Story

From homeless teen to do-gooder

As a teen and young adult, Ms Noor Mastura had to fight hunger and homelessness. Her struggles have only spurred her to help others who are in need. She also runs an organisation that promotes interfaith understanding.

Ms Noor Mastura is the winner of the President’s Award for Volunteerism and/or Philanthropy (Youth) 2016

At 17, Ms Noor Mastura’s parents divorced. For the next five years, she endured starvation and bouts of homelessness as her mother struggled to provide for her and her three sisters.

Ms Noor recalls moving 11 times in five years. It reached a point where the family would just keep their belongings in trash bags and carry them from place to place.

Often surviving only on instant noodles, they would sometimes lie that they were full so the others might have more to eat.

Faced with these challenges, Ms Noor could not further her studies, and had to take on various jobs to support the family.

But things did turn around. She joined her mother in the real estate industry, where she found success. Later, with support from her uncle and aunt, the family was able to buy their own home.

But Ms Noor, now in her late 20s, never forgot their struggles, and she desired to help those who were in need.

In November 2013, together with two friends, she started Back2Basics, a free grocery delivery service for disadvantaged families of different religious backgrounds. To ensure inclusiveness, only halal certified food items were sourced. Delivering the groceries to the doorstep of the beneficiaries is a convenience for homebound elderly and single mothers with childcare constraints.

The group also delivers special hampers to their beneficiaries during festive seasons. They have also engaged and worked with schools, corporate entities and other help groups.

Today, Ms Noor’s sister runs the programme, though she continues to advise the core volunteer team.

At its peak, Back2Basics supported 40 beneficiaries. Some who have become financially self-sufficient have withdrawn from the programme.

Spreading good faith

But something else was bothering Ms Noor. In December 2014, her heart grew heavy after reading media reports of atrocities by militant group ISIS against Christians in Mosul, Iraq. The online hostility displayed by some Singapore netizens against Muslims made her realise that religious harmony in Singapore could be fragile.

She then wrote a letter about her feelings on the issue and emailed it to over 200 churches here. She also posted it on her blog. The post went viral and caught the attention of online media outlets, which published it. What followed was overwhelming positive response and support from the churches and people.

Motivated, Ms Noor sought to do more to encourage others to promote and strengthen religious harmony. She attended training in interfaith work and was accepted into Cambridge University’s Interfaith Summer Programme. There, she realised the need for ground-up interfaith work, and Interfaith Youth Circle (IYC) was born.

The organisation started in 2015 with a campaign, SGMuslimsforEid, which urged Muslims to open their homes to strangers of other religions or those who did not have a place to celebrate Hari Raya Puasa. The programme has been a success for two years.

IYC has also organised Scriptural Reasoning (this originates from Cambridge’s interfaith programme) sessions, where people of different faiths gather to discuss a portion of religious text from different faiths but of the same theme.

It is heartening for Ms Noor to witness the small and steady success of Back2Basics and IYC. Seeing friends and strangers join forces with her to effect social change has inspired her to do even more.