Giving children the best start in life

Ms Siti Noraisha Binte Mohamad Sa’at is a firm believer in life-long learning and encourages her colleagues to constantly improve themselves. (Photograph taken in March 2020)

Ms Siti Noraisha Binte Mohamad Sa’at has been in the Early Childhood (EC) profession for 16 years, working with children locally and abroad.

Currently the Principal of Wee Care Kindergarten, the 43-year-old shares her teaching philosophy: “Children have the right to learn, therefore we need to be accountable for that. We need to make sure that we are also prepared to teach.”

Ms Siti believes in always upgrading her knowledge and skills. To support her pursuit of the Bachelor in Early Childhood Education with Minor at the Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS), she was presented an Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) Scholarship on 28 October 2020.

The ECDA Scholarships are given to outstanding EC educators to support their aspirations as they strive for professional mastery and pursue their part-time Bachelor’s or Master’s degree in Early Childhood Care and Education. It provides recipients with a full course sponsorship, learning resource allowance and study bonus, as well as professional development and networking opportunities. Scholarship recipients possess strong leadership potential and passion to play a larger role through continued contributions to the EC sector.

When Ms Siti started as a trainee teacher in 2005, there was less awareness of the importance of early childhood care and education, and EC educators were typically viewed as “babysitters” or “nannies”.

These stereotypes have been debunked over the years with the government’s continuing efforts to improve the sector and uplift the preschool profession.

“This Scholarship motivates me to continue developing professionally, and spurs me to pay it forward while I hone my leadership skills,” says Ms Siti.

Learning as she teaches

As with other professional sectors, Ms Siti believes that EC educators also need to keep abreast of current trends and research in the early childhood field. This will help them understand children better and apply the knowledge and skills in their everyday work.

This is why at each stage of her career, Ms Siti has found avenues to improve herself.

While working as a trainee teacher, she took up a Diploma in Pre-School Education-Teaching where she could apply newly acquired knowledge on the job. She then worked for a school in Myanmar for a few years, before she returned to Singapore to take on the role of Vice-Principal at her current kindergarten in 2014. She subsequently pursued an Advanced Diploma in Early Childhood Leadership, before moving on to become a Principal.

As the head of her centre, she regularly sends her teachers for courses to upgrade their skills. She hopes that by pursuing her Bachelor’s degree, she can lead by example and encourage others to continue to improve themselves and become even better educators.

Ms Siti admits that it can sometimes be challenging to juggle work and studies, having to be at the centre full-time and attending evening classes at SUSS at least three times a week. Self-discipline and time management are important since lessons are currently conducted online due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

What keeps her motivated is the knowledge and networking opportunities she has received through her Bachelor’s degree programme.   

When asked about the future of the EC sector, Ms Siti says she hopes educators will continue to upgrade themselves and strive for professional excellence so that they can give our children the best possible start in life.

She says, “If I can do it at this age and at this stage of my career, I believe that everyone and anyone else can do it too.

For more details on the ECDA Scholarships and Training Awards, click here.

Assurance and peace of mind through ComCare

The ComCare auto extension has provided added convenience and assurance to clients during this COVID-19 period

Madam Tan Bee Lian, a single mother, was working as a cleaner when her health and finances took a hit in late 2019. She was diagnosed with bone spurs in her feet, a medical condition in which bony outgrowths put pressure on her nerves and restricted her movement.

Under strict orders not to work and given a year’s medical leave, the 47-year-old was placed on the ComCare Short to Medium Term Assistance scheme, which provides financial assistance to help families like Madam Tan’s meet their basic living expenses.

With the prolonged economic disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, MSF automatically extended ComCare assistance by six months for beneficiaries whose assistance was due for review between May and October 2020. This has given individuals like Madam Tan greater assurance and peace of mind as her financial assistance has been automatically extended till December 2020, without the need for her to apply for renewal at the SSO. With ComCare cash assistance, Madam Tan has been able to support herself and her sons, as well as buy daily necessities.

As at end October, some 12,000 households have benefited from ComCare assistance extension.

