and speak only when necessary. I found that Balaji had a similar character and was attracted to him,” said Jayanthi.

The couples kept in touch via messages and video calls even after the brothers left for India.

Subsequently, both families decided to hold all three weddings on the same day at the same time.


“Many friends and relatives told me that it was not advisable for all the couples to get married at the same time. But we spoke to different Hindu priests and they all said there was nothing wrong with it. So we decided to do what we thought was right,” said Mrs Jaya Lakshmi.

According to Raynuga, most people refrain from marrying at the same event along with their siblings because they will have to share the spotlight with another couple and costs for such ceremonies and celebrations could get high.

“But we knew that with the support of our strong families, we can overcome them,” she said.

Raynuga and her husband Arun. Source: Khalid Baba

The weddings took place nearly two years after she met Arun. It gave the family enough time to properly plan and prepare the finances.

Another concern was where the couple were going to stay – Singapore or India – after the weddings. Both families agreed that the brothers will move over to Singapore after they got married.

“I don’t think I can live apart from my daughters. I was very happy when their husbands agreed to stay in Singapore,” said Mrs Jaya Lakshmi.

For the couples, living together provides communal joy. But they face challenges as well.

“We split the costs among the the three couples. These include the rental and household bills,” said Raynuga.

They take turns to cook, either as couples, sisters or brothers. They also try their best to eat together to maintain the family unity.

However, a big challenge is the use of the toilet. The rental flat has two toilets, one in the master bedroom and the other in the kitchen.

Arun and Raynuga use the master bedroom toilet. The rest have to share the common toilet.

“We have to adjust our timings to use the toilet in the morning or when everyone needs to go somewhere at the same time. It can get frustrating, especially when we are in a rush. A lot of compromises are required,” said Raynuga.

They also sometimes travel together in Arun’s lorry, which can seat only three people at the front.

“Having our own transport doesn’t always make it convenient. In the morning when everyone needs to go to different places, it takes longer. Also because Arun has tons of items like blowers and pipes in his lorry, it can be inconvenient at times,” said Raynuga.

Balaji also pointed out that there will be challenges in finding a job here. But he is confident that he can overcome them. “With the strong support of my wife and her family, I am certain I can find a way around it,” he said.

Added Hariharasudan: “My wife is my support and backbone and I intend to live in Singapore for the long term. In the future, I hope to buy a big house, and live happily and peacefully.”

This story by Vengadeshwaran Subramaniam was originally published by Tamil Murasu on Jan 20, 2019.

As surprising as it sounds, this is not the first marriage of its kind in the girls’ family. Mrs Jaya Lakshmi’s mother, Mrs Kasiyammal Manikam, and two of her sisters also married three brothers. Mrs Kasiyammal had seven siblings and her family used to live in a house opposite a rehabilitation centre where Mr Kanniyappan Kaliyappan worked. They met and fell in love and decided to get married. But they faced resistance from their families who would approve only arranged marriages. The families soon realised that the pair were adamant on getting married and finally relented. Mrs Kasiyammal and Mr Kanniyappan got married in 1965. They are no longer alive. Subsequently, Mrs Kasiyammal’s two sisters also got married to two brothers of Mr Kanniyappan– one was a love marriage while the other was match-made. “Now it feels like deja vu,” said Mrs Jaya Lakshmi.

Defying the odds to walk and help others find their feet

It was a hot January afternoon in 2013. The sun was beating down on Desmond Lim as he sat astride his Kawasaki Versys 1000, waiting for the traffic light to turn green on a country road near Kanchanaburi.

The former flight attendant was heading back to Bangkok after a month-long motorbike sojourn which had taken him from Singapore to Thailand.

A sudden impact from behind threw him to the ground. It was a truck driven by a man too engrossed with his phone to notice Desmond. The 43-year-old recalls: “I saw tyres, they went over me. I saw tyres again, turned on my side and got run over again.”

He lay groaning on the hot tarmac for more than six hours before an ambulance arrived.

For over a year, the hospital was his home because his injuries – fractured pelvis, broken right leg and organs which had shifted – were horrific. Doctors told him he would never walk again, which threw him into a deep malaise.

But Desmond eventually walked again, thanks to his grit and the love and support of his family and several medical workers.

Today, he walks with the help of a brace because his right leg – the lower part is paralysed – is now shorter than the left. “There is pain when I sit or stand but I have learnt how to manage it,” he says.

With his employability limited, he got a loan from his sister and used his savings to start The Prosthetic Company three years ago. The social enterprise specialises in prosthetics and orthotic equipment and services. The outfit has since grown to become one of the largest of its kind here and has expanded into Malaysia.

