“I promise to do my best,” Judge Low says.
These words are not spoken thoughtlessly. In fact, they stem from the Girl Guide Promise, the values of which have long been impressed upon Judge Low’s personal beliefs and value system. They speak of a lifetime of service – from mediating disputes in the State Courts, to serving in both the local and international Girl Guides community, to working with asylum seekers in Indonesia, Hong Kong and New Delhi, and more.
Judge Low’s longest job was as a District Judge and Deputy Registrar at the State Courts in Singapore. She began as a Deputy Registrar at the Civil Registry, where she heard interlocutory matters. Three years later, she transferred to the Centre for Dispute Resolution, where she mediated hundreds of different types of disputes, including business disputes, community disputes, and Magistrate’s Complaints. She was also involved in neutral evaluations of traffic accidents, property damage and personal injury cases.
Having gone through a mediation course in 1998, it was clear that mediation was far from a newfound passion. “Mediation was always something I wanted to do, and when the opportunity came along, I was happy to take it up!”
Having experienced life in the private sector previously, Judge Low found herself learning more about civil policies and the reasons underlying certain decisions in this post. “In contrast to when you were on the outside and trying to navigate through the policies, being in civil service was an opportunity to be more aware of policies and their objectives. It’s a huge responsibility because the decisions affect the larger community because of their broad and wide-reaching impact.”
Apropos conflicts and disputes, Judge Low shares a pearl of wisdom she has gleaned from her many years of mediation experience: “Many conflicts arise out of miscommunication, when people hear the wrong message, or they misunderstand. The most worrying of all is when parties refuse to understand each other.” As a mediator, Judge Low helps both parties by listening to both sides and articulating the important messages to each side. However, when cases remain unresolved, it is typically due to a refusal to understand one other and an insistence on their rights. For these cases, Judge Low laments: “Sometimes you just wonder why – Why is it so difficult to take a step back, and be more able and willing to listen?”
Another troubling trait that Judge Low observes today is an increasing sense of entitlement. There was a dispute involving a young highly educated couple and a taxi driver, which Judge Low surmised to point acutely to the issue of class divide in Singapore. In addition to that, there was an inability to empathise with others who were from a social background that was different from themselves.
“Whether it is the pandemic or just a societal trend, there are many stressors today which I see. Contrary to a trial where information and evidence are procedural and controlled, everything comes out like water from a tap during a mediation!” says she. “A Judge represents the system, and having a Judge listen to you and understand your side of the story in a mediation is exactly what parties want. So we hear everything raw and unfiltered: emotions, issues, and the lot.”
On a more positive note, the cases that Judge Low deems especially fulfilling are family cases where familial relationships are restored. “There was a case involving a mother who brought a claim against her son. In the heart of the whole dispute, there was a single problem – the mother simply wanted to spend time and talk to her son more!” Uncovering these interests and helping parties communicate shows that mediation is indeed an effective dispute resolution process that preserves, and even improves relationships.
When asked about one thing she has learnt from all the mediations she has done, Judge Low replies simply, “I learnt to listen. There’s always more than one side to every story you hear, and you realise it’s all a matter of perception. It’s the same dots that are there, but a different picture that’s drawn because people join the dots differently. It’s ironic – ” she laughs, “that the main takeaway for me is not to judge.”
While mediation is undoubtedly fulfilling, serving in the Girl Guides is a hugely gratifying aspect of Judge Low’s life as well. Although the interview was conducted virtually, Judge Low’s passion towards the Girl Guides movement is evident through the screen. She shared that she had started off as a Brownie, on to a Guide, a Ranger, and then a Guider. She then served as Honorary Secretary on the National Council of Girl Guides Singapore, and was elected as the Chairman of the Asia Pacific Regional Committee of the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS) during which she was also a member the WAGGGS World Board.
“It has basically been a lifelong commitment. Girl Guiding teaches you lots of skills, gives you lots of opportunities and opens up your world view. It makes you very aware that there’s a world out there. And because of the Girl Guide Promise and Law, all Girl Guides share the same values, so there are a great number of Girl Guides whose best friends are also Girl Guides – and I am no different.”
