A community effort to help the homeless and rough sleepers

When the Catholic Welfare Services (CWS) started their first night mission to help the homeless and rough sleepers about five and a half years ago, the 16 buns and drinks their volunteers bought for distribution were all snapped up in a short while.

Today, CWS volunteers run Night Missions twice a week, distributing on average 120 meals each night, according to its CEO Mr James Chew.

While there may be a perception that the homeless and rough sleepers are lazy, Mr Chew shared how he encountered a man who had a job but was sleeping in the open so that he could give the money he saved on rent to his two teenage children.

“He has been separated from his wife and his children have no idea that he’s homeless,” said Mr Chew.

To better support the homeless and the rough sleepers, CWS worked with the churches to open their premises at night to provide what is now termed “Safe-Sound-Sleeping Places” for the homeless and rough sleepers to have a hot meal and good night’s rest.

CWS, along with New Hope Community Services (NHCS) and Homeless Hearts of Singapore (HHOS), was among 15 community partners feted for their tireless work on the ground when they received the Community Cares Award at the MSF Volunteer and Partner Awards 2019 on 1 st November. The Award recognises individuals, community and corporate partners who drive social change passionately, and who strive to do good for society and, in so doing, inspire those around them.

These three organisations are also part of the 26 that have come together under the PEERS (Partners Engaging and Empowering Rough Sleepers) Network to pool expertise and resources to better help the homeless and rough sleepers.

Like CWS, the efforts of NHCS and HHOS in helping the homeless and rough sleepers were modest at the beginning.

NHCS, led by Pastor Andrew Khoo, started its operations 16 years ago as a shelter for men in challenging circumstances, such as ex-offenders looking to re-enter society. The organisation’s Shelter for Men-in-Crisis has since been renamed Transit Point.

As part of its partnership with the PEERS Network, the NHCS operates a safe-sound-sleeping place at its Transitional Shelter. Social workers then follow up with those who are ready to accept referral to shelters and other assistance the next day.

Pastor Khoo said: “Homeless people have faced very challenging life circumstances that have led them to feel helpless over a long period of time.

“They may not have the resources or support network to negotiate these circumstances.”

Similarly, the HHOS started as a four-man team in 2014 and has since expanded to about 25 committed volunteers today. Founded by Mr Abraham Yeo, the organisation helps homeless people re-integrate into society by befriending them, through avenues such as festival and birthday celebrations. It also encourages the public to start homeless befriending groups in their own neighbourhoods.

Mr Yeo says the issue of homelessness and rough sleeping receives more publicity in the media today than in the past, with groups like the PEERS Network helping them. “Five years ago it was almost impossible to find groups that did homeless outreaches in Singapore. There was also scant information and statistics available on the internet regarding homelessness.”

Understandably, befriending the homeless and rough sleepers has its challenges, such as gaining their trust. Mr Chew said: “Sometimes, you will find out a few months later that some of them did not tell you their real names. There’s always the fear that the police will come and ask for their identity cards or put them in a home.”

These organisations have persevered despite the challenges and even increased their outreach to the homeless and rough sleepers. Aiding this effort, MSF is working with the PEERS Network to build an interim shelter that would provide temporary accommodation for the homeless and rough sleepers before they move to long-term housing.

With the involvement of HDB in the PEERS Network, social workers are able to speed up the process of matching homeless individuals and rough sleepers to a suitable flat.

Pastor Khoo says his team is “especially delighted” when clients move into a HDB rental flat or purchase their own flat. “The joy and excitement you see on their faces is invaluable.”

He urged Singaporeans to volunteer their time and help build a more inclusive society, added: “Be a befriender. So our homeless friends will not be invisible but have a friend.”

About the PEERS Network
MSF works closely with social service agencies and community groups to support ground-up initiatives. Since late-2017, we have stepped up our partnerships with different voluntary community groups, many of which are at the forefront of engaging, befriending, and looking out for the well-being of rough sleepers. Collectively, we call this partnership the PEERS (Partners Engaging and Empowering Rough Sleepers) Network. The name PEERS was coined by one of our community partners.

