Single mother wants a better life for kids
Single mother of three kids with special needs is working hard towards a better life
At 33, Madam Nora (not her real name) has gone through her fair share of troubles.
In 2010, while eight months pregnant, the mother of two girls separated from her husband.
Now a single mother, she has three children who require extra attention due to their special needs.
Her older daughter, 10, is dyslexic. Her younger daughter, eight, suffers from seizures when she develops high fever. Her son, six, has mild autism and a low IQ.
But you will not see Madam Nora asking for handouts or seeking pity.
She is focused on getting out of the poverty cycle and being self-sufficient.
Speaking to The New Paper from her two-room rental flat on Friday, she said: "I do not want to trouble anyone about my situation. I want to be more independent and stand on my own feet. I do not want to be relying on financial help."
Madam Nora's family of four receives financial assistance from the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis).
She also holds a temporary job as a Residents' Committee coordinator, thanks to the Community Employment Programme (CEP).
Run by the North East Community Development Council (CDC), the CEP caters to low-income or vulnerable residents living in the north-eastern part of Singapore.
Before Madam Nora found out about the programme two years ago, life was a constant struggle as she had to juggle full-time employment with her son's needs.
"My two daughters are okay, they are quite independent in school.
"The first one gets bullied sometimes, but the second one knows how to protect herself," she said.
Her son worries her the most.
While at work as a library assistant, Madam Nora would receive calls from teachers about his behaviour in nursery and she often had to leave work to attend to him.
"The teachers would ask me to go to school to look after him in class. I was there so often that some of the children thought I was the new teacher there," Madam Nora said.
It was around the same period that her son was diagnosed with mild autism and a low IQ - news that came as a blow to her.
"Of course I was sad. It took me a while to accept it. I thought of it as God's gift to me," she said.
Madam Nora switched from working full time to part time for more flexibility.
Finally, when she found out about the CEP in 2014, she quit her job.
"My job is important, but this is my son we are talking about," Madam Nora said.
Home is sparsely decoratedand her family has been living in the rental flat for slightly over a year.
They were sleeping on the floor until recently, when they received a bed from North East CDC.
There was a hint of resignation on Madam Nora's face when she was asked about how she juggled everything as a single parent.
She conceded that she cried by herself several times.
"What to do, I just have to hang in there," Madam Nora said, adding that she talks to her family and boyfriend for emotional support.
Every day is a game of numbers as she figures out her finances. She has no savings - only accumulated bills to pay.
She now works a maximum of four hours a day from Monday to Thursday. Her salary of $5 an hour, along with the aid she receives, allows her to get by, but just barely.
"I am lucky my children are not picky with food. I teach them not to crave for expensive items," she said.
Madam Nora's goal is to secure a job in the beauty industry next year.
She has attended a few make-up classes organised by a social enterprise that helps single mothers.
"Teachers told me that my son has showed some improvement in class and can be controlled. So when things are more stable next year, I hope to find a full-time job," she said.
Her three children keep her going when the going gets tough.
"To me, my kids' future is very important. I need to be independent now so my kids will not suffer in the future," she said.
I do not want to trouble anyone about my situation. I want to be more independent and stand on my own feet. I do not want to be relying on financial help.
- Madam Nora
ABOUT THE PROGRAMME
The Community Employment Programme (CEP) is a six-month interim programme that offers part-time jobs to low-income or vulnerable residents living in the north-eastern part of Singapore.
This temporary work arrangement helps them earn some allowance as they go on with their search for long-term employment.
The jobs can range from those in administration to those as mobile library assistants.
While it is a six-month programme, some, like Madam Nora, stay on the programme for a longer period of time when their situation calls for it.
The North East Community Development Council (CDC) assesses them on a case-by-case basis.
Since its inception in November 2011, the CEP has reached out to 1,572 residents.
About a fifth of these residents have graduated and moved on to other jobs.
Of the remaining 1,200 residents, 520 are still assisted under the programme. The rest have left the programme due to personal reasons.
Running this programme can be challenging, said Ms Serene Tan, senior manager of projects at North East CDC.
Some residents have been unemployed for a while, and they need to rebuild their confidence before they can take on a full-time job.
Others face issues such as a low skill sets, caregiving duties, health or age - issues that pose a greater challenge in quickly securing employment.
"(We have) to ensure that the residents are motivated to be actively searching for permanent employment while they are working under the CEP," said Ms Tan.
"Another challenge is to manage the mindsets and expectations of the residents so that they will be able to find a job that matches their skill set.
"Hence, it requires efforts from both the job placement centres and the residents to eventually secure a mainstream job to gain self-reliance."