Helping Madam Tan navigate through this difficult period was her social service officer Ms Florence Chang. “I’ve assured Madam Tan that she can re-apply for ComCare assistance if her family situation remains the same after her auto-extension period has ended. We will continue to do our best to help her,” Florence says.

“She has been most helpful,” Madam Tan says, adding that in addition to being detailed in her explanation of policies, Florence is also very empathetic. “She understands that it is important for my kids to find a job,” she adds, “so they can help me and I can rest.” Although the road ahead is uncertain, Madam Tan is thankful to everyone who has helped her, including friends who urged her to apply for financial assistance. “I’m grateful for all the kind-hearted people I’ve met who have made efforts to help me”.

If you come across individuals or families who require support, please call the ComCare hotline at 1800-222-0000 or approach the nearest SSO (www.msf.gov.sg/ssolocator).  

COVID-19 Support Grant extended for new applicants and existing recipients

Mr Rosswira bin Ismail has been working as a delivery man after he lost his previous job which was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mr Rosswira bin Ismail has been a casual worker at The Star Theatre and other performing arts centres since 2016, handling carpentry and set up of audio-visual equipment.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit early this year, the number of shows steadily declined from March and, with it, his income. “I still have some savings but if I don’t receive enough work and keep taking out from my savings, it will slowly become zero,” he says.

The 49-year-old started looking for financial assistance to tide him through this period of uncertainty. He found relief through the COVID-19 Support Grant (CSG) and received his first payout in May 2020. He has since taken up ad-hoc delivery jobs to supplement his income.

The CSG provides up to $800 per month for three months to support lower-to-middle income Singapore Citizen or Permanent Resident employees who have either lost their jobs, been placed on involuntary no-pay leave or experienced reduced monthly salary of at least 30% for at least three consecutive months. As at 13 September 2020, MSF had approved the CSG for around 79,000 recipients.

From 1 October, new applicants as well as current and former CSG recipients will be able to apply for the Grant if they continue to meet the CSG’s criteria. There will be two additional qualifying criteria to ensure help is channeled to those who need it more – applicants should not own more than one property, and those who have lost their jobs and are currently unemployed will be required to demonstrate their efforts in job search or in undergoing training.

Mr Rosswira recently applied for a job as an audio-visual equipment technician for a cruise company and is waiting for the company’s response. In the meantime, he plans to apply for another three months of assistance through CSG from 1 October to get some financial support while he continues his job search. This period of financial insecurity can be daunting, but Mr Rosswira is determined to persevere through it. His advice to those who have lost a job or are finding it hard to make ends meet: “Try again. Keep on trying.”

For details of help schemes in relation to COVID-19, visit supportgowhere.gov.sg.

Beyond the Label – fighting stigma through film, music and helpbot

(Left to right) Mr Ng Yu-Ying, Mr Ivan Lim and Ms Eileen Chai, members of 3am Music Collective at the BTL Fest 2020 Virtual Concert held on 27 September 2020

According to the National Council of Social Service’s (NCSS) Study on Public Attitudes towards Persons with Mental Health Conditions in 2017, 7 in 10 believed that persons with mental health conditions experience stigma and discrimination in their daily lives. More than 5 in 10 were not willing to work with, live with or live near someone with a mental health condition. Beyond the Label (BTL) was launched in 2018 as a five-year initiative by the NCSS to fight stigma, encourage help seeking behaviours and advocate for the acceptance and inclusion of persons with mental health conditions.

The third edition of the BTL campaign kicked off on 24 September 2020 with a short film, The Clock. The film features a middle-aged Singaporean undergoing multiple stressors, including retrenchment and care-giving duties for his family. He seeks professional help and gets on the path to recovery with support from his family.

As part of the campaign, the BTL Fest took place virtually on 26 and 27 September 2020 with a series of online workshops, dialogue sessions, and a virtual concert that featured many celebrities including Stefanie Sun, Kit Chan and Taufik Batisah who showed support for the cause.