MSF has joined our partners’ regular outreach walks, helped to move willing rough sleepers into “Safe Sound Sleeping Places”, and brought agencies such as the HDB, NParks, Agency for Integrated Care (AIC) and Family Service Centres (FSCs) together to work on solving rough sleepers’ longer-term issues. While deepening the partnerships within PEERS Network, MSF is also continually looking out for new partners to join the PEERS Network. MSF has worked with owners of community premises to set up Safe Sound Sleeping Places and community groups to start befriending in more areas. Some of our other PEERS partners are Paya Lebar Methodist Church, Masjid Sultan and Buddha Tooth Relic Temple.

ECDA Scholarship recipient champions active learning

Mr Mohammad Aizat Bin Hashim can still remember his first class as an early childhood educator as if it was yesterday. More than four years ago, Mr Aizat, now 31, brought a fish to class and dissected it in front of his 4-year-old pupils to teach them where their food comes from.

Understandably, his colleagues were a tad wary initially. After all, it is not common to see teachers getting their hands dirty with food specimens.

Mr Aizat believes, though, that kids should have real-life exposure to things they are learning about. Till today, he still uses food specimens during some lessons.

“I try to educate parents about the need to allow their kids to explore safely and have hands-on experiences,” says Mr Aizat, who is now the principal of Mosaic Kindergarten. “This way, kids can better relate to concepts they’ve been taught.”

To recognise Mr Aizat’s commitment in engaging his students in active learning, he was awarded the 2019 Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) Scholarship for the Master of Education (Early Childhood) at the National Institute of Education. The scholarship is awarded to outstanding in-service early childhood educators who wish to pursue further studies.

Mr Aizat has found fulfilment and success as an early childhood educator although this was not his original career path.

He had graduated with a Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering from Nanyang Technological University but after a stint as an engineer, he realised the job did not suit him and sought a career change.

“I was giving tuition to primary and secondary school students during my university days,” Mr Aizat says. “Even then, it dawned on me that I had a disposition and aptitude for teaching.”

In 2013, he came across a job advertisement for a Place-and-Train programme in the early childhood sector. He was accepted into the programme − a full-time 18-month course that included three days of study and two days of work at My First Skool (Wellington Circle).

The first few years in the field, Mr Aizat shares, were sometimes challenging but meaningful. Like other teachers, Mr Aizat had to learn how best to build rapport and earn the trust of parents. He is thankful for the constant support from his then-colleagues at My First Skool, where he taught for almost two years after completing the course.

Being a male educator, he was not involved in routine care like toileting and showering children. But his role was still significant, as Mr Aizat would support his female colleagues by keeping the children engaged through songs, hands-on activities and storytelling.

Mr Aizat then joined Mosaic Kindergarten in late 2016 and was promoted to Principal in January 2019. He hopes to be a trusted mentor to younger educators and advises aspiring early childhood educators that this career involves so much more than just teaching.

“Some people tend to think that early childhood education is about teaching ABCs and 123s, but it involves many other responsibilities beyond academics,” he notes. “These tiny human beings need constant nurturing and the care of teachers and we have to be comfortable establishing close relationships with parents too.”

Simply being around children brings Mr Aizat much joy and sometimes brings out the inner child in him. Nurturing children in their learning journey and growth, and seeing his efforts pay off has made his journey fulfilling and rewarding.

He is not content to affect lives just at the individual level. With the ECDA Scholarship, he hopes to continue developing professionally and to help enhance Singapore’s early childhood landscape.

“I hope to do this through being involved in focus-group discussions at the sector level, engaging in research within my kindergarten and sharing my expertise with others.”

The deal behind the meal: An inclusive partnership between MINDS and Holiday Inn

The MSF Volunteer and Partner Awards 2019 on 1st November was a celebration of the extraordinary, and the occasion was matched by a 4-course dinner with a difference.

MSF brought together students from two MINDS schools and Holiday Inn Singapore Orchard City Centre to curate and prepare a meal for 400 guests. For the students aged between 16 and 18, this was their first experience in a professional kitchen setting.

As MINDS’ Woodlands Gardens School teacher Mdm Vijeya Maniam and MINDS’ Towner Gardens School teacher Ms Chan Mei Ling noted, the kitchens in their respective schools are akin to those found in homes and do not have industrial-grade equipment.

