‘Everyone’s problems are my problem’

‘Everyone’s problems are my problem’

To residents and shopkeepers nearby, he is known as the "Mayor of Lorong 4 Toa Payoh".

For two years, Mr Paul Thanabal, 60, has acted as the area's unofficial grassroots leader, hearing around 15 cases of elderly folk who have problems.

These range from family disputes, housing issues, financial woes and medical concerns.

"They come to me because they do not understand how to navigate the different (government) agencies. They don't know what to do when they have a problem.

"I act as their translator for government services," says the stern-faced retiree.

Even though he is not wealthy and lives in a two-room rental flat, he has allowed three elderly folk to stay with him until their affairs are settled.

In March, he housed a 68-year-old ex-convict in his home for two weeks.

In that period, Mr Thanabal guided him through the process of applying for a rental flat. The man moved out after he got one.

Last year, Mr Thanabal also allowed a homeless man who was abandoned by his children to stay with him for six weeks until he found another place.

He shares the flat with his daughter, 26, and his young grandson.

Says Mr Thanabal: "My daughter doesn't complain about these people I allow into the house. They are harmless. They just want their problems to be solved.

"When you let them come into your home, bathe them, feed them and clothe them, they are just regular people like you and I."

He has a variety of ways to get them back on their feet, including finding them jobs, helping them apply for financial assistance or seeking medical help.

For more complicated issues, especially those concerning housing, he would take the person to see the MP and explain the case on their behalf.

"I hear people say, 'Wah, this man nothing better to do'," he says.

"I don't care what they think. Everyone's problems are my problem."

People seek Mr Thanabal for help because they heard about him through word-of-mouth, he says.

"So far, I have helped every single one of them. Never failed."

One shopkeeper tells TNPS: "Oh, I know him, he helps people. He holds his RC (residents' committee) meeting at the coffee shop at Block 95 Lorong 4 Toa Payoh."

A Toa Payoh resident of more than 15 years, Mr Thanabal explains his motivation: "What if one day no one wants to help me? The people I've helped are all blessings to me. I'll get good karma.

"They thank me for the help in the end. I don't get or ask for anything else."

This article was first published on Nov 09, 2014.
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