I have read the many moving tributes and eulogies of Mr Lee Kuan Yew. He has clearly left a deep impact on many, within and beyond Singapore.
Like many Singaporeans, I am not personally acquainted with Mr Lee. Yet, I have much to thank Mr Lee for.
I was not born of patronage. My father was a mini-bus driver, and had to support a family of 9 including my grandmother. My mother did not have the opportunity to receive any education, and she later too, because a mini-bus driver to supplement the family income. That my 5 siblings and I could under these circumstances, receive an education, find jobs, build homes in Singapore and raise our children; I count it remarkable.
Mr Lee built a meritocratic Singapore.
Of course, the outcomes may not be equal. Even between siblings, we pursued different paths and progressions in life. Nevertheless, Singapore prospered and all of us have seen our lives transform for the better. Each of us is contributing to society in different areas and capacities. We have a system which enables each of us to be nurtured, developed and to achieve, regardless of our race, religion or socioeconomic background. Today, NUS continues to count many first-generation graduates amongst its students.
Perhaps the pace of change in our lives is so quick that we sometimes fail to consider the enormity of the challenges Singapore faced and how far and how fast we have come. Those of us born in the 1970s or before will remember that even the basic commodity of water was so precious and difficult to secure. (I have lived in a kampong where we had the bucket-system for sanitation, and we bathed by scooping water out of a big urn. Perhaps that was part of the reason why Mr Lee’s house did not have a shower until 2003 after Mrs Lee suffered a stroke.) I recall every time there were news reports on discussions with Malaysia on water treaties, there was much tension and anxiety, and we feared and dreaded the worst.
This article by Mr Heng Swee Keat gives a good account of Mr Lee’s immense dedication to Singapore, and of his work ethics. It is admirable and inspiring, and I hope all NUS students will take time to read it.
Mr Lee Kuan Yew is a great Singaporean. He loved Singapore with all his heart and might and life. Thank you, Mr Lee.