The Privilege Of Giving Back
Singaporean Shereen Williams Earned An MBE By Contributing To Her Community
When Singaporean Shereen Williams was made an honorary Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in 2017 for her contribution to community service, it came as a surprise. Awarded to both prominent public figures and everyday heroes, MBEs are given for outstanding service to the community that stands out as an example to others.
Since moving to Wales in 2005, Williams has been involved in more than 20 charities, panels and public bodies, balancing her current position within local government with her varied voluntary work as a community activist.
She has been recognised for her prominent role in strengthening community cohesion, with an established profile for interfaith activities, efforts to tackle violence against women and forced marriage, challenging extremism and supporting the integration of newly-arrived refugees.
Although she describes the experience of receiving an MBE as “slightly surreal”, Williams admits that not much has changed in terms of her day-to-day life in Wales. “The work is still as challenging and the problems seem to get more complex!” she remarks.
When the SMU accounting graduate moved to Wales after a long-distance relationship with a Welsh man she met travelling in Europe, she initially began volunteering for local groups to meet people while trying to secure employment.
“I got quite involved in the activities, working on funding bids, planning events and started developing local projects. Things seemed to have snowballed since then,” she reflects.
Williams is currently working on the board of Hanfod Cymru, a charity that supports projects in education, culture and social inclusion with funding and grants. She is also part of the Henna Foundation, which supports Muslim women, children and families.
Despite her fortuitous introduction to community service, she was engaged in helping others from a young age. Williams’ parents instilled in her that that those who are in a position of privilege have to find a way to give back and support those who need their help.
“Growing up, I saw how my family would help people that needed a helping hand when times got tough,” recalls William. “As a person of faith, I also believe that whatever we get in this world is a gift and not ours to own. The more we share and give, the more we receive in return.”
“My family are in good health, we have a house that is truly a home for us, we have food in our kitchen. For me, that’s enough to consider myself privileged. In my work I’ve met
refugees who have fled their homes on foot with nothing but the clothes that they were wearing. It does put your sense of privilege in perspective and realise that you have plenty.”
Although being awarded with an MBE is testimony to her commitment to public service, Williams’ commendable achievements are firmly rooted in the community. At the end of the day, her own measure of success is varied because her work has a positive impact on so many people.
“It could be a domestic abuse case concluding with a positive outcome, helping a refugee family integrate successfully into their local community, empowering teachers to be more confident in discussing challenging issues with their students and seeing the policies that I’ve worked on being implemented.”