33 volunteers honoured for exemplary work as Singapore International Foundation marks 30th year

SINGAPORE – A Singaporean doctor’s simple act of lending an empathetic ear changed the way a terminally ill Indonesian teenager spent his last days.

Palliative care specialist Ramaswamy Akhileswaran, 62, has been a volunteer with the Singapore International Foundation (SIF) for 12 years, training doctors and clinical staff in Indonesia in palliative care to relieve patients from pain and other symptoms of serious illnesses.

He met the boy in Jakarta in 2009 as an SIF volunteer. The teenager, whose leg was amputated because of a bone tumour, told the doctor that he was feeling gloomy as none of his friends had visited him. Through nurses, Dr Akhileswaran got the boy’s friends to visit and that one small act of kindness enabled the teen to spend his last days in the comfort and cheer of his buddies.

In recognition of his exemplary international volunteer work, Dr Akhileswaran was on Tuesday (Dec 7) presented with SIF’s Global Citizen Award by President Halimah Yacob.

Thirty-two other volunteers were also recognised at the event for the biennial awards.

The hybrid award ceremony also marked the 30th anniversary of the SIF. The physical audience at Fairmont Singapore was joined by virtual participants from 18 countries, including SIF representatives and officials of Singapore embassies.

Madam Halimah, who is patron of the foundation, commended the SIF for sticking to its mission of fostering international cooperation and promoting people-to-people ties even during the pandemic.

“Despite the challenges of the global environment, SIF has continued to innovate with the times and stay true to its mission, bringing Singaporeans and world communities together to do good,” she said.

Among the other volunteers who received awards were Mr David Pong, 31, and Ms Kannigadevi Narayanasamy, 59. They were given the Citizen Ambassador Award, which recognises Singaporeans who have shared their expertise and resources with overseas communities.

Mr Pong and his team have worked with local and international organisations to provide water filtration solutions for disaster-hit and under-served communities. He is the co-founder and chief executive of Wateroam, a water innovation enterprise.

Ms Kannigadevi, a capability support senior manager and special needs manager at Presbyterian Community Services, has played a part in raising the standard of early childhood education in India.

Ms Dian Permata Sari Mashari, 36, from Indonesia and Mr Sriram V. Ayer, 46, from India were awarded the Friend Of Singapore – Gotong Royong Award. They have helped to nurture the “kampung spirit” between Singaporeans and world communities, contributing to better ties, said the SIF.

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Dr Akhileswaran, who has made Jakarta and Bandung his second home, said the honour was unexpected and that he accepted it on behalf of all the Singaporean and Indonesian volunteers he has worked with.

On navigating the art and science of caring for those who are seriously ill, he said: “The science is through medication, and the art is discovered by establishing relationships with my patients and their families.”

When asked what kept him going, Dr Akhileswaran said it was seeing the smiles on his patients’ faces.

“Some of them have not smiled for a long time, and some have not slept properly for a long time. The joy I see in their faces gives me satisfaction,” he said.

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