Going Beyond the Label—with music and outreach

In 2016, violinist and former national athlete Ms Eileen Chai stopped using social media, going out with friends, performing and speaking at events—all in fear of triggering a panic attack.

Through therapy with her psychiatrist and support from her husband, Eileen managed her anxiety and is now able to better manage her anxiety attacks.

“Everything takes time to heal and recover,” she says. “There’s no one solution. In my case, professional and family support was the best way to manage the situation.”

Four years later, she is hoping to help others with mental health conditions through music by her group 3am Music Collective.

The group performed selections from their 10-song album that shares the journey of those struggling with mental health conditions. It is based on the lived experiences of some members of the group.

3am Music Collective’s guitarist, advisor and publicist Mr Ivan Lim says, “There are multiple messages in all the tracks of the 10-song cycle. But the one message that I hope will stay with listeners, especially those with mental health conditions, is that they are not alone.”

Ivan was diagnosed with and treated for depression in 2001. The former entertainment editor for The New Paper was also struggling with alcohol addiction.

When asked what members of the public can do to support someone with mental health conditions, he says they should provide a listening ear and, if necessary, encourage them to seek professional help.

Eileen added on, “Keep an open mind, be empathetic and not judge, as we do not want to be labelled and we do not want to be stigmatised.”

Movement goes digital

In line with BTL’s outreach to youth to destigmatise conversations surrounding mental health, the campaign also features an e-Escape room created in partnership with Youth Alliance – a ground-up mental health committee catalysed by NCSS comprising government, healthcare and social service agencies. This online experience allows players to adopt different personas and learn about different mental health conditions including mood and obsessive-compulsive disorders.

As part of its ongoing efforts to provide easy access to mental health services and resources, BTL has also made enhancements to Belle, the Beyond the Label helpbot. Belle now comes with an enhanced feature that refers users to suicide prevention group Samaritans of Singapore if keywords alluding to suicidal tendencies are detected.

For more information on the Beyond the Label campaign, visit here.

Say No to Family Violence

Ms Georgette Tan serves on the Taskforce on Family Violence and is the President of United Women Singapore.

A colleague comes to work looking distracted. She has been performing poorly, and you spot bruises that she tries to hide with long-sleeved clothing.

If her employer, someone from the human resources department or a fellow colleague could recognise such possible signs of family violence, she could receive the appropriate help and support.

As Ms Georgette Tan, President of United Women Singapore (UWS) points out, “If employees are in distress, it’s not good for their welfare, and this could have an impact on their productivity, and affect the organisation.”

“It is in the employer’s interest to ensure their employees’ welfare are well taken care of,” she adds.

Workplace outreach is one of several focus areas which Georgette and other members of the Taskforce on Family Violence are looking to address, as they tackle family violence in a multi-disciplinary way.

Formed in February 2020, the various partners across the Taskforce include hospitals, family violence specialist centres, crisis shelters, and family service centres. Co-chaired by Ms Sun Xueling and Associate Professor Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim (Ministers of State for Social and Family Development, and Home Affairs respectively), the Taskforce has been studying the challenges faced by various vulnerable groups experiencing violence, and aims to identify ways in which the Government – working hand-in-hand with community partners – can empower victims and perpetrators to break the cycle of violence.

The Taskforce has been holding virtual engagements via videoconferencing, with members discussing ways to better combat family violence, including keeping a close watch on the COVID-19 situation, and putting in place various initiatives. These range from strengthening support for spouses facing abuse to enhancing collaboration amongst stakeholders. 

Under the ambit of the Taskforce, its members work together to identify key areas for improvement, and develop initiatives to better support those affected by family violence. 

“This is how the Taskforce really helps, because before this, I wouldn’t know what someone else was doing,” Georgette says, noting that it would be a waste of resources if UWS were to duplicate what another organisation is already doing.

Our focus has been on how to “pull together the various stakeholders, gather critical ground-up information on what is experienced by survivors, find out the pain points, reassess what needs to get done and how to do so in a practical, timely fashion”, Georgette says.

