Monday, July 22, 2013

Give a Litte

Life is for giving- Vedanta

We have a lot to give. We really do. For those who don't have  enough money, could have time, for those who don't have time, could have resources, for those who don't have resources could have special skills. And the ones who don't have money or time or resources or special skills, well, they are the ones who we need to give to.

Living in a bubble that is Singapore, one tends to forget that there are many unfortunate people who need our help. The expat life in Singapore comprises of condos for luxurious lifestyle, cars despite COE prices, coffee mornings with other expat mommies, credit card for branded handbags and yes, a careless attitude towards others. Don't understand why we say Singaporeans clamour after the 5 Cs (or perhaps  it's not restricted to 5 anymore).

The "real" poverty

India is home to 63% of all slum dwellers in South Asia. Coming from India poverty is stark, visible and makes to either look away or become immune to. An estimated 3 million people are homeless in Europe. And this is a stat from 2010. With the Euro crisis, this number is bound to go up. The UK has one of the highest levels of homelessness in Europe with more than 4 people per 1,000 estimated to be homeless (as at 2004). Statistics from 2007 indicate that 63% of homeless women in the UK have experienced domestic violence and 40% have been sexually abused. Homeless people there live in subway stations, on the streets and sometimes outside your favourite pub. It's all out there. It's apparent. 

And here is the shocking state of affairs in USA when it comes to wealth distribution.

So its understandable that expats look at Singapore as a wealthy, first world country where poverty does not exist, or its at least negligible. There is no "real poverty" here we think. The only poor strata of society are the immigrant workers and the foreign domestic helps. An average Singaporean  is well do to, has a roof over his head and a decent job. 

The real situation

Let me tell you the story of Mr. Ang. Mr Ang and his wife, both in their 40s, live in a four-room HDB flat with five children. Their ages range from eight to 23 years old. Mr Ang works as a driver, earning $800 a month (one-fourth the cost of any average designed bag I may add), while Mrs Ang is a homemaker. Four of their children are visually-impaired. Two of the oldest children attend daycare at the Singapore Association for the Visually Handicapped. But paying the daycare fees is a constant struggle for Mr Ang. While their fourth child is studying in polytechnic, the third and youngest children have behavioural issues, and are unable to pursue further education. 

Meet Wan Zaleha. For the last six years, from Mondays to Saturdays,  this 72-year-old has served as a volunteer, making tea and coffee for residents living in one-room apartments in the neighbourhood. She lives in one of the one-room apartments - which average 30 sq.m and is not employed and receives groceries worth S$70 from individual donors every month.

These above stories are true. And there are more families faced with similar (or worse) situations in Singapore. While most Singaporeans are able to benefit from Singapore’s success as a fast growing economy, there is a segment that gets left behind, living from hand to mouth, struggling to stay afloat.

A small effort by R3

On Saturday my company volunteered for "Grocery on Wheels" a food donation drive by NUSS. Bags of groceries were delivered to the less fortunate. Goods were donated by NTUC FairPrice, Nestl√© and other companies. There were hundreds of volunteers packing and delivering these bags. 

At the onset it did not feel like a big deal. The groceries came in a lorry, while we went comfortably in a bus chartered by the NUSS. Seemed more like a picnic than a charity drive.


And because even charities need some PR angle, there were volunteers on Harleys making deliveries too!


However when we reached the HDB block we realised the task before us, and we understood why NUSS needs volunteers. We had 198 bags to be delivered, individually, to each house. And boy were the bags heavy! I skipped the gym that evening as my arms and legs had enough exercise for a day. 

We were advised that this is not just about delivering. We should engage with the residents, many of them live alone or don't get out of the house much due to old age. They like the human contact and we should spend some time talking to them.

And so he head off. With my colleague expert navigation skills-HDB unit numbers and floor are so confusing- we walked up and down stairs, or took elevators that stank of pee. We delivered the bags to families with 6 kids ranging from one to 12, to an old couple who took 10 minutes just to come to the door because of their ill-health. We chatted at length with an ex-police officer who lamented how once his sons got married, they have stopped looking after him. He said he was glad he still had four daughters who he was confident would not abandon him.

We met kids who opened the grocery bags with more enthusiasm than our kids open their Christmas presents. They were grateful. They thanked us profusely. And we left feeling wish we could do more.


This volunteering activity was also a great way to show our children about life on the other side of the tracks. It left them with more appreciation with all that they have.

All in all a Saturday morning well worth spent.

Parting words

Yes Singapore is a developed first world country. People by and large are doing well, have homes, reasonable wages. And yes there are exceedingly rich people here too- like everywhere in the world. Singapore is MUCH better off than most countries in the world. The government has done a fantastic job. No doubt.

But no matter where you live, there will always be people who have less than you. Always. You don't even have to look too far many times. You just have to open your eyes ...and your heart. 

Learn to live beyond yourself. 

I urge all my expat friends to find a cause that you can relate to, and give it your time. With kids at school and helpers at home, we surely have some time to spare. Substitute one coffee morning with an hour at an orphanage. Or one barbecue with feeding the needy. Or one shopping spree with a donation.

Give a little. And you will live a lot more. A happier healthier life filled with one thing money can't buy- blessings.




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