Opulence, luxury, development, condominium, fast life, beer drinking Fridays, BTO HDB Flats, Sentosa, Bird Park, Universal Studio, Night Safari, Singapore Flyer, Marina Bay Sands, Changi Airport – If you thought these are what Singapore is known for , then you are as mistaken as I had been.
Today was not another usual Friday that one would have yearned for. Today was the day that made many a heart bleed, many a pride broken and provided many insights into the working of a complicated matter.
This happened to me last year itself. And this was repeated this year as well.
Well, as part of a Corporate Social Responsibility event, I accompanied another 180 fellow workers to provide food materials to underprivileged sections of the society in Singapore. Wait a minute. Did I mention Singapore ? Yes, Singapore. There are Below Poverty Level citizens in Singapore as well ( Montek Singh – Note this. Rs 32 cannot sustain them).
To make it simple – These are the people who have been overtaken by the rapid pace of industrialization and modernization. To know more about them you need to understand that these are the people who live in rented flats ( yes, citizens live in rented flats as well – rented by the government ). These people could be either older Singaporeans whose income sources have dried up; abandoned by their children; economically not-so-well off people who are in their golden years and have to live alone. And the list goes thus.
These people would have sold off their government subsidized houses to meet their financial ends and therefore don’t have a house of their own ( Singapore provides subsidized housing for all its citizens ). Some of them are so poor even to meet their utility bills that the local community centers help to pay on their behalf.
The government provides rental accommodation to such people and to a large extent takes care of their needs.
And we met these elders in their humble abodes and distributed food items and toiletries at their door steps. Some of the elders were too frail even to open the doors while others found it too difficult to even speak a few words.
I had my most humbling experience last year. We were a group of four – myself a Tamil Indian, a Chinese lady co-worker, a Malay colleague and a Philipino. Out of the planned five visits, two were successful, one family didn’t open the door and another was a little hesitant but later relented. And the final one shook us to our roots.
The house was of an elderly Chinese. We had knocked at the door for about 15 minutes. And tried to know if someone was inside. Some of us thought there we had seen some movement inside but had not been sure. Nevertheless we kept up our efforts to make the insider open the door assuming the house was occupied.
At the 15th minute, we thought we heard a click. And the door opened in a rather slow motion. And we were terrified at what we had seen. There was an extremely old man of Chinese ethnicity lying on an old chair in the one room flat. I thought he had slumped and suggested we call the Police to break open the door when one of us, the Chinese lady, thought that she had seen movement on the old man. The old man should have been easily 85.
Relieved that nothing was amiss, we cajoled the man to wake up and come near the door. After a great struggle he lifted himself off the chair and with the help of a walker came near us and mumbled something in what I had thought was Mandarin. My colleague, a Mandarin speaker, tried to decipher what she thought she heard and to her dismay sighed, “He speaks Hokkien”, which was traditional Chinese. She did not speak the dialect.
After about 20 minutes of talks and counter talks, we convinced the man that we had come to hand over some food items to him. He pointed to a key holder. We got the message and took the key from the holder to open the door.
After we had arranged the food items in his paltry room, he indicated that he wanted to be placed on the chair. We helped him to his chair. After a few minutes of silence, he slowly lifted his arm and started in his low voice in Hokkien.
After around five minutes of halted speech, my Chinese colleague was almost into tears. This was what the man had managed to say :
“My sons have abandoned me. My wife is dead. I don’t have any money. Most of the time I urinate in the room itself as I am not able to walk to the bath. I fear that I might fall down in the wash room. You have come here to give me food. I don’t know you. You will all get married and have many children. Your father should be proud of you”.
Incidents such as these make life worth living and provide value to the USDs and SGDs we earn.