“With Girl Guides, the world is borderless,” she declares. “We develop girls with confidence, character and courage – and the same Girl Guide Promise and Law values underpin all the programmes and activities in each country.” Having worked with girls, young women and adult volunteer Girl Guides from 26 countries in the Asia Pacific Region, Judge Low realised that anything was possible if there is a shared belief in the same cause.
A training of trainers workshop spanning five days organised jointly by the Asia Pacific and the Arab Regions was testament to that realisation. Despite English not being the working language of 90% of more than 100 participants from 33 countries, she managed to pull the workshop off successfully. “It was actually born out of an idea at the breakfast table,” she recounts. “Both the Chairs of the Arab Region and I wanted a training workshop, and we said, “Let’s do it”. And so we did!”
The workshop gave Judge Low and those in the Asia Pacific Region a completely different world view of the relatively unfamiliar Arab Region. “It really puts a face to the region, because our impressions were all based on vague stereotypes. But when we saw the delegates from the Arab Region, we could then put faces to the countries, and now, when there is news concerning the Arab Region, my thoughts go to the delegates I met all the way back then.” Although the workshop was ten years ago, the goodwill and friendships that were forged have created a special relationship of co-operation and support between the two Regions which would last a lifetime.
One of Judge Low’s proudest moments was when she welcomed Myanmar Girl Guides back to the Asia Pacific Region. “The 1962 coup d’état in Burma (now Myanmar) saw the Girl Guides of around eighty thousand girls shut down in 1965. But in 2011, an opportunity arose and we decided to revive the movement there. So, a team travelled to Myanmar to look for former Girl Guides and hunt for the Trefoil badge – which they found in a school that was using them as school badges! After valiant efforts of raising funds and organising training workshops with the support of other Asia Pacific countries, Myanmar Girl Guides was readmitted to WAGGGS in 2014 at a World Conference in Hong Kong. There were tears flowing, because we were welcoming a long lost sister back home.”
By 2016, Myanmar Girl Guides had grown exponentially to have more than forty thousand members. “During the 100th anniversary celebrations in 2016, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who was a President Guide herself back then, turned up! I remember tying the Girl Guide scarf around her and saying, “Welcome home to the family!”
Judge Low’s unique experiences have no doubt shaped her perspectives, and these experiences have contributed to her perspective of the world. In 1992, she was a Legal Consultant at the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). There, she interviewed asylum seekers, then recommended and determined their refugee status.
From 1992 to 1995, she was in Indonesia and Hong Kong interviewing Vietnam’s and Cambodia’s asylum seekers, who were claiming that they had been persecuted for their race, religion, political beliefs and other factors. “To decide the fate of a stranger was really like playing God,” she recalls.
She has also lived in New Delhi in 1999, where Afghan refugees sought asylum when the Taliban had taken over Afghanistan. She shares, “There was a quota of a thousand family members who could be resettled to America. And my job was to find that thousand.”
To Judge Low, the experience was a reality check to what life was like outside of Singapore. She had even witnessed distressing scenes while living in refugee camps, all of which had undoubtedly shaped her own unique worldview today.
Judge Low also managed the Singapore Volunteers Overseas Programme while she was at the Singapore International Foundation, “which is the equivalent of the Peace Corps in America,” she says. In managing the programme, she recruited, trained, and orientated volunteers in respective countries. “I was looking to expand the programme, so we had to visit new countries to propose it. One memory was successfully negotiating a Memorandum of Understanding with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Cambodia in 1998 – that was exciting!”
Today, Judge Low continues to contribute and do good. She is currently a Senior Consultant at Sage Mediation, a mediation consulting firm in Singapore. The value of service has been indelibly impressed upon her heart, and is the underlying current to all the big waves that she has made on the respective communities she has served in.
“If you can serve and give back to the community, why not?”
Link to Judge Low’s profile: https://sagemediation.sg/low-lih-jeng/
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