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What Valentine’s Day means to me

By Deborah Choo

Legend has it that St. Valentine was a Catholic bishop who lived under the reign of Claudius II in Rome. Claudius believed that men who were not married made better soldiers than married men with families. Because of this belief, he dictated a law forbidding men to marry. However, because Valentine did not agree with this law, he wed young couples clandestinely. When Claudius discovered this, he had Valentine thrown into jail. During this time, Valentine fell in love with the jailer’s daughter. His last letter to her before he was beheaded on February 14 was signed “From your Valentine”.

Valentine’s Day has since become a day for lovers to commemorate their love.

This year is my first Valentine’s celebration. But more importantly, this also marks my first month internship with The Online Citizen. So it does indeed call for celebrations.

I remember the first time I joined TOC in late 2008. My first assignment was as a TV presenter. My fellow presenters and I were tasked to hit the Clarke Quay streets to interview people about their New Year resolutions. It was both frightening and exhilarating for I had no TV presentation experience back then. That marked the start of my training as a presenter. But it provided me with the much-needed confidence to audition for the role of a sports presenter in the Youth Olympic Games (YOG). I was subsequently selected and trained under renowned deejay Mark Richmond.

My most memorable assignment with TOC was on the migrant workers series in January 2009. It begun with a visit to a foreign workers dorm at Tagore Lane.

I’ve never seen a foreign workers’ dormitory before, nor was I prepared for what I witnessed: rows of beds –without mattresses - packed so close together with only enough space in between for one person to walk through at any time, the dorm was hot and poorly ventilated; the workers relied on tap water and were sometimes given food that had gone bad.

That was when I met Delowar and wrote his story. The first time I met him, he wore a smile on his face – one I did not expect to see from someone in his predicament. He told me he dreamt of opening a school for the children in his village back in Bangladesh as he felt the need for education was too great. He used to be a teacher. He came to Singapore in the hopes of earning enough money to build the school but ended up being conned by his unscrupulous boss.

Delowar left Singapore with very little compensation. A few months later, a Japanese news network covered his story. The viewers were so moved that they donated money for him to build the school. But such stories are sadly too rare.

Another hallmark of my days with TOC was having the honor to meet Susan Elliott, 57, winner of the 2009 Colorado State Teacher of the Year award and one of the top four finalists for the 2009 National Teacher of the Year. She is Deaf. That effectively launched my series of work with the Deaf of whom I wrote about: Kenichi Wright, Geraldine Kong, Hairaini Ali, Ng Bee Hwa, Rowland Yeo.

All these people taught me one thing: Nothing is impossible.

Because “love” leaves no place for “impossible” on Earth; love is all around.

If not for those compassionate people who donated, Delowar could not have fulfilled his dream.  Because of love for the Deaf alike, people like Susan decided to champion the Deaf rights internationally by first leading with example.  And for the others, their families are their pillar of strength.

This is why I love being a journalist; I’m able to meet people from all walks of life, learn about their lives.

Like Sze Hian once told me, I did grow up with TOC. The things I’ve seen, the skills I picked up, the people I’ve met, changed me forever.

And I believe everyone has a story to tell.

Just like you have heard mine, I would love to hear yours.

So if you would like to share your Valentine’s story with me, do drop me an email.

To all our valued TOC readers - some of whom I had the pleasure of meeting you at our TOC Cassetted party last month – Happy Valentine’s Day!