‘The minute you are down, you pick yourself up and continue.” He said this in reference to his Mercy Relief mission to Nepal following the earthquake in May 2015. However, this is a motto Mr Satwant Singh has embodied from the age of 16 years.
Satwant is the eldest son in a family of eight children. He could not continue his education after his GCE ‘O’ Levels due to financial constraints. Despite the disappointment and initial setback, Satwant took it in his stride and landed a job first as an office boy and then as a clerk. Having impressed his superiors, he became a Manager in retail in the span of only two years.
Just as he tasted success in the corporate world, Satwant had to enlist for national service, where with the encouragement of his parents, he signed on with the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) to become a Physical Training Instructor (PTI), known endearingly as “PTI Singh” by many of his recruits. Asked to recount some memories of his days at SAF, Satwant burst into laughter when he said, “Many of my classmates were my recruits…even my cousins were my recruits!” and “I had a great time in the SAF but I wanted to get a degree like all my other friends.”
It was not long before Satwant picked up where he left off in his studies and began studying law. It was a challenging time as Satwant still had to support his family. However, he made a promise to himself that he was going to get that law degree. Satwant said that it was with God’s grace that he was able to manage both. During that period, he got married and soon had to juggle work, post-graduate law and welcoming his two children in 1992 and 1994.
During this time, Satwant’s daily routine was to go for classes in the day and then worked as a security guard through the night at Methodist Girls’ School. Sleep was scarce but Satwant was determined to succeed. He recalls that his lecturers were very concerned about his lack of sleep but he assured them that even physical constraints would not deter him from his goal.
In 1997, triggered the desire to reach out to the underprivileged, Satwant was quite emotional when he said: “It was perhaps the experience of being denied an education. I loved studying but I had to stop. I remember I cried the whole night when my father told me he could not afford to educate me anymore. Therefore, I will go all out to help others.”
And go all out he has. Satwant was one of the founding members of Youth Sikh Association (Singapore) [YSA] and had become synonymous with Project Khwaish – an annual community service expedition which Satwant has been leading since YSA’s inception in 2003. In December every year, Satwant closes his firm and heads off to Punjab. Together with between 15 and 20 Singaporean youth, he develops libraries and refurbishes village school infrastructure to improve the studying conditions for the school children. This YSA project has gained significant recognition at the community and national levels.
In addition, Satwant is Secretary of the Board of Directors in Mercy Relief. His missions have brought him to Aceh, the Gaza border, Sri Lanka, China, Philippines and most recently, Nepal. During such missions, he provides assistance and caters to the needs of the people in the wake of disasters.
He is not exempt from experiencing disasters himself. Satwant experienced an earthquake at the airport in Nepal just as he was about to depart. Knowing that he still had colleagues in Nepal, he chose to stay on to ensure that they were safe as well.
Satwant is firm in his belief that overwhelming as these experiences may be, they make him a better person and are a constant reminder that there is so much more to which he can contribute.
Satwant is quick to add that this work would not be possible without the love and encouragement from his wife and two children. “I really salute my family,” he said, affirming his appreciation for the support they give him. Their support has also seen him contributing at the national level where he was Vice-Chairman at the People’s Action Party Policy Forum Satwant’s hard work came to fruition as he was called to the Singapore Bar.
“Apart from being a busy lawyer, Satwant is also busy serving the community, both here and abroad. Since 2001, he has been active in grassroots work, serving the constituents of Kolam Ayer.
As a young, active and successful member of the Sikh community, he has led YSA on its community projects to Punjab since 2003. As a Director on the Board of Mercy Relief, Singapore’s home-grown disaster relief non governmental organisation, since 2003, Satwant has participated in Mercy Relief’s relief and rehabilitation operations in places as far as Cairo and Jerusalem, and nearer to home in Aceh, during the tsunami, and in the recent Nepal earthquakes.
Satwant believes in living life to the fullest and he adds meaning to it by serving and contributing to not only his own Sikh community, but also to his fellow man no matter who they are or where they live. The Sikh community should be proud of him and this country is enriched by having citizens like him.”
Mr Abdullah Tarmugi,
Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports (1994-2000) Singapore
Today, Satwant runs his own law firm, Satwant and Associates, where apart from civil, criminal and commercial litigation, he also fights cases pro bono. One such instance was when some members of the Sikh community were facing discrimination in their organisations for donning turbans. “I will not think twice if I need to help someone and if I know that I can. I will just do it.” Satwant is also a member of the Law Society of Singapore and member of the Singapore Academy of Law.
It is not only his personal struggles and achievements that make Satwant so intriguing and inspirational. He has a big heart for the underprivileged and engages them whenever he gets the chance. When asked what from 2006 to 2008 and then Chairman from 2008 to 2012. He has also been actively involved in Kolam Ayer Community Club.
Satwant is also of the view that the Sikh community has contributed much to the national progress that Singapore has made in the last 50 years. “The Sikhs in Singapore are close-knitted in that they will go out of their way to help you and, at the same time, are a very open community. We invite one and all to our gurdwaras (Sikh temples) and will not stand for criticisms of other communities.”
Satwant feels that it is this characteristic of the Sikh community in Singapore that has allowed it to make its presence felt but also blend in harmoniously with the multi-racial fabric of Singapore. He said the Sikh community is very forthcoming in rendering support, both financially and emotionally. Satwant was very proud when the community raised a total of S$50,000 for victims of the Nepal earthquake, which further attests to their charitable nature.
The Sikh community had previously taken part in other national fund-raising efforts for disaster relief in several other countries.
While Satwant has deep admiration for the pioneers in the Sikh community, he says that there is always more that can be done by the Sikhs in Singapore. His hope for the Sikh community in the next 50 years is that community leaders engage the youth more intensely and directly so that Sikhs can contribute to nation building on a larger scale. One way he suggests this can be done is by engaging them through community projects or seminars with a focus on national and international developments, akin to what he has been doing in the last decade of so.
Satwant’s advice to the youth in Singapore is: “Believe in yourself! Come forward and make a difference. I hope that more Sikhs will step up to join organisations such as YSA. We will go very far when we stand together as a community and society.” Certainly, there is no better time than now to “pick up and go.”
 Mercy Relief is Singapore’s only home-grown independent non-governmental humanitarian charity, established to respond to human tragedies in Asia. Its aid programmes include providing timely and effective assistance to disaster-stricken communities; and longer-term development projects to uplift the lives of the impoverished and disadvantaged, focusing on water and sanitation, shelter, sustainable livelihoods, healthcare and education. Mercy Relief serves the less fortunate and needy regardless of country, culture or creed. Officially launched by then-Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in September 2003, it also seeks to promote a civic life of compassion, care and volunteerism. It is an Institution of Public Character since 2003. Please see http:// mercyrelief.org/.
 Interview with Mr Satwant Singh, June 27, 2015.
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