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Mr Ravi Philemon and Mdm Liyana Dhamirah. Source: Mdm Liyana Dhamirah/Facebook

How Ravi Philemon, former TOC editor helped a local tech entrepreneur when her family was homeless

In a viral Facebook post dated 24 July this year, Beyond Social Services, a non-profit organisation dedicated to assisting children and youths from less privileged backgrounds in escaping poverty, shared the story of Ms Liyana Dhamirah, local tech entrepreneur, who recounted her experience of hitting rock bottom in 2009 when she and her then-husband had to resort to sharing a tent at the beach with their two sons in the face of homelessness.

Speaking to Beyond Social Services, Ms Liyana recalls her experience:

I had my first child when I was 16 years old. I was working in retail then. By the time I was carrying my third child, in 2009, I had left my full-time job to focus on my marriage, and we found ourselves homeless.

My then husband and I slept in a tent on Sembawang Beach with my two older boys. When our license expired, we moved to West Coast Park. I told the kids we were having a holiday on the beach.

However, after approximately three months without a proper home, she soon saw light at the end of the tunnel when she was approached by "a few editors of an independent news site" whilst at the beach.

Ms Liyana said:

I had no idea who they were, but they asked me many questions about my situation. They even wrote a three-page letter to appeal for housing on my behalf.

The next day, I received calls from multiple agencies who told me about an interim housing arrangement.

One of the editors referred to by Ms Liyana is Mr Ravi Philemon, former Chief Editor at The Online Citizen and former social worker.

Mr Philemon wrote a letter to the then-Foreign Minister K Shanmugam on 31 December 2009 to share about Ms Liyana's predicament and noted:

"...Nobody should have to spend the new year being homeless at the beach, much less a pregnant woman and two young boys.

I hope you could use your special relationship with New Hope to recommend them to take them into their shelters and give this family a real Happy New Year."

Mr Shanmugam who was the Member of the Parliament for Ms Liyana promptly wrote back, saying that he "will check on what happened - the rule is that anyone who wants to see me can see me, provided they are prepared to wait. Often that would be explained, and I wonder if Mdm Liyana misunderstood."

The Minister added: "There is a standard way we deal with these problems - MCYS has shelters where they can stay. No reason for them to be on the beach. I will send a note to MCYS straight away and ask for them to be accommodated. Meanwhile I will check with HDB and ask them to re-look into the case and the issue of the passenger car."

Soon after, her issues were looked into and largely resolved.

Grateful for Ravi's helping hand; Liyana now has made leaps and bounds in the entrepreneurial world

Thanks Mr Philemon in a Facebook post dated 23 August 2015 to support him in his election campaign in the General Election 2015, Ms Liyana thanked him for helping her and her family get back on their feet:

She added that Mr Philemon's efforts to assist her did not cease on the night he and Mr Loh visited her and her family at Sembawang Beach on the night of 30 December 2009, as he continued to support her social philanthropy initiatives in the following years:

Over the years, he has contributed significantly to my social entrepreneurial endeavours.

Without even [my] asking for it, he introduced me to those in business who I had garner[ed] knowledge [from], gain[ed] so much wisdom from, [and have] motivated and inspired me on my journey now.

Just imagine someone who was once homeless -- just a GCE 'O' Level holder, feeling all useless and hopeless -- is now embarking on a journey that could provide employment and hope to others.

Ravi Philemon is one of the biggest contributing factors to this positive change in me.

Mdm Liyana shared how her mother spoke highly of Mr Philemon once: "Ravi is good. He never forgets you, and in anything, he will help."

"It's been a few years now, acting on the various opportunities to contribute side by side with him in voluntary works. I am grateful," she wrote in her Facebook post in 2015.

"I had no background in coding or design, so I learnt these skills from free online courses on Coursera after I put my kids to bed at night," she lamented in her interview with Beyond Social Services this year.

Mdm Liyana is currently studying for a Diploma in Business Management at Singapore Polytechnic, and is expected to graduate next year. 

She advised families who are struggling with their own situation to “Think out of the box for solutions, stick by your values, and surround yourself with people who build you up."

"Think in the long-term rather than only for the here-and-now,” she concluded.

Local netizens express outpouring support in the face of Mdm Liyana's tenacity

Many local netizens have lauded Mdm Liyana's efforts and achievements, noting her grit and resilience in surviving homelessness and evolving into a successful entrepreneur today, with many of them seeking to support her tech start-up.

Melvin Koo said:

Just to update after a short conversation with her! I'm extremely impressed that she's doing well now. What's she's been through is crazy enough, but how she pulled through and go to where she is today - [that] is even more outstanding. She's a rockstar, and her experience will be shared with my kids so they can learn from her. By the way, she's now standing tall and strong, closed her trinket business, as she's busy with her core business [tech start-up]. Keep her experience with you always, in case you think you've had a bad day, or need a pick me up.

Vy Nguyen commented:

Thank you for sharing your story. I am really inspired by your strength, vision and spirit. Your children must be very proud of having a mother like you. Superhero mom!

Moslimah H A Karim said:

Salute to you, Liyana. Allah sentiasa bersama insan yg sabar dan bersyukur... Semoga Allah berkahi hidupmu dan anak2 hingga ke akhir hayat. Amin...

[Translated from the Malay: God is always with those who are patient and grateful. May God bless your life and your children until the end of your lives. Amen.]

Sam Lee said:

You are an amazing mom... and your children should be very proud of you. Blessings. 

Shaen Yeo commented:

Beautiful story of grit and love. She didn’t let her situation define who she is. She is such a good example for her children!

Fadhli Bonch said:

You are a beacon of hope for many of us who are struggling out there. Your virtues will shine through. Thanks for sharing your experience. Hope the best for you and your kids.

Rashid Noordin wrote:

Not just inspired by the story, but [Singapore] must have more agencies and people to be aware of others who need help.