Knowing what his clients need has helped the business, he says.

“I’ve been through it and I know what it is like. I understand how they feel, I listen and try my best to give them what they want.”

Because of his family circumstances, Desmond became independent and started earning his own keep at a young age. By the time he was 15, he was working full time as a banquet staff in a hotel along Dunearn Road, pulling more than $1,500 a month including overtime.

“I’d go to school in the morning and work from 3pm until 11pm every day,” he says, adding that the hotel provided him with a room.

Before the accident, Desmond – a purser at Cathay Pacific Airways by then – enjoyed flying because it was relatively stress-free and gave the motorbiking enthusiast opportunities to take long rides to Malaysia and the region.

The day his life changed is seared in his memory.

The accident attracted a crowd and caused a big traffic jam, one reason why the ambulance took six hours to reach the scene.

“It was a hot day. I was burnt because the ground was so hot. Some people sheltered me with umbrellas and poured water on the ground to cool it. I couldn’t move my body, only my hands and my mouth,” he says.

“I don’t know how to describe the pain. I can only say I felt as though I was dying. I thought about whether I would die, what I had done and not done.”

He was taken to a provincial hospital which looked like it had not been renovated since the 1960s.

“I was rolled into an operating theatre which had fans,” he says, adding that none of the medical staff spoke English.

By then, his riding companions had come to know of his accident and informed his family in Singapore.

Because the hospital was not equipped to deal with his injuries, he had to endure another two-hour bumpy ride to a hospital in Bangkok where his mother and one of his sisters were waiting anxiously.

“I’d been conscious throughout, my eyes were wide open for more than 10 hours. But when I saw my mother, I hyperventilated, cried and then blacked out,” he says.

The next time he regained full consciousness was several weeks later at Singapore General Hospital (SGH).

He did not get to go home for the next 15 months.

“I couldn’t sit up or turn sideways for the first eight months. There were pressure sores all over my back and heels,” says Desmond who went through half a dozen operations.

Desmond Lim in his workshop on 14 June 2019. He started The Prosthetic Company three years ago because he felt the variety of prosthetic and orthotic aids here was limited. Knowing what his clients need has helped the business as he understands how they feel and tries to give them what they want.
Source: Kevin Lim

For nearly a year, the sight of wheels – on TV or in newspapers – would set off anxiety attacks.

“I felt lost, I didn’t want to talk to anyone,” he says, adding that he had to see a psychiatrist.

He credits his family and several hospital staff for getting him out of depression.

“Some of the physiotherapists went out of their way to help me. They bought me food and visited me on their days off to encourage me.”

To regain his mobility, he started swimming and walking up and down from his family home on the 11th floor of his flat, even though it took him a few hours.

“I’ve been through it and I know what it is like. I understand how they feel, I listen and try my best to give them what they want.”

He started The Prosthetic Company in 2016 because he felt that the variety of prosthetic and orthotic aids here was limited.

After drawing up a proper business plan, he approached his eldest sister, a professor at a local university, for financial help. By then, Desmond had attended short courses on prosthetics and related subjects in Europe and China.

“I’m not certified and all the doctors and clients I deal with know that. But my staff are. I have good technical knowledge, I know how to troubleshoot. My job is to deal with clients and run the business. We’ve not had a single complaint ever since we started,” he says proudly.

Because others have helped him, Desmond wants to pass the kindness on.

When he recovered, he donated blood several times and took part in support groups for those who have lost their limbs or mobility. As founder of The Prosthetic Company, he now works with different associations to offer free prosthetics to those who can’t afford them.

Life is unpredictable and we have to live it well, he says.

“As long as you’re hardworking and you make decisions not just to benefit yourself, things will turn out well.”

This story by Wong Kim Hoh was originally published by the Straits Times on June 16.

This inspirational tale is part of Wong Kim Hoh’s award-winning profile series, ‘It Changed My Life’, in The Sunday Times. Named Straits Times Journalist of the Year in 2016, the Senior Writer has persuaded many to share how they overcame the darkest moments of their lives. In a book that compiles interviews from Kim Hoh’s column, former ST Deputy Editor Alan John said: “The greatest mystery to me is where Kim Hoh finds this never-ending parade of memorable individuals with remarkable life lessons of determination, strength and resilience.” Kim Hoh has also written other books, one of which is Big Hearts, Big Dreams, a compilation of inspiring stories about the 2015 and 2016 ST Singaporean of the Year nominees. “I get a lot of readers telling me that the stories have moved them, inspired them and galvanised them to do more,” he said. “In some ways, I guess what they are telling me is that the stories have changed their lives.”

