The Hougang fighter
With his strong spirit of determination, Hougang Branch Chairman Lee Hong Chuang goes the distance
When a secondary school friend suggested that they signed up for gymnastics, a teenaged Lee Hong Chuang was not sure what his friend meant. Mr Lee recalled: "I did not even know the sport he was referring to until he reminded me that we once saw the school gymnasts in action when we were in primary school."
Mr Lee was then in The Chinese High School and many of his fellow gymnasts had been at it since primary school. He started off as the beginner of the lot but by sheer dint of hard work through long hours of daily training, he surpassed them and even went on to represent Singapore in three Southeast Asian Games from 1985 to 1993.
The 46-year-old now directs his fighting spirit to working the ground in the Hougang Single Member Constituency (SMC). When Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced the former athlete's candidacy for Hougang in GE2015, the PM cited his fighting spirit.
He lost to Png Eng Huat of the Workers' Party but the 42.34 per cent of the vote that Mr Lee garnered was a significant increase from the 35.2 percent the PAP had obtained in GE2011.
The former national athlete believes that his competitive spirit has been honed by his years of gymnastic training. He said: "In my teenage years, on weekdays, I trained for nine hours from 2 pm to 11 pm. On weekends, I trained from 9 am to 2 pm. I did my homework and school projects after these sessions.
"Training in this fashion not only strengthened my physical stamina but also greatly boosted my concentration, determination and perseverance."
Strong sense of community service
Mr Lee had also served as a grassroots volunteer for 27 years, starting as a children's camp instructor in Teck Ghee constituency in 1989.
Explaining his commitment to community service, he said: "When I first volunteered as a camp instructor in a Teck Ghee children's camp and subsequently became the Organising Chair, another camp volunteer instructor once said to me: 'If I didn't join the camp as a volunteer instructor to assist and got to know many of you, I would have been lost and mixed with the wrong company after school', meaning that he might have become a delinquent. Such feedback have motivated me since and I am willing to spend time and effort to make a difference to our community."
More programmes to better benefit residents
He currently chairs the PAP Hougang Branch, Hougang PAP Community Foundation, and is the Advisor to Hougang Grassroots Organisations. While he has continued with the programmes prior to GE2015, he has also improved them to better benefit the residents. He has also implemented new initiatives, such as a tuition scheme for mainly PCF students under the Kindergarten Financial Assistance Scheme (KiFAS) when they are in primary school.
Mr Lee told Petir: "My activists and I realise that children from families on financial assistance are unlikely to have tuition when they start primary education. To level the playing field and provide them with more confidence, we started the tuition scheme for students under KiFAS at the beginning of 2016, together with voluntary welfare organisation, Lions Club of Singapore Bedok.
"And it's working," he pointed out. The children's school test results initially ranged in their 50s and now with tuition, it have improved to the 70s, 80s or higher. They have also learned to enjoy studying on their own.
Currently, there are 10 students in each lower Primary 1 and 2 levels. Mr Lee explained: "Our plan is to teach them how to fish," referring to the famous proverb: Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.
Getting closer to residents
Mr Lee observed that Hougang has a higher proportion of senior citizens than many other constituencies. One of his priorities is to take care of the physical and mental well-being of these elderly residents while continuing to look after other age groups as well.
He said: "We have introduced wellness programmes to promote active ageing, featuring activities like brisk walking, social dancing, some other simple sports and medical check-ups, including flu vaccination. To keep senior citizens engaged, we have also included them in the Community Engagement Programme to help them get temporary jobs such as manning cafe corners, or permanent ones thereafter. A Silver Zone with elderly-friendly road safety features has also been constructed."
To get closer to residents, Mr Lee, a senior IT manager at computer technology firm IBM, also hosts durian parties, and conducts weekly Meet Residents' Sessions. Describing the sentiments on the ground, he said that residents have become warmer and "we have grown closer."
He added with a laugh: "They even invite me to their homes to celebrate their birthday parties. That's very personal."
On whether the PAP would win Hougang in the next GE, Mr Lee said: "It is up to the residents to choose the person who can serve them better."
Residents are very comfortable with Mr Lee
An activist in Hougang for the past 15 years, Mr Peter Liew observed that Hougang residents now appear "very comfortable" with Mr Lee Hong Chuang.
The 57-year-old PAP activist knows the ground well. A Hougang resident since 1975, Mr Liew operates a traditional Chinese medicine
shop in the neighbourhood.
He is also the vice-chairman of the senior group of the PAP Hougang branch. He said: "At coffee shops, they do not hesitate to approach Mr Lee with their problems and some even take pictures with him.
They are eager to talk to him and this always happens whenever Mr Lee is around. And he is around a lot, often up to four, five times a week. He is also very approachable."
Mr Lee said that he welcomes any dialogue with Hougang residents. He observed that some residents know that their requests are very unlikely to be granted by the government due to policies but they wanted him to try his best on their behalf.
He added: "Many of them appreciate the effort our team has put in, even if is eventually unsuccessful. There are many reasons why certain requests are not granted, such as government policies, rules and regulations and residents understand this."
This article was first published in the December 2016 issue of Petir Magazine.