Our Community
Heroes for Life: In and beyond the Boys’ Club
“Alamak my son is in trouble again,” was usually the first thought that came into the parents’ minds when police officers knocked on their door.

Mr. Philip Xavier lives with his wife in a cosy flat brimming with nostalgic knick-knacks accumulated over the years.

“He likes to collect these types of things, he keeps everything,” said Mrs. Pauline Xavier in loving exasperation. Mr. Xavier grinned, “These are memories!” he replied with a laugh. Like his home, Mr. Xavier’s mind is replete with recollections of his experiences in the Boys’ Club, which he candidly regaled us with.

The Beginnings

Under the Community Policing initiative, the first Boys’ Club was set up in Macpherson in 1982, a brainchild of the late former Commissioner Police Goh Yong Hong. There were four officers taking care of the club, “one secretary, two corporals, and one police constable. I was a corporal in that club,” explained Mr. Xavier.

The success of the Macpherson Boys’ Club spurred the creation of more clubs, including the Geylang West Boys’ Club where Mr. Xavier served as secretary.

A younger Mr. Xavier poses with a member outside the Macpherson Boys’ Club. PHOTO: Personal collection. Reproduced with permission.

The Recruitment Process 

The police would liaise with the Ministry of Education and schools in the neighbourhood to identify at-risk boys. The officers would then make door-to-door visits to speak to the boys and their families, explaining the rationale of the Boys’ Club and encouraging their boys to join.

“We tell them that we are there to help them out,” said Mr. Xavier. “We explain to them that it’s an open door concept. You can come in, and you can leave anytime you like.”

Moulding Leaders and Turning Points

One of the goals of the club was to allow the boys to feel a sense of responsibility for themselves and for others. Boys with the privilege of better family backgrounds and education were asked to help their peers from lower-income families and who were less educated. In addition, the more troubled youths were also sometimes given leadership responsibilities.

“We had groups in the club, and we appointed leaders for the groups,” recounted Mr. Xavier. “The leaders were the dropouts who were involved in criminal cases and we counselled them and gave them responsibilities of taking care of their groups. Sometimes they asked, ‘I am the naughty one, how come these people put me as the leader?’ We tell them that they must show a good example to the rest of the boys to serve, and become better.”

Serving as a group leader had indeed proven to be a turning point for one of the boys.

As Mr. Xavier recalled gratifyingly, “I met one boy at Parkway Parade. I was shopping with my wife and we heard this boy calling ‘Sir! Sir! Sir!’ He came towards us and said, ‘Sir, how are you?’”

It was a former Boys’ Club member whom Mr. Xavier had appointed as leader of the Kingfisher group.

“Behind him were two little ones,” recounted Mr. Xavier, “so I said to him, ‘wah must be your “adik”*?’ He explained playfully. “He said, ‘no lah Sir, these are my son and daughter!’”

Mr. Xavier’s voice brimmed with pride as he spoke of this meeting.

“That’s the one thing that sticks in your mind,” he said, “that we, as police officers, have achieved something, that we have helped them, these former dropouts and delinquents, achieve (success) and start a family.”

“I was very touched by this meeting,” he added.

Mr. Xavier and his bed tags from his days at the Old Police Academy. PHOTO: Jason Choo

Keeping Busy

The Boys’ Club also kept its boys busy with activities such as gardening, football, table tennis, and even overseas trips. The furthest trip Mr. Xavier and his team had taken was to Mt. Ophir, where they trekked up to the summit, first with a guide, then subsequently by themselves.

“Most of the boys that we brought were wayward boys from the prisons and Drug Rehabilitation Centres,” he explained. “We brought them there to experience life, learn to take up responsibilities - doing their own cooking, as well as taking care of the camp and of each other.”