Reporting the truth, no matter how painful

One journalist spent her birthday at a morgue, watching as plastic bags filled with the limbs of victims in Sri Lanka’s bomb attacks on churches in April were brought in. It was so horrific, she could not report it.

Another witnessed the lifeless body of a youth, shot by Philippine police in the country’s war against drugs, transported to a hearse. He was only 17 – the same age as the journalist’s sister.

Faced with at times senseless and cruel violence, journalists who report from the front lines of conflict do some of the profession’s most important work, and some of its most exacting, and potentially lethal, as well.

Speaking on a panel at the Real News Matters forum yesterday, three participants from this year’s Asia Journalism Fellowship highlighted broadly the same crucial challenge in reporting conflict: getting accurate information.

Mr Maran Htoi Aung, editor of Myanmar’s Kachin Waves, shared the difficulties of covering the ongoing conflict in Kachin state between the country’s military and the Kachin ethnic armed group.

The United Nations and other groups have found several gross violations of human rights perpetrated by the military.

“It is very difficult to get information from all sides… Especially for an ethnic (minority) person, there is the danger of being arrested, and it is difficult to get anything from government officials, who are Burmese,” he said.

It is the same for GMA Network senior news correspondent Victoria Tulad covering Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs. Her exclusive in August 2017 on 17-year-old Kian Loyd delos Santos, who was killed in Caloocan city, north of Manila, had differing accounts.

While the police said he had been firing a gun, closed-circuit television footage showed they had taken him to an alley and, according to eyewitnesses, shot him for suspected possession of drugs.

For Ms Kalani Kumarasinghe, features editor at Sri Lanka’s The Daily Mirror, the initial chaos after the Easter Sunday bombings was compounded by the government and military’s lack of response.

The media would later find out that the government had known about, but not acted on, information of the attacks for at least two weeks.

“Social media caused a lot of problems for us as well,” she said. At one point, there were even rumours that Muslims were using pills to sterilise Sinhalese people, which “spread like fire”.

And the effects of covering such violence up close takes a toll on one’s mental and emotional health, they told The Sunday Times.

Ms Kalani said she nearly broke down at one point: “When I was spending that day in the morgue, that was a time when I really questioned what I was doing.”

But they carry on.

“You can’t avoid getting traumatised, so you have to be strong, you have to move on,” said Ms Tulad. “We continue to hope that our stories can bring about change.”

In Ms Tulad’s case, her story did spark change. The public outcry it created eventually led to the cops who killed Kian being jailed.

In the end, the motivation for all three journalists was the same.

As Mr Htoi Aung put it: “Why am I still here? Because I think, I have to tell the truth.”

ST live show highlights stories that made a difference

Exciting. Honest. Dangerous. Freedom. Bias. Propaganda. Truth.

These were some of the answers from people asked to describe journalism in one word for a live video show by The Straits Times to mark World News Day yesterday, which celebrates the work of professional news organisations and aims to raise public awareness of the role that journalists play in providing credible and reliable news and views.

The thoughts of ordinary folk kicked off the clip, which took a behind-the-scenes peek at how journalists cover everything from breaking news to exposing corruption in official bodies.

“It was about celebrating journalism, showcasing the lengths and hardships journalists go through to deliver stories,” said Mr Zia-ul Raushan, who produced the clip with his colleague Irshad M.

Much thought went into the set design, which included items like a typewriter, an old camera and a TV set to trace journalism through the decades, said Mr Irshad. The ST show was aired on YouTube at 3pm for a global audience and can be viewed on

The paper’s multimedia journalists Alyssa Woo and Hairianto Diman spoke to some of the newsrooms participating in World News Day 2019 about their stories. These included the Philippine Daily Inquirer’s stories that exposed corruption in the state insurer, and India’s The Quint, which shone a light on bonded labour in Tamil Nadu.

Another was the South China Morning Post for its coverage on the Hong Kong protests. Chief news editor Yonden Lhatoo said: “We bring out the legitimate grievances of the protesters but, at the same time, we don’t gloss over the excesses and the carnage they are causing.”

Also featured in the video was ST senior health correspondent Salma Khalik’s story on how Singapore’s MediShield Life healthcare insurance scheme paid only $4.50 of a senior’s post-subsidy bill.

There were also lighthearted moments. ST’s Rachel Au-Yong and Rohit Brijnath joked about their generation gap – while the former took up journalism six years ago and called her phone her “all-in-one” work device, the latter has about 30 years under his belt and remembers using a typewriter.

News reporting may have evolved but its purpose remains. Said a reader: “Keep up the good work, keep informing us. If we’re not informed, the world is a poorer place.”