Learning > Inspiration

'Thank you, teacher' - after 46 years

Man featured in NDP film meets teacher who helped him when he was a poor pupil

Aw Cheng Wei on 12 Aug 2018

The Straits Times


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Mr Veera Sekaran never forgot his primary school teacher's act of kindness 46 years ago.


When she found out his family could not afford to buy him a pen, she rallied his classmates to put together a stationery set and a school bag for him.


"I was very touched by her kindness," said Mr Veera, now 56. The gifts made a big difference in his life. "I really treasured them."


Mr Veera's story, along with Mrs Chee Siew Chuan's kind act, was featured in a 10-minute film that was shown during this year's National Day Parade. It told the story of five Singaporeans who had overcome adversity.


Yesterday, Mr Veera met his former teacher at her home in Yio Chu Kang. He had not spoken to her since he left Canberra Primary.


Mrs Chee's daughter, Dr Cornelia Chee, had contacted Mr Veera after reading a Straits Times article about him earlier this month. He was finally able to meet his former teacher yesterday. "It was amazing," he said of meeting her after so many years.


Mrs Chee, 75, said she was very happy to see her former pupil. While she does not remember putting together the gifts for him, she recalled that children then were all quite poor.


"At first, I thought that he might have got the wrong person," she said with a laugh.


Mr Veera, who brought her orchids and fruit, admitted he took a while to recognise her as she used to have long, straight hair. But when she showed him photos of her younger self, "I knew it was her".


The two spent about an hour catching up.


Mrs Chee, who is married with two daughters, retired from teaching in 2001. She last taught at Huamin Primary School.


As for Mr Veera, who had to take on part-time jobs to support his family during his school days, he got a place at the National University of Singapore - but did not have enough money to pay the course fees.


Fortunately, friends introduced him to lawyer Haridass Ajaib, who offered to pay his fees. "I promised to pay him back, but he told me to pay it forward," said Mr Veera, who graduated with a degree in botany. Today, he is the founder of Greenology, a firm that develops ideas for green walls and urban farms, and offers horticultural consultancy services.


He has kept his promise to Mr Haridass, and pays it forward by hiring former convicts, buying food for the elderly, and helping old people and children with special needs.


The father of two hopes his reunion with Mrs Chee will inspire others to remember those who had been there for them. "I hope more people can seek out those who have helped them to thank them," he said.


Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.


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