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Author Topic: Mothers & Fathers of the Underdogs  (Read 8552 times)

Offline greentara

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Mothers & Fathers of the Underdogs
« on: June 01, 2015, 11:25:47 AM »
A believer in love's healing power
Self-starter gave up a cushy corporate life to fight for the underdogs
Published on May 31, 2015 6:19 AM
By Wong Kim Hoh, Senior Writer

One day when she was five years old, Saleemah Ismail saw three teenage bullies letting a dog loose on a kitten in the playground.

When the traumatised puss scampered into a drain, the feisty girl told the rowdy teens to back off. She then took the cat to her flat - on the fifth floor of a Housing Board block in Circuit Road - to clean it up.

Not long after, another teen turned up, took the kitten away and went up to the 10th floor of the block. He dangled the writhing creature over the edge of the balcony and menacingly asked Saleemah: "Do you think I dare to do it?"

Her tearful pleas to spare the cat fell on deaf ears.

"He saw how I stood up to the boys in the playground and wanted to let me know who was in charge," says Ms Saleemah, now 46, who is single.

A few days later, she saw the same teen running away from the police who were out to nab bad hats in the area. She stood in his path, stretched out her hands and tried to trip him.

"But he ran past me," she recalls with a laugh.

Nearly four decades have passed. But her desire to right wrongs and fight for the weak and exploited has not dulled.

It explains why she has given up a cushy corporate life to devote her time to social causes.

For more than a decade, she sat on the board of the National Committee for Unifem Singapore where she held positions of president and vice-president.

As co-chair of its anti-trafficking committee from 2003 to 2012, she engaged the Government as well as the public and private sectors to raise awareness about human trafficking.

After that, she worked on gender issues and gender rights in Cambodia and Myanmar for the United Nations Development Programme. Three years ago, the articulate woman returned to Singapore where she became vice-chair of Suara Musyawarah, a committee to engage the Malay Muslim community on important issues.

The co-founder of Aidha, a business school for migrants and low-income communities, she is spearheading New Life Stories, an initiative to help former women inmates bond with their children through reading.

Chatty and gregarious, Ms Saleemah is comfortably ensconced in a settee in the spartanly furnished three-room Circuit Road flat she shares with her mother, a former washerwoman.

The youngest of six children, Ms Saleemah has lived in the same flat all her life. The minimalist look, she says, is deliberate.

The floor space is perfect for chit chat and communal dining when loved ones and friends come calling, which is often.

In fact, her late father, a kindly store-keeper with a big heart, practised an open door policy, often welcoming needy strangers into their midst.

"My father used to say, 'As long as there is floor space, as long as they are happy to eat what we eat, anybody can stay here'," she recalls.

Although it is now safe and pleasant, the neighbourhood, she says, was not a salubrious place in the 1970s when she was growing up.

"It was the wild, wild West, with a lot of drugs, sex and violence," says Ms Saleemah, who recalls witnessing suicide, domestic violence, gang fights and drug abuse from her kitchen window.

A physically abused neighbour two floors down hanged herself, two of her friends were gang-raped after running away from home, and several junkies in the neighbourhood ended up in jail for drug trafficking. One even got executed for killing a policeman during a struggle.

There were many attempts to pull her into the sleaze.

"When I was 10 or 11, I was offered glue to sniff. I rejected not because I thought it would kill my brain cells but because it looked like phlegm in a bag. That was enough to make me want to throw up," she recalls with a laugh.

Men offered her money for sex, but not once did she think of succumbing because the security of growing up in a loving family, she says, made her grounded.

"I grew up in a very protected space, and I grew up with much love. I don't need to do things for gratification or validation," she says.

"My dad set the tone, he was a very polite man and never raised his voice. He named me Saleemah, which means the protected one," she adds. Her father died when she was nine.

A self-starter, the former Cedar Girls' student breezed through school.

"I wasn't hardworking but I paid attention and had a good memory. I would have liked it if someone had sat down with me and asked me, 'What are your life goals?' My life could have turned out differently," she says.

At 17, she became a bit of a searcher.

"I started reading Nietzsche and other philosophers and asking myself what the meaning of life was," she says, grinning at the recollection.

