Poet-lawyer aims to make lives better through literacy and asks, “Can we make Singapore wide enough for dreams?”

Photo: YouTube screengrab

Amanda Chong is not just your everyday Cambridge/Harvard-trained lawyer and multi-awarded poet. She is also a fervent literacy advocate, co-founding ReadAble in 2014, which teaches reading and language arts to children aged 2-12 in the Chin Swee district through creative activities. ReadAble believes that literacy is a vital part of escaping poverty.

Ms. Chong has also been a consultant for the United Nations Expert Group on the International Legal Definition of Trafficking in Persons, and an outspoken advocate for social justice.

In a recent Facebook post, Ms. Chong wrote about a recent trip where they brought some ReadAble students to a cooking workshop, and afterwards, she took one of the boys, “J”, aged 11, home to his single mother.

His mother, a migrant to Singapore, had been suffering from health and job issues, and was extremely tired, so Ms. Chong told the woman to get some rest while she took the boy out for dinner. J, an unusually perceptive boy, asked why the part of town where he lived felt more lifeless than other areas. He knew that Ms. Chong is a Christian, and he asked her to pray for his mother, whom he worried about.

After the dinner, Ms. Chong bought food for the family, even when the boy protested, saying it was too costly. She heard him totaling the cost of what she had spent on food for them that day, “as if trying to remember them by heart so he could pay me back one day.”

Ms. Chong hadn’t even noticed that J paid careful attention to the price of everything she bought for him and his mother.

When they had been in the boy’s flat that afternoon, they had heard military jets flying overhead, a noise that made J’s mother’s heart beat too quickly.

Remembering this caused Ms. Chong to muse, “Outside, we saw the Singapore flag carried across the sky. I could not help but think, yes, this is Singapore too — with its dizzying progress but also hidden urban poverty, invisible hand-to-mouth toiling in the kitchens of our glitzy hotels, and boys who fall asleep by doorsteps while waiting for their mothers to return home from night shift. Our city is slowly stirring awake to the disease of inequality within. Can we make a Singapore wide enough for J’s dreams?”

Ms. Chong’s post has been much liked and widely shared. Readers have been thankful and inspired by her insights.

Commenters seemed to take Ms. Chong up on the challenge she posed at the end of her post, “Can we make a Singapore wide enough for J’s dreams?”