Jolovan Wham Facts

Mr Jolovan Wham is back in the news. A long-time civil activist, the 38-year-old is no stranger to courts and criticism from some quarters. But this time, critics accuse him of being a much more serious charge: of being a traitor.

The fresh criticism was sparked by Mr Wham’s meeting with Malaysian PM Dr Mahathir last week. Also at the meeting were historian PJ Thum, journalist Kirsten Han, award-winning graphic novelist Sonny Liew and former political dissident Tan Wah Piow.

PAP MPs like Mr Seah Kian Peng have branded the meeting treacherous and questioned its intentions. While Mr Wham’s role in the meetings aren’t clear, his presence has generated intense public interest.

So here are 8 facts about Jolovan Wham that show a different side to the activist.

1. He has a deep sense of justice

Growing up with a domestic helper, Mr Wham was always aware of the power imbalance they faced. That awareness spurred him to action in his teens and he went on to major in Social Work at NUS.

In an interview in 2017, Mr Wham said,

As I got older, I realised that if I saw a wrongdoing, I had to do something about it, or the vicious cycle would simply continue. I consider myself a privileged member of society … so I see it as my responsibility to put this social capital to good use.

After graduating from NUS, Mr Jolovan Wham joined the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (HOME), a welfare group for migrant workers. His time at HOME propelled him to the national spotlight as a fierce guardian of migrant worker rights.

2. He’s been threatened

Employers angry with Mr Wham for siding with their domestic helpers have called him “pro-maid”. It’s an honour he wears proudly but one that has also put him in danger. Today, HOME’s office is an unmarked building in the east, to keep its beneficiaries as well as staff safe from abuse.

3. He enjoys northeastern Chinese cuisine

All that activism has exposed Mr Wham to new cuisines, including northeastern Chinese food.

Food in the region is characterised by its liberal use of suan cai, a traditional pickled Chinese cabbage.

4. He bats for the other team

Mr Wham is gay and proudly so, openly declaring his sexuality on his Twitter page.

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Mr Wham is a familiar face at Pink Dot, although that appears to be the limit of his LGBT activism.

5. He’s been featured in The New York Times

This is a rare honour for an everyday Singaporean: to be featured in one of the world’s most prestigious titles. But Mr Wham’s legal troubles last year were picked up by The New York Times. 

He had been charged with holding unauthorised public assemblies, a case which is still pending.

6. SCMP calls him the new Chee Soon Juan

Another newspaper, this time Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post, questioned if Mr Jolovan Wham was Singapore’s next Chee Soon Juan.

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The paper compared the two men’s criticism of the Government, as well as their willingness to face the music for their often controversial views. No mention of Mr Chee’s buff AF bod though.

7. He’s not naive about change

Mr Wham knows for a fact that he can’t change everything and doesn’t think that change will come overnight. He said,

Changing practices and mindsets isn’t easy; it requires perseverance, persistence and patience. The work we are doing now is laying the foundation for future generations of changemakers.

What do you do then? Do you get discouraged and back down? Of course not. I learnt at NUS that you can’t solve everyone’s problems–and this lesson keeps me going.

That knowledge should comfort him this week, as he comes under fresh criticism from some on the Internet. Whether it was right for him to meet Dr Mahathir or not, that meeting shouldn’t erase all the good work Mr Wham has done for Singapore’s migrant worker community.

Mr Wham’s thoughts on the Little India riots of 2013 follow.

Featured image from Jolovan Wham’s Facebook.