We sat down and talked with this inspirational grandfather as he shared his life experiences.
We’re always on the lookout for parents with fascinating and inspirational stories to tell so that we can inspire our kids – and ourselves. With that said, let us introduce you to Seluasundram Nagalingam, or Sundram as he’s better known, who is arguably one of the coolest (grand) parents we’ve met! Get this: he’s an active Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Warrant Officer and is a trained commando by vocation – how cool, right?
We learned plenty when we spoke to him, and here’s what he shared with us.
Hey Sundram! Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I am a proud grandfather to my two grandchildren Leo and Luna, and a father to my two daughters, Poovan and Aisha. I’m also a Master Warrant Officer (MWO) and an instructor at the SAF Military Institution (SAFTI). And I had a pretty interesting childhood: I grew up here, in the boys’ home of the Ramakrishna Mission at Bartley Road, because my mum was struggling to provide for the family.
Wow, what was that like? It must’ve been tough to handle as a kid.
When I was younger, I couldn’t understand why she did it. But Mum decided the best way to give me a good life was for me to live at the mission instead of being at home where she couldn’t take care of me. Not only was I the youngest in the family, but I also used to be the naughtiest and the troublemaker of the lot, so it was ultimately for my benefit. As a parent, I’m sure it was a difficult decision but a necessary one, as the mission could provide education, housing, food and necessities for me to thrive. So I’m grateful for whatever she has done for me, and happy that we have managed to continue our relationship as a family. My eldest brother actually visited me several times when I lived here, and we’ve managed to maintain a close relationship, which is great. Nowadays, I visit my mum weekly or monthly to check in and see if she’s doing okay. I’m extremely grateful she’s being taken care of by my older brother.
Let’s talk about your awesome job. Why did you enlist in the army?
As a kid, not only did I want to be actively involved in sports, but I also loved martial arts and was interested in skydiving. Thankfully, the army is a platform that offers a variety of sports including contact sports like martial arts. So, when an army recruiter came around to the mission, I was told that the unit was the only one that provided airborne training for men to become skydivers. That gave me the extra motivation I needed, so I decided to take a chance and was eventually enlisted into the commando unit in 1983. Since then, I’ve never seen being in the army as a job but a career and hobby, because I love what I’m doing. And, I’m proud to say I’m a commando by vocation as well!
That’s so cool! What have you learned from serving in the army?
Being in the army taught me the importance of education. Not only did the army assist me in reaching my educational goals: first, in getting to retake my O’levels, then getting the chance to work towards a diploma. But, I’ve also had the chance to earn a degree and even a masters of social science in counselling psychology from Swinburne University, too!
I’m also extremely grateful for the army for indoctrinating and motivating me with key values. It gave me a sense of purpose, and I’ve found that these values have driven my behaviour and allows me to see the world from a different perspective.
I understand you serve at the mission regularly. Could you tell us more about what you do?
I’m a mentor to the boys who live in the boys’ home here at the mission, and teach yoga regularly here, too. My motto in life is “service to man is service to God”, so as a former member of the boys’ home myself, I wanted to serve in whatever capacity I could. As a kid, all I wanted was for someone to understand my perspective, respect me and lend a listening ear – so I try to do my best for the boys who are here now. I approach them more like a friend than a mentor, and lend them a listening ear, facilitate discussion, ask their perspectives on issues that concern them and be someone that the boys can confide in.
We’ve heard you’ve also volunteered with the Singapore International Foundation, is that right?
Yes, I did! I volunteered regularly with the Singapore International Foundation for over a decade with its Water for Life program, which provides rural communities in Cambodia with access to drinking water by installing bio-sand filters. Now, I run an independent project called ‘Bike to School’ with a couple of friends whom I’ve gotten to know through the program. In ‘Bike to School’, we crowdsource from friends and family, and work together with a Cambodian organisation in the province of Battambang, Cambodia to equip kids with bikes to go to school – this year, we managed to donate 200 bikes to them! Besides that, we also provide the village with a hygiene kit, teach them fun games and basic hygiene steps, like the six steps of handwashing and the nine steps of brushing your teeth.
Next November, we’ll probably head back to Battambong to see if there’s anything else we can help them with. Ultimately, all we’d like to do with this program is provide a platform and a catalyst for these villagers to be empowered, for them to stand on their own two feet and find a sustainable option to thrive.
That’s awesome! Alright Sundram, last question: if there’s a piece of advice you can give our readers, what would it be?
What I’ve learned as a parent is this: when we see children and belittle them, they’ll behave like children. But if we see our children as leaders and inspire them, they’ll excel. So as parents, we should work towards empowering and motivating them, and provide them with the catalyst for them to excel.
Thank you for speaking to us, Sundram!