Gopal Vivakaambal

Teenage years are care free days, to be enjoyed with friends and are moments which are cherished for life. But at the tender age of 16, Mrs Gopal Vivakaambal’s world turned upside down. The death of her father in 1963 forced Mrs Gopal - the eldest of 10 siblings, to drop out of school to take on the responsibility of being the head of her household.

Mrs Gopal worked from morning till 10 at night doing two jobs, all whilst taking care of all the needs of her younger siblings and her homemaker mother. She grew up so fast, she was often mistaken for being the mother of her young siblings when taking them for medical treatment!

The severe hardships she faced at her young age instilled in her a high level of discipline and responsibility. Even after marriage, with the support and understanding of her husband, she continued to discharge her duties to care for her siblings and mother despite having children of her own.

Having fulfilled her duty in getting her siblings married off, she felt the need to give back to society and engaged herself in various volunteer and community services.


“I did not have a teenage life. I used to see others wearing nice clothes and going around in groups. I did not have those things.”

Mrs Gopal recalls her first experience coming to the rescue of her unwell neighbour in a timely manner to save his life. Since then, she has moved on to do social service in many other ways.

Her strong belief in strict time management, her desire for continual improvement by taking various courses, and coupled with her ability to speak in multiple languages like Malay, Hokkien and Mandarin has allowed Mrs Gopal to excel in the social service activities she has participated.

Mrs Gopal has even taken her social work overseas. She has sent clothes to many countries, and helps poor people in villages around India. She contributes by supporting poor children in their education, upkeep and often sends over school bags and shoes. She also tries to assist in catering to the needs of the poor villagers by providing them with several basic necessities.

Mrs Gopal’s journey into social service had its humble beginnings helping out at the nearby temple.


“I was always very responsible when it came to matters regarding the community centre.”


Presently Mrs Gopal concentrates her efforts on social work centred around the elderly, as she understands their needs and concerns more deeply. She cajoles and uses her power of persuasion to get more elderly people to attend the talks she organises, giving door gifts and prizes as incentives so that more people would attend and participate in these events.

Mrs Gopal also arranges for the elderly to be involved in more physical activities and exercises. Her husband as head of the CC assists her in these initiatives by pushing for more exercise stations to be built in the housing estates to give easy access to the elderly around the neighbourhood.

“Some request to not call them after 3 pm as they want to watch television serials.”

In her opinion, her most satisfying social work today is also one of the more unusual - carrying out funeral rites for the destitute. The emotional situation emerging from her father’s death was the motivating factor for Mrs Gopal to be involved in such an unusual social service.

Besides carrying out the necessary documentation work for the release of the deceased’s body from the mortuary, and arranging with the undertaker companies for the cremation procedures, Mrs Gopal also personally assists in bathing the female deceased bodies. She says that she had first assisted in such bathing rituals for a deceased woman when she was only 18 years old and has gotten over her fears and apprehension over time and after being involved in many such occasions.

Mrs Gopal feels that the deceased deserve to be given the proper respect, and have their death rituals performed according to their custom. She says that others, upon seeing her coming forward to do such activities with no reservations whatsoever, have also started volunteering to assist her with these rituals whenever she seeks any assistance.


“When my father passed away, I stood alone like an orphan. I didn’t want others to feel that way.”

Mrs Gopal is not the only person in her family who is involved in social service activities. She has pulled in her family members into social work too - her husband and son hold positions in the Community Centre and Residents Committee while her daughter is a tutor at the CC. Her family also helps out in the rituals which Mrs Gopal does as a service for the destitute who pass away.

Although born in Malaysia, she believes Singapore is her home, and that everyone of every race should take pride and celebrate SG50 happily. While she acknowledges that she missed out on her teenage years, she is busy making up for lost time as her day is jam packed with activities to reach out to others as well as to enrich her life by taking up music, dance activities and even participating in the Chingay Festival 2015 at the age of 68.

50Faces is truly honoured to feature Mrs Gopal’s inspirational story.



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