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Chinese New Year – Looking out for each other

Chinese New Year is a particularly hectic, but meaningful period for me. It gives me an opportunity to meet up with my residents during our visits to the shops and town centers, and in some of the festive activities organised.

Having been around the community nearly 6 years now, it is a joy to catch up with familiar faces. The young ones are growing up fast and some have gotten too big to carry! With the passing of time, many are also getting older. Some have passed on to a better place, while some have become more frail. A few ‘regulars’ at our Meet-The-People sessions haven’t been very regular for some time, and I sometimes wonder how they are. But when I saw them on my rounds recently, they were looking better than ever before! It had taken awhile for some, but the help extended by so many have made a difference.

So do remember to look out for those around us even as we visit our families and friends. For those who are alone and without much social contact, do pop by and say hello and see how they are. Some of us can help via the VWOs, while some can reach out to our community and to those living near us.

It may not seem much, but it can make a difference. Last Chinese New Year, we read of volunteers who have been organising a community reunion dinner to celebrate with elderly residents who lived alone in their neighbourhood. This is just one of many examples that I am sure we will see again this year. We also read that charities are receiving more donations last year compared to previous years. These developments are heartwarming and encouraging.

Let us continue to foster this sense of caring and giving. With each step and effort, we strengthen family and community. In so doing, we are all forging a closer-knit and a more inclusive society.

May you and your family have good health and happiness in the year of the Rooster! 恭喜发财, 万事如意, 合家欢乐!

Family is where the heart is

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(Taken on a family trip to Japan, Dec 2016)

The picture you see above was first shared on my Instagram page, which received an interesting comment: “落叶“.

Literally translated, this phrase refers to how the fallen leaves have returned to its roots. The fallen leaves are a metaphor for old age, and ‘roots’ describe one’s home.

In a related way, I think ‘roots’ also represents our families – where our values, memories and ties were first formed, and firmly anchored. If you think about it, the family really is the building block for a safe and stable society, and it is important for our families to stay strong. Families are also who we turn to for comfort and support, and a refuge when times are difficult and uncertain.

Giving children a good start in life

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(During my visit to one of the KidSTART group sessions at Henderson.)

This year, we’ve made some progress to enhance our support to help strengthen families, as well as to help our children get a good start in life. It’s a continual effort, and I’m proud of the work put in by my MSF team. It is a cause they feel passionate about.

For example, to help couples build stronger marriages, we have been offering an evidence-based introductory marriage preparation programme, PREP, free-of-charge, at the Singapore Registry of Marriage (ROM) during lunch time.

To give our children a good start in life, we rolled out additional support measures this year. All newborns now get a $3,000 Child Development Account First Step grant. Changes to the Child Development Co-Savings Act accorded all new mothers the full 16-week maternity leave, and mandatory two weeks of paternity leave for new fathers from 2017. We made important moves on maternity leave and the CDA account to better support unwed mothers.

KidSTART is a pilot programme that aims to provide more assistance to children from vulnerable backgrounds to ensure their future success. This effort by the Early Childhood Development Agency brings together family, community and pre-schools to build a strong support system for the child. I look forward to meeting the little ones at their first day of (pre)school in a few days’ time. 🙂 I trust that this programme will succeed and move on beyond its pilot status.

Faishal has also shared in his blog post about the work done to help parents via the Positive Parenting Programme and the Safe and Strong Families pilot, as well as to support parents and children amidst divorce.

We are also working to further develop the early childhood education sector to offer meaningful and rewarding careers for Singaporeans, and quality care and education for our children. We announced the Early Childhood Manpower Plan this year, and we hope to attract another 4,000 educators by 2020.

Building a community of support for those in need

Notwithstanding our best efforts, unfortunate circumstances do occur. We need to be always ready to provide help and timely services to the more vulnerable in society.

Our ComCare schemes disbursed $130 million to about 87,000 beneficiaries in FY2015, this is 10% higher than the previous financial year. We have also enhanced the assistance package to households on ComCare Long-Term Assistance by raising the cash assistance rates for our beneficiaries. For example, a one-person household will now receive $500 per month from $450. We will continue to work closely with the community and voluntary welfare organisations to support the less unfortunate among our midst.