After completing her A levels at Nanyang Junior College in 1987, she decided to skip university.

"I read a lot and decided that intellectual pursuit was far better than the pursuit of wealth. I studied all the religions, went to various places of workship and met pastors, monks and nuns."

She found a job working as a customer service officer in a bank. But every opportunity she got, she travelled.

"I backpacked from Bombay to Goa, travelled across Western Europe, and went from Jakarta to Bali and the little islands in between."

Professionally, she did not do too shabbily either. She made good money doing business development and marketing for companies including courier company TNT and The Asian Banker, a company providing information for the financial services industry.

But in 2000, her life turned an unexpected corner when a close friend told her she had been raped in her teens.

The revelation stunned her and brought back memories of all the lives she had seen destroyed by rape and violence when she was growing up.

"I told myself I wanted to do what I could to support and help women," she says.

So she wrote to a few NGOs, offering her services as a volunteer. None of them replied except for Unifem, now renamed UN Women. Her first assignment was to translate for a group of nurses and doctors sent by Unifem to Batam, Indonesia, to teach sex workers there about safe sex.

It was a disaster, she says. Seeing sex workers aged as young as 11 and listening to their stories, she started crying.

"I was not wired to be a translator. I was supposed to be neutral but I was crying. I was also not supposed to have opinions but I could not just sit there talking about safe sex when I strongly felt that more needed to be done," she says.

After one more such trip, she went back to Unifem and told the then president - social activist Melissa Kwee - that they needed to do more than talk about safe sex; they needed to stop trafficking.

Not long after, she became Unifem's vice-president, and started beavering away on an action plan to raise awareness about the issue.

"It was a very personal and wonderful journey. Every time I talked to a person who had been sexually exploited, I saw myself. What made me different was the family I had. I felt that I had been given blessings and abundance that they didn't have," says Ms Saleemah, who joined Unifem full-time in 2005 and sat on its anti-trafficking committee for nearly a decade.

"I felt that I was doing it for my sisters. I looked into their eyes and saw how broken they were. That was what drove me," she adds, brushing away tears.

Ignoring naysayers, she and several compadres at Unifem engaged not just the private sector but the Government as well.

In 2005, they even organised a conference on trafficking. They approached embassy officials, regional NGOs working on trafficking, and other interested parties.

"We wrote to them and said, 'We would like to invite you to Singapore to share how you dealt with the problem. But we don't have any money and you would have to pay your own way," she says, adding that more than 140 people attended the conference, held at Hilton Hotel.

Last November, the Singapore Government passed the Prevention of Human Trafficking Act.

"It was a long journey and many helped to push the cause. Credit must be given to people like Kanwaljit Soin and Braema Mathi who raised the issue in Parliament," she says, referring to the two former Nominated Members of Parliament.

In 2008, she took up an appointment with the United Nations Development Programme to work in Cambodia and Myanmar.

"In Cambodia, it was working with women to see how they could get involved in politics both as politicians and voters. In Myanmar, it was working with local NGOs to help them plug into the bigger non-profit world out there."

The stints, she says, were invaluable.

"In Cambodia, I learnt a lot about love and forgiveness. Many of the activists suffered so much but they are still filled with so much love for their land. It made me realise that no matter how small and how crowded Singapore is, it will always be home."

That realisation awakened in her an urge to return home and contribute to the little red dot.

"The universe works in strange ways. Two days after I made the decision to come home, I received a call asking if I would be keen on a project," she says.

That project was Suara Musyawarah - which means the voice of lively discussion in Malay - which was set up to collect feedback on the needs, concerns and aspirations of Malays.

Over six months, Ms Saleemah and a committee talked to 500 community members at 35 focus group sessions. Their feedback on issues ranging from education to aspirations was compiled into a 70-page candid, unvarnished report in 2013.

For the past year, she has been helming New Life Stories, a social enterprise which works with formerly incarcerated women and their children.

Ms Saleemah's biggest wish is to break cycles of negativity, from poverty to violence.

Her interviews with women inmates reveal that many nurse a lot of pain.

"There's a lot of forgiveness which they need to go through - forgiveness for their parents, their children, themselves. Almost all of them say they cannot forgive themselves for the pain they cause their children."

