Putting the heart in the heartland

HOME: Single parent Mohd Fami, 38, (back, in red) with three of his five children in a neighbour's flat. He moved into an Interim Rental Housing flat in Bedok South in February.

He lost his job after his contract as a part-time delivery driver ended months ago, and has not found another job since.

His five children, aged between five to 13, are looking to him for food and pocket money.

Said Mr Mohd Fami, 38: "My income now is zero. I have savings but it won't last long."

His wife left him so he is the only parent bringing up his children, he claimed.

Mr Mohd Fami owned a four-room HDB flat in Pasir Ris previously, but sold it last year as he could no longer afford paying the bills for it.

After paying off the housing loan, he claimed he had little money for another flat. So in February this year, he moved his family into a three-room interim rental housing (IRH) at Block 46, Bedok South Avenue 3.

He said: "It's tough being a single parent with so many kids. Money is always an issue.

Money issues

"Back when I still had work, there were many times I had to leave my kids alone in the rental flat. It wasn't a good feeling." He pays about $100 per month for rent.

There are other families like Mr Mohd Fami's housed in blocks 46 and 50 in Bedok South.

Minister of State for National Development, Dr Maliki Osman, who is also Member of Parliament for East Coast GRC, said in an e-mail reply: "We came to realise that some families in these two blocks felt overwhelmed by their circumstances.

"They required social welfare assistance beyond having shelter - in particular, families with young children faced multi-faceted challenges, ranging from unemployment to lack of proper childcare arrangements."

So, in 2011, Dr Maliki and the South East Community Development Council (CDC) started Project 4650 (named after the two blocks) to provide support for these families.

It targets families with children under 18 years old and earning less than $1,700 per household, said South East CDC general manager Kia Siang Wei. Said Mr Kia: "They are the most vulnerable group of families."

Project 4650 involves a collaborative effort from multiple government agencies and volunteers from the community.

Various programmes like school tuition and parenting workshops are offered free of charge at the nearby Siglap Community Centre, run by welfare organisations like Mendaki and the Singapore Children's Society.

Skills training workshops are also available to parents like Mr Mohd Fami to improve their employability. Social workers from Pave, an agency dealing with family violence, also try to help these families.

Success

Of the 230 families the IRH project has seen since 2011, about 130 have successfully moved out of the IRH, some to Build-to-Order flats.

Said Mr Kia: "Housing is only one issue. We want to develop the parents' skills, we want to improve the children's education and upbringing, instead of letting them loiter in the void decks every day."

For one nine-year-old boy, Project 4650 is a godsend.

He still remembers the days when he used to live at East Coast beach three years ago with his mother in tents.

"If it rained, the roof would leak and all my things would be wet," said the boy, who had not started schooling then.

Social workers encountered his case and took him to live with his aunt in Block 46.

He lives apart from his mother and is a Primary 3 pupil at Ngee Ann Primary School now.

He also attends the Homework Cafe, run by retired teachers and volunteers from the community as part of Project 4650.

Said Mr Mohd Fami, whose children also go to the Homework Cafe after school: "It keeps them out of trouble. I feel safe that they're there."


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