“Loving Singapore, Our Home” by Mr Tan Chuan Jin

Loving Singapore, Our Home

(Shared at our Kembangan-Chai Chee National Day Dinner on 11 Aug 2012, at Kembangan Community Club)

My friends,

I had been working on what I should share with all of you. Earlier this afternoon, I decided that I won’t be talking about any major policy issues tonight, important as they may be. Rather, let me share a few stories that means a lot to me with regards to what I hope to do on the ground.

I picked up my daughter from a CC this afternoon. She came into the car and told me that she was concerned about a certain old lady. This was not the first time she had encountered this lady. The lady would usually ask to borrow her HP, call a number, often without getting through. She would then ask if she could have some money as she did not have enough to eat. My daughter thought I should do something.

Both of us went back to find the old lady. She was Madam Lee. I spoke to her in my hopeless Hokkien. The only Hokkien I know well is Army Hokkien, but that would not be appropriate! Fortunately she also spoke a smattering of Mandarin.

She stayed nearby and we walked her home. She lived in a 4 room flat with her 2 sons. Two of her other children were married and stayed on their own. She claimed that she received some money but not really enough. I took a look at her kitchen, fridge. It was simple but they had ample food. While waiting for her to scribble down her name and IC number, her son, in his 50s perhaps, walked out. I wanted to say hello but she gestured to me to be quiet and said that he sometimes beat her. He didn’t seem too friendly.

I spoke to her neighbour. It appears that she may have dementia and was forgetful. The neighbours did not really notice anything amiss. I asked if there might have been abuse. She asked if scolding constituted abuse? She also shared that the old lady had thrown down another neighbour’s flower pots.

I have informed her MP and he is following up. A member of the public, Gary messaged me. His wife Felicia is with the Thye Hua Kwan Moral Charities and they have a project to help dementia patients. She wanted to extend help. I thanked him and asked if I could acknowledge them in this speech. He replied, “Sir, Felicia is a Singapore PR. She is from Indonesia, I am not sure if this will bring about any inconveniences to you considering current political climate (anti-foreigner)? I am fine if this is ok with you.” Sigh. This is more than okay with me! Thanks guys!

Some of you may be aware, that one of our young residents passed away recently. The little boy had a tumour and had not been well for awhile. But as we all know, we are sometimes unsure and may think that it is just a headache or some other ailment. By the time I saw him, it was a little late. We rushed him to hospital and he had a 9-hour operation, and a few more, thereafter. But he passed away as his cancer was too advanced. In fact he had been growing blind because of the tumour.

This is something I feel quite strongly about. This incident reinforces in my mind the question; could we have picked it up earlier? Many of you come to me for help when things are quite desperate. Many of you have a lot of self respect as you want to stand on your own two feet. I admire your resilience. Some of you are not aware or may have misperceptions of what is possible.

I would like to go upstream and do more to better understand the needs of those who need help and assistance. To do that, I am working with my grassroots and hope that our residents would also step forward and help. Your information would be useful. We sometimes pass by this uncle or that aunty who seem to have problems. But we do not speak to them.

I ask all of us to be that much more kaypoh and chat with them. I have learnt much from many of my conversations. Some need help and we can follow up. Others are actually quite ok and I have had interesting conversations with them. I have been inspired by some of their stories. I have also been offered jobs by aunties at kopitiams because I keep asking about their pay, CPF, OT, medical! I wanted to make sure that they were properly covered. During one of my MPS cases, through a simple chat about one of my aunty’s employment situation, I realise that she and her colleagues were probably getting a raw deal. I have asked my colleagues at MOM to follow up and investigations are underway.

There are some who sleep at our void decks. Some are homeless. I know you do not like it but they do not have a home to go to. They mean no harm. Some have really very sad stories but they do not want to go to homes. Some are managing with odd jobs and want that freedom. Some aren’t homeless.  They work in the markets and have to be there really early when the deliveries arrive. I spoke to one uncle, whom I met twice actually, who lives in Tampines but needs to be at the market really early. So, he sleeps at the void deck so that he can be in time. But I know that my residents are uncomfortable when a number of them do that. I need to figure out a solution to this. I understand why they sleep there but I also know why our residents are uncomfortable.

The thing is, let us reach out to those around us. Let us know when you feel there may be problems and my colleagues and I will follow up. There is a lot we can do on the ground. I thank my volunteers who put in their time to help distribute lunch every day, and to distribute bread and pastries every Monday during my MPS. I thank Willing Hearts and Food from the Heart for the food. I thank the volunteers who deliver food to those who are not mobile. Because we know who they are, we are able to do this. But there may be more who needs this?

Thanks to our various friends, we are able complement the Public Assistance schemes. I want to thank Jin Kok Peng for the NTUC vouchers, Mr Poh Seng Kah and his friends for our rice, Milo and biscuits. Frankie, Pang Pok, Andelyn for jobs. Andelyn is a resident whom I helped…can’t even remember what it was about! But she stepped forward and offered to help us in our MPS and as she runs a small business, she helped with some local employment or temp work. Frankie and Mr Hong Yin Kwee donated tables for our needy residents. And Tan Wang Cheow for his ardent support as well.

There are also our VWOs, many of whom are supported extensively by MCYS, our mosques, churches, temples and so on. We are not short of ground support. What we need to do is coordinate all these helping hands with a collective brain. Information and our local distribution network via grassroots and volunteers are key.

I will talk more about our programmes on another occasion.

Why do I spend time to talk about this?

Because this is what Loving Singapore, Our Home means. Love those around us by reaching out to our neighbours and friends. Things are different when we begin to know each other. We also become more tolerant. Suddenly the dripping laundry from above seems more tolerable when you know the friend upstairs! Keep our family ties strong. We will do what we can in schools but let me say this plainly, all of us have a responsibility to do our part to bring up our children well and to also respect and love our elders. Don’t blame school, don’t blame society. Take responsibility and do something.

On my part, as your MP, and as a member of our Government, we will step up and strengthen our social safety nets. We will make sure that we provide opportunities especially education for all our children to have the best shot possible in life. We will be looking at some of our concerns and addressing it fundamentally. And we hope to bring on board Singaporeans to be involved in the process. I believe there are meaningful possibilities.

But we can do our part on the ground to complement this. I believe it is not just about catching people when they fall. I believe that we can catch them before they do.

When we step forward and give of ourselves to society, we also begin to bond as a nation. Singaporeans are a good people. We are kind, compassionate and generous. There are those who like to paint a negative picture and drag us all down. I say that I rather we step forward and do something and to build a society that we can be proud of.

Let us all come together and reach out. Let us all build an enduring home for all of us, and for all our children and their children thereafter.

Let us all Love Singapore, Our Home.

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