With the support of the Taskforce, UWS hopes to also work with the private sector to provide training to human resources departments of multinational corporations to recognise signs of family violence and refer victims to appropriate help channels.

Adding urgency to the Taskforce’s collective work, individuals and families may experience more stress due to COVID-19.

Being more cooped up at home, along with job insecurity and dwindling income, fuels an “exacerbated environment where tempers flare and stress takes its toll”. This may lead to an uptick of family violence, says Georgette.

Complementing efforts to tackle family violence during this global pandemic, another member of the Taskforce, social service agency PAVE piloted a mobile app called Community Guardian in June 2020. The app provides a platform for individuals to report suspected cases of family violence and quickly connect to responders.


As the Taskforce deepens its discussions, members will “need to be practical, prioritise and share the responsibilities, while ensuring everything dovetails together”, says Georgette.

“It’s a major task, but I’m fairly confident that people will view this as a real opportunity to speak openly, talk about barriers, pain points and what is really needed.”

“It all starts with having frank conversations and open dialogue.”

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Read more about the Break the Silence campaign and do your part to end family violence.

If you or someone you know needs help, please contact:

If you are a social service agency or community group that would like to partner with the Taskforce on initiatives to address family violence, please reach out to us here.

Strengthening community partnerships to better serve families

(Last row, from right to left) Minister Desmond Lee, MP for Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC Zaqy Mohamad, Ms Gillian Peck (middle) and volunteers from BLESS at the first Shining Star Reads session conducted on 18 January 2020 at ComLink @ Marsiling

Marsiling is one of four HDB towns that have piloted the Community Link (ComLink) initiative, which aims to better support vulnerable families by bringing services closer to them. The focus is on rallying the community and bringing together corporate partners, volunteers, and even residents themselves, to co-create and co-deliver initiatives to address the unique needs of each local community.

Shining Star Reads, a community-based reading programme, run by non-profit organisation BLESS (Bringing Love to Every Single Soul), began its partnership with ComLink @ Marsiling in late 2019. Through ComLink, families with children aged four to nine years were referred to the reading programme.

A few years ago, when BLESS first started its reading programme in the South-West district, volunteers would wheel luggage full of books, before unpacking them on mats in spaces around void decks for children to read.

“There was a lack of conducive spaces to conduct Shining Star Reads. Space was very tight for larger families living in one- or two-room flats and, hence, sessions were held on mats at void deck spaces” says Ms Gillian Peck, BLESS’ Managing Director, who is also a third-year biological sciences student at Nanyang Technological University.

“We then heard about activity spaces being created near rental blocks, with rooms and tables. ComLink aligns completely with our model of delivery and there was even a storeroom that we could use at the site,” she adds.

With the opening of the new programme space in January 2020 at Block 182A, Woodlands Street 13 – BLESS is now able to serve more residents. BLESS held its first three reading sessions at ComLink @ Marsiling on weeknights with 15 volunteers, comprising mostly early childhood education undergraduates and polytechnic students, and about 30 children.

The children were assessed and grouped into four different reading levels, where they learnt the alphabet and were taught to recognise simple words, before progressing to phonics and reading storybooks.

Many of these children did not go to preschool and the focus was on “getting them up to speed on the basics,” says Gillian.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, BLESS had to figure out how Shining Star Reads could continue to serve children from rental households while adhering to safe distancing and other precautionary measures.

BLESS looked into the best ways of engaging students online, before it rolled out a revamped programme in June 2020, when schools reopened after the Circuit Breaker period.

BLESS went virtual, and held shorter reading sessions of about 30 to 40 minutes weekly, as opposed to the usual 1-hour face-to-face sessions, to keep children engaged.

Besides coming up with visually engaging and interactive PowerPoint slides and multiple-choice questions, BLESS volunteers were also open to other creative ways to improve their services, said Gillian.

“Going online has its advantages as sessions can now be recorded and volunteers are able to watch the recorded videos and tweak our delivery approaches if necessary.” she says, explaining how the team would replay recorded sessions to look out for children who had difficulty following lessons, before placing them in breakout groups that were better suited to their learning pace.   

