Giving back to society

SINGAPORE - Nur Elliszuwani Mohamad Ali, a The Straits Times School Pocket Money Fund beneficiary, wants to pay back by becoming a nurse

Ms Suriati Alias, an assistant manager at a convenience store, had always wanted her eldest child, Nur Elliszuwani Mohamad Ali, to take up nursing.

This month, the 16-year-old started on a nursing course at ITE College East, a division of the Institute of Technical Education.

Ms Suriati, a 37-year-old mother of five, says: "I wanted her to be a nurse because that was what I wanted to be. I couldn't concentrate on my studies because around the age of 14, I started working part-time at McDonald's to help my family. My mum and dad worked as cleaners and I was the oldest of four children.

"I want Elliszuwani to do something useful. Society is helping us out and I want her to help society."

Elliszuwani and two of her younger siblings, Mohamad Irfan Ariffin, 14, and Ellisza Nur Ain, 10, are beneficiaries of The Straits Times School Pocket Money Fund, which is into its 15th year.

The family also receives welfare assistance from other organisations.

Ms Suriati's husband, Mr Mohamad Ali Idris, 40, has a paralysed left arm after a hit-and-run accident in 1994 and suffers from other ailments including lung disease, high blood pressure and asthma. He works occasional stints as a relief security guard.

The fund started in 2000 as a community project initiated by The Straits Times to provide pocket money to children from low-income families to help them through school.

Now a full-fledged charity, the fund has helped more than 130,000 children and youth over the years. It expects to disburse close to $8 million to support about 14,000 children and youth this year.

Elliszuwani, who completed her N-level examinations last year, joined St John Ambulance Brigade as a co-curricular activity at Tampines Secondary School. She says: "I wanted to take up nursing because I enjoyed my CCA. It's because of my father as well. He's sick and I want to learn as much as I can to help him."

How has your father and husband's illness affected your family?

Elliszuwani: I feel quite sad, but we are prepared. My father has had several fainting spells over the years. If he collapses again, we know what to do and we can help him. In Primary 4 or 5, I couldn't really study for my exams because my father fell sick and I had to look after my four siblings.

Ms Suriati: When I'm not around, she is the second mother. Besides taking care of the children, she also cooks and cleans the house. She has been doing this since she was in Primary 6.

My husband's illness has motivated us to reach our goals. We want to strive for something much better for our future because life is difficult for us now.

I want to upgrade and take courses, for example, in retail, so I can have a stable pay.

What is your parenting style like?

Ms Suriati: I value family togetherness and I like to communicate with my children via WhatsApp and SMS. I like to say 'I love you' to them and I also like to cook dinner for them.

They will cook instant noodles before I come home later in the night. We'll move the coffee table aside and eat together on the floor. It's our way of bonding.

Elliszuwani: We are very tight-knit. A simple meal with just sardine, egg and rice, or fried rice and ikan bilis, can make all of us happy.

Ms Suriati: My husband also helps me a lot. When he's around, I feel safe. My husband is very thoughtful.

He sometimes prepares and delivers home-cooked food to my workplace, including fried eggs, chicken nuggets and rice.

What was Elliszuwani like as a child?

Ms Suriati: She's very obedient and disciplined. She really helps me a lot. She has been doing housework since she was 10.

We would do chores together, including grocery shopping, cooking and cleaning the floor. I'd sit with her and we'd fold clothes together. She was also very talkative.

Elliszuwani: When I was younger, I just went to school and returned home. I had to come home early because my father was strict and didn't want me to loiter outside.

On weekends, we would go fishing or catch crabs in Changi Beach, East Coast Park or longkangs (Malay for drains), as well as my father's old kampung area in Tanah Merah.

What are your views on caning?

Ms Suriati: From the time she was in kindergarten to Primary 2, I caned her fingers with a ruler because her handwriting was not good. I didn't cane because of academic results because I knew she had done her best. Once, she studied from morning to night, but cried because she couldn't remember a word.

My husband caned my oldest boy, Irfan, 14, for things such as coming home late after playing football. He used the rotan (cane). He didn't usually cane the girls because they were more obedient.

Elliszuwani: When I got caned, I would learn my lesson and would be scared to do the wrong thing again.

Once when I was in Primary 3, Irfan wanted my sharpener and he poked my hand with a colour pencil. My father caned us both because I wouldn't share my sharpener with him and because Irfan over-reacted.

If the parent-child roles were reversed, what would you do differently?

Elliszuwani: I would be more strict. My mum's not that strict.

Ms Suriati: I wouldn't change anything. I would study hard to achieve my goals.

This article was first published on January 18, 2015.
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