Adrian, like many civil society activists in Singapore, is a volunteer. He helps out with Think Centre, a long time member of FORUM-ASIA, which is gazetted by the Singapore Government as a political organisation. "...for lasting, long term effect to take place, I realised personal sharing in a safe space and one to one working out of arguments and disentangling of misconceptions to be most satisfying and effective. This has been facilitated a lot by social media and I am trying to reach out just to friends and relatives that I know personally. Only when one is willing to expose one’s vulnerability will the other party do the same."
In 2016 FORUM-ASIA elected a new Executive Committee. Over the last months, and featured in different e-newsletters, we have introduced several members already. This time we talked to Adrian Heok, from Singapore, who is a first time member of the new Executive Committee.
Adrian, like many civil society activists in Singapore, is a volunteer. He helps out with Think Centre, a long time member of FORUM-ASIA, which is gazetted by the Singapore Government as a political organisation. This means it cannot receive any foreign funding or even anonymous local donations over 5,000 Singapore Dollars. The projects Think Centre works on are usually in partnership with other like-minded international, regional and local non-governmental organisations. He currently lectures at a local university, and works on research and consultancy projects to pay the bills.
The following interview looks at how Adrian became involved with the human rights movement, what motivates him, and much more.
How did you, as a person/individual become involved with the human rights movement? And how did you become involved with FORUM-ASIA?
I was invited by some friends to help out in an arts competition to raise awareness about HIV. Over the course of the public campaign, I learned what stigma, oppression and marginalisation really meant on a very personal level. I had the opportunity to speak with the first person in our country who publically identified himself as an AIDS patient before he passed on just a week later.
From that first epiphany, I got to know more and more friends in civil society and found great fulfilment in the camaraderie that blossomed. As the network of friends grew, the scope of work also expanded and I realised how inadequate many of us were in trying to cope with the work at hand.
FORUM-ASIA provided me with my first formal lesson in human rights work and also connected me to many like-minded friends in the region and internationally. Without FORUM-ASIA, I would never have the opportunity to be trained or be exposed to the wider global struggles we all share.
What motivated you to become involved? And has that motivation changed over the years?
It started with the excitement of seeing how others may be persuaded to one’s point of view and even having a complete change in their perception of reality when information is organised and presented in a certain way. When I spoke to people who came to the first HIV/AIDS exhibition held in a shopping mall, I could see the scales literally falling from the eyes of some of the shoppers.
Although many of my countrymen are usually extremely reticent when it comes to taboo topics, the exhibition must have moved some enough for them to share with us how much their attitude had changed because of the simple work we did – just by bringing information to them in creative ways. These encouragements together with the privilege to witness the immediacy of behavioural change reminded me of my own conversion when I first encountered new information that shattered my previous mindset.
But for lasting, long term effect to take place, I realised personal sharing in a safe space and one to one working out of arguments and disentangling of misconceptions to be most satisfying and effective. This has been facilitated a lot by social media and I am trying to reach out just to friends and relatives that I know personally. Only when one is willing to expose one’s vulnerability will the other party do the same. Very public forums sometimes impede such intimate exchanges, which often leads to the type of mindset change we need to make lasting impressions on the people we know in our community and society.
What excites you the most about your work and the contribution you make?
The people I care about, and the satisfaction of turning them around to adopt a human rights approach in our lives.
Please tell us one of the most inspiring or challenging moments for you in your work in the past?
The first AIDS victim I met, his daily struggles as a marginalized person even before he was infected, his attitude in spite and despite all that happened to him. But also his astonishingly rapid decline and eventual demise.
What do you experience as the main challenges as someone working on human rights?
The establishment that places obstacles in the course of our work. Whoever benefits from the status quo will hit back, no matter how innocent and irreproachably our work was conceived. We are always viewed as a threat, never a willing or even desperate collaborator.
How do you deal with upcoming obstacles in your work? How do you keep yourself motivated to continue?
The many mentors and pioneers who paved the way before us, many are still ploughing away in the field, inspiring the rest of us. God and prayer.
If you could give a message to the new generation of people working on human rights or development, what would it be?
Just do it!
*Please click this link to read the most recent newsletter. This article is from the May issue of FORUM-ASIA's newsletter.