Pastor Andrew Khoo formerly served as a maritime engineering technician with the Republic of Singapore Navy for 13 years before transitioning to his current role as a full-time pastor and Chief Executive Officer at New Hope Community Services.
On September 22, 2009, Ps Andrew received the Inspiration Award from the British Chamber of Commerce for his efforts. The award recognises individuals who demonstrated leadership and made outstanding contributions to raise awareness of Corporate Social Responsibility issues in Singapore.
According to Ps Andrew, the spontaneous decision to start a shelter for ex-offenders and needy families was motivated by a glaring need in society and the teachings he received from his church.
In early 2003, a group of ex-offenders approached him with the idea of starting a programme to help them reintegrate into society. From what Ps Andrew learned, most ex-offenders are sincere in turning over a new leaf as they are tired of returning to prison. However, they might have lost the support of their families along the way and struggle with being gainfully employed as they are shunned by those who find out about their past.
Ps Andrew emphasised that although most of the men at the shelter might be regarded as 'hardcore' ex-offenders, many are in fact regular people who long for a normal life. However, they need to update their skills and relearn the workings of society before they can achieve any semblance of normality.
To help them overcome these issues, the shelter not only provides temporary residence for these men but also functions as a place for them to gain practical skills to enhance their employability. Previously, the duration of the stay was limited to six months. The shelter has since relaxed that rule by extending that duration to a year to accommodate the increased waiting time for rental housing applications to be approved.
Ps Andrew's decision to dedicate time and resources to help the ex-offenders was not always well-received by some of his family and friends. One of the major points of contention was that ex-offenders did not warrant help as they had brought their present state upon themselves. Ps Andrew shared that one friend even compared it to "throwing money into the pit".
As New Hope is reliant on public donations, tough seasons are inevitable when financial resources run low. Disappointments also arise when residents break house rules – such as going back to abusing drugs – and are made to leave the shelter.
While the demands of the job are challenging, Ps Andrew said that it is extremely rewarding to see an ex-resident at the shelter gain independence through maintaining a stable job and income.
He cites an ex-resident who donated $1,000 to the shelter after successfully holding on to a stable job as a security guard. This particular individual was referred by the Institute of Mental Health and was initially diagnosed as having intellectual limitations that inhibit his ability to work.
Even with 12-hour workdays and having to constantly be in charge, Ps Andrew finds his job fulfilling because he works with those who share the same compassion and drive as him in wanting to serve others who need assistance.
Confessing that he never thought he would work so closely with ex-offenders, Ps Andrew attributes his decision to be in this field as a choice of wanting to contribute back to society.
The greatest satisfaction, according to him, is in knowing that he has managed to touch and change lives, as well as meet a need that would have otherwise been neglected.
The social service sector is always on the lookout for new blood and vibrant energy. His advice for the younger generation interested in joining this line of work? Social work should not be viewed as a regular job that pays in terms of salary and other benefits as remuneration – simply because the rewards reaped cannot be bought with dollars and cents.