TEN DOLLARS EACH was all that three sisters had for their pocket money every month. The siblings, students at Geylang Methodist School (Secondary) or GMS (S), would usually buy 30-cent biscuits to snack on at school before dinner at home.
“It was really tough,” said the eldest sister in an interview. The Secondary Four student, who aspires to be a lawyer or businesswoman, said the family often had to share a portion of food among them.
The two younger sisters, in Secondary One and Three, were quiet throughout the interview, seemingly uncomfortable with speaking about their family’s financial situation.
But now the siblings can have proper meals in school with financial assistance from the school, on top of subsidies from the Ministry of Education (MOE).
This year, Methodist Welfare Services provided $16,000 to the school, to contribute to their Food Vouchers Programme for needy students.
GMS (S) needy students far below MOE baseline
Students from families in need can apply for MOE’s Financial Assistance Scheme, which covers school fees, textbooks and uniforms. But it is insufficient for some of the students.
The average per capita income for the GMS (S) students who applied for financial assistance from MOE is far below MOE’s baseline, said Mr Kelvin Tay, the school’s Head of Department for Student Welfare.
The average per capita income is the main criterion for determining whether the student qualifies for financial assistance. Even with some of the schooling expenses covered by MOE’s Financial Assistance Scheme, these students do not have enough for their day-to-day expenses. For them, GMS (S) provides food vouchers, transport concessions and bursaries.
Under the Food Vouchers Programme, needy students get $3 worth of food vouchers to be used in the school canteen every day. These food vouchers can only be used in the school canteen, for both recess and lunch.
The amount is sufficient for their daily needs, said the three sisters. Each meal costs about $1.50 in the school canteen.
Diﬃcult family backgrounds
While the per capita income is used as the main criterion to qualify for further financial assistance, students who come from difficult family backgrounds are given special consideration.
These include students with aged parents, parents who have difficulty working, and students from single-parent families. About a third of the GMS (S) students who applied for MOE’s Financial Assistance Scheme come from single-parent families.
These family backgrounds make the family’s financial situations more volatile.
The three sisters’ father is the family’s sole breadwinner. But he would often change jobs and leave home. During those times, their homemaker mother would have to borrow money from their relatives.
To soften the impact of her husband’s frequent change in jobs, she had to find a job and is now working as a part-time cleaner.
Education is the school’s way of helping them to break out of the poverty cycle, said Mr Tay. “This is so that our students will have a secure future and be able to provide for their families.”
Students aﬀected by ‘adult’ problems
Mr Tay noted that the financial situation at home affects the students even when they are in school. They are worried about what is going on at home, and this prevents them from focusing on studying.
And these young students are not just concerned about themselves. Even with the financial assistance scheme at hand, they think about quitting school so they can work and contribute to the family, said Mr Tay.
“It’s a very real thing to them,” he said. “So even when they’re in school, their minds are on these needs, and not on studying.”
But for now, the three sisters need not worry about their meals during the day.
Mrs Jenny Bong, MWS Group Executive Director, said: “We are glad to be able to partner with GMS (S) in meeting the needs of children from low-income families.” She commended the school for making a great effort in knowing its students and reaching out to them in practical ways.
Chuang Bing Han is the Web Editor of Methodist Welfare Services.
Symposium: Ministering to children and youth
TRINITY ANNUAL CONFERENCE (TRAC) Board of Children’s Ministry, in conjunction with TRAC Youth Ministries (Truthmin), is organising a symposium titled “Rethink, Reload” for parents, children’s ministry and youth ministry leaders.
It will be held on Aug 18 at the newly-instituted Holland Village Methodist Church from 10 am to 6 pm. Experts will share on effectively reaching out to children between the ages of four and 14, and being strategic in ministering to children and youth.
For registration and enquiries, please contact Ms Rosalind Tay at 6769-5415 or email firstname.lastname@example.org, or sign up directly at http://truthmin.com/ The closing date of registration is Aug 8 and registration will only be confirmed upon payment of the $20 conference fee. For payment, please make the cheque out to “The Methodist Church in Singapore” and mail it to TRAC Youth Ministries, 496 Upper Bukit Timah Road, #04-22 John Wesley Centre, Singapore 678099.