Jayaletchumi Thanabalasingam

“Everybody would stand up and greet my grandma. I used to think to myself when can I be like her. I wish to be like my grandma”, recalls Mrs. Jayaletchumi Thanabalasingam fondly. Believe it or not, her wish came true eventually.

Mrs Bala comes from an illustrious family, well known for their philanthropic ways and for making social service part and parcel of their life. They even build the Vivekananda Ashram in Kuala Lumpur, which stands till today. They were a well-respected and highly regarded family at that time which is why even the then prime minister of India Mr Jawaharlal Nehru was hosted by them when he visited Malaysia.

Her grandma was highly sought after for her advice by both family members and the people in the neighborhood. Mrs Bala tagged along during those sessions and grew up watching her grandma dishing out advice and helping the needy.

Born In Malaysia and raised by her grandparents, at 6yrs old, she joined her family in Singapore to study in Raffles Girls school.


“We had to eat loaf, which is as hard as brick.”

Her initiation as an assistant to her teacher just after the war laid the foundation for Mrs Bala to later take up teaching as a career.

In the meantime, marriage came knocking and she got hitched to a relative whom she also knew. “It was love and then arranged by my family”, says Mrs Bala.

But she was unfortunate in giving birth. After losing her first child, the second child was born with cerebral palsy. It brought a great change in Mrs Bala’s life. In the next 8 years that her son lived, Mrs Bala juggled doing her work and looking after her son day and night. “Visits to the hospital in the middle of the night was a common occurrence,” recalls Mrs Bala but she never compromised on work, not even taking time off to tend to her son. Even after the passing of her son, it was still a challenge for Mrs Bala to cope with her two daughters and work.


“I used to think to myself when can I be like my grandma. My wish came true.”

Even after retirement her fervor for social service was still strong. She joined the community centre in Siglap and got into the women’s committee. Starting as just an ordinary member she moved up the ranks to eventually become the chairman of the women’s committee. From organizing baby shows to raising money for the CC, Mrs Bala got her hands into many aspects of the CC activities which eventually earned her the recognition of PBM in 1994 and BBM in 2005. After 15yrs as the chairman, she gave up her position to become an ordinary member.

But she has not given up one aspect of her social service, which till today she really enjoys a lot. Even when her CC was hived off to the next constituency, she stayed with her MP Dr Maliki so as to assist him in his Meet the People’s Session. Without fail on Mondays she is at Blk 70, Siglap, between 7 – 11pm to meet and help the residents who turn up for the MPS.


“Our duty is to help them and listen to them - whatever problems they have.”

No one would be able guess correctly the age of Mrs. Bala. But every time she goes up and down the stairs in her house, she feels all of her 86yrs old age, says Mrs Bala. She has slowly given up or scaled back on some of the social work she has been doing over time like her involvement in the Singapore girl guide association, fostering committee in the department of social welfare, comcare committee and inter-racial and religious confidence circles among others. But she is well aware of keeping her mind active and wants to continue with the Meet the People Session as long as she can.

Currently, she stays on her own and looks forward to the calls from her children who have settled overseas and the occasional visit from her friends, neighbours and relatives. The tenacious Mrs Bala still imbues the fighting spirit, which has gotten her through even the most difficult moments in her life.


“I close my eyes. Cannot wake up. What happens?”

A dedication to the pioneers in the Indian community.

50Faces brings your stories of ordinary Singaporeans who have contributed to our community and nation building.