“If we can help, we will”

14125204_xxlBy Li Li@MSF

As an officer in the Office of the Commissioner for the Maintenance of Parents (CMP), Li Li conducts conciliation during which she tries to persuade the children to maintain their parents. She also assists the elderly and their family, by referring them to other social or voluntary agencies for support and/or assistance.


 Li Li has lost count of the number of times she has been scolded by the adult children of the elderly she is tasked to help.

As she attempts to persuade these children to support their parents, the common response she gets is: “You’re just an outsider. If you’re the welfare ministry, provide the money then.”

The elderly, who approach her at her Lengkok Bahru office or who are referred to her by MPs, Family Service Centres and Social Service Offices (SSOs), are often those who are unable to support themselves. Hence, they have to struggle to get maintenance from their children.

After interviewing them, Li Li contacts the children to hear their side of the story and possibly, persuade them to support their parents. This step though is often the hardest part of the process – and her job.

In the course of trying to even speak with the children, she has had them bang the table, threaten her, and slam the door in her face when she tried to visit them at home.

“Before joining, I thought it was nice to offer help to people,” Li Li says. “But here, it’s a bit different. You try to intervene, you get scolded kaypoh[1].”

And even when she gains access into these families’ lives, she often finds herself thrown in the middle of a mind-boggling moral dilemma.

She recalls the time when a woman approached her for help after her husband became paralysed and could not work.  The case turned out to be more complicated, however, when she found that the woman was the second wife of the man. The children from his first marriage were unwilling to maintain him because they were angry with him for remarrying.

To add to that, his stepchildren – the woman’s children from her previous marriage – saw no obligation in supporting a stepfather who had not raised them up. Who then, was to be made to support their father?

Then there are the thorny cases she has seen more than once – children who refuse to support their parents because they had been abused by them when they were young. Should she still make the children pay?

Topping it all off are the misconceptions people have of her job and her role.

The elderly think she can help them get their children to support them beyond their basic needs – such as a parent who came to her wanting his child to give him money for airfare – while the children think she sides with the elderly and that she is just here to force them to pay.

Yet, despite the rough times and misconceptions, Li Li continues to strive on, contented with the compelling sense of achievement that she is able to break ground.

As an officer constantly on the ground, Li Li occasionally takes on other responsibilities, such as referring parents and children with their consent to other social or voluntary agencies for other support and/or assistance.

“If we can help, we try to help,” she says.

More than that, it is the satisfaction she gets from watching families reconcile and reconnect, as well as helping the elderly get their maintenance, that keep her on the job.

She recalls the case of an absent father who was remorseful of his past and volunteered at a senior activity centre to make amends. Believing their father was sincere in his efforts to change, his children eventually agreed to maintain him. And to Li Li, witnessing such grace and forgiveness, can sometimes be all that she needs.

[1] Kaypoh: A Singlish term, that can be used to describe a person/an action as nosy or a busybody.

Making the world a better place with coffee

For many of us, our day doesn’t start until we have had a cup of coffee.

As such, it is no surprise that a long queue formed when a new coffee cart opened at the MSF building lobby on Tuesday (4 Oct) morning. But do not be distracted by the typical caffeinated concoctions Bettr Barista offers—it is no ordinary coffee establishment.

In 2011, Ms Pamela Chng left her job at the web consultancy firm she’d set up, and co-founded Bettr Barista to train marginalised women and youths-at-risk for the specialty coffee industry. Today, her efforts have resulted in a full-fledged social enterprise that uses coffee as a vehicle to change lives.

“We want our beneficiaries to be work-ready, to get jobs in the F&B sector, to get themselves out of the challenging situations that they are in and become financially independent,” Ms Chng said.

To date, 50 students have graduated from their barista program and she hopes to reach out to more potential students by collaborating with social service organisations.

Besides training the students to be career-ready, Ms Chng and her team seeks to empower them emotionally as well. The trainees, who range from their teens to women in their 50s, come from disadvantaged backgrounds and face many personal obstacles, from having low self-esteem to financial difficulties. As such, the training program is designed to be multi-dimensional, and includes physical training, as well as life and emotional management, on top of the students’ barista training.

