Singapore—Madam Sallemah, a woman in her 80s, has been collecting and selling cardboard boxes for years.
But after her regular karung guni man stopped showing up earlier this year, the boxes began accumulating outside her unit and her neighbours’, causing residents to express concern about obstructions, potential fire hazards and the unsightliness of the boxes.
A Lianhe Zaobao report last week (Apr 19) said that it had received emails concerning the boxes that were stacked in the corridor of 252 Jurong East Street 24, where Mdm Sallemah was storing them.
The Chinese-language daily added that the boxes had caused a fire last year, but it was quickly put out by the woman’s neighbours.
Ms Grace Fu, the Minister for Sustainability and the Environment and MP for Yuhua SMC, posted a link to the Lianhe Zaobao article on her Facebook page last week, and commented on the issue.
The Minister acknowledged the inconveniences that Mdm Sallemah’s neighbours experienced due to the accumulation of boxes, but added that she hoped that “tolerance and compassion” would be extended in this situation, given the woman’s circumstances.
Mdm Sallemah lives with one of her five children. Ms Fu wrote that the elderly lady collects cardboard and sells it to supplement the family’s income, as they have been “facing financial difficulties”.
She has been getting financial aid and food rations for over a decade, as well as counselling from a social services counsellor, through Government assistance programmes arranged for her by the Jurong-Clementi Town Council (JCTC), wrote Ms Fu.
The minister added that “although the JCTC has cleared the corridor of the cardboard boxes several times, Mdm Sallemah has persisted in accumulating them.”
The JCTC, Ms Fu wrote, will work with Mdm Sallemah towards a “long-term solution to safeguard her welfare and the safety of our community”.
One solution would be to coordinate with JCTC’s waste collection contractor for the boxes to be sorted at the bin centre instead of the corridor.
This, she added, would allow the elderly woman to continue to earn some money from the boxes.
The New Paper (TNP) spoke to Mdm Sallemah, who told them that she collects the boxes to fill her hours, as well as to earn a little money.
“What other job is there for me? I can’t earn anything if I just sit at home,” she is quoted as saying.
One of her relatives told TNP that her habit of collecting boxes was never a problem in the past when she sold them regularly.
The relative added that the family tells Mdm Sallemah that she does not need to collect cardboard, and to stop placing the cardboard she collects in front of her neighbour’s units.
But the older woman is “stubborn,” the relative said, and insists that if she stays home she will just get bored.
But TNP added that the family was happy to receive Ms Fu’s suggestion for Mdm Sallemah to work with the waste collection contractor.
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