“When I first saw Holiday Inn’s kitchen, I was worried for the students but they coped and performed so well,” said Mdm Vijeya.

This was in part because of the careful guidance and mentorship of Executive Chef Bobby Saravanan from Holiday Inn, who conducted thorough training sessions with the students on topics like grooming and hygiene.

He also ensured that students had a say in the brainstorming, naming, preparation and the cooking of dishes. “Each kitchen assistant is talented in his or her own way and has something to bring to the table,” he said.

“Our job is to ensure we provide them with the necessary support so that their hidden talents can shine through.”

One student told Ms Chan that he was nervous about cutting ingredients to the specific dimensions required. He overcame his nerves by paying careful attention to instructions and watching the demonstrations closely.

Another student said he was initially overwhelmed by the need to multi-task in the kitchen. To keep up with the fast working pace, he checked frequently with Executive Chef Bobby to ensure he was completing his tasks correctly.

Both teachers noted that the students were excited to have their kitchen assistant uniforms fitted and to be working under the close guidance of a professional chef from the hotel industry.

The uniforms made the students proud to be part of a team, they said.

Ms Chan commended Executive Chef Bobby for being patient and kind towards the students. She noted that he had customised the tasks for the students to cater to their abilities.

She hopes that more employers would also be willing to design and tailor jobs to match the skills of persons with intellectual disabilities (PWID). This would help them to optimise their work performance.

Executive Chef Bobby, too, urged the food and beverage, and hospitality industries to give PWIDs opportunities to develop their full potential “to become the culinary leaders of tomorrow”.

Mdm Vijeya said that MINDS has been teaching students relevant and in-demand skills such as inventory management and housekeeping to help them find jobs in supermarkets and hotels. The teachers also work closely with the students’ families.

“I see our students grow whenever we encourage them to step out of their comfort zones in employment or attachments,” Ms Chan said.

Cooking for an event like the MSF Volunteer and Partner Awards, Mdm Vijeya and Ms Chan agreed, is an experience that cannot be replicated by mere training in school.

Check out the exclusive behind-the-scenes video and find out more about the winners of the MSF Volunteer and Partner Awards here

 

 

 

 

When play is more than what it seems

When play is more than what it seems

In Amanda Yap’s class, The Three Little Pigs is not a mere fable. It is a way for the children to create hypothesis, make predications, learn problem-solving skills and appreciate the properties of materials.

Using the example of the little pigs building houses from different materials to protect themselves from a wolf, Amanda gets the children at The Little Skool-House to build mini structures from straws, blocks and twigs to see how easily each of them collapses.

This is more than just play, says the 30-year-old who received the Outstanding Early Childhood Teacher Award from the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) in September this year. The ECDA Awards Ceremony recognises exemplary educarers, teachers, leaders and centres that have excelled in teaching and learning, and in their innovative practices.

“It’s intentional play, where learning takes place all the time,” Amanda says.

According to research, children learn best through play where there are hands-on and interactive activities. Such play is structured around an objective and clear learning outcomes. Giving children a variety of boxes, for instance, could be a way for them to build their creativity by imagining different uses for them. Amanda is always looking for innovative ways of teaching to engage the children meaningfully.

She is currently enrolled in the Advanced Diploma in Early Childhood Leadership course at NIEC. Having worked for nine years in the early childhood sector, she says she has come across certain misconceptions about her profession, like “you need to clean pee and poo all day”.

She laughs, seeing the funny side of this stereotype, but points out that seemingly routine care such as mealtimes, and bathing forms part of the curriculum and offers learning and connecting opportunities, “Children learn to be more independent and build their self-help skills”.

“There’s so much more to early childhood education than what many people think,” Amanda says. “It’s really about growing and developing the physical, cognitive, language and social-emotional development of a child. We help foster creativity and imagination, and nurture character building. When an educator provides quality early childhood experiences, has meaningful conversations with a child and builds a strong relationship, these help to develop the child holistically”.

The biggest challenge of her job is when parents are not on the same page with her, she says. Some parents expect their two-year-old to read and write, or compare their child’s performance with that of other children. In such situations, she will talk to the parents to help them understand that each child learns at a different pace.

