Residents' welfare comes first: New Fengshan MP Cheryl Chan
They have been called the PAP's 'secret weapons' in GE 2015. Yesterday, we talked to Mr Charles Chong. Today, JUDITH TAN (firstname.lastname@example.org) discovers newbie Cheryl Chan's formula to winning the hearts of her voters
It was back to business for Cheryl Chan, 38, three days after becoming Fengshan's Member of Parliament (MP).
"We have not been having our Meet-the-People Sessions (MPS) for two weeks because of hustings," she explained.
Despite the haze, residents in her ward started streaming in as early as 5.30pm on Monday, two hours ahead of the MPS.
And when The New Paper team visited, Ms Chan was already rolling up her sleeves and helping volunteers and grassroots leaders distribute face masks before the session started. By then, the PSI reading had risen to 223.
It was Ms Chan's first MPS as the ward's MP.
"It is good to begin working right after the hustings. We will continue reaching out to our residents beyond those who come forth to MPS," she said.
The welfare of the residents comes first for Ms Chan.
"Needs differ from person to person. Problems for the same resident change at different times. While we may not solve every issue totally, providing support and understanding the situation helps," she said.
Having volunteered with the grassroots in Fengshan for the last 10 years, Ms Chan is an old hand at this.
"With my career in order, I had wanted to contribute to society. Growing up, my mother had always impressed upon me to be a positive contributor to society... She often said 'xian zuo ren, hou zuo shi' (which, in Mandarin, means 'a person's ethics and character are more important than his accomplishments')," she says.
"So I believe that in stepping forward. You shouldn't wait. If you can contribute, you should contribute."
She was living in Fengshan then and was quickly directed to the ward's MP, Mr Raymond Lim. In 2005, she started helping out at his weekly MPS.
Ms Chan said she was never from a privileged background.
Her grandparents were hawkers in Chinatown and she grew up with an older brother in a three-room flat in Kim Tian Road with her father, now 69, and mother, now 63. When asked what her parents do, she would say only that they are SME owners.
"My parents may have been strict, but they had never placed emphasis on my grades, only on my character. So in school, I was always mediocre and never a top student.
"I stayed under the radar. But I'm always hands on and hence, I continued learning," she said.
Ms Chan said she is glad she started her education at the Singapore Chinese Girls' School.
"It was through the holistic teachings of my teachers and principal, Miss (Rosalind) Heng, there, that I became a firm believer in the importance of values. I can still remember the school motto: sincerity, courage, generosity, service," she said.
She admitted that going into politics was not a factor when she did grassroots work.
"I just wanted to help."
So when Mr Lim asked her if she would consider entering politics, she took a month to decide. Her parents played a part in encouraging her.
"They never influenced my decision. My father said, so long as I am happy doing what I'm doing, and my mother felt that I'm old enough to make up my own mind and to make sure it is my own choice," she said.
Ms Chan likens waiting for results on polling night to waiting for exam results to be announced.
"Everyone was excited. I, too, was excited. It was a brand new experience for me," she recalled.
Ms Chan believes it is her work and her sincerity that helps connect her with the voters.
"No matter what, I'm in it for a long time. My plans are to continue serving residents and their needs," she said before returning to the branch office to start her MPS.
Her formula for success
WORK THE GROUND
Ms Chan may be a new face in politics, but she is not new to the Fengshan community.
"I had written to the PAP Women's Wing in 2005 to see how I could volunteer. I was living in Fengshan and they directed me to then MP, Mr Raymond Lim. I began helping out at the weekly Meet-the-People Sessions and took part in community events," she says.
While others are backed by upgrading programmes for their residents, Ms Chan started small, literally, with something close to her heart - children.
"I've always believed a child's birthday should be celebrated in a big way... Seeing the forlorn faces of underprivileged kids watching others celebrate their birthdays broke my heart. So I started a children's club in Fengshan...to celebrate the birthdays of underprivileged kids," she says. "The club grew from 20 members to 100. Now, it incorporates art and culture classes for kids under 12 years."
IN FOR THE LONG HAUL
She started volunteering in 2005 and taking part in community events. She also served in the Neighbourhood Committee, and Youth Executive Committee. In 2012, she was appointed Chair of the Community Club Management Committee and also a member of the Citizen's Consultative Committee and East Coast Town Council.
"No matter what, I will still continue being in Fengshan, working and serving the residents," she says.
Instead of parachuting in someone who might unsettle the ground, someone from the grassroots would be the best candidate. If Cheryl couldn't get the job done, I don't think there was anyone else who could.
- Singapore Management University law don Eugene Tan on how Ms Cheryl Chan's grassroots experience in Fengshan was an important factor in her victory