Singapore Youth Award Finalist - Noor Mastura

Noor Mastura

Founder, Back2Basics
and Co-founder,
Interfaith Youth Circle

Being homeless and suicidal during her teenage years galvanised self-described “serial social activist” Noor Mastura into righting the wrongs she sees in life.

DOES NOOR’S STORY INSPIRE YOU? TELL US WHY!

While working as a property agent, Noor Mastura, 29, used to see a man selling tissue packets near her office at the HDB Hub in Toa Payoh. Most people ignore tissue sellers or walk on after buying an obligatory packet. Noor went up to him and asked, “Uncle, do you need help?”

He told her that with no family members and no job, he was completely on his own. She took down his contact details on a piece of paper. When she later went on to start a service providing free groceries to those in need called Back2Basics, this ‘Uncle’ was one of her first beneficiaries.

It is this passion to help others and a deep sense of purpose and community that have fuelled Noor’s journey to becoming an award-winning youth leader with a vision to shape Singapore’s future. “Serial social activist” is her Instagram handle. “If I see things that are not right, I cannot be a bystander. I feel like it’s my duty to make things right. It’s why I exist,” says Noor.

GROWING PAINS

Her experiences during her teenage years honed her determination to lessen suffering. When she was 17, Noor’s mother and stepfather separated. Noor and her three sisters became homeless. They moved from house to house 11 times in five years. Grappling with financial stability, Noor attempted suicide twice. What held her back was her faith. Noor — who stopped schooling after she took her O-Levels at 17 and became a part-time speech and drama teacher — says: “When I went to sleep at night, I would pray: God, if I ever get out of this, help me to do something about it. I never want anyone else to go through this.”

The family situation stabilised when her uncle and his wife helped them to pay for an HDB flat five years later. With a roof over her head and a job as a property agent at age 23, Noor swung into action. She decided to provide free groceries as these are fundamental for daily living. Without any experience or training, she set up Back2Basics by simply starting a Facebook group calling for volunteers. Many responded but just three stayed — Noor, her best friend and another mutual friend. The trio paid for and delivered groceries to three families. “It was so not legit. But even if we were only delivering to one family at that time, we had to keep at it,” says Noor.

TRANSFORMING MINDSETS

In 2015, after reading about atrocities committed by ISIS against Christians in Iraq and seeing that there were some misconceptions about the Muslim faith, she realised religious harmony is fragile. She started the Interfaith Youth Circle (IYC) with her friend Dhaniah Suhana. “With IYC, the impact is not measured by how many people attend our programmes but rather, the mindsets that have been changed,” says Noor.

With her wealth of experience in community work, Noor has given talks to young people in more than 100 schools, universities, government organisations and NGOs. She wants to educate them on the reality of what the poorest people in Singapore are really experiencing and, in the process, help Singapore evolve and stay ahead. “When I go for my talks in schools and universities, I see these faces, some as young as 14 years old, looking up to me as though I have all the answers in the world for them. But I don’t,” she insists. “What I do have though are personal experiences. Those of hurt, pain and anguish. Experiences where I was suicidal, where I was homeless, where I had to be the caretaker for my family, where I was abused. I’ve come to realise just how much I have empowered the young people I encounter by telling my stories, sharing my coping mechanisms and lessons I have learnt. I have seen young girls become strong, powerful leaders and young boys become kind and gentle leaders.”

Noor now focuses all of her attention on her youth leadership work. In March this year, she quit as an air stewardess, a job she had for three years after resigning as a property agent. Going forward, she wants to ensure that Back2Basics and IYC are sustainable and attract more volunteers, so they help even more people. She also wants to set up an online platform for discourse on issues close to her heart, such as empowering women and ethnic minority representation, and creating a training programme for youths who may have a cause to champion. With her heart set on improving society, she says: “I’m only one person and I can’t start 10 other organisations. But I want to make sure that other youths are inspired and empowered enough to make a difference too.”

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