Beyond reading programmes, BLESS volunteers also continued to serve families in other ways. They helped to direct families to places offering masks and alerted them to the Ministry of Education’s financial assistance schemes, which allowed children to borrow laptops for home-based learning.

Through a new Project Stable Staples (PSS) initiative co-helmed by BLESS and I Am Talented, a social empowerment initiative for youths, volunteers also launched a fundraising campaign for families in rental flats and conducted wellness checks on households with two or more children or dependents.

ComLink @ Marsiling referred eligible families to PSS and helped link BLESS with other ComLink communities to reach out to more families, beyond the Shining Star Reads’ participants.

In total, BLESS raised over S$160,000 worth of NTUC FairPrice vouchers for over 600 rental families across Singapore.

Moving forward, BLESS plans to launch a numeracy literacy programme, as well as parent-child reading and bonding sessions in Marsiling, on top of ComLink’s slated programmes which now include a children’s character-building programme, academic learning and enrichment programme.

Gillian hopes that the different programme providers at ComLink @ Marsiling will have a chance to interact and share their experiences.

“Coming together, we can share more about the beneficiaries we serve and better understand their complex family circumstances to collectively design better programmes.”

“I think a lot of sharing and knowledge can happen and I hope there will be more opportunities to collaborate and do better, even as we try to find a new normal.”

Going the extra mile for those in need

SSO Officer Ms Nurul Huda Binte Abdul Latiff assisting with the COVID-19 Support Grant application

From a Singaporean who needed assistance after losing his job, to a Singaporean who faced strained relationships from family members due to involuntary No-Pay-Leave (NPL), Ms Nurul Huda Binte Abdul Latiff helped to support them all.

Based at MSF’s Bukit Merah and Kreta Ayer Social Service Office (SSO), the 28-year-old SSO officer has been processing walk-in and online applications for the COVID-19 Support Grant and the Temporary Relief Fund. She believes in providing a listening ear to fully appreciate the circumstances in which applicants reach out for help.

“Sometimes I get overwhelmed by the huge number of applications but I always remind myself that the simple personal touches—such as wishing applicants all the best with their job search, asking how they are coping, checking if they need other kinds of assistance—make the application process less transactional and more relational between me and the applicants.”

Over two months, some 35,000 Singapore Citizens and Permanent Residents have been supported through the COVID-19 Support Grant. Around 450,000 applications for the Temporary Relief Fund were also approved to provide one-off interim assistance scheme in April 2020 to help Singapore Citizens and Permanent Residents who needed immediate assistance for their basic expenses.

Nurul, a manager of the SSO’s Regional Services Team, which does ground sensing, service management and case coordination, was roped in by the Social Service Office to process COVID-19 Support Grant applications after helping with the Temporary Relief Fund applications in April. She tends to seniors and others who have difficulties with online applications for the Grant, helps to verify supporting documents submitted by applicants and ensures that they meet the grant criteria, such as the three-month period of involuntary NPL.

For her attentiveness to their concerns, Nurul has received compliments from applicants. One of them thanked her for “going the extra mile to provide comforting encouragement”.

“The affirmation I receive makes my job even more rewarding,” says Nurul. “And I feel privileged to help lighten the burden of those who need support.”

Nurul handles many complex cases, and when applicants do not meet the grant criteria, she is proactive and steers them to other aid channels.

One applicant, who was initially upset about not meeting the criteria, cooled down after Nurul took time to understand the pressures he was facing. He shared about financial and marital problems. Nurul promptly referred him to MSF’s ComCare assistance scheme and its Family Service Centre for more targeted assistance.

Among the challenges Nurul faces is the pressure of processing multiple applications quickly, so that applicants receive support promptly. “Also, sometimes we have applicants who are anxious and keep calling to get updates on the status of their applications,” she adds.

“So, my colleagues and I have to remain patient and take some time to assure them that we are doing our best to assist them.”

She is also inspired by many big-hearted individuals in the community who have assisted their illiterate neighbours with online applications for the COVID-19 Support Grant.  