Even as we recognise families as important sources of refuge and support, sadly, for some, they can be vulnerable to abuse by loved ones. Last month, we launched a three-year “Break the Silence” campaign to encourage bystanders to speak up against family violence. Violence is not a private matter and is not acceptable.  All of us have a role to play to step up and help, by having the courage and knowledge to take action.  You can interrupt incidents of family violence with little acts of kindness, and contact the various help centres. Do call the Police immediately if a life is in danger.

 


(Ah Ma made the first step to break the silence against family violence.)

For those who need foster homes and families for support, we were pleased to see an increase in fostering as we celebrated 60 years of fostering in Singapore. Foster parents are such incredible big-hearted folks who open their homes and heart to care for vulnerable children. To further support the efforts taken to help these children, a third fostering agency will be set up in 2017.

Fostering a more inclusive Singapore

We have also achieved much in helping each and every Singaporean to fulfil their potential, regardless of their abilities. In the past two years, MSF, together with MOE and SG Enable, piloted the School-to-Work Transition Programme with five Special Education schools to facilitate a smooth transition from school to the workplace for graduating students with disabilities. I am heartened that 80% of the first graduating cohort of were successfully employed, and 83% stayed in the job for more than six months.

Just last week we received the 3rd Enabling Masterplan report from the steering committee led by Ms Anita Fam. We will study their findings and recommendations carefully to make Singapore even more caring and inclusive for persons with disabilities.

Supporting one another in the year ahead

While MSF continues to do its best to support the vulnerable and those in need, and strengthen families so that they can fulfil their dreams, it is also my hope that fellow Singaporeans can do their part to care for one other.  If we could all reach out to others in the community, and begin to look beyond ourselves and our own families, we would begin to see a very different society – one that is more caring, more selfless and more compassionate.

One way you can show support to one another is through the Singapore Cares movement. Many of us have expressed the desire to do more and work with others to support individuals and families that need help. The movement is an opportunity for everyone – you, your company, or institution – to partner with charities in Singapore and/or areas where needs exist, and make an impactful difference. By coming together and contributing to the social causes you care about, we can support one another in the year ahead. Together, we can show that Singapore cares.

As 2017 approaches, there could be more challenges ahead that we have to face.  But I take heart in knowing that we will all walk this journey together with our loved ones and support one another as one big Singapore family.

Happy 2017!

Why Care?

By Parliamentary Secretary A/P Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim

It’s been a long day. You alight from the MRT, relieved to tap out at the gantry because you’re inching closer to home. Easing into a slow walk, you make a mental checklist of what you need to do tomorrow.

The sounds of traffic quieten down as you reach the void deck. You begin your climb up to the 2nd storey where a hot shower and bed awaits.

Someone new catches your eye.

A rugged elderly man, slightly hunched, shuffling towards a corner near the staircase landing. He kicks off his shoes.

Should you take a closer look?

The corner is meticulously prepared. A straw mat marks his narrow territory. Some bulky plastic bags form a small fort at the foot of the mat. The man’s hair has not met the familiarity of a comb for some time. He prepares to lie down, perhaps to quietly spend the night.

Seems like he has settled here recently. But why is he alone? Are his family members looking out for him?

You hesitate. But shouldn’t you do something? At least ask him what is going on?

What do you do?

Take a photo and spread awareness about this? But what about the elderly man’s privacy?

Approach him? What if he brushes you off or scolds you for being kaypoh?

You hesitate again, weighing the choices.

So, why should you care?


Caring for others and helping them is not always as easy as it sounds. In fact, it is entirely possible to be unappreciated for it. And we must be prepared for this.

As you have seen in the video and story above, it can be quite unglamorous work. And sometimes, people may not even want your help.

In October this year, we held the MSF Volunteer Awards and honoured 169 volunteers ranging from foster parents to probation officers.

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76-year-old Mdm Thiravingadam has been a foster parent to 42 children over 40 years!

At such ceremonies, we thank and appreciate volunteers for their tireless dedication. But a lot goes on behind the scenes for them. A lot that we do not know about.

Just like the story above, volunteers may also have started off with some doubts. Or question how they can go about helping.

I think the larger question is not whether we should be helping. That is pretty clear to us.

It’s how we should be caring and helping. There are many ways to address the how, but it requires collective support. For those in need, we should create opportunities for them to get back on their own two feet.

But it is not enough to snap a photo or upload a video, and leave it at that. We are stronger in spirit and richer in our humanity when we can extend a hand in our own way. And for help organisations and Government agencies to complement this with further assistance.

So, my next question is – how will you care?


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