Asked how she teaches children who need additional help, she says, “It’s about being—that word again—intentional. It’s about observing each child and understanding his unique needs and how he learns, and then planning experiences to cater to these individual needs.”

The rewards of teaching, for her, lie in the improvements she sees children make. Amanda proudly cites the example of “a very introverted child” taking the first step of initiating a conversation with her peers.

“Even if it was just a simple ‘hello’, it was something big to celebrate.”

Find out more about Amanda and the work she does at https://youtu.be/ENTfmjXZ9yA.

 

A meeting of generations and needs

A meeting of generations and needs

Every fortnight, the halls of Thye Hua Kwan (THK) Nursing Home echoes with chatter between residents and students from Xinmin Secondary School.

As part of the school’s Values in Action Programme, the students befriend the elderly by folding origami, playing carom and engaging in various activities. This initiative originated from one of the SG Cares Community Network Sessions held in September last year at Braddell Heights Community Club, attended by community partners from Serangoon and Hougang towns.

Dr Desmond Ong, grassroots leader of the Ang Mo Kio-Hougang Division shared that “people just come together—no agenda—and we just share. We share our problems, what we have in terms of resources and see what we can make of it.”

Xinmin Secondary School contacted the Social Service Office, SSO @ Hougang, initiating a longer-term community engagement programme, instead of one-off sessions. “We want our students to generate a deeper sense of empathy through the Values In Action project,” says Vice-Principal Benjamin Yong.

SSO @ Hougang promptly put the school in touch with THK Nursing Home, along with another partner in the area, NTUC Health’s Day Centre for Seniors (Silver Circle) at Ci Yuan.  Soon after, partners from the two organisations conducted briefings for the students on how they could interact and engage the elderly meaningfully.

Since the XinminCares programme kicked off in February this year, the residents look forward to the visits by the students, says THK Nursing Home’s CEO Ardi Hardjoe.

“For us, the collaboration is important because we have a duty to the young generation,” he says, pointing out the importance of getting students to understand the experiences and needs of the elderly. Some students, he notes, might not have had much interactions with their grandparents and might be unsure how best to relate to the elderly.

Besides visiting the residents at THK Nursing Home, the students also befriend seniors at the NTUC Health’s Day Centre for Seniors (Silver Circle). The befriending experience has inculcated patience in the students, as some seniors at the centre may have dementia and often repeat the same questions to the students.

As part of XinminCares, the students also make visits outside the walls of THK Nursing Home. This part of the programme is known as Project Home Alone. The students knock on doors to check on and befriend seniors who stay alone in the Ang Mo Kio-Hougang Division.

For Desmond, the highlight of the programme has been witnessing the students’ resilience in reaching out to the seniors, persevering even when they faced initial resistance. This has not disheartened the students.

From Desmond’s observations, the stereotype about the young being part of a strawberry generation who bruise easily is not true and these students deserve credit for their work. They believe in the project as much as the partners, he says.

Benjamin adds that one indicator of success in the coming years will be whether the youths will still take the initiative to volunteer even after they graduate. He says some former students, who are now in their twenties, continue to actively volunteer.

THK Nursing Home, NTUC Health’s Day Centre for Seniors (Silver Circle) and Xinmin Secondary School are united in seeing this project through, challenges and all, for the long haul.

Ardi hopes this collaboration, bringing a school and a nursing home together, could set a positive example for other schools.

“We can share our story with others and…they can learn from this.”

 

Supporting caregivers and persons without mental capacity

When someone loses his or her mental capacity, it is sometimes up to loved ones to make important decisions on his/her behalf.

As a geriatric nurse, Priscilla Tan, 38, has seen some family members of her patients caught in disagreements about their loved one who had lost mental capacity. They were missing an important legal document – a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA).

An LPA allows a person (known as a donor) to appoint someone he or she trusts such as a family member or close friend (known as a donee) to make decisions for them if they lose mental capacity one day.

Knowing the importance of an LPA, Priscilla spoke to her parents about it when her father was diagnosed with dementia in 2016. She explained to her parents the purpose of an LPA and convinced them that it was necessary. This was followed by a six-week wait for the LPA to be registered. This process has now been shortened with the amendments to the Mental Capacity Regulations in August 2019, which halved the waiting period from six to three weeks.