New Life Stories is her way of helping mothers and their children reconnect. The aim, she says, is not pedagogical.

"It's reading for the sheer joy of it. It doesn't matter if your English is broken or your pronunciation is wrong. If you read with love, your child will feel it."

She is well aware that some will roll their eyes at her idealism.

"Call me idealistic, call me a tree hugger but I really believe in the power of love. I have seen it break the cycle. So roll your eyes, I don't care. I will keep saying it. What will heal is love."


Offline ainat

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Re: Mothers & Fathers of the Underdogs
« Reply #1 on: October 30, 2022, 02:08:45 PM »
Ms. Erika Cheung

On Theranos, whistleblowing and speaking truth to power:


Transcriber: Joseph Geni
Reviewer: Krystian Aparta

So, I had graduated
seven years ago from Berkeley

with a dual degree in molecular
and cell biology and linguistics,

and I had gone to a career fair
here on campus,

where I'd gotten an interview
with a start-up called Theranos.

And at the time,

there wasn't really that much
information about the company,

but the little that was there
was really impressive.

Essentially, what the company
was doing was creating a medical device

where you would be able
to run your entire blood panel

on a finger-stick of blood.

So you wouldn't have to get
a big needle stuck in your arm

in order to get your blood test done.

So this was interesting
not only because it was less painful,

but also, it could potentially
open the door to predictive diagnostics.

If you had a device

that allowed for more frequent
and continuous diagnosis,

potentially, you could diagnose disease
before someone got sick.

And this was confirmed in an interview
that the founder, Elizabeth Holmes,

had said in the Wall Street Journal.

"The reality within
our health-care system today

is that when someone
you care about gets really sick,

by the time you find out
it's [most often] too late

to do anything about it,

It's heartbreaking."

This was a moon shot
that I really wanted to be a part of

and I really wanted to help build.

And there was another reason
why I think the story of Elizabeth

really appealed to me.

So there was a time
that someone had said to me,

"Erika, there are two types of people.

There are those that thrive
and those that survive.

And you, my dear, are a survivor."

Before I went to university,

I had grown up in a one-bedroom trailer
with my six family members,

and when I told people
I wanted to go to Berkeley,

they would say, "Well, I want
to be an astronaut, so good luck."

And I stuck with it, and I worked hard,
and I managed to get in.

But honestly, my first year
was very challenging.

I was the victim of a series of crimes.

I was robbed at gunpoint,
I was sexually assaulted,

and I was sexually assaulted a third time,

spurring on very severe panic attacks,

where I was failing my classes,

and I dropped out of school.

And at this moment, people had said to me,

"Erika, maybe you're not cut out
for the sciences.

Maybe you should reconsider
doing something else."

And I told myself, "You know what?

If I don't make the cut,
I don't make the cut,

but I cannot give up on myself,
and I'm going to go for this,

and even if I'm not the best for it,
I'm going to try and make it happen."

And luckily, I stuck with it,
and I got the degree, and I graduated.

(Applause and cheers)

Thank you.


So when I heard Elizabeth Holmes
had dropped out of Stanford at age 19

to start this company,

and it was being quite successful,

to me, it was a signal

of, you know, it didn't matter
what your background was.

As long as you committed
to hard work and intelligence,

that was enough to make
an impact in the world.

And this was something,
for me, personally,

that I had to believe in my life,

because it was one of the few
anchors that I had had

that got me through the day.

So you can imagine,

when I received this letter,
I was so excited.

I was over the moon.

This was finally my opportunity
to contribute to society,

to solve the problems
that I had seen in the world,

and really, when I thought about Theranos,

I really anticipated
that this would be the first

and the last company
that I was going to work for.

But I started to notice some problems.

So, I started off as
an entry-level associate in the lab.

And we would be sitting in a lab meeting,

reviewing data to confirm
whether the technology worked or not,

and we'd get datasets like this,

and someone would say to me,

"Well, let's get rid of the outlier

and see how that affects
the accuracy rate."

So what constitutes an outlier here?

Which one is the outlier?

And the answer is, you have no idea.

You don't know. Right?

And deleting a data point

is really violating one of the things
that I found so beautiful

about the scientific process --

it really allows the data
to reveal the truth to you.

