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Singaporean Of The Year Awards 2018: They helped save Thai boys trapped in cave

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These S'poreans had key roles in cave rescue efforts

Mr Douglas Yeo, 50, was taking a nap on July 7 when his eight-year-old son heard news on TV about the 12 Thai boys and their football coach trapped in a cave.

His son, Dominic, shook him awake and asked: "Dad, are you not going to do anything about the boys trapped in the cave? If me and gor gor (older brother) are in the cave, I am sure you will go and save us. You can do it."

The diver with 26 years of recreational and salvage-diving experience arrived at Tham Luang cave in Chiang Rai on July 10.

By then, eight boys had been rescued, but Mr Yeo played a key role in the evacuation of the last five victims. That afternoon, he and 29 other divers made their way into the cave. They formed a human chain to carry the boys.

The terrain was dark, narrow and slippery. At one point, Mr Yeo slipped 2m down into a crevice while a boy on a stretcher was passed over his head.

It was all worth it when he saw the boys being taken out. All except one was unconscious.

"He looked at me. I told him what my son told me, 'You can do it, you are my hero,'" said Mr Yeo, who teared.

He and another Singaporean, Mr Poh Kok Wee, are among the finalists for The Straits Times' Singaporean of the Year award.

Mr Poh 57, who runs a company that installs high-rise signs and solar panels in Nonthaburi, near Bangkok, also played a key role in rescue efforts.

On June 27, four days after the boys went missing, he and four of his workers arrived at the cave, only to see operations stalled by rain and flooding.

Immediately, he met the army officers there to propose scouting for alternative cave entrances. The officers agreed and about five teams of hundreds of people were deployed.

Over four days, Mr Poh and his team used ropes and climbed the mountain up to 2,000m above water level to check out 15 holes that could lead to the missing boys.

They were next to the Myanmar border known for drug trafficking, and there were risks of stepping on landmines or being gunned down.

By using sensors, his team collected signals in one of the holes that detected humans 2km to 3km away.

A little over a day later, on July 2, the boys were found.

He said: "We are all just small candles, but this international rescue effort showed that many small candles can light up a dark cave and bring hope."


Singaporean of the Year finalists


After her parents divorced when she was 17, Miss Siti Noor Mastura often endured sleepless nights on an empty stomach.

In 2013, she started Back2Basics, a non-profit group that delivers free halal groceries to beneficiaries such as the home-bound elderly and single mothers, the first such service for halal food items.

In 2015, Miss Mastura started a non-profit organisation called Interfaith Youth Circle.

Miss Mastura, now 28, who won a youth category award under the President's Volunteerism and Philanthropy Awards in 2016, will soon quit her job as a flight attendant to focus on her non-profit work.


Mr Robert Chew, a 69-year-old semi-retired businessman, has given blood a total of 184 times, with the latest donation as recent as Nov 20.

He is among the oldest and top blood donors in the country, said the Singapore Red Cross.

Mr Chew's 184 donations mean he has drained his body of blood 18 times over his lifetime as a donor.


In 2013, Associate Professor Teo You Yenn, 43, head of sociology at Nanyang Technological University, began a study to better understand the lives of people who live in Housing Board rental flats.

Over three years, she spoke to more than 200 people in their homes about their experiences.

In January this year, she published a book of essays drawn from her ethnographic research.

This Is What Inequality Looks Like has received a warm reception, being one of the best-selling local books this year, with 20,000 copies sold so far.

In the book, Prof Teo shows how class inequalities are embedded in education, labour, care and welfare.

Prof Teo said a key finding was that family life was bound to other aspects, such as employment.


Mr Nizar Mohamed Shariff's charity Free Food for All provides balanced halal meals as well as food and groceries to the needy.

The charity cooks up to 100,000 meals a year for 3,000 elderly or low-income residents living in rental flats across Singapore.

Each month, it also delivers up to 12 tonnes of food, including groceries, bread and fruits.

The 48-year-old continues to run the charity despite finding it hard to walk as he has diabetic neuropathy, which affects his nerves.

The charity has helped not just the needy in Singapore but also those overseas.