SINGAPORE: When Singaporean Shereen Williams moved to the United Kingdom back in 2005, all she was looking for was a job in accounting.
Fast forward more than a decade, the regional community cohesion coordinator now tackles hate crime, violent extremism and inequality in Wales.
In her free time, the 34-year-old also supports victims of forced marriages in Muslim families across the country by providing care and helping them through the legal process of annulling their matrimonies.
Ms Shereen now has something to show for her efforts: Being made an honorary Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) for her community service in Wales.
The Singapore High Commission in London announced this in a Facebook post last Sunday, congratulating her for contributing to her local community and bringing pride to Singapore.
The MBE recognises an outstanding achievement or service to the community that, according to the official website of the British government, has a “long-term and significant impact”.
Famous names to have been granted the MBE include singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran and Star Wars actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw.
“For me, it’s not something common that everyone here gets,” Ms Shereen told Channel NewsAsia on Thursday (Jul 6) over a choppy WhatsApp call after taking her seven-year-old son to school. “To get it as a foreigner says a lot for me.”
As Ms Shereen is not a British citizen, she can only be granted an honorary award and will not get to meet the Queen at Buckingham Palace. Her award ceremony will instead be held at a historical government building in the Welsh city of Newport. Not that she minds.
“If you go to the palace, you can only bring three people with you,” she said. “Whereas for something like this, it could actually be a really nice celebration not just for me, but also for the people I work with.”
Ms Shereen added that her community work - which kicked off after her husband offered her name for a job as a treasurer at a youth charity - is far from done.
“You do this work because you want to help people, not because you want to get some extra alphabets after your name,” she said, referring to the official title granted to MBE recipients.
Ms Shereen recounted her joy in helping a young girl escape a forced marriage three years ago and seeing her fall in love and have children. “My favourite part was receiving her picture on her wedding day looking really happy,” she said.
These moments, together with the support from her family back home, drive Ms Shereen on in her quest to serve her community.
“When the honours were finally announced, my mother was extremely happy. She’s always had me in her prayers, so this is a reflection of my parents, really,” she said.
“They’re always sort of reinforcing in me to keep doing the good work.”