Since its inception, Bettr Barista has received many accolades. It was certified by international non-profit organisation B Lab to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. Bettr Barista is also the first recipient of the Arthur Guinness fund in Singapore, which supports social enterprises that are dedicated to discovering innovative solutions to address social problems.

Also, part of Bettr Barista’s revenue goes to Income Orange Aid, a program that helps ITE and polytechnic students from low-income families to fund their tertiary education. Buying coffee can make a difference in the lives of needy individuals, so why stop at only one cup?

Bettr Barista is located at level 1 of the MSF building and is open from 8.30am-6pm on weekdays, except Thursdays.

 

 

The Greatest Joys in My Life

For many parents like myself, raising our children to adulthood is akin to an emotional rollercoaster ride.

When they are born, we take delight in how sweet and innocent they are. In their formative years, we relish the time spent hearing them say their first word, and watching them take their first step.

We shed tears on their first day of school, miss them throughout the day and count down the hours until we can pick them from school.

Then the trials and tribulations come as they go through their teenage years, when we wonder how our sweet, innocent children evolved into the bundle of anxieties before us. We spend sleepless nights wondering how we can protect them from the evils of the world.

And then comes the emptiness and feelings of loss, when seemingly in the blink of an eye, they are on the cusp of adulthood, ready to leave the nest and live their own lives.

Children really grow up so fast, and I am sure that deep down, every parent wants to be there for his or her children throughout their journey to adulthood.

For many of us, this can be a challenge as we struggle with the demands of work, family and other commitments. Work-life balance becomes increasingly difficult to maintain and it is easy to get caught up in the rat race.

Parenthood certainly has its ups and downs, but my children have been one of the greatest joys in my life. Children are the embodiment of love between a couple, and the start of life together as a family.

I am glad that I was able to share many milestones in my children’s lives and that we have forged a strong bond over the years.

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With my son and daughter when they were younger

My relationship with my children has evolved over the years; from a father figure when they were young to a friend, now that my daughter and son are 20 and 16 years old respectively. Despite my busy schedule as a community leader then, and a Member of Parliament now, I consciously make and take time to be in contact with them, so that we can share our moments together — physically and virtually.

I must say, technology has really helped to complement my efforts in engaging my children. Although my daughter is now overseas continuing her studies, technology has enabled us to remain close and continue our journey in developing our family bond.

Let us dedicate this day to our children and be active and present parents. 😊

For me, I will spend time with my son watching the Causeway Challenge between Singapore and Malaysia at the National Stadium tonight. I hope you will find some time to share the joy of Children’s Day with your child.

To all the children out there, Happy Children’s Day!

Celebrate our Children Often

I am sure that many sighs of relief and cries of joy were heard at the end of this week’s PSLE. Congrats to all our P6 students (and their parents!) who have worked so hard this past year!

To many 12-year-olds, PSLE is a time in their lives when even the most caring of parents suddenly turn into fire-breathing dragons! But of course, parents want their children to study hard and do well.

Sometimes, this may cause us to give our children too much pressure. In our eagerness to mould our children, it is easy to forget that they are not our “Mini Me”s. They are unique individuals with their own strengths and passions. Our aspirations for our children should not come at the expense of their own ambitions and happiness.

What our children really need is to feel that we are proud of them for who they are, not what they have achieved. They need us to take an interest in them as individuals, and to connect with them at their level.

For my children, whether it’s the school exams, sports or other activities they take part in, I’d often talk to them about the process, and not just focus on the outcome. I’d ask them questions such as: “How did you think it went?” “What went well?” “What didn’t go so well?” “How do you feel about it?” “How do you think you can deal with the disappointment?” “What would you have done differently?” “What did you learn from it?”

Apart from helping them to reflect and grow, it’s an opportunity to know your children better. It’s also an affirmation of how we value their thoughts and feelings, who they are and not just what they have achieved.

This Children’s Day, let’s make it a day where we affirm our children. Affirmation does not mean that we praise them for everything under the sun. Let’s focus on their effort, rather than the result. It could be a simple acknowledgement for remembering to do their chores, or picking up their toys without being told.

Children’s Day is a day where we should celebrate our children for who they are, and the joy that they bring to our lives. It’s a day to do something our children find fun, together as a family. Most importantly, make that conscious effort to affirm our children often, not just on Children’s Day!