Red Cross Memories: Pat Jeanisa Ng

It has been a blessing to be serving the disadvantaged for a good 14 yrs through "Project  Red Cross Love" that provides hot meals and rations during peace time.

One of my most unforgettable volunteering experiences with the Singapore Red Cross was when I volunteered in the aftermath of the Hotel New World collapse.

I learnt about the Hotel New World collapse through the news on TV. Everyone was talking about it. I was 17 years old then and it was just after my O-Levels. I called the Singapore Red Cross headquarters and asked the staff if there was anything I could do to help. I was ready on standby and was ready to be activated to do any task as soon as possible. I was assigned to go to the disaster site.

When I reached, there were many bystanders crowding the site. There was a temporary first aid post and there were people in charge of crowd control.  I was led to a vegetarian restaurant where the relatives of victims were gathered. As many of the relatives were very worried, many forgot to take care of themselves in their anxiety. They were very quiet and anxious to hear news about the fate of their loved ones.

I offered the relatives refreshments and ensured that the relatives ate snacks or drank some water.

We had to keep quiet as they were detecting sounds, cries from the tunnel. Everyone prayed for survivors. At first, we learnt that the first casualty was rescued. But we later learnt that the casualty had stopped breathing. The mood of the rescuer, volunteers and relatives then plunged from hope to despair.

The second casualty was alive when pulled out. We were really happy that someone who was rescued was alive! There was cheering and happiness all around. Hope returned. We need to quickly return to silent to allow search to proceed.

Later, they were asking for volunteers who could speak dialects like Hokkien, Cantonese and Hakka to go to the mortuary. They prepared me for what I will see and do.

I was seated near a middle-age woman. At first the woman was very quiet. There were long moments of silence between us. I broke the silence by asking her if she wanted to eat or drink while waiting. I had to be the listening ear for the family.

It was then that she opened up. The woman, who was Hakka, was a widow. She had gone through a lot to bring up her son. He was an obedient son so it was all worth it. She pinned all her hopes on her son who had recently graduated and was working at a bank. She was hoping that she could go into retirement soon now that he was working. The collapse of the Hotel New World shattered her dreams. Her son was working at Hotel New World when it collapsed. She thought of the worst. I could not let go of her hand.

The woman had to go to a room to identify if a body was that of her son. This was based on the matching information of the body, clothing and belongings given by her. I held her hand till we walked to the door of the room. The lady from the Salvation Army saw that I was quite young and told me that I wouldn’t be able to handle the situation so it was better to stay outside the room. Although not willing to let go, I heeded her advice and told the woman that I would be waiting outside near the door for her. Fortunately, the body was not her son. She was so relieved. But her relief was short-lived.

The woman was led to another room. This time, the body laying in the second room was her son. She wailed. I was waiting at the door and hugged her. I am thankful my mum brought me up to develop a listening ear for someone. I felt for her. I wanted to be there for her. She was later led out of the  mortuary.

After that, I couldn’t hold back any longer. I went into the ambulance and cried for almost half an hour. It was an unforgettable experience because the relatives went there in anticipation that the body in the mortuary was not their loved one. When they identified the bodies, it was really sad.

Seeing how emotional I was after that, my leaders were concerned that I was too emotionally involved. I was taken out of the mortuary and I was back to serving drinks. I was there for about four to five days. Later, when I went to the Red Cross headquarters, we were still calling for volunteers and scheduling their standby.

That incident reinforced the importance of be prepared. Learning First aid will enable us to be more prepared to handle incident or emergencies when they arise. I learnt that it is important not to wait for disasters to happen. One has to be ready to serve the vulnerable in peace time.

As volunteers, we must be ready to serve the vulnerable in our midst.