Celebrating Every Truimph Together – Gan Boon Leong

Many would agree that 45 years is a long time to be working in an organisation. Mr Gan Boon Leong, 68, a master craftsman at SPD’s Sheltered Workshop, received his [...]

Many would agree that 45 years is a long time to be working in an organisation. Mr Gan Boon Leong, 68, a master craftsman at SPD’s Sheltered Workshop, received his long service award for 45 years of service in SPD this year. Senior advocacy analyst Poh Sho Siam finds out more from our veteran.

As a teenager, Boon Leong was like the typical youth during his time. He went to a vocational school and after that took up various jobs, including coffee boy, ice-cream seller, cupboard maker, solderer and candle painter.

Sometime then, he began having muscle cramps in his left leg that extended to his waist. The doctor later diagnosed that he had a spinal cord injury. He recalled that the doctor advised him to stay in bed for three months. However, instead of improving, his condition worsened. After a subsequent surgery that did not turn out well, he was paralysed from waist down.

For two years after the surgery, Boon Leong stayed in the section of Tan Tock Seng Hospital now known as Ren Ci Community Hospital. He was depressed over losing his ability to walk and had no appetite to eat and no interest to socialise. However, his nurse encouraged him and told him that life should not go on this way for him, and through a social worker, he joined SPD in 1971 when he was 22 years old.

At that time, SPD was a small workshop where the trainees with disabilities repaired wooden crates for a soft drink company. Later, it took on assignments like assembling electrical transformers, making shoes and eventually book-binding, which has continued till today.

Looking back on his 45 years in SPD, Boon Leong is especially contented that SPD has grown into an established organisation with many programmes and services. In the 1980s, he was involved in the fundraising for the construction of the SPD Ability Centre. He recounted that he and a few craftsmen would go out almost every day to seek donations, rain or shine, even on Saturdays and Sundays. Rainy days were difficult, he said, because there were more shophouses and not much shelter then. From the way he vividly described the events like they happened yesterday, it is clear that that period of time held special memories for him. He is really proud and heartened to be able to contribute to SPD’s progress. Today, as a master craftsman in the Sheltered Workshop, he is involved in book-binding and the making of lifestyle products such as photo frames and albums.

When it comes to his job, Boon Leong’s attitude is to always try his best. If a customer requests for a product design that is new to him, he would think of ways to make it and satisfy the customer’s wishes. If others seek his advice, he is happy that he is able to share his skills and expertise with them.

Outside of work, Boon Leong is a caring husband. In fact, he met his wife as she passed by SPD every day on her way to a nearby school some 40 years ago. During weekends, if there are activities in the neighbourhood, such as community dinner, he would bring his wife to participate or he would accompany her window shopping. Otherwise, he would stay at home to watch TV with her and help with household chores. Over time Singapore has become more accessible, and he is able to take the buses and trains. There are also accessible toilets in shopping malls. This is a great improvement as compared to the past and he is able to get out more often.

Since Boon Leong did not have opportunities to further his studies when younger, he would like to encourage youngsters to value the opportunities they have, to study hard and to work hard.

What are his hopes for SPD? He hopes that SPD’s name will reach far and wide so that SPD could help many more people. In his words in Mandarin, “全世界都知道 SPD”, “可以帮很多人”.

As for himself, Boon Leong looks forward to receiving his 50-year long service award.

Thank you for your dedication, Boon Leong!