The Smoking Sacrifice

“I was a smoker,” Mr. Xavier admitted. “So every time when we go into the club, we would hide our cigarettes under our sleeves, or under our shirts, or in our socks,” he recalled. “But sometimes we forget and we never hide the cigarettes properly. The boys would say ‘wah Sir, cigarettes ah!’ So I say, ‘this one people ask me to hold for them, they’re not mine.’ And I go to my room and hide the cigarettes,” recounted Mr. Xavier with a quiet laugh.

But boys in the club were chided for smoking, and were usually made to do work such as gardening if they were caught doing so. The need to set a good example thus made Mr. Xavier realise that he had to kick his habit.

“These things, bit by bit they’re pushing you,” he continued. “I asked myself, how am I going to do it? So one of my New Year’s resolutions was I’m going to stop smoking, and I did it. The last time I smoked was in 1985 or 1986. But I threw the cigarette away, and I don’t smoke anymore.” “It wasn’t easy,” he laughed.

“Sometimes I had to eat sweets, or even put a stick between my mouth and pretend it’s a cigarette.” His sacrifice seemed to work.

“Slowly the boys stopped coming to the club with cigarettes. Whether they smoke outside I wouldn’t know,” he said. “But I stopped seeing them come into the club with cigarettes. It’s still something.”

“Eh Pontianak or what”

Mr. Xavier also recalled a particularly harrowing experience while camping in Mt. Ophir.

“At night after our dinner, we wanted to do heavy duties,” he recounted. “Heavy duties means pass motion,” he clarified with a laugh.

“So we were doing our business by the river, and we heard a sound, like ‘hoo hoo hoo’. And then we said, ‘eh what is that?’ And somebody said ‘Sir, Sir, I think maybe Pontianak or what!’”

“So the sound kept on coming nearer and nearer. And we turned around a look, it was an ape! Helluva big one with red eyes standing down there looking at us. All of us ran! And one or two even fell into the river, but luckily the river was not very deep. And we ran to the camp.” Mr. Xavier reminisced with a chuckle.

The Family Boys’ Club

Mr. Xavier’s care of the boys extended beyond his twelve hour shifts at the club. During Christmases, for example, he would invite them to his home for dinner.

“My Mother-in-Law would make a big pot of Nasi Briyani, and Philip would bring a huge police bus load of boys and they will come over,” recalled Mrs. Xavier. “The whole house would be filled with boys! All running around…” she added, laughing at the memory.

Both Mrs. Xavier and their elder daughter would also sometimes help Mr. Xavier out at the club, and Mrs. Xavier attributes their family’s involvement with charity work to Mr. Xavier’s passionate involvement in the Boys’ Club.

“The Boys’ Club used to go to the St. John’s home to play the guitar and sing,” explained Mrs. Xavier. “And my daughter would also follow, and I think from there she started getting involved, and I also started volunteering for my church group.”

“It’s a Family Boys’ Club,” joked Mr. Xavier.

And the ‘Family Boys’ Club’ lives to this day, as Mr. and Mrs. Xavier are both active volunteers for Willing Hearts*, a charity organisation which prepares and delivers food to lower-income Singaporeans.

“My granddaughter Chloe also comes with us sometimes to help out,” said Mrs. Xavier.

Chloe, in her teens, lives near her grandparents, and often drops by to hang out with them.

“I’m very close to my grandparents,” she said, “and I’m very thankful to have them, they helped shaped my character and gave me a lot of good advice.”

Mr. Xavier’s humble and unwavering spirit of giving has undoubtedly changed many lives for the better, both at work and at home. Now, his passion also lives on through his granddaughter, who hopes to follow in her grandparents’ footsteps and do her part in helping her community.

Indeed, Mr. and Mrs. Xavier are both heroes in Chloe’s eyes. She said earnestly, “I admire my grandparents a lot, and the things that they do for other people. They’re really amazing.”

*Malay word for younger siblings.

*In the spirit of passing it on, you may visit Willing Hearts at www.willinghearts.org.sg to find out more about the organisation.

© 2019 Ministry of Home Affairs, Singapore. All Rights Reserved.

  1. by Jocelyn Yeo, MHA Heritage Development Unit
  2. 09 June 2015
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