R Yogeswary & K Thiayagarajah

Whilst many young couples nowadays may be conflicted between wanting to spend their downtime relaxing with their loved ones versus volunteering for a worthy cause, Mr Thiaga and Mdm Yoges seem to have hit upon the perfect solution of spending their time helping others through community service while still spending time together.

While both Mdm Yoges and Mr Thiaga experienced the loss of a parent at a young age, what followed would differ greatly for each of them. Whilst Mdm Yoges remained in Malaysia with her family, Mr Thiaga and family moved back to Sri Lanka to be with the rest of their relatives. Crediting her brothers, Mdm Yoges mentions that she was able to lead a fairly normal life, while Mr Thiaga experienced a drastic change in switching to a village lifestyle – albeit one he enjoyed greatly.

“I enjoyed life as a little farmer with my grandfather - doing the farming, playing with the cows, driving the bullock carts to the padi field etc”

Despite these differences in upbringing, one common factor that developed was the need to help others. For Mdm Yoges, this manifested itself early when she pursued nursing as a career despite objections from friends and family, given her status as an unmarried young female. Moving to Singapore after marriage in 1966, she continued on with her vocation and answered the call immediately when it was known that there was a need for more nurses. Mr Thiaga in the meantime had returned to Singapore, completed his education and joined the Ministry of the Environment (now Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources) in 1958. One of the major projects he was involved in was the “Keep Singapore Clean” campaign, specifically the cleanup of the Singapore River. Certainly a challenging time, it was nonetheless interesting to hear Mr Thiaga being involved in everything from clearing pig farms to dealing with chopper-wielding hawkers and risking physical attacks while having to clear rubbish along with his colleagues.

“They come with the choppers because they think that you are ruining their livelihood.”

Even with their respective workloads, Mr Thiaga and Mdm Yoges still found time for community service, starting out with their local Residents’ Committee in Kebun Bahru Heights. While Mr Thiaga first started in 1980, Mdm Yoges joined in soon after in 1984 and together contributed in different ways whilst still under the same RC. Mr Thiaga involved himself in fostering neighbourliness amongst the residents while Mdm Yoges focused instead on organising various activities at the community centre.

Rotating through a range of committees and important positions including chairing several of them, one of the many activities Mdm Yoges conducted was exercise classes for the elderly and has been doing so for the past 29 years, currently conducting these classes in 10-11 centres, focusing mainly on low income earners and senior citizens. Recounting her weekly schedule to us in which she visits a number of centres, sometimes up to 2 or more in a single day, Mdm Yoges stresses the importance of time management and is glad that she’s able to contribute something to others and in turn feels happy knowing that she has been able to help people.

Meanwhile, Mr Thiaga remained with the RC and besides organising block parties and the like, to promote neighbourly ties, was also involved in directing a play on youth problems, representing his RC amongst other RCs at the national level. Other activities he’s involved in are those related to racial harmony activities as well as civil defense activities, like emergency preparedness drills together with his wife. Despite taking a step back to let his naturally vivacious wife do most of the talking – something she clearly enjoys, Mr Thiaga does not hesitate to speak his mind about topics which are clearly close to his heart, namely his work with the RC. His pride in his community is quite evident.


“I don’t have money to give them as donation, at least I contribute this way and make them happy.”

Currently, one of the activities the couple do together is an elderly visitation programme under the Family Service Centres. Informed by the social workers on which cases need help, the couple will visit the elderly, often living alone, once a week or as when needed - on a case by case basis. Helping them out on a variety of issues ranging from medical appointment follow-ups to arranging for meals or clean-up arrangements if need be, the couple are able to form strong personal bonds with their cases at times even becoming the first point of contact in emergencies.

By getting involved in such a programme, Mdm Yoges and Mr Thiaga relate the hard breaking first hand experience in witnessing the poor living conditions of these elderly.

“It is eye-opening to realise that there are indeed Singaporeans amongst us who are living in such conditions though we might not realise it” sums up Mr Thiaga. One thing both of them share through their visits is the need for sensitivity in interacting with the elderly. In cases where it may seem as if the elderly are hoarding lot of rubbish, Mdm Yoges has this to say – “in their eyes, each object tells a story and has a lifetime of memories associated with it, thus not to be casually disregarded”.

“It was very surprising to see that Singaporeans lived in such conditions. It was an eyeopener.”

In light of Singapore’s approaching 50th celebrations, Mdm Yoges and Mr Thiaga express their wishes for more Indians to join in the activities they organise for the elderly and also wish to thank the pioneers for all they have done so far for the country and hope that the selfless spirit of these pioneers will carry on to the next generation.

Together, Mdm Yoges and Mr Thiaga present the ideal picture of blissful married life well into old age, one that many of us strive for, and we here at 50Faces thank them for all their contributions and wish them all the best in their endeavours to come.

“I am a retired man. What am I to do without any activities? I will have a dead brain otherwise!”

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.