Getting by on grants and part-time work

Getting by on grants and part-time work
Single mother Nebisha Begum, 40, and her two sons Suriya Ganesh, 12 (right), and Aravin Daniel Raj, 14, in their one-room rental flat in Chai Chee. Due to acute osteoarthritis, she can work only one or two days a week.

Nebisha Begam's one-room rental flat in Chai Chee is devoid of furniture save for a broken table and dresser, a ragged ironing board and two stained plastic chairs.

"We threw away our mattresses," she said sheepishly. "There were too many bedbugs."

Till early last year, the 40-year-old single mother was managing on her own with a full-time job as a security guard. The $1,600 she earned monthly was enough to support her two sons, Aravin Daniel Raj, 14, and Suriya Ganesh, 12.

With her Central Provident Fund savings and a grant from the Government, she had even bought a two-room Housing Board flat, which will be ready next year.

However, severe leg pains - diagnosed as acute osteoarthritis - caused her to miss days of work and she had to quit her job early this year. In March, after knee surgery, she was given medical leave for a year.

The community development council (CDC) gave her $750 per month in assistance and paid her rental and utilities bill for six months.

Last month, however, the CDC reduced the cash grant to $350, since she was well enough to work part-time. The Singapore Indian Association helps with another $165. She cannot depend on relatives. Her former husband is in jail and her three siblings have their own families.

To supplement her income, she takes on work as a relief security guard at $60 for a 12-hour shift, despite being on long-term medical leave. But her leg problem has flared up again and she can work only one or two days a week.

"I don't have a choice as my bank account is nearly empty," she said when The Sunday Times dropped in unannounced at her flat earlier this month.

She had cooked a watery curry with a couple of pieces of chicken for dinner. There were no vegetables. And the battered old fridge was empty except for a packet of frozen chicken. Her bank book had $1.02 in it.

"I will get $60 soon because I worked last night," she said. "So I can buy more food."

Her sons, both cheerful, articulate and well behaved, get free schooling, uniforms and pocket money.

But they long for possessions that other kids take for granted.

When she was working full-time, she bought her older son a second-hand Samsung touchscreen phone for $100. It was a gift because he had passed his Primary School Leaving Examination.

Now, younger son Suriya is hankering for his own phone. "No one in class has a button-phone any more," he said.

His mother fretted and said: "What can I do? Where do I get another phone? If my legs hurt too much, I don't even know whether we will have enough to eat."

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