And as tempting as it might be
in certain scenarios

to place your story on the data
to confirm your own narrative,

when you do this, it has really bad
future consequences.

So this, to me, was almost
immediately a red flag,

and it kind of folded in
to the next experience

and the next red flag

that I started to see
within the clinical laboratory.

So a clinical laboratory

is where you actively process
patient samples.

And so before I would run
a patient's sample,

I would have a sample
where I knew what the concentration was,

and in this case, it was 0.2 for tPSA,

which is an indicator
of whether someone has prostate cancer,

or is at risk of prostate cancer or not.

But then, when I'd run it
in the Theranos device,

it would come out 8.9,

and then I'd run it again,
and it would run out 5.1,

and I would run it again,
and it would come out 0.5,

which is technically in range,

but what do you do in this scenario?

What is the accurate answer?

And this wasn't an instance
that I was seeing just one-off.

This was happening nearly every day,

across so many different tests.

And mind you, this is for a sample
where I know what the concentration is.

What happens when I don't know
what the concentration is,

like with a patient sample?

How am I supposed to trust
what the result is, at that point?

So this led to, sort of,
the last and final red flag for me,

and this is when we were doing testing,

in order to confirm and certify

whether we could continue
processing patient samples.

So what regulators will do
is they'll give you a sample,

and they'll say, "Run this sample,

just like the quality control,
through your normal workflow,

how you normally test on patients,

and then give us the results,

and we will tell you:
do you pass, or do you fail."

So because we were seeing
so many issues with the Theranos device

that was actively being used
to test on patients,

what we had done
is we had taken the sample

and we had run it
through an FDA-approved machine

and we had run it
through the Theranos device.

And guess what happened?

We got two very, very different results.

So what do you think
they did in this scenario?

You would anticipate
that you would tell the regulators,

like, "We have some discrepancies here
with this new technology."

But instead, Theranos had sent the result
of the FDA-approved machine.

So what does this signal to you?

This signals to you
that even within your own organization,

you don't trust the results
that your technology is producing.

So how do we have any business
running patient samples

on this particular machine?

So of course, you know,
I am a recent grad,

I have, at this point,
run all these different experiments,

I've compiled all this evidence,
and I'd gone into the office of the COO

and I was raising my concerns.

"Within the lab, we're seeing
a lot of variability.

The accuracy rate doesn't seem right.

I don't feel right
about testing on patients.

These things, I'm just
not comfortable with."

And the response I got back is,

"You don't know
what you're talking about."

What you need to do
is what I'm paying you to do,

and you need to process patient samples."

So that night, I called up
a colleague of mine

who I had befriended
within the organization, Tyler Shultz,

who also happened to have a grandfather
who was on the Board of Directors.

And so we had decided
to go to his grandfather's house

and tell him, at dinner,

what the company
was telling him was going on

was actually not what was happening
behind closed doors.

And not to mention,

Tyler's grandfather was George Schultz,

the ex-secretary of state
of the United States.

So you can imagine me
as a 20-something-year-old

just shaking, like, "What are you
getting yourself into?"

But we had sat down
at his dinner table and said,

"When you think that they've taken
this blood sample

and they put it in this device,
and it pops out a result,

what's really happening is the moment
you step outside of the room,

they take that blood sample,
they run it to a back door,

and there are five people on standby
that are taking this tiny blood sample

and splitting it amongst
five different machines."

And he says to us,
"I know Tyler's very smart,

you seem very smart,

but the fact of the matter is I've brought
in a wealth of intelligent people,

and they tell me that this device
is going to revolutionize health care.

And so maybe you should consider
doing something else."

So this had gone through a period
of about seven months,

and I decided to quit that very next day.

And this --

(Applause and cheers)

But this was a moment
that I had to sit with myself

and do a bit of a mental health check.

I'd raised concerns in the lab.

I'd raised concerns with the COO.

I had raised concerns with a board member.

And meanwhile,

Elizabeth is on the cover
of every major magazine across America.

So there's one common thread here,

and that's me.

Maybe I'm the problem?

Maybe there's something
that I'm not seeing?

Maybe I'm the crazy one.

