‘No one has helped us so much before,’ says sole caregiver of ailing husband and son with autism
Madam Annie Chang may have been a complete stranger, but that did not stop Ms Chew Shin Yee from being moved by her plight and wanting to help her on a regular basis.
Since August, Ms Chew, a client services director, has been part of a group of six people who form a “Giving Circle” to help Madam Chang’s family with cash and more. The group gives her $800 a month and has pledged to continue doing so for about 1½ years.
Madam Chang, 65, stopped working as a waitress about five years ago to look after her family members. She is the sole caregiver of her ailing 72-year-old husband, who requires round-the-clock care, and her 30-year-old son, who is intellectually disabled and autistic. Her 89-year-old mother also lives with her.
Five “Giving Circles” have been formed as at September to help families in need, as part of a pilot project led by the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre (NVPC). The pilot started in August.
NVPC director of community leadership and partnerships Lenard Pattiselanno said the aim is to empower individuals to come together in a group to contribute their time, money and other resources to help a family in need. For the pilot, these Circles have to commit to support the families for at least six months.
Members of the circle decide on what, how and when they want to contribute to the needy family, he added. For the pilot, the families are identified by two charities, Minds and Shine Children and Youth Services.
He said: “The main intention of the Giving Circle initiative is to build a relationship between the circle and the family, to encourage a deeper and more sustained engagement, and therefore create a more meaningful impact.”
A circle would usually consist of four to six members, who could be friends, colleagues or even individuals who are looking for like-minded people to volunteer with, like in Ms Chew’s case. She got to know about the Giving Circle initiative through a friend.
Mr Pattiselanno says this pilot project is supported by the Future-Ready Society Impact Fund and Knowledge Partnership. It is a partnership between the Lee Kuan Yew Centre for Innovative Cities, the Institute of Policy Studies and Tote Board.
Ms Chew said she contributes about $100 a month to Madam Chang’s family, and members of her circle are free to decide how much they each want to give. They could also ask people they know to donate to help the family.
She has visited Madam Chang’s family three times in two months, and played boardgames with her son while teaching him some English phrases.
Ms Chew said: “I grew up without a silver spoon… I’m very fortunate to get to where I’m today, so I want to volunteer. I also have some time to spare, and I want to make good use of it.
“Madam Chang also wants others to spend time with her son, so she has a breather.”
He was unable to stand for long periods of time after the accident. He also suffers from a host of illnesses, such as heart and lung problems and blockage of lymph vessels.
Since 2022, he has also needed help with daily living activities, such as going to the toilet, as he became too frail to walk without assistance.
Speaking in Mandarin, Madam Chang said: “I have to now do everything for my husband. But I’m also elderly, and I’m very tired.
“I feel so stressed looking after my husband and my son. I take care of them, but who will take care of me?”
To get by, the couple depend on their Central Provident Fund savings. Madam Chang’s husband also peddles tissue paper on the streets, bringing home about $400 in earnings each month.
The family also receives $600 a month in financial aid from the Government, and $150 a month from a charity, among the help they get.
Besides the regular donations, they have also given the family items such as a hospital bed for her husband and kept her son company on weekends.
She added: “They see what is lacking and what help I need, and they find ways to help.
“They are so concerned about us, no one has helped us so much before. I don’t feel so alone.”