Welfare

In the shoes of the disadvantaged

Jan 2011    

Adapted from the “poverty simulation” kit developed by the Missouri Association for Community Action, the “Walk-A-Mile” (WAM) Experiential Journey is a programme conceptualised by the Community Services of Central Singapore Community Development Council to increase public awareness about issues related to poverty. e participants are asked to walk in the shoes of the poor during the workshop to develop greater empathy for those in poverty. It is a unique tool to educate and empower everyone, from policy makers to local community leaders, about the day-to-day realities of life with a shortage of money and an abundance of stress.

Mel Lee, the Senior Executive (Service Planning & Development) of the Methodist Welfare Services, gamely walked in the shoes of the needy recently and she shares her unique experience with us.

“MY TWIN SISTER AND I, together with our older brother, make daily decisions like all adults: care for the family, work, save money, pay utility bills promptly, and buy groceries.

A typical day at home sees us huddling together for our family meeting. To count how much – or how little – is left of this month’s budget. To decide who among us will queue outside a church to get food vouchers. To deliberate on which utility bill to pay partially to keep our supply going. To convince ourselves that our three-year-old brother does not need milk to grow up healthy.

My sister and I are 13, and our brother is 21. e three of us must keep the family afloat while our father is in jail.”

The story above is true but it is not my own. My role was to put myself in the shoes of a young girl, Sally, who had to shoulder adult responsibilities at a young age. Her situation was one of several scenarios we had to role play at “Walk-a-Mile in the Footsteps of the Needy’” a simulation exercise organised in October by Central Singapore CDC. Methodist Welfare Services’ staff had to experience how poverty exacerbates the daily challenges families usually face. While the props were far from real – my “little brother” was a doll and the people manning the various agency booths were our colleagues – I found myself absorbed in the situation of the teenage girl.

“I could not wait for school to be over so I could pick up my brother from the childcare centre and queue up to pay our bills, only to find out that they had made a mistake. And when a neighbour had his child taken away by the government, I started to hover over my little brother like a mother hen. My elder brother had to get a job as we were starving. He turned up each week at the CDC only to be told that no part-time job was available. He came home frustrated and we were anxious.

Meanwhile, several of our neighbours had been served eviction notices by the HDB for failing to pay rent. We could only heave a sigh of relief that we still had a roof over our heads. But how long could $120 and several vouchers last? We had pawned what few pieces of jewellery and appliances we had.”

As a mother myself, my heart went out to the girls, their brothers and their father. What anguish the father must have felt, leaving his children to fend for themselves. I recalled our recent holiday when my husband and I left our three kids in the care of our helper, my father-in-law and my husband’s siblings. e children were taken care of and sometimes had lunch and dinner at my in-laws’ place. Unfortunately, Sally and her siblings did not have such support from their extended family.

Before we left for our two-week trip, we stocked our refrigerator and cupboards with our children’s favourite food. We left extra cash with our helper in case of an emergency. In Sally’s case, an emergency situation would have wiped out whatever little they had.

Shouldered with caregiving and housekeeping responsibilities, I assumed children like Sally are unable to enjoy luxuries like waking up at 10 am on weekends with breakfast ready for them. They would have to dress up their little brother, tidy the house and get groceries – responsibilities my children have yet to undertake.

A Walk-A- Mile workshop will be held on Jan 15, 2011 for members of the TRAC Board of Social Concerns. For more information on the programme please contact Mr Martin Chok at MWS Daybreak Family Service Centre, Tel : 6756-4995, or email MartinChok@daybreak.mws.com.sg

MWS gets Philanthropy Management Award

THE METHODIST WELFARE SERVICES has been the awarded the “Non-profit Organisation of the Year” award (Philanthropy Management) 2010 by the National Volunteerism and Philanthropy Centre (NVPC).

In its citation, the NVPC said: “The Methodist Welfare Services – a charity whose excellence in donor management and fundraising has enabled it to provide quality social services through its 13 centres and outreach services… Recognising the importance of philanthropy, the MWS has put in place requisite people, policy and processes.”

The award is an acknowledgement of the combined eff ort and contribution of the total MWS family, including the entire Methodist community: our supporters, volunteers, donors and the Methodist churches.

The award also assures all our donors and supporters that the MWS takes utmost care and responsibility in managing the funds donated. Through good governance and sound procedures, the MWS makes sure that the funds generously donated benefit the needy in the most accountable way.

We thank God for this blessing.

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