Singapore Youth Award Finalist - Francesca Phoebe Wah

Francesca Phoebe Wah

Founder and Chairperson
Bringing Love to Every Single Soul (BLESS)

Having worked her way up from an underprivileged background, Francesca Wah has gone on to help low-income families — and make it easier for others to do so as well — through the non-profit organisation she started.

Does Francesca’s story inspire you? Tell us why!

Her family had to rely on government handouts when she was in primary school. Her sickly father was in and out of hospital, and her homemaker mother had her hands full looking after him and raising Francesca Wah and her younger sister. When she made it to Secondary 1, she barely passed her tests.

Today, Francesca is not only a teacher with a master’s degree in Social Work. She is also the founder of Bringing Love to Every Single Soul (BLESS) — a non-profit organisation that works with low-income families living in rental communities — as well as a winner of multiple awards. By applying her skills as an educator to help the underprivileged, she sets an example for young people in Singapore to go above and beyond and contribute more towards society.

The 27-year-old recalls that she started on her path to success because of a Secondary 1 teacher who made her stay back in school to study till 6pm every day. To get out of those dreaded remedial classes, she had to score As, a feat she eventually attained after deciding to work for it.

MOBILISING GENEROSITY

This taste of success made Francesca realise she could chart her own path, and she became more motivated to do so. She credits her achievements to good adult role models like her secondary school teachers who encouraged her, and her mother, who showed her what it meant to be resilient.

“I was taught to be a good steward of my life, regardless of whatever circumstances I was placed in,” says Francesca, who received financial assistance from the Ministry of Education from Primary 1 to JC2. In addition, her undergraduate and master’s degrees were funded by scholarships. She was one of two recipients of the Ee Peng Liang Memorial Fund Scholarship, which covered the tuition grant for her master’s degree.

Francesca remembers the tough times of her childhood well — sometimes, she did not even have stationery to complete her homework. It was her right attitude and sheer determination to overcome adversities that brought her to where she is today. Her personal experiences and conviction in education as a social mobiliser are what made her start BLESS in 2014, with community interventions as the focus. Shining Star Reads, a reading programme curated by BLESS, promotes literacy skills as a core component.

“As a primary school teacher, I’ve seen how kids from lower-income families lack literacy skills because English is not used at home and they have less access to story books,” this passionate educator says. “These kids are weaker in English, yet, this is our schools’ main language of instruction, so they fall behind.”

A SHARED HEARTBEAT

To Francesca, one of the greatest pitfalls preventing Singaporeans from giving back is the fact that they are often very busy with their own lives. “We are caught up with so many things that we often claim we don’t have time to serve the community,” she says. “Imagine, if you have $86,400 in your bank account, you’d want it to appreciate, rather than depreciate right? Similarly, each of us has 86,400 seconds a day in our life, so if you want it to appreciate, you need to invest that time to lift others up.”

The key, she says, is in managing one’s time well. “The volunteers in BLESS don’t have more time than others, but we share the same heartbeat for the future of Singapore,” she says. Because they envision the country to have many pockets of caring communities, they make an effort to honour their time well and work towards the shared vision they have. In return, she says BLESS has taught her so much beyond what she learnt in school — everything from learning how to write the organisation’s Memorandum & Articles of Association and making sure it falls within regulations, to marketing, management and organisational skills.

Francesca says her past shaped who she is today and inspires much of her work in BLESS. “I don’t have 100 per cent confidence that things can work,” she confesses. “But if your dreams don’t haunt you late at night, then they are not big enough. You may not know everything, and you don’t need to know everything. You just need to take small steps first. Start by doing the necessary, next do the possible, and soon you will be doing the impossible.”

To youths who want to serve the underprivileged and help improve Singapore society, her message is that while no one can do everything, everyone can do something. “I realise that sometimes, we might think that our actions are so small,” she says. “But don’t underestimate how significant they can be for our beneficiaries.”

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Tell us why!