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#OpsRoofUp - a lifeline to others and oneself

From struggle to strength, one Singaporean entrepreneur turns a personal crisis into public good during COVID-19.
22 Apr 2020

“I cried,” Roland Lim says, his voice choked with emotion, as he recalls the time he found out his son had almost killed himself by jumping off a building. 

“I feel so sad...the way he suffered, we [his wife and him] didn’t know.”

Mr Lim had learnt about that moment from a newspaper article in 2018 that was celebrating how his son, Delane, had turned his life around, some seven years after the incident. 

“Everything he kept to himself. He never bothered me,” he explains. “A few times he had a lot of [surgical] operations. I know the business was quite bad at that moment. But I don’t know was [sic] so bad. Until the day the article come out, wah.” 

Nearly a decade later, Delane’s universe has been turned upside down again. Except he is not alone. 

A pandemic caused by the new coronavirus disease, named COVID-19 by the World Health Organization, has infected some 2 million people and killed more than 160,000 (as of 21 April), devastating livelihoods and communities around the world. 

Perhaps nothing prepared Delane to deal with this global calamity more than having survived 2011, which he says was a very miserable year for him. 

“[My] world was falling apart,” Delane says. “At that point of time, I [had] already written my will. I even have a video ready...for my parents.”

He was facing a corruption probe into the company he had started. (He was eventually cleared of any wrongdoing.) Compounding the stress of the investigation, he had a serious heart problem that required immediate surgery. Then, as if to further test his resolve, Delane’s girlfriend of two years left him unexpectedly.

It was the perfect storm of despair. 

Usually stoic and headstrong, the confluence of events pushed Delane to his limit. His only way out, he thought, was to end his life. On the day before the high-risk surgery, he walked up to the parapet of a residential block, in Singapore.

“I was ready to jump,” he says.

Out of the blue, 24 stories up, he received a text from a friend asking him out for a coffee. He replied cryptically, saying he was in no mood to meet as he was going through something awful. Delane describes what happens next with a wry smile; it took quite a while for his friend to send a response, and since he could see that his friend was “typing and typing’’, he could not “jump in peace” without first reading what was being written.

When his friend finally sent the text, It read: ‘God will not remove the pain, but He will give you enough strength to go through the pain.’

Says Delane, “Before the message, I was very confident that I want to end [my] life. After [reading it], somehow my confidence was shaken. I was surprised that I was on the ledge.”

“In that seven minutes [of waiting], my mind and heart slowed down,” he adds. “There is enough time for me to think what are my choices, and what are my current circumstances?”

In this tango between life and death, Delane picked the former to be his dance partner. 

“Depression is real,” he says. “[It] can hit anybody, and every one of us may face times in our lives that we are really depressed.” 

In time, he found that his coping mechanism for stress was to do good and to be an “upstander”. 

“When you are an upstander, you rally people to do things that they believe in. If they believe in your mission, they start to contribute to your cause.” 

And there has not been a more appropriate time to step up than during a crisis.

Says Delane: “When a crisis happens, I can react by complaining about my circumstances. But if I choose to respond [positively], I’m actually building my own personal resilience...not just physical but mental resilience. How do you [turn] your problem to possibilities. How do you turn these possibilities into opportunities?”

In the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak, this jolly, ever-smiling social entrepreneur is perpetually thinking up ways to help the disadvantaged and the vulnerable.

“If every day my staff and I were to make a difference in somebody else’s life, to put a smile on their faces for those who need it, then I think that, when I go back home, when I feel very stressed, when I think what we have done, it gives us a bit of meaning,” he says.

“The fact that I’m still alive, the purpose is to make a difference, and also to challenge the people around me to make a difference in their own lives and the lives of others.”

One of his many initiatives is called Operation Roof Up, or #OpsRoofUp, to stay relevant in the world of social media and hashtags.

In the spirit of enterprise, Delane has a knack for connecting people, enabling more to receive the help they need. Through #OpsRoofUp, for example, he saw an opportunity to bring together residents who needed food, and catering companies and taxi drivers affected by the pandemic. 

As a business-owner himself, Delane founded a youth social enterprise called FutuReady Asia that runs leadership development programmes, he understood the tenuous position many industries find themselves during this period of lockdowns and social distancing.

“A lot of catering companies are doing very badly. So instead of asking them to sponsor, we appeal to the public, we appeal to corporate companies, who are willing to adopt meals,” he says.

Delane also pays taxi drivers, like his dad, to deliver the food, giving them an alternative source of income, as the number of passengers have tumbled, making it harder to cover their vehicle rental.

This mutually beneficial arrangement is only possible with the support of the public. 

One way is to donate directly to the #OpsRoofUp Food Fund on Giving.sg. Delane works with various catering partners, where S$10 (US$7) sponsors someone’s lunch and dinner for the day (S$8). While the remaining S$2 will be passed on to volunteer taxi or private hire drivers.

Another option is to purchase a bundle set from F&B partner Chef-in-Box, which includes four days’ worth of meals (two per day with dessert included). For each purchase, 10 per cent of proceeds is donated to #OpsRoofUp. Each customer can choose to keep the meals for themselves or give it to someone in need. 

“A lot of his [dad’s] colleagues are struggling. And some of them they have kids [in kindergarten],” he says. “So I asked my father: Are [you] able to gather seven to 10 drivers to help us to deliver?”

Says the senior Lim, “I am 66 years old. This is the worst time I’ve ever come across. It’s 10 times worse than the SARS time. [sic]

“Honestly, I am very proud of my son...He likes to be a helping hand in any way. Even my neighbour, he said, ‘Wah your son, very kind, you know.’ [sic]

Singaporeans are all very kind and helping [sic] people,” he adds. “I have a lot of passengers you know. The meter is S$7.50 (US$5.30). She said, ‘Uncle S$10 dollars, you keep the change for your lunch.’ I appreciate them.”

As the pandemic looks set to be a fixture in our lives for the rest of 2020, Delane hopes that this experience will continue to “unite” and bring out the best in each person. 

“For us to maybe reset our lifestyles. So that when COVID-19 is over, we stand stronger.”

[To note: Filming of the volunteering event with #OpsRoofUp was done on 2 April 2020, before tighter social distancing measures were announced and the Circuit Breaker commenced on 7 April 2020, in Singapore.]

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About #OpsRoofUP

Started by Singaporean social entrepreneur Delane Lim, Operation Roof Up, or #OpsRoofUp, is a community response to COVID-19, with the objective of providing food to vulnerable groups in Singapore from lower-income households, or unable to leave their homes due to being elderly or physically unwell.

Contributors

Director, Editor & Camera

CK Mak

Producer & Writer

Tsen-Waye Tay

Camera

Shawn Khoong

Sound

Lilian Tan

Music

James Morris

Executive Producer

Chris Annadorai

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