The application fee waiver for Singaporean Citizens making an LPA Form 1, which grants general powers to the donee, has also been extended till 31 August 2020.  For all LPAs received by the Office of the Public Guardian (OPG) from 1 August 2019 onwards, donors and donees can access the registered LPA online through OPG’s e-services portal. They may also request to share a soft copy with third parties like banks.

Priscilla advises everyone to make an LPA early, before a serious condition like dementia occurs.

For cases where an LPA has not been made, and the person has lost mental capacity, family members will need to apply to the Court to be appointed as a “deputy” so that they can make decisions for their loved ones. Sometimes, this process can be long-drawn and complicated.  Hence, to avoid this situation and start the planning process early, Priscilla will also be making an LPA for herself.

To better support caregivers like Priscilla and safeguard persons without mental capacity, the Committee to Review and Enhance Reforms in the Family Justice System (RERF Committee) has made several recommendations which include:

  1. Making counselling available to those facing caregiver stress, and mediation in the event of disputes between family members;
  2. Training and support for appointed and prospective deputies.

Since her father’s diagnosis, Priscilla says their roles have reversed. “I have become more like his parent instead,” she shared. She observes that often, caregivers share similar concerns. For instance, they face stress caring for their loved ones and worry that they may run out of leave to accompany their loved ones to medical appointments. To help both herself and her father, Priscilla sought community support by enrolling her father in the Memories Café programme at the Alzheimer’s Disease Association. Here, her father keeps active and engages in activities like music and drama, while Priscilla gets to meet other caregivers for peer support.

Priscilla is passionate about raising awareness on dementia and caregiving. She created the Instagram hashtag #MyOrthodoxDementiaTherapy to share her experiences with her father and their journey together.

“I hope to use this platform to reach out to more caregivers,” she says. “The journey can be lonely sometimes and I don’t think anyone would truly understand until they have gone through it.”

To caregivers who are apprehensive about seeking support, Priscilla says, “Don’t suffer alone. Ask for help and don’t stress yourself out.”

Caregiving does not need to be a lonely journey.  You can join support groups which offer a safe and comfortable space to share experiences and learn.

Honouring extraordinary employees with disabilities

In the course of a typical day at the Registry of Marriages (ROM), Angalamma d/o Marimuthu meets about 12 to 15 couples, verifying their documents and answering their queries.

Seeing the happy faces of those about to tie the knot is the highlight of her job, says the 56-year-old customer service officer. After 27 years at ROM, she remains an “extremely hardworking staff” who is always cheerful and smiling, says ROM Registrar Penny Tham.

Angalamma first joined ROM as a typist, before working her way through four promotions to her current position. She is seen by many of her colleagues as an elder sister and mentor at the workplace.

In recognition of her contributions and dedication, she was one of five winners of the Exemplary Employee award at the Enabling Employers Awards (EEA) in July 2019

The EEA, launched in 2011, is organised by SG Enable to recognise organisations and individuals who have committed to integrating people with disabilities in the workforce. Since then, more than 300 awards have been given out. In its fifth edition in 2019, the EEA presented 19 employer awards, 78 certificates of recognition to inclusive organisations, and 14 individual awards.

Angalamma was honoured as Exemplary Employee for making her mark through extraordinary performance in the workplace. This accolade means a lot to Angalamma, who was born with bilateral congenital club foot. She says the award motivates her to work even harder.

“I would like to encourage all persons with disabilities not to feel self-pity because of their disability,” she says. “If you fail at something, try again…The important thing is to put aside disappointment, build up confidence and not be worried about the perceptions of others.”

Angalamma’s upbeat view on life is buttressed by supportive supervisors and colleagues. When she is not attending to couples, she is at her workstation tabulating statistics and collating returns from marriage solemnisers. Her colleagues ensure the path is kept clear of obstacles so that she can physically move around with ease and peace of mind.

Colleagues have also arranged files and cupboards at a convenient height for Angalamma to access them. If she has errands to run, she can turn to her colleagues for help.

When asked what advice she would give to employers looking to be inclusive, she says, “Show encouragement. Be patient.”