ACS Oldham Hall Hope Fund celebrates 10 years of sheltering and nurturing Singaporean youth in need

Malcolm Chua
Malcolm Chua

Malcolm Chua’s parents divorced when he was seven years old.

“Things just worsened as the years went on,” he said, as he moved from place to place with his father, often “getting kicked out of different places”. His relationship with his father was also deteriorating.

It was 2015, and the Anglo-Chinese School (Barker Road) Secondary 4 pupil noticed students from different schools would come into the Barker Road campus.

“I always wondered where they were going,” he said. One day, he decided to follow one   of them. To his surprise, he ended up at ACS Oldham Hall (OH)—the oldest boarding institution in Singapore which houses over 300 students studying in local and international schools. It is co-located with ACS (Barker Road), ACS (Primary) and Barker Road Methodist Church (BRMC).

A staff member, Jasmine Goh, approached him and gave him a full tour of the boarding house.

“At the end of it, I knew that there was no way I would be able to pay for any of this,” he said. “So I just thanked her and walked out.”

Shortly after, then-ACS (BR) Principal Peter Tan called Malcolm into his office, and within a few weeks, Malcolm found himself back at OH as a boarder.

“I was hopeless at that point in time, you know, I really didn’t know where to go,” he said.

Malcolm ended up staying at OH for five years as one of the earliest beneficiaries of the ACS OH Hope Fund, a fund set up in 2014 with the support of BRMC.

Turning point for ACS Oldham Hall

Since the early 2000s, OH had been housing mostly Ministry of Education (MOE) scholars from the region when it was rebuilt on the Barker Road campus.

But 10 years on, the number of MOE scholars had shrunk due to a change in policy. This resulted in a drop of more than 60 percent in boarder numbers while other hostels were closing.

It was also around this time that BRMC member Hugh Yii took over as chairperson of OH.

“The team was very concerned about what would happen to the staff and students,” Hugh said. “I was worshipping in church on a Sunday, and God said, besides housing international students, there will be a place to help the needy youths in Singapore.”

“But I couldn’t quite understand that because we never had that calling as our mission,” Hugh said.

So he turned to Peter, sounding out the ACS Principal on God’s direction for OH, and Mark Tan, another BRMC member. A season of “journeying with the Lord” followed as they sought clarity on how to continue as a boarding school and answer his call.

OH was starting to position itself as a safe and nurturing boarding partner of international schools in Singapore when it was referred its first case of a youth in need by the Ministry of Social and Family Development.

“We took this case as confirmation from the Lord as well, that what we had heard was accurate,” Hugh said. “And we took it as a stepping stone to understand whether the setting and our setup was actually suitable to help the youth in need in our community.”

Yeow siblings
(from left to right) Siobhan Yeow, Yeow Jie Min and Hugh Yii

About four months later, the Hope Fund was born, enabling OH to take in, care for and nurture teens from broken families, and prepare them for life ahead. The Hope Fund marked a turning point for OH.

Today OH is operating at full occupancy with boarders from about 22 countries, including those as far as Ecuador and Kazakhstan. “God has really brought the nations to our doorstep, not just from Asia but from faraway lands as well,” Hugh said.

Finding themselves and God

OH not only provides respite, but also a fresh start, for Hope Fund recipients.

Siblings Siobhan Yeow and Yeow Jie Min stayed at OH from 2018 to 2020 after their mum found them the safe space, away from their abusive father. They were then in their final years of junior college and secondary school respectively.

“It was strangely peaceful,” Siobhan said, while admitting it took her a while to adjust to the new environment because of anxiety issues. “We were so used to being uncomfortable that being at peace felt very strange.”

Being among peers and other believers, the graduating NTU student said, “It’s like a safe space and we would just throw questions at Mr Kevin (the Chaplain) and just basically be able to discuss whatever we wanted regarding the Bible, the faith and stuff like that, and to try to guide each other along and learn from each other.”

They could also explore various interests, such as cooking and gardening.

“Some of the (younger) Hope Fund recipients were under my care and I think that provided me an opportunity to be a good role model,” said Jie Min, who has been having admission interviews with tertiary institutions since mid-May.

Similarly for Malcolm, staying at OH opened up opportunities for him as he was then able to make it to the Shaw Pool for training on time at 5.30 a.m., unlike in the past when commuting by bus meant he was always late.

“I was able to really experience what it was like to train with the competitive group,” he said.

While Malcolm was struggling to play catch up in competitive swimming because of his late start, a new Assistant House Master by the name of Matthew joined OH. His calmness and ability to connect with the boarders encouraged Malcolm to ask many questions.

“I challenged him a lot and to some degree I was also challenging God,” Malcolm said.

It came to a point that Malcolm finally asked God what it was that he was meant to do. He then started volunteering as a coach before entering National Service.

“It’s crazy because I couldn’t even get myself into the final, and now God wanted me to coach people to swim,” he said. “God assured me that it would be okay, it would work out, you know, and to just do it.”

Malcolm, now 25, is a full-time  assistant coach for the national swim team. He will also return to OH as an Assistant House Master in the next school term, the first Hope Fund recipient to do so.

For more on how you can give, or volunteer your time to support the Hope Fund and its boarders, please contact jasmine.goh@oldhamhall.org.

Koh Chin Ling is the Head of Communications at Barker Road Methodist Church. / Photos courtesy of Koh Chin Ling