The Day I Witnessed a Nation of Compassion

It was a time of mourning as tens of thousands paid tribute to Singapore’s founding father, Mr Lee Kuan Yew (1923 – 2015), who died on Monday (23rd March) at the age of 91.

A highly respected and truly brilliant leader, Mr Lee had turned a nation of immigrants with neither natural resources nor a homeland to depend on to a prosperous, vibrant, dynamic global city in the world.

He transformed Singapore from a Third World to a First World country.

He created jobs by bringing in industries that would employ workers. He built better public housing as he wanted to improve the people’s quality of life. He built schools and made education affordable for everyone. He encouraged international travel. Singapore would become a business, financial hub and tourist destination with a world class airport.

And because he made many sacrifices that had helped so many people, making a positive difference and transforming lives, he earned great respect, admiration, trust and devotion not only in Singapore but also with people from around the world.

On 25th March, 2015, the first day the wake was opened up to the public to pay their last respects to the late Lee Kuan Yew in state at Parliament House, it was reported by The Straits Times, 26th March, 2015 that nearly forty thousand Singaporeans of all ages had no qualms braving the sun and waited patiently in queues for over eight hours.

On 27th March, 2015, I waited in line and joined the queue at around 6am. It took me about four hours to enter the Parliament House, but it was nothing compared to the sacrifices that Mr Lee had made to build the Nation in his lifetime.

In the Parliament House, I was feeling greatly emotional as it was my first and last time that I got up close with our beloved founding father of Singapore. Nevertheless, that day, I had witnessed and was deeply moved by the compassion in the hearts of strangers. As we grieve we give, for example:

  1. Strangers and ordinary people were going to great lengths to distribute refreshments day and night (during the period of mourning).
  2. Various businesses offered free drinks to thousands of people in the queue.
  3. Some restaurants set up standing fans and chairs for seniors in the queue to rest when they grew tired.
  4. There is a florist shop that gave free daisies and white roses to people who wanted to pay respects to Mr Lee.
  5. A student bought 20 burgers from MacDonald’s from his own savings and gave them out as a gesture of care and compassion.
  6. Acts of goodwill continued through the day. A restaurant gave out slices of pizza.
  7. Members of a church group also decided to head down and handed out bottles of water to those in the queue
  8. Employers were willing to give employees time off to pay their respects to Mr Lee Kuan Yew.
  9. Umbrellas were given out to shield those waiting in line from the blazing Sun and occasional rain.
  10. The Singapore River Explorer (river taxi) provided free rides on its boats plying the Singapore River to those heading to and from Parliament House.
  11. A plastic products manufacturer was giving out plastic fans at the Padang.
  12. A car workshop owner took the initiative to print and give free car decals to motorists as a tribute to Mr Lee Kuan Yew.
  13. Citizen soldiers, the police force, volunteers, cleaners and many more worked tirelessly around the clock to be of service to others.

My heart is filled with emotions as I witnessed people from all walks of life, young and old, unite together with great compassion, kindness and in the spirit of giving.

I recall, when I was a little girl, my father used to tell me:
“Kindness is like an echo, it is one thing we cannot give away, it always comes back.”

As I reflect on the contributions that Mr Lee Kuan Yew had shown, I learned that we must never take things for granted, at the same time, I witnessed the reflection of a compassionate nation that is united as one.

May you rest in peace, Mr Lee Kuan Yew. Thank you for your contribution to the Nation. Your spirit lives on with many of us.

Submitted by Regina Cho
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