Girl, 4, asks for food from neighbours

Girl, 4, asks for food from neighbours
Lisa with her mother (right) and aunt (left).

Lisa is like most girls her age.

The four-year-old is curious, shy and has an infectious smile.

She is also often hungry. She is small but at 13kg, still within the acceptable range.

Lisa's mother suffers from schizophrenia and her father is in jail.

The little girl's other housemate in the sparsely furnished one-room rental flat is her mother's sister. She, too, has schizophrenia, according to medical documents shown to The New Paper on Sunday.

They are her guardians and provide for her - the best that they can. They receive aid, get help from volunteers and have neighbours who watch over Lisa.

But is it enough for Lisa?

We are not using real names to protect her identity.

TNPS was alerted to Lisa's story by a volunteer who helps the family. On Wednesday, we visited her at her home in the north.

Clad in an oversized blue pre-school uniform, Lisa goes from neighbour to neighbour, hoping they will give her some food.

Sometimes she gets bread and sweets. When neighbours and social workers realised what she was doing, they alerted the authorities.

Lisa's mother, Carene, tells TNPS she has little money to buy Lisa anything.

"You see, she is so skinny," says the 35-year-old in Mandarin.

Carene and her sister Jasmine don't have money because they can't work, they say. And they can't work because of their medical condition.

Jasmine, 39, says: "If we need money for emergencies, I go to the streets to beg.

"We are sisters and we look after each other."

But they do receive financial aid.

Carene says she gets around $700 in financial assistance. The money is managed by her "godfather" and Jasmine's husband, Mr Wong Choo Kum, 68, who lives separately from them.

Mr Wong also receives around $800 in financial assistance. He tells TNPS that they have no savings as the aid money is spent on food, rent, insurance premiums and petrol for his sinseh business.

They also spend $500 each month on cigarettes, meant mostly for Jasmine as she smokes three packs a day.

NOTHING LEFT

"I still have to pay a $1,000 fine that both of them incurred when they threw cigarette butts from their flat. There is nothing left after that," complains Mr Wong.

When confronted about her smoking habits, Jasmine simply says: "I'm quitting, I'm quitting."

Both women are clueless about their finances as Mr Wong manages everything. Jasmine says: "We need more because Lisa needs to eat."

Lisa is a normal child, says Carene. But she had a difficult start.

"Lisa was born in the toilet," says Carene, who had no clue she was pregnant when Lisa was born in 2010.

Jasmine says: "She had no idea. One night, she kept going to the toilet and then came out saying that there was a baby in the toilet bowl."

"I called for an ambulance," repeats Carene.

She is not sure but she thinks the man she divorced, who is in prison for drug abuse, may be Lisa's father.

"Of course I am worried for Lisa's health and her future. Every day is a struggle for us," says Jasmine.

Jasmine claims that several years ago, Carene threatened to throw her baby daughter out of the window when her schizophrenia caused her to "see ghosts".

She did not carry out the threat and calmed down only after her sister took Lisa away to their parents' home. The women say their mother also suffers from the same mental condition.

The sisters say they are now on medication, given to them for free by the Institute of Mental Health.

Lisa's usual meals are a brew of Milo, milk powder and tap water, says Carene.

They do not have a stove but they have a rice cooker, donated by a stranger. The women use it to cook porridge if they have ingredients such as rice and eggs.

And they say they try to keep the flat clean. After they moved in last July, the flat was infested with bedbugs that came with the mattresses from their old flat. Its white walls were dotted with thousands of blood spots from squashed bedbugs.

Two weeks ago, volunteers from various social welfare organisations helped to repaint the home, clean up the flat and gave the family furniture and food supplies.

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