Family sees light at the end of dark tunnel

Madam Angelia Tan (in blue) and her eldest child in their new two-room flat in Punggol. Before the 24-year-old daughter began working last year, the family survived largely on the $1,000 per month that Madam Tan earned as a factory worker.
Madam Angelia Tan (in blue) and her eldest child in their new two-room flat in Punggol. Before the 24-year-old daughter began working last year, the family survived largely on the $1,000 per month that Madam Tan earned as a factory worker.ST PHOTO: RADHA BASU

Getting the keys to a new flat is no guarantee that you can move in.

Madam Angelia Tan's two-room flat in Punggol was ready in late 2012. It came with no fixtures such as kitchen cabinets and she did not have the $3,000 needed for renovations before she could move in.

The mother of four had been living at the Siglap IRH with her family ever since they sold their four-room flat in Jurong because of mounting mortgage arrears.

Her husband, who had a longtime alcohol problem, refused to pay the monthly mortgage, she says. He preferred to spend his money on beer and 4-D bets.

Before her eldest child began working last year, the family survived on the $1,000 that Madam Tan, 48, earned as a packer in a logistics company.

Her husband, 53, was a security guard before becoming a cleaner, but kept his earnings to himself. "He would give us around $10 a day," says Madam Tan.

They were referred to Pave in 2012, when they fell behind on the rent for their IRH flat. The agency helped them draw up instalment plans and sourced for rental vouchers.

When Pave learnt about the family's predicament with their new flat, its social workers approached the South East Community Development Council which contacted a community group called Caring Angels, which paid for the renovation.

"It's important for social work agencies to be resourceful, to have their own networks to tap in times of need," says Pave social worker Nazeema Bassir Marican, who worked with the family.

Life in the new flat did not have the most auspicious start. Shortly after they moved in, Madam Tan's husband fell from a ladder while at work, suffered a brain injury and has been in a nursing home since.

Pave is now helping Madam Tan navigate the unfamiliar territory of managing his care needs and the family's financial affairs.

The children, however, are doing well. The eldest, 24, is a polytechnic diploma holder. She works at a childcare centre and is also studying for a certificate in early childhood education.

The older son, 21, has been accepted to study chemical engineering at Nanyang Technological University. The two other children - aged 22 and 17 - are polytechnic students with bursaries.

Sitting in the living room of their new flat, the Singapore flag draped outside their window, Madam Tan lets on that life is easier these days.

When the children were young, she made ends meet by working a variety of part-time jobs - from being an ironing lady to a helper at her daughter's school canteen - to make around $400 per month. She started working full time only after moving to Siglap.

Her eldest child recalls having to share three packets of rice among the five of them.

"And when the electricity was cut off because we could not pay, we would study by candlelight."

People have asked Madam Tan why she did not send her kids out to work earlier to make ends meet. She says: "They worked during holidays, but only through education can they get a good life."

Her children call her a "model mother".

The flat may be small, but she is not complaining. "It will be perfect for me in my old age," she says.

Radha Basu

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 30, 2015, with the headline 'Family sees light at the end of dark tunnel'. Print Edition | Subscribe