Fostering love and safety

As he scooped some chicken curry onto his foster sister Aliah's plate, Jeff said: "Don't just have the potatoes. Here's some ayam (chicken in Malay) for you."

"My foster parents have shown me what love is, and so, I'm able to love my foster siblings, too," said Jeff.

His foster parents - Madam Norli Fargi, 51, and her husband, Mr Jafri Mohd Yusoff, 51 - have two daughters, Nur Hidayah, 11; and Nur Khairunnisa, 18.

Besides Jeff, 14, and Aliah, 10, they also care for Jeff's biological siblings Sarah, 15, and Jason, 12. All the foster children are Malay/Muslim, but their names have been changed as their identities are protected by law.

Love transcends blood ties in this family. Nur Hidayah has a stronger bond with her foster brothers than her own sister because she spends more time with them.

And Madam Norli took Jason and Aliah under her wing, even though they have special needs.

The former shipping clerk said: "I read about the fostering scheme in the newspaper in 2003 and I wanted to give those abandoned children my love, care and a home."

Foster families such as Madam Norli's provide shelter, stability and love to children who have been abandoned, neglected or ill-treated, or when their birth parents cannot look after them due to physical or mental illness, incarceration or other social issues.

The fostering scheme by the Ministry of Social and Family Development has 278 foster parents and 339 children on its register now.

The ministry matches the race and religion of the child to those of the foster family as closely as possible.

Over the past 11 years, Madam Norli and her security officer husband have fostered eight children, including the current four. Some stay for weeks, others for years.

Though it has not been easy to part with the children when they return to their families, Madam Norli said she continues to take in foster children because she has seen the benefits of a home environment.

Jeff, for example, came to her with a stammer 11 years ago because of self-esteem issues.

Madam Norli encouraged him to confide in her and to play big brother to the rest and build up his confidence, such as by fetching Aliah from her school.

Today, his stammer is gone.

Sarah used to hoard sweets and chocolates, refusing to share them with others. Over the years, she learnt to open up to others and share.

Jason recalled: "She and the rest took out toys and snacks to make me feel welcome on the first day."

The children, who all sleep in the same room, said there is no jealousy between them because they know their parents are fair.

"If there's a quarrel, all of them get scolded," said Madam Norli with a laugh.

Nur Hidayah also stands up for her foster siblings. She said: "When my friends ask why they look different from me, I always say they are like my real siblings."

Madam Norli's first foster child, who was adopted by another family 11 years ago, still visits the family every Hari Raya.

Sarah said: "We may also have to leave some day, but I try not to think about it. My life is complete now."

This article was first published on Mar 1, 2015.
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