“Acts like these remind me that there is so much goodness out there even in difficult times. No act of kindness is ever too small to make a difference in someone’s life,” Nurul says.

For more information on the COVID-19 Support Grant and other help schemes, visit supportgowhere.gov.sg.  

Championing the mental well-being of youths

Since its launch in February this year, the Youth Mental Well-being (YMWB) Network has grown to over 1,000 members. Members like Ms Wendy Tan have kept the exchange of ideas going, bringing new members into the fold over online meetings amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

Ms Wendy Tan (2nd row, middle) with Young NTUC youth leaders, February 2020

The Network harnesses the energy and experience of the diverse group of members to put in place more initiatives to better support and enhance youth mental well-being. Besides youths, professionals, parents and practitioners in mental health are also part of the Network.

The Network is evolving and organic, as intended by Minister Desmond Lee when he issued an open call for people to register their interest this year. This allows anyone who is interested in improving the mental health of young people to contribute, share areas of interest, kickstart discussions and take ownership of projects.

It is also one of the Singapore Together Action Networks, which aim to bring Singaporeans together to work on key societal issues.

“What’s beautiful about the network,” as Wendy says, “is that it’s not a top-down initiative.”  

Network members are not hampered by any fixed parameters to effect change. “Rather, it relies on everyday people to stand up, make a difference and be part of actionable initiatives,” she says. “Members are encouraged to suggest and take ownership of projects they propose, with the support of MSF.”

Members of this Network have identified a few phases in a youth’s life they want to focus on — when they are in school, transitioning into the workplace, when they are at work and when they become young parents.

More than 40 Youth Mental Well-being Network members came together in a recent dialogue

More recently in June 2020, Wendy and several members joined Minister Desmond Lee in an online conference call to discuss areas of opportunity in meeting the needs of these youths at different points in their lives. Among the ideas shared was integrating good mental well-being practices into the workplace.

Network members felt that more companies need to support young employees who are suffering from mental health conditions, and to implement progressive workplace practices to help them cope.

For example, having a system where caring for one’s mental well-being is seen as a priority in employee welfare rather than a reaction, and engaging trained colleagues as first responders to those in need.

While mental wellness programmes exist in some workplaces, the Network members observed that many Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) have yet to implement them.

“SMEs employ 70% of our workforce, so mental wellness has to be prioritised by managers and Human Resource (HR) partners,” Wendy says. “Companies are always talking about profit and higher productivity, but good ones need to consider the mental well-being of employees too.”

The Network hopes to engage more SMEs and persuade them to view employee mental health as integral to workplace success. Towards this end, the Network has also included several SME partners and HR managers in its fold, and they have thus far been positive in their response, says Wendy.

Wendy hails from the Youth Development Unit at the National Trade Union Congress (Young NTUC). Part of her interest in mental health among working adults stems from her own experience interacting with youths at work.

“Many graduates have spoken about the stress and difficulty of finding a job during the COVID-19 period,” she says, adding that they will need more support.

While the Network is still in its infancy, the online meet-ups have seen individuals from all walks of life sharing a range of experiences and suggestions. Wendy says she is humbled, after hearing some members share their personal stories with mental illness.

“Some have loved ones fighting mental issues, or even lost loved ones because of them,” she says. “Despite their pain, they decided to come forward to share their stories and offer their time.” 

Emphasising the ground-up nature of the Network, she says that prior work experience in youth mental health is not necessary for participation. “All one needs is a keen interest in this area and a passion to drive change.”

If you are passionate about promoting youth mental well-being in Singapore and are eager to contribute like Wendy, sign up at http://www.reach.gov.sg/youth-mental-well-being.

The ABCs of keeping COVID-Safe in preschools

Educators playing COVID-Safe Snakes and Ladders with our young ones @ MY World @ Tampines North

The sense of anticipation was palpable as MY World Preschool reopened its doors in the first week of June, after exiting from the Circuit Breaker.

