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Making a Difference to the Lives of Ex-offenders and Youths at Risk
On 24 November 2016, the Singapore Anti-Narcotics Association (SANA) presented awards to 69 individuals and committees.

It was in his nature to help people, and he has been changing lives for the last 37 years. In 1979, Mr Murugayan s/o Kalimuthu came across an advertisement seeking volunteer counsellors by the Singapore Anti-Narcotics Association (SANA). It was a time when drug abuse was rampant and Mr Murugayan had just found out that a close primary school friend was also using drugs.

“So many people were involved, and I want to do something about it. So SANA was the best option as they offered basic training and allowed me to do counselling. I was only 22 back then, a very young man, and I was tasked with doing house-visits at a young age with very little experience,” the 58-year-old recalled.

Since then, Mr Murugayan has never stopped touching lives with SANA, working quietly and tirelessly to counsel and give hope to his charges. Moving on from house-visits, Mr Murugayan began volunteering as a counsellor in local prisons 15 years ago, and that was where he found his calling.

On 24 November 2016, Mr Murugayan was presented with the Gold Medal of Honour at the SANA Volunteer & Donor Appreciation Night (SANA Nite) for his dedication and passion in SANA’s anti-drug efforts and his outstanding work with ex-offenders.

Mr Murugayan s/o Kalimuthu (right), who has been volunteering with SANA since 1979, receiving the Gold Medal of Honour from Mr Amrin Amin (left), Parliamentary Secretary for Home Affairs.  Photo: Syed Muhammad Khidir

Mr Murugayan, a Procurement and Contract Manager with the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), had previously attended training in psychology. He also actively attends professional courses and talks by spiritual leaders to improve his skills and knowledge.

Held at Hotel Fort Canning, the annual event recognises and celebrates the contributions and achievements of SANA’s volunteers, donors, sponsors and partners. A total of 69 SANA awards were presented to individuals and committees who had made significant contributions to SANA’s anti-drug efforts.

“Because when you deliver, you cannot be repeating the same thing. Each week when we go to look for the inmates, they look forward to seeing us with something new and I always want to have some rehabilitative elements. How can I help someone who has gone astray? And this is the kind of research on the type of knowledge I want to gain to help these people,” he said.

As he inches closer to retirement, Mr Murugayan is planning to become a full-time volunteer counsellor when he retires. This will also give him more time to spend with his family.

“I will be in prison as a counsellor for the whole of Saturday, so I had to convince my wife and two children that I am there for someone who needs me more than my family. I will take leave from work and take them out occasionally so I spend more time with them. It is difficult of course but I have to manage it. Sometimes I am sick over the weekend, but the inmates are waiting, so I will want to be there rather than think of my sickness,” he said.

Mr Murugayan started volunteering as a prison counselor 15 years ago, and has been making weekly visits to the prisons to help ex-offenders and inmates. Photo: Syed Muhammad Khidir

A casual attitude adopted by young Singaporeans towards the use of drugs resulted in a 20 per cent increase in the number of new abusers in 2015, as compared to 2014. Of the 1,309 new drug abusers arrested by the Home Team in 2015, seven out of 10 arrested were under the age of 30; many of whom were youths and young adults.

“We have to keep a close watch on global trends and attitudes, and continue to maintain a zero-tolerance stance against drugs,” said Mr Amrin Amin, Parliamentary Secretary for the Ministry of Home Affairs, who was the Guest-of-Honour at SANA Nite 2016.

Mr Amrin Amin (standing third from left left), Parliamentary Secretary of Home Affairs, posing with attendees at SANA's Volunteer and Donor Appreciation Night 2016. Photo: Syed Muhammad Khidir

Ms Corina Seah received the Bronze Medal of Honour in recognition of her service to SANA for more than 10 years. Ms Seah often works with youths and young adults at risk or who are experimenting with drugs.

“My first cases were students who got into the wrong crowd and started using drugs due to peer pressure. They have ongoing family problems and they don’t feel happy at home. So they come to meet older friends who introduce them to drugs,” she recalled.

Ms Corina Seah also volunteers at MacPherson Community Centre where she takes care of the elderly at the wellness centre during her free time. Photo: Syed Muhammad Khidir

Ms Seah, a freelance masseuse, said some of her younger charges began using drugs out of curiosity, but that led to an addiction soon after. The 50-year-old says it is often vital to rope in the help of parents during the rehabilitation and counselling process.

“When they (the parents) first got to know, they will be very upset. But I tell them not to beat up their kids. At least the kids know that they are wrong, so I would ask the parents to talk to their children nicely and encourage them to continue rehabilitation,” she said.

“The more we talk, the more trust we build up. When I talk to students more, I find that some of them will begin to trust me,” she added.

“The journey towards rehabilitation and reintegration is not an easy one, but we must continue to bring hope and optimism to ex-offenders… Search deep into our hearts and see how we can be the champions for people who cannot speak as eloquently as us and those who are less able,” said Mr Amrin. “We all should be a society of compassion to do all we can to make this place a nice place for all of us.”

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

  1. by Desmond Ang
  2. 25 November 2016
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