I am not a label, I am Gary

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 An abused child. A tattooed gangster. A Boys’ Town resident. A punk rock chef. A camp leader. A speaker and facilitator. A recipient of LKY Model Student Award. A tuition teacher. A trainee social worker. Gary is all of these.

In this memoir, Gary recounts the events of his life with sincerity and in a straightforward way, from his childhood to present day. It details his transformation from an at-risk youth with criminal involvement into a promising young man seeking to build a career and pursue his dreams. In sharing his experiences, he also offers his thoughts about discrimination, empathy and its importance in relating to at-risk youths, as well as his experience of abuse and how it may be prevented.

Can delinquents change and turn over a new leaf? Gary’s story is an example of not only the possibility of transformation, but of drawing on past mistakes to fortify one’s attitude and dreams of a better society.

About the Author

Gary Lau grew up in a broken family, dropped out of school and was, for a period in his life, influenced by peers involved in crime. He ended up in Singapore Boys' Home and then Boys’ Town. Determined to change for the better, he studied for the N-levels while working in Eighteen Chefs. His journey has led him to the Institute of Technical Education and then Nanyang Polytechnic, where he graduated as one of the best-performing students of his cohort. In his spare time, Gary also runs Happy Children Happy Future, a free tuition programme for children from disadvantaged backgrounds. Thankful for the support of many people at various stages in his life, Gary aims to become a registered social worker, to help other at-risk youths and to make Singapore a more loving society.



I am not a label, I am Gary

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Gary’s story shows how the brokenness in his life is transformed and delicately held together by hope and love. He tells it with straightforwardness, and the book would have you reading from the start and following him through his journey of transformation. The sharing of his long buried sexual trauma marks a milestone in his journey of self-healing, as he confronts and overcomes his deepest shame. Gary’s book gives hope to those tried by life’s adversities, and offers a grounded perspective on living purposefully for self and others. —Gwen Koh, Principal Social Worker, Boys’ Town, Youth Reach

Gary is an inspiration. Having gone through a tough and rough life journey gave him the strength to be a scholar, a social influencer, a role model, and a change maker. If you have ever experienced any of these—feeling lost, thinking of giving up, believing that “I am not good enough”, missing a sense of purpose, being unable to see any light or possibilities in life—Gary's life story will surely shed some light. If you are looking for motivational stories for yourself, troubled children or your struggling students to guide them in moving forward, this book is for you. Written in simple English and filled with real life encounters, this book will immerse you in Gary’s life experiences and journey. —Yvonne Lim, senior trainer, Aspen3 Pte Ltd

I met Gary in 2008. He had just come out of Boys' Town. Within a year, I had a new outlet, and made him a manager running the whole operation at Fusionopolis. Maybe he was too young at that time, maybe he was not ready, and it was not a very successful operation for him. But after that, he went into the army, and came back to do part-time with me. He juggled his studies. I remember vividly that during break times, he would spend time studying and improving his English. Now he has completed Polytechnic and is going into social work. I am glad he chose this path. I would say that he inspired me more than I inspired him. I hope he will continue doing what he think he is good at. He has a higher calling. To become a counsellor and social worker is not an easy route and I wish him all the best. —Benny Se Teo, Chief Creative Officer (CCO), Eighteen Chefs

“It wasn’t the tears in his eyes—what I saw in his eyes were sincerity, hope, a plea for another chance—that moved me. And I accepted him.” I shared this in Mediacorp’s Tuesday Report featuring Gary. I recounted the day when Gary, with his tattoos showing despite his efforts to conceal, came to see me with an appeal to be enrolled in the Nitec in Community Care and Social Services at ITE College East. It was difficult for me as it meant overruling a previous panel’s decision. But I saw something in Gary that day. Something that told me to give him a second chance. I told him he had to fulfil his promise to complete his studies and not make me regret my decision. Today, Gary has more than kept his promise. Indeed, he has done ITE and his teachers very proud. Gary’s learning journey epitomises ITE as a place of hope, for learning and growing. His success here, and hopefully in what will be a bright future, shows why I believe in the power of second chances in life. I am honoured to have been part of Gary's life journey. I am sure that reading his memoirs, especially his quest at ITE, will be an inspiration to many. —Tay Wei Sern, Deputy Director, Health Sciences & Course Manager, Allied Health, ITE College East


Gary Lau