By: Gilbert Goh/
I visited Jefri yesterday at his 2-bedroom rental flat at Ang Mo Kio and it is a cosy place nicely tucked away at the far end of Singapore.
The old rental flat is huge and sometimes it rivals those BTO 3-bedroom flats in the housing market now.
After a few knocks on the window panes, the owner came and open the door. The blazing heat was tortuous yesterday and the coolness of a home is welcoming.
Jefri is all smiles and welcome me to his simple home – furnished with some wooden furniture while a TV sat in the central with a fridge standing nearby out in the hall. A recent contribution of a second-hand washing machine is sitting in the living room awaiting installation.
The visit was delayed for almost a week after Siti – Jefri’s next-flat neighbour messaged me about his plight of missing out medical appointment due to lack of funds. Its quite common nowadays to hear of people missing out on medical appointment due to the lack of money but it is still sad to hear of yet another case. It is not the medical cost that they are worried about as most of it can be covered by Medifund – a healthcare welfare fund for the poor but it is the transport and meal cost that are keeping many away from fulfilling medical appointment.
They are also hampered by other piled-up bills at home eg SP, S & C and HDB rent that the mere act of making their way to the hospital can be a huge psychological effort for many.
I was however delightful that there are such nice caring neighbours like Siti around who not only check on his emotional well-being occasionally but even sometimes provide cooked food for him. It reminded me about the old kampung days umpteenth years ago whereby people would simply drop by each other’s home like their own and loneliness is an unheard-of-word then.
Nowadays, people live by themselves and neighbours will rather lock themselves in than interact with their nearby neighbours living only inches away from each other. Some have even die in their own homes without anyone knowing until a foul smell persists in the hall way.
Jefri also lives by himself these days and he related to me how he will not lock the door for fear that if something happens to him no one will be able to get in the house easily and provide emergency assistance to him.
“I just left the door unlocked and will not padlocked the gate so that if anything happens to me, the person I call can get into my home quickly to provide help,” Jefri quipped.
“I sleep in the hall next to the door and it makes me feel safer knowing that I can get access to it quicker this way.”
As his Malaysian wife is currently away carrying out dialysis in Malaysia, the only person he has regular contact with is his elder son who is working as an intern now earning $1200/month. His other son is till serving national service and seldom comes home.
Jefri’s Good Samaritans arrived after about an hour later and they join us for the chat together in the 2-bedroom flat. The couple has being serving the community for the past few years and they have become like the neighbourhood’s saviour whereby everyone will contact if they have a shortage of rice, pampers or milk powder.
They have even stockpiled some basic food necessities in case certain needy families have a real need for them.
“I have a list of these needy families,” Siti informed me. “We also do our check to see if they are really in need.”
“There are four rental blocks around here and each block has about 200 units,” she updated me though not all are in need of further assistance but potentially there are almost 800 families living close to or below poverty or else they won’t be living in subsidised housing.
Subsidised housing is for those who earns $1500 per household and only the poorest will have acesss to such housing.
We went through how we can collaborate together as people like Siti and her husband are the ground people who have eyes on the poor around them for they too live in similar environment.
They can help with simple things like welfare aid application and call on small charities like ours to fill in the gap if necessary. Many needy families are unfamiliar with the welfare application procedures and sometimes people like Siti provides a gentle push for them to seek aid often done with reluctance due to pride.
Many would rather sit alone at home with their utilities cut off than stretch out a hand to request for aid. Of course, on the other spectrum, there will be those who simply go all out to milk the system dry as if it is their ultimate entitlement.
Nevertheless, the days ahead for Jefri will be tough as only his son is working right now and he seems to have lapsed into a severe depression and who wouldn’t if you have the staggering fear of a cancerous prognosis near you?
He needs someone who will gently push him occasionally to feel optimistic and that he is not fighting the battle alone.
When I left the place, there is a feeling of gladness that at least there are kind-hearted neighbours like Siti who will put their heart out for those within the community who needs a helping hand.
If we have more people like them, then we truly will have some hope in a society that is more familiar with coldness and apathy.
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