In a recent trip to Copenhagen, Denmark, I was reminded of the story of The Little Match Girl. As the story goes, a poor little girl was selling matches in the streets on a very cold winter’s evening. She dreaded to go home to her father, who would beat her up for the unsold matches. So she sat in an alley and started lighting her matches to keep herself warm. The girl began to see visions of Christmas trees, festive meals, and her grandmother just as she lit her last match. The next morning, passers-by found her dead, and felt pity for her, although they had not shown kindness to her before her death.
I wonder about the difference it would have made for the girl, had a passer-by stopped to buy her matches, or invited her for a warm meal.
That ‘little match girl’ is still found in our communities today – the unkempt child who is not going to school because her mother has recently passed away, and her schizophrenic father is unable to cope with parental duties; the teenager who is disconnected from school because he is trying to come to terms with his father’s imprisonment; the 80-year-old lady who lost her husband and three sons within the space of three years to crime, accidents, and illness, and has to contend with grief on her own.
When we hear these true stories of people who may live in our midst, do we just pass them by? Or will we stop to attempt to change their trajectory of life that would otherwise lead to hopelessness and despair?
Consider the ‘A-B-C’ steps we can take to show our care for the vulnerable in society:
- Advocacy, lending your voice to the vulnerable
- Befriending a lonely elderly person
- Charitable giving to a cause
Advocacy does not only mean writing letters to the press, signing petitions, or engaging policy-makers over pertinent issues. It can mean simply doing what you can in your sphere of influence to raise awareness of another’s plight, like putting in a word of recommendation to secure work for a jobless father. That connection may become a life-changing event for him.
Secondly, Singapore is a rapidly ageing society. In the space of 15 years, the number of elderly persons aged 65 years and above who are living by themselves has tripled, from 14, 500 in 2010 to 42,100 in 2015. A local study showed that loneliness is associated with a higher mortality risk among the elderly.
Sign up to volunteer regularly with a charity organisation to befriend an elderly person. The nationwide Community Befriending Programme* is a good place to start. It may be the start of a mutually-rewarding relationship.
Lastly, charitable giving has a crucial role in getting aid to those who need it most. Even children can play their part, like Gus, a nine-year-old boy who heard about Hair for Hope, an event that raises funds for the Children’s Cancer Society. On 19 Sep 2015, Gus shaved off his locks to raise funds to help children with cancer – the date being significant as his grandmother had died of cancer on that day in 1998. He would go on to raise $3,500 to help others.
Have a heart; find a cause; give cheerfully. It really makes a difference.
As we begin a busy Christmas season with programmes to plan, gifts to buy, and feasts to prepare, may we stop to include a thought, a prayer, and an action for the vulnerable in our communities, that may well become a spark of hope for them in their journey through life.
Dr Cheah Fung Fong –
is the Executive Director of Filos Community Services, a Voluntary Welfare Organisation in Singapore that seeks to empower and build resilience in children, youth, families, and elderly in the community. She is a certified Family Life Educator, regularly conducts parenting workshops for community and corporate organisations, and currently serves as the National Facilitator for the 4-14 Window Movement in Singapore. She was formerly the Chairperson of the Trinity Annual Conference Board of Children’s Ministry.
Picture by lightkeeper/Bigstock.com