“Our whole community was excited and ready for the first day back,” says Ms Jane Choy, MY World Preschool’s Head of Operations. “Our preschoolers were delighted to reunite with their friends, and parents were happy to see that their children were in safe hands.”

MY World Preschool had begun preparing the children and their parents well ahead of the reopening.

In the lead-up, parents were briefed on the COVID-Safe ABCs, a series of safe management measures outlined by the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA). The ABC letters stand for Access, Behaviours and Classrooms.

Under COVID-Safe Access, anyone who is unwell or poses a risk of transmission is not allowed to enter, and strict temperature and health checks are conducted upon arrival and through the day. To minimise visitors into the centres’ premises, centres conduct parent-teacher meetings online and hold virtual tours for prospective parents looking to enroll their children.

COVID-Safe Behaviours focus on cultivating the right norms and habitsamong staff, children and parents to reduce the risk of transmission. They include the use of face masks or shields, keeping groups small, disinfecting high touch points like door handles frequently, and avoiding the sharing of equipment.

As for maintaining COVID-Safe Classrooms, centres adopt classroom management strategies to reduce interactions between different groups of children and staff, such as staggering pick-up and drop-off times, and segregating children by classes. Large group activities like assemblies are also suspended.

By keeping parents informed of such measures ahead of their implementation, MY World Preschool has been able to assure concerned parents like Mr Hadlin Bin Jimin, whose Nursery 2 daughter attends MY World @ Tampines North.

“We were initially a bit nervous about sending our child back to preschool because of COVID-19, but MY World Preschool prepared so much material and information for us that by the time the first day came around, our nerves were gone.”

MY World Preschool centres have creatively adapted everyday routines to remind preschoolers of the COVID-Safe ABCs and engaged them through singing the COVID-Safe ABCs jingle.

“Explaining safe distancing to very young preschoolers can be challenging, so we’ve come up with innovative ways to help them understand the need for the ABCs,” says Ms Choy.

Safe distancing wings help preschoolers at My World @ Tampines Changkat keep a safe distance from their friends

For example, one of their centres has reminded preschoolers to keep a one-metre distance from their friends through safe-distancing wings made from recycled cardboard and decorated by the children. The children were excited to put on their very own safe-distancing wings during lessons.

At other MY World Preschool centres, teachers have incorporated games like Simon Says into lessons, with children following instructions on why they should avoid touching one another. Other games include COVID-Safe ABCs Bingo and a special version of Snakes and Ladders.

Besides engaging preschoolers with games, MY World Preschool has also encouraged them to take responsibility for one another’s well-being by appointing the older pupils as safety ambassadors.

“My job is to make sure that we keep a safe distance from our friends and remind them to wash their hands and wear masks all the time,” explains Wee Shi Xuan, a Kindergarten 2 pupil and safety ambassador at MY World @ Sun Natura.

Safety ambassadors can appoint their classmates for the role by giving them stickers and bracelets. This way, every child has an opportunity to take the lead on safety measures.

“I am happy to be appointed as a safety ambassador, because I can teach my friends how to stay safe,” says Rayan Oh, a Kindergarten 2 safety ambassador at MY World @ Yishun Palm Breeze.

“Working together with everyone across the MY World Preschool community is imperative. It does take a village to raise a child and involving parents in our safe management measures is really important,” says Ms Choy. “This is why we prepared materials beforehand, so that parents can have conversations with their kids and equip them to take care of themselves in school.”

Find out more about the COVID-Safe ABCs at go.gov.sg/BacktoSchoolABCs and get your child involved by singing the COVID-Safe ABCs jingle with them.

Caring in a time of crisis

Ms Vivienne Ng, Chief Psychologist, Ministry of Social and Family Development

Since its launch on 10 April 2020, the National CARE Hotline has managed 20,900 calls from the community. Behind the setting up and operations of the hotline is a huge amount of coordination required across various parties including Ms Vivienne Ng.

The Chief Psychologist of MSF and her team had only about a week to rally volunteers because of the urgency to provide emotional and psychological support to those facing difficulties with the stressors brought about by COVID-19. They quickly reached out to the multi-agency National CARE Management System (NCMS), led by the Ministry of Health, to tap on CARE officers who are trained to provide emotional support during crises.

