‘No choice but to be super woman'

SINGAPORE - In a small three-room f lat, she lives with nine of her children - three sons and six daughters aged between three and 17.

The 35-year-old also has two other daughters, but gave one to each of her sisters when they were just toddlers because she was not able to take care of them.

Madam Rafeah Abdul Kadir's youngest daughter, three, suffers from a number of ailments including a lung condition, epilepsy and cerebral palsy.

And just last year, her husband, the sole breadwinner of the family who brought home $800 monthly, left her for another woman. They were married for 17 years.

Yet, Madam Rafeah said quietly but firmly: "Don't pity me. I have made it this far and I will continue to survive."

But she wasn't always this strong.

In fact, when she caught her husband red-handed cheating on her with his colleague last November, she was devastated.

"I even begged him to come back. I couldn't imagine life without him," she told The New Paper.

"But he didn't. He did not even visit us to see the kids," she added, softly.

"I was upset for the first few months, but I had my kids to think of and I couldn't let them down," said Madam Rafeah as she played with her youngest daughter, Nurqistina.

It is clear that she has since got past the heartbreak and betrayal.

She spoke about her husband, who worked as a cleaner, matter-of-factly.

Today marks her first Hari Raya as a single mother.

The family plans to visit her parents and her inlaws.

She will cook rendang (a traditional Malay beef dish) after the visits and they will have dinner as a family at home.

She is adamant that her husband's absence will not hamper the festivities.

Breaking out into a shy smile, she recalled how they have survived this year.

Her typical day would begin at about 7am with Madam Rafeah cleaning the house.

She then gets her children ready for school. Then, she does the marketing and cooks for the family.

Madam Rafeah proceeds to do the laundry after that.

Not being able to afford tuition, she helps the younger children with their homework.

She laughed as she said: "I'm simply a teacher and these are my childcare students."

And she does all this with young Nurqistina at her hips.

She said: "I have no choice but to act like a super woman. It's what any mother would do for her children."

With a grin, she added: "Sometimes, even I don't know how I can do all this."

Challenges

Of course, there have been challenges, says Madam Rafeah, who cannot work as she has to care for her daughter full-time.

"Sometimes it is a struggle for me because she goes in and out of the hospital and I have to rely on my older children to take care of household matters," she said with a sigh.

Nurqistina's bills are subsidised fully by KK Women's and Children's Hospital.

Madam Rafeah added: "January was a tough time for me because I was still coping with my husband's leaving and I also had to get my kids ready for school.

"I didn't have enough money to buy school supplies like books and bags."

She had to cut back on some expenses to afford these supplies.

Madam Rafeah receives $800 from the North East Community Development Centre, $980 from the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) and another $300 from the Lee Foundation.

Her eldest son, 17, who is studying at the Institute of Technical Education, sometimes helps out by taking on part-time jobs.

Despite having nine mouths to feed, she insists that the money she receives is sufficient and is grateful for the support.

"I'm so glad to be receiving all this help," she said. Her plight is known to some in the Malay community.

Last Sunday, Fatimah Mohsin Wedding Gallery treated Madam Rafeah and her family to a makeover and a photo shoot.

"Everyone was so happy - and so I felt happy as well," she said.

This year, her family's clothes were provided by First Lady & Second Chance.

During the interview at her house in Hougang yesterday, a father and daughter pair came to Madam Rafeah's flat to hand over some groceries and cash.

Mr Zul Abdul Karim, 40, a taxi driver, said: "My wife read about her story on Facebook and we decided to come here to give alms."

So far, four families have donated basic necessities and cash in the past week to Madam Rafeah, who said she does not rely on these donations nor does she expect them.

"While I'm grateful, I can also survive on my own," she said.

But one kind of support she hangs on to is moral support.

Her parents and her in-laws, who live on the second storey, constantly check in on her to see if she is okay.

But it is nine of her close childhood friends that she relies on most.

"Every time I feel myself getting overwhelmed and start to break down, I just let my friends know through our group chat on Whatsapp," she said, with a smile.

They call themselves "My fair ladies" and they are ready to provide words of strength whenever she is struggling.

"That is all I need to go on," she said.

She added: "Of course, this year, Hari Raya is different because I have to take care of everything from cleaning the house to going to the market.

"But at least, I'm happy. And so are my children.

"It will still be a good Hari Raya."


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