Going beyond to protect vulnerable communities

By the SMU Corporate Communications team

For having served the highest number of pro bono hours in her graduating cohort in 2021, Farahna Alam received the “Spirit of Pro Bono Award (LLB)”, an accolade awarded by the SMU Pro Bono Centre annually to recognise individuals for their outstanding pro bono efforts.   

The average number of pro bono hours served by LLB students in 2021 was 51.3 hours, which Farahna exceeded with an exceptional 258.6 hours. She was heavily involved in Justice Without Borders (JWB), which provides legal aid to migrant domestic workers who face labour exploitation and human trafficking. She was also a volunteer intern working remotely for the Refugee and Immigration Centre for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), where she did legal research on issues related to asylum applications and human rights protection.

Farahna’s parents had emigrated to Singapore more than 25 years ago and later became citizens. Farahna, who was born in Singapore, became passionate about helping migrants after learning about how daunting it can be to uproot oneself to a foreign country where one may not truly understand the regulations or legal assistance they have access to.  Despite the differences in jurisdictions and the scope of issues managed by the two organisations mentioned earlier, the main purpose of protecting the vulnerable gave her meaning and influenced her legal education greatly.

On what motivated her to contribute beyond her pro bono hours to the community, Farahna said, “Pro bono projects opened my eyes to see first-hand the impact that such work has on the community, and the importance of increasing legal accessibility to the less fortunate. It is this feeling of fulfilment and purpose that drives me to contribute beyond my required pro bono hours. It has provided me with a deeper appreciation and purpose for continuing my journey in the legal industry. It has also allowed me to have a more holistic perspective of my academic journey where I am able to foresee the practical applications of my law education. Furthermore, it has connected me with other like-minded peers who have a similar desire to contribute to the community.”

Outside her pro bono work, Farahna devoted much of her time in the Arts Festival 2018 and 2020 as well as other projects by SMU StageIT, the university’s theatre group, and Literati, a collaboration of literature lovers. These experiences have provided a liberating avenue for her to express herself, which she feels has taught her not to underestimate the power of stories and how they move the community in an impactful manner.

Since graduation, she has continued to nurture her love for theatre by catching plays locally and overseas. She has also started working as a trainer on a part-time basis to teach young children public speaking and performing skills.

Farahna is currently undergoing her legal training at Withers KhattarWong and enjoying the practical experience thus far. The firm also provides pro bono services to those in need, which she is happy to be involved in.

On what motivates her, what aspirations she has for the future, and life lessons:

“My primary motivation has and always will be my friends, family and my future self. I try my best to work hard in everything I am involved in so that my future self will be able to look back and know that whatever the future holds, I have done my best.

One important life lesson that I have learnt so far is to enjoy the present. It is tempting and easy to fall into the habit of planning for the future to the last second (my to-do lists definitely account for every minute of the day!).

However, all the worrying means that I forget to enjoy the fruits of my labour and to appreciate the blessings that have come my way. The past two years have not only shown us how quickly our fortunes can turn, but also the importance of community, which is why I am always grateful for my support system.”