And this is the part in my story
where I really get lucky.

I was approached

by a very talented journalist,
John Carreyrou

from the Wall Street Journal, and he --

And he had basically said
that he also had heard concerns

about the company
from other people in the industry

and working for the company.

And in that moment, it clicked in my head:

"Erika, you are not crazy.

You're not the crazy one.

In fact, there are other people
out there just like you

that are just as scared of coming forward,

but see the same problems
and the same concerns that you do."

So before John's exposé
and investigative report had come out

to reveal the truth
of what was going on in the company,

the company decided to go on a witch hunt
for all sorts of former employees,

myself included,

to basically intimidate us from coming
forward or talking to one another.

And the scary thing,
really, for me in this instance

was the fact that it triggered,

and I realized that they were following me
once I received this letter,

but it was also, in a way,
a bit of a blessing,

because it forced me to call a lawyer.

And I was lucky enough --
I called a free lawyer,

but he had suggested,

"Why don't you report
to a regulatory agency?"

And this was something
that didn't even click in my head,

probably because I was so inexperienced,

but once that happened,
that's exactly what I did.

I had decided to write a letter,
and a complaint letter, to regulators,

illustrating all the deficiencies
and the problems that I had seen

in the laboratory.

And as endearingly as my dad
kind of notes this

as being my, like, dragon-slayer moment,

where I had risen up
and fought this behemoth

and it caused this domino effect,

I can tell you right now,

I felt anything but courageous.

I was scared, I was terrified,

I was anxious,

I was ashamed, slightly,

that it took me a month
to write the letter.

There was a glimmer of hope in there

that maybe somehow
no one would ever figure out

that it was me.

But despite all that emotion
and all that volatility,

I still did it,

and luckily, it triggered an investigation

that shown to light

that there were huge
deficiencies in the lab,

and it stopped Theranos
from processing patient samples.


So you would hope,
going through a very challenging

and crazy situation like this,

that I would be able
to sort of culminate some how-tos

or recipe for success for other people
that are in this situation.

But frankly, when it comes
to situations like this,

the only quote that kind of gets it right
is this Mike Tyson quote that says,

"Everyone has a plan
until you get punched in the mouth."


And that's exactly how this is.

But today, you know,

we're here to kind of
convene on moon shots,

and moon shots are these highly
innovative projects

that are very ambitious,

that everyone wants to believe in.

But what happens
when the vision is so compelling

and the desire to believe is so strong

that it starts to cloud your judgment
about what reality is?

And particularly
when these innovative projects

start to be a detriment to society,

what are the mechanisms in place

in which we can prevent
these potential consequences?

And really, in my mind,
the simplest way to do that

is to foster stronger cultures
of people who speak up

and listening to those who speak up.

So now the big question is,

how do we make speaking up the norm
and not the exception?

(Applause and cheers)

So luckily, in my own experience,

I realized that when it comes
to speaking up,

the action tends to be
pretty straightforward in most cases,

but the hard part is really deciding
whether to act or not.

So how do we frame our decisions

in a way that makes it
easier for us to act

and produce more ethical outcomes?

So UC San Diego came up
with this excellent framework

called the "Three Cs,"

and it's called commitment,
consciousness and competency.

And commitment is the desire
to do the right thing

regardless of the cost.

In my case at Theranos,

if I was wrong,

I was going to have
to pay the consequences.

But if I was right,

the fact that I could have been a person

that knew what was going on
and didn't say something,

that was purgatory.

Being silent was purgatory.

Then there's consciousness,

the awareness to act consistently
and apply moral convictions

to daily behavior,


And the third aspect is competency.

And competency is the ability
to collect and evaluate information

and foresee potential
consequences and risk.

And the reason I could trust my competency

was because I was acting
in service of others.

So I think a simple process
is really taking those actions

and imagining,

"If this happened to my children,

to my parents,

to my spouse,

to my neighbors, to my community,

if I took that ...

How will it be remembered?"

And with that,

I hope, as we all leave here

and venture off
to build our own moon shots,

we don't just conceptualize them,

in a way, as a means
for people to survive

but really see them as opportunities
and chances for everybody to thrive.

Thank you.

(Applause and cheers)