Shining a Spotlight on Portraits of Purpose: The Covid-19 Diaries
All images from RICE File Photos unless otherwise stated.

It’s been more than two months since circuit breaker ended and Phase 2 has been in full swing. RICE takes to the streets to get a sense of the sentiment and capture what is driving the man on the street to look to a better future.

In our efforts, we’ve met a diverse group of individuals, in age, background and personality. Each one has a perspective of how Covid-19 has impacted them, and why they’re staying the course. While each of their purpose and drive is different, collectively, it’s apparent we’re overcoming and surviving this together.

Pann Lim (47) is the creative director of Kinetic Singapore. While his family is extremely close-knit, he admits working late in the office prior to Covid-19, which meant less time with his loved ones. But things changed when the pandemic hit, and he found hope in more quality time with his kids.

“I began to see more of my family. In fact, I think, during the two months of working from home, I’ve spent more time with my wife and kids than all of our time in the previous year combined. I treasured the lunches I had with them every day. If I did not have any Zoom meetings, I saw my children coming home from school and we had a father-child chit-chat before I went back to work. So there it was—that silver lining.”

Boo Han Wei (20) is an Experience and Communications Design student at Singapore Polytechnic. Much as he hates being in school, he would rather be in an environment where he could “look left and right and see people doing work.”, yet recognised how the circuit breaker changed things for the better.

“Two things happened to me when Covid-19 started. First, my relationship with my mom and dad improved. My dad dislikes my tattoos and stuff. So, over the past few months, because of Covid-19 and circuit breaker, we’ve had proper conversations. He understood me a little bit more and it’s getting better.

“The second thing is my band. My mates and I were recording a bunch of songs and we were supposed to play our first show in Germany. Because of Covid-19, we couldn’t play and we were stuck. So yeah, I felt terrible.” Despite the initial disappointment with his plans, where his passion was disrupted, Han Wei found a way to make the best use of the downtime. “Our guitarist and I redoubled our efforts to write new tunes and we talked about technical things like handling our merchandise, money and stuff. We started to focus on managing our band instead of just making music.”

Rachel Loh (26) is a photographer by profession and runs a community space ‘thestarvingartists’. At first, she was excited by the prospect of working alone and having more free time at home. Then it began to spiral out of control.

“There’s a lot of anxiety because people started asking me, aren’t you worried about your future? Are you going to continue being an artist? How are you going to eat? What I then did was to produce art that is not necessarily photography-based.”

Rachel saw how being forced out of her comfort zone was an unexpected gift. “Without the isolation, I would never have thought about doing things outside of photography.

Her advice to others struggling? “I think it takes time. You need to know how to discern what is toxic when in isolation and try new things that make you feel different even if it’s just like 10%. That’s very important.”

Juhardi Muhamed (32) works as the Education Programs Manager at DECK gallery. He tells us that prior to Covid-19, his team was looking forward to renovating the gallery. Covid-19 struck and the construction company didn’t have workers so everything had to be put on hold.

“Classes and workshops were also affected because you can’t have more than five. Usually, our classes run with more than 5 people, sometimes up to 20 people.”

But Juhardi quickly pivoted for the sake of the business and his colleagues. “The team at DECK is small, so converting everything online may seem challenging at first. Everyone has to adapt and move into the digital space in a very short amount of time. Good thing though, is that now we have gained a bit of experience, we’re improving day after day.”

His words of encouragement to those with a passion, “Keep learning and upgrading. Having a strong support from the community will keep the arts moving as this scene is considered niche. Keep the passion strong. Without it, you will tire easily.”

Mohamed (61) has run the Makbru Mart for 25 years. When RICE asked him how Covid-19 has impacted him, he asked “Where do I even start?”

“This is no longer your normal, everyday business! Covid-19 has affected everyone, a lot of businesses, including mine. Most of my usual customers are working from home. There was also that period when schools weren’t allowed to open. My shop was closed for four to five months.

“Around my area, I think the rental issue will affect more of the hotels, because they mainly rely on tourists. During the circuit breaker, I feared I had to close too. Thankfully, I didn’t have to. The money changer near my shop? It has remained closed for six months now, because no tourists. Thankfully, the government was supportive of us with the jobs support scheme. We could maintain, maybe for six months.

Despite the challenges, Mohamed is thinking of Plan B and looking for a better future, “maybe we’ll find a different location to set up or something, start again.”

Ai Li (55) runs her stall outside Fu Lu Shou Complex since 1997. She laments that since Covid-19, she’s only been earning S$10-plus dollars every day. She hopes the government can do more to help tenants with regards to rental.

“Whatever we sell, most of what we earn is good enough to cover maybe part of the rental, not manpower and other costs. So a lot of people like us have no choice but to close shop. Even as I speak with you, I am considering closing.

“If we cannot earn, we have to move, get employed somewhere and earn a salary. I’ve never thought about retiring yet, so my work continues. Once you stop work and stay at home all day, you will get depressed and become a burden to your kids. I don’t want to burden my kids, so I must work hard on my own.”

While Ai Li is determined to persevere, she’s also driven by the gratitude she feels amid this global pandemic, “Everyone should just learn to let go. Take things one day at a time. There are people out there who have to worry about their next meal. We should save when we can. Savings are so important, especially for young people.”

Sulthanul Arriff (62) works as Basheer Books’ manager at Bras Basah Complex. He’s been a permanent resident for over 15 years now.

“We had to close Basheer Books for 72 days. Income was affected, yes. Our online sales are simple, but they were better than nothing. These days, I’m at home with my family. We do our housework together — cooking and cleaning our home. It’s a good thing really. We are eating together more. I enjoy the time spent with my wife. As she cooks, I help cut and clean the ingredients. We’re doing more together as a family. Even our children, who are all grown up and already married, would come help us sometimes.

Sulthanul also believes that if he’s able to adapt and upskill, then nobody else has an excuse. “As Basheer’s manager, I am putting more attention into online sales, using social media channels like Instagram. Before Covid-19, there was hardly any time, as I had to do the housekeeping and paperwork. But now, it’s critical. I am already old, but if I can find the time to learn, I think everyone else also can.”

In the spirit of recognising purpose in our lives, DBS is inviting everyone to share their stories of passion, and even the everyday kindness and courage they see around them in Portraits of Purpose. Every individual, no matter how old, how inexperienced, how different from you, has faced some challenges in one way or another due to Covid-19. And we’re all finding a way to pull through.

Two ways to share:

1) Submit your photo and it could be featured on DBS’ iBanking pre-login page with credits, which receives more than 5 million views a month. The top five entries will receive SGD 1000 each to further their passion. T&Cs available on the submissions page.

2) Post your photo on a public IG account, use the hashtag #PortraitsofPurpose, tag @dbsbank, and don’t forget to tell us why the photo speaks of purpose to you in the caption. The top five entries will also receive SGD 1000 each to further their passion. T&Cs available at

Together, we can encourage one another to persevere, put one foot in front of the other, and find that beacon within all of us, toward a hopeful future.

This article is sponsored by DBS.

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