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Giving Time to Give a Second Chance at Life

Dr William Wan does not let age define him - this 70 year old has not ceased giving back to society through various organisations like Prison Fellowship Singapore & Singapore Kindness Movement.

Winner of President's Award for Volunteerism and/or Philanthropy (Individual, Senior Category): Dr William Wan

At the age of 70, when most seniors are content to take it easy in retirement, Dr William Wan is still hard at work, doing what he loves most – giving back to society. 

More than 40 years ago, he co-founded Rehabilitation Life which is now known as Prison Fellowship Singapore (PFS). Today, thanks to his pioneering efforts, PFS helps about 1,100 inmates, 300 ex-offenders through its aftercare support programmes and 100 family members of ex-inmates each month.

His passion for PFS’ ministry sees him actively raising funds through speaking engagements among the Christian community. He also donates most of the proceeds and writing fees from the nine books he has penned – books that cover diverse topics ranging from inmate rehabilitation, to dyslexia and scouting. 

 A trained lawyer who still consults at a law firm, Dr Wan would volunteer his legal skills pro bono, such as helping a man accused of armed robbery who eventually became a successful businessman. Dr Wan’s firm was also one of the first to pioneer hiring ex-offenders and he has also opened his own home as a halfway house.

To those who are wary of volunteering with ex-offenders, Dr Wan says he can empathise. “It is not for the faint-hearted. For every success story, there are many who still do not make it. I have had petty cash stolen from the firm, many promises broken, kindness betrayed and good intentions completely and deliberately misinterpreted to make you look really bad,” he says.

 In spite of these challenges, Dr Wan’s motto is to keep doing the right thing and not expect returns. “Satisfaction must come first from knowing that you are doing what you know is right and if there is a return, it is a bonus. The saying ‘Once bitten, twice shy’ does not apply here. You will be bitten many times but when you get a positive response in time, it is all worth it.”

Dr Wan’s willingness to give back remained the driving force when he became General Secretary of the Singapore Kindness Movement (SKM) in 2011. “Kindness to me is simply ‘other-centredness’. He has since broadened its concern of kindness to the environment and co-founded the Keep Singapore Clean Movement with the Public Hygiene Council on whose board he still serves actively. 

Moving ahead

Dr Wan hopes to carry on serving as chairman of PFS where he aims to champion more programmes within prison for PFS and 70x7, such as the National Youth Achievement Award for teenage prisoners and the Victim Empathy Programme. Outside of prison, he wants to better equip volunteers to set up effective decentralised aftercare support for ex-inmates and their families. These centres will function as supportive communities to better facilitate the assimilation and integration of ex-offenders into new communities, away from negative influencers that constantly threaten to draw them back to crime. To do this effectively, more volunteers are needed, and he would like to double their strength over the next 2-3 years.