As of June 2020, over 770 Duty CARE officers from government agencies, community partners and in private practice, have stepped forward to man the Hotline. “We are encouraged by the sheer number of volunteers who offered their help, with everyone understanding the urgency of the Hotline and wanting to help fellow Singaporeans in need,” says Vivienne.

Professional bodies like the Singapore Psychological Society (SPS), the Singapore Association for Counselling (SAC) and the Singapore Association of Social Workers (SASW) also reached out to their members to volunteer for the Hotline.

On the rallying of volunteers, Vivienne said, “It was truly a public-private-people partnership that went beyond our wildest hopes.”

Besides being the CARE coordinator at MSF, Vivienne oversees National CARE Hotline’s volunteer recruitment, briefing and rostering, management of supervisors, call centre operations, data analysis and research. When she needed help with understanding what goes into setting up a hotline and managing telephony records, she reached out to experienced colleagues handling MSF’s other Hotline operations such as ComCare.

She and her team also relied on community partners for technical support. The social enterprise Agape Connecting People provided a call system and customer service officers to prioritise calls for the Hotline.

The major concerns of callers to the National CARE Hotline relate to mental health, emotional support, family issues and employment. Duty CARE Officers are the first line of assistance, providing a listening ear to callers. If callers require longer-term specialised support, the officers link them to community partners, such as the Institute of Mental Health, Samaritans of Singapore, Temasek Foundation’s My Mental Health, Agency for Integrated Care, Community Psychology Hub’s Online Counselling Platform and Viriya Community Services.

Coordinating the various aspects of the Hotline to ensure smooth operations can be intense and Vivienne says that she worked late into the night during the first few weeks following the launch of the Hotline. Nevertheless, she enjoys the fast pace and quick problem-solving aspects of crisis and disaster-related work. Most of all, she is motivated by the impact made by National CARE Hotline.

“I’m always so encouraged when I read shift reports and hear about the different people the Duty CARE officers have helped, the tragedies we averted and lives touched,” she says. “Some even call back to compliment the service and thank our Duty CARE officers.”

Working on National CARE Hotline has reminded Vivienne of her post-graduate days, when she studied for a Master’s degree in Psychology at the University of Western Australia and volunteered weekly at the Samaritans’ suicide helpline.

She handled calls in the middle of the night and “de-escalated strong emotions of people in severe crisis, including people holding guns to their heads”. Three decades later, she says she is again reflecting on the “hidden lives of people”, such as those who suffer from mental health problems that have been exacerbated with COVID-19 and others who have experienced a change of fortunes because of COVID-19.

“While we can’t solve all their problems, people need a listening ear, an empathetic response – they need to feel cared for and less alone. We can also point them in the right direction to get more help.”

In this regard, you need not be a clinical professional or part of the National CARE Hotline to help, says Vivienne. “If we all reach out to our neighbours, friends and relatives around us, ask them how they are doing and really listen, there will be less isolation, more community spirit and building of relationships. 

“In this way, we can all help one another.”      

TIP BOX
Here are some tips from Vivienne on dealing with fears of COVID-19 and adapting to life after the Circuit Breaker:

– Take time to ease yourself back into a work and family routine, expecting some disorganisation and adjustment.
– While fears about COVID-19 still abound, remind yourself that community spread is currently very low and the probability of contracting the virus is very low, too, as long as necessary safety precautions are taken.
– Do not be consumed with worries about the illness, but re-engage with life, family, friends and the community while exercising care.
– Exercise regularly, eat healthily, maintain a regular sleep cycle, engage in hobbies and learn new things.
– Spend time talking and interacting with family and friends, either in person where possible or via video conferencing platforms.

If you need or know of someone who needs help, please contact the National CARE Hotline at 1800-202-6868.

If you are a mental health professional and would like to volunteer for the hotline, email the National CARE Hotline at nationalcarehotline@msf.gov.sg