On Mr Marhan’s first day of work with the PUB, Singapore’s national water agency, in 2001, his father, Mr Hanef, said to him: “Treat your work like it is your life”.
“He meant that I should treasure my work as if my life depended on it, do my best and not take it for granted,” recalls Mr Marhan.
These words were as much fatherly wisdom as they were advice from a colleague who’d dedicated nearly four decades to PUB. “My father started out as a daily-rated worker, but he pushed himself to improve,” says Mr Marhan. “He’s my role model.”
Mr Hanef, now 67, retired as Section Head and Senior Technical Officer at Kranji Reservoir in 2014. His grandfather, father and uncle worked with the Singapore Municipal Council and the Singapore City Council, PUB’s predecessors. His five brothers joined PUB too. Now, his son Marhan and several of his nephews are fourth-generation PUB employees.
At his father’s suggestion, Mr Hanef joined PUB in 1963, at the age of 15. As a despatch rider, he cycled tirelessly along the same route every week to deliver reservoir records and water samples from the three reservoirs – Seletar, Peirce and MacRitchie – to the PUB head office at City Hall. “I told myself to work hard,” Mr Hanef recalls. “I knew there’d be many chances for me to move up.”
One such opportunity arose in 1967. Seconded to PUB’s British engineering consultant Binnie & Partners, Mr Hanef assisted the engineers who were building earth dams, first at Upper Seletar Reservoir and then at Upper Peirce Reservoir. “I learnt a lot about soil quality and instrumentations,” says Mr Hanef.
When he was first posted to Kranji Reservoir in 1975, there were challenges aplenty. Kranji River had been newly dammed to form the reservoir. “The villages and farms nearby were major sources of pollution,” Mr Hanef recalls, “and water hyacinths and other aquatic plants would grow really quickly across the water when the weather was hot.”
Mr Hanef and his colleagues would round up the hyacinths towards the shore by using floating markers pulled by tugboats. A crane would then hoist the plants out of the water. “When we piled the hyacinths up high, they made a small hill,” he says. “It gave us a great sense of satisfaction knowing that we’d helped transform the estuary into a clean reservoir.”
The reservoir was one of Mr Marhan’s boyhood haunts. He remembers exploring its unspoiled greenery on strolls with his father, encountering little critters and hunting for insects. These pleasant memories and his father’s work with PUB seeded Mr Marhan’s interest in joining the agency. Eventually, after his National Service, he began work as a technician with PUB’s Pollution Survey Unit, collecting water samples from reservoirs to be analysed.
With PUB’s sponsorship, Mr Marhan graduated with a Diploma in Water Technology from Ngee Ann Polytechnic. He’s now a Technical Officer at Lower Seletar Reservoir. On any given day, the 37-year-old is out on the water in a boat – wind in his hair, with blue sky and green foliage all around him – making his rounds and drawing water samples. “I’m lucky to have a job where I can enjoy nature every day,” he says.
Lower Seletar Reservoir now welcomes activities such as kayaking, dragonboating and fishing under PUB’s Active, Beautiful and Clean Waters Programme. “The smiles of residents and families make my work more worthwhile,” says Mr Marhan.
Father and son are proud to have played a part in safeguarding Singapore’s natural heritage. “Our reservoirs are like our second home,” Mr Hanef says. “It’s only right we take good care of them.”