Radha Govindan & Mike Govindan

What keeps a couple together in a marriage? ‘Love’ of course – most would say. But in reality, their children, or for some, their work also plays a big part. Couples invest a large part of their life on their children and work and when the children grow up and move out or when retirement comes around, the couples are left with a huge void in their life. At this point, some couples encounter the problem of having little in common to fill this gap. But not so for Govind and Radha who have always had a common passion – community service.

50Faces had the rare opportunity to sit down with the couple - Radha and Govind to get an insight on how they managed to do so much for their family as well as reach out to the community at large.

The deep respect and love they have for each other was evident in the way each constantly credited the other for the work they were doing. This union started many years ago when they got married.

Life for Radha took a dramatic turn at a young age when she got married at 19 to Govind who was then an officer with the British army. Not only did she have to adjust to living in a camp, Radha had to quickly come up to speed with the ways of an Officer’s wife and that too an Indian one amongst the British. With the blessing of her husband, she dove in and learnt how to fend for herself.

“I think that is what triggered her to get into welfare and help the needy. And she took off from there.”

Having successfully settled into her role as an Officer’s wife, Radha decided to reach out beyond the confines of the camp to help fellow Singaporeans.

As a trained nurse, when she was called to help at the Little Sister’s of the Poor, she did not hesitate. With her physiotherapy background, she worked with the elderly at the home, helping them relieve the aches and pains which come with aging. But more than that, she realised that she was also helping them emotionally simply by spending time with them and keeping them company.

She vividly recalls one elderly man who had suffered a stroke and lost the ability to walk and talk properly. Despite his difficulties, he would always look forward to Radha’s visit, chatting away non-stop for the few minutes that he had with her. Radha could hardy understand him given his slurred speech, but she remembers clearly the joy in his eyes.

After this two-year stint ended, Radha started exploring other options.

“I heard these 3 Indian boys saying what is this sister doing here instead of doing chores at home.”

In the meantime, Govind had switched from the army to a human resource position with the Sembawang Ship Yard. Although he started off at one of the lowest ranks as an assistant personnel officer, he worked his way up, upgrading himself, and before long became the head of the unit.

Through the company’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activities, Govind got actively involved with helping many organisations like the Community Chest. When it came to retirement, Govind did not miss as his job as much as he expected due to all the work he did for the community. “But it just means, I can spend more time on my passion - the community activities”, says Govind.

“I said there are people who are rich but at the same time do not find love.”

It was one thing to deal with one’s own children, to discipline them and guide them to achieve their goals and another to work with delinquent teens whose own parents had sometimes given up on.

Radha worked at MCYS with juvenile delinquents for 23 years. The work was very demanding. She had to talk to the families, the kids themselves and sieve through the facts of the case one at a time to look for that sliver of hope to turn around the child and get him or her back into the folds of the society. On many occasions, when Radha had made largely positive recommendations to the courts, the presiding judge would drill her and she had to vigorously defend them. “But the judges usually agree with the recommendations if they see your conviction”, says Radha.

Through the course of dealing with many such cases, Radha realised that sometimes at the onset while it may seem impossible to improve the situation of the child, it takes extraordinary and unorthodox means to bring a change to that one person.

“Madam, I have never known what it is like to have a father. What does one feel to have a father? That disturbed me a lot.”

The interview was peppered with many other instances where the couple had stepped out of their comfort zone to try and make a difference in the lives of the less fortunate.

Radha worked with the grassroots to help the residents of Admiralty - Woodlands estate by spreading the word on the many schemes available to them. The couple also worked together with SINDA on programs to get eligible kids into schools and shared their volunteer experience to train and inspire the next generation of volunteers.

There were even moments when they had to put their voluntary work over the needs of their own family. But when the children joined them on some of these missions, they came to slowly understand the work that their parents were doing and the real impact that it had on someone out there. “They grew up seeing their mother doing volunteer work, helping the needy and helping the poor. They learned to appreciate that we must not only take but we should also give,” explained Govind.

50faces is truly honored to have met Govind and Radha and hope they will in turn inspire many out there to step out to volunteer together as a couple.

“We’ve come this far, 50 years as an independent nation. But how many times do we pause to look around to see the good things that are happening.”

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.