Learning > Inspiration

The Lives They Live: A lifetime of helping others

While the pioneer leaders were the architects of Singapore, everyday heroes helped build society here. This is another story about such people in the series The Lives They Live.

Rahimah Rashith on 05 Dec 2018

The Straits Times


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Mr Ong Eng Tong has lived a privileged life since he was young.


His family owned a large share of the auto parts industry in Singapore and Malaysia. And his relatives owned the Green Bus Company, one of the private businesses that operated public buses here before Singapore Bus Service was set up in 1973.


Mr Ong, 75, recalled taking a two-day-long bus journey as a 10-year-old, with his grandfather from Singapore to Penang. At every town, they would change buses as they headed north.


"I do not know how I survived the torture of the two-day journey. But we did it because the bus ride was free, since the buses (in Singapore and Malaysia) were owned by our relatives. So I just took the ride. Along the way, I passed by many kampungs," said Mr Ong, who has six siblings.


Unlike the homes in villages in Malaysia, home for the young Mr Ong was a one-storey bungalow in Newton Road.


In 1951, he started his primary education in Anglo Chinese School, and in 1957 when he was in secondary level, he discovered The Boys' Brigade.


"To be honest, I was initially attracted to the band," said Mr Ong. "The Boys' Brigade came to our school during a recruitment programme and they had brought their band along.


"I lived a very sheltered life. Joining The Boys' Brigade opened my eyes to a lot of things. It opened my eyes to the less fortunate."


He and other newly minted members spent their time helping others. "We helped to organise and did the logistics for many charity events."


Being a part of The Boys' Brigade also meant that Mr Ong was involved in a lot of drills.


"We did a lot of military drills, which instilled a lot of discipline," he said. "The Boys' Brigade was also the first to camp at Pulau Tekong, where we would pitch a tent and do outdoor activities. This was back when there was a school and a kampung on the island."


At 16, Mr Ong played the drums for The Boys' Brigade Battalion Band at Singapore's first independence day parade when it gained self-rule in 1959.


After completing his mechanical engineering studies at University College London, Mr Ong moved to Kuala Lumpur where he worked in the marketing and distribution department of Esso in 1966.


He got married in 1967 and joined Singapore Petroleum Company in 1970. He would spend the next three decades at the company, during which he advised the Government on petroleum matters and participated in Asean ministerial meetings on energy.


As a supply and trading manager, Mr Ong travelled frequently for work to places as far as Kuwait.


Despite living a comfortable life, he was searching for a more meaningful way to give back to society.


He joined The Boys' Brigade's alumni association in 1995. A year later, he took on the position of president.


He helped out with organising talks and projects.


He was also heavily involved in the annual Share-a-Gift project, where the Boys' Brigade would pack and deliver food hampers to the needy. He rallied alumni members to help with the task.


Mr Ong remembered delivering a food hamper to an elderly woman with dementia who was alone in a small flat. To prevent the senior from wandering out on her own, her family members had locked the gate and taken away the keys.


Mr Ong had to take the hamper apart and squeeze individual items such as rice, biscuit and Milo packages through the grilles of the gate.


"We delivered food hampers all over Singapore, some to those living in rental units," he said. "I help out as much as I can. When you have a comfortable life, you should not forget about others."


He is now working part-time as a representative of a German company that focuses on solar panels and clean energy. "I moved to clean energy so that young people can breathe in the future. We must always think about others beyond ourselves," he said.


Mr Ong, who now lives in a semi-detached house in Coronation Road, is helping to mentor young members of The Boys' Brigade at the nearby Nanyang Primary School.


"I teach them drills, go canoeing with them and instil in them values to help others," he said.


"I do not think so much before I help others. If there is a way to help, I will."


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


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