Foster mum among 247 volunteers hailed

Madam Mary Chan hugging a Winnie the Pooh soft toy that belonged to her foster child, who passed away at age 13 in April as a result of complications from a stomach surgery. Seen with her is husband Jack Tan, 68.
Madam Mary Chan hugging a Winnie the Pooh soft toy that belonged to her foster child, who passed away at age 13 in April as a result of complications from a stomach surgery. Seen with her is husband Jack Tan, 68.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

She gets award for passion and dedication in taking care of boy with host of medical issues

It is not easy to foster a child, not to mention a baby who cannot see, walk or speak at all.

But former part-time babysitter Mary Chan and her husband had a love strong enough to take on this gargantuan responsibility.

The foster child, affectionately known as "Ah Boy" to the family, had a host of medical problems.

Besides being unable to see, walk or speak, he had to breathe through a tube inserted into his throat and be fed a liquid diet through a tube in his stomach. He also had fits.

But instead of leaving him to languish in bed all day, Madam Chan took on the challenge of trying to communicate with him by asking him questions every day. "After 10 years, he finally started responding by smiling or lifting his left hand should he need food or the toilet," said the 63-year-old housewife, who has two daughters and two grandchildren.

Madam Chan, who became a foster mother as she loves children, cared for Ah Boy until he died in April as a result of complications from a stomach surgery. He was 13.

For her passion and dedication, she was honoured with the Outstanding Volunteer Award by the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) yesterday.

She was one of 247 volunteers to be honoured. Ten received the Outstanding Volunteer Award and the rest received the Long Service and Friends of MSF awards.

Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin, who presented the awards at The Regent Singapore, said: "Many of us talk about social issues deeply and passionately. But somehow, we hesitate when asked to step forward."

He added: "The volunteers we are honouring all started by taking that first step. Perhaps it was just to talk to someone, assist someone in need or reach out and just try to be human. They chose to care and to love others beyond themselves."

Madam Thiravingadam Sembugavalie, 76, a foster mother, received the Long Service award for 40 years of volunteer work. The housewife has fostered 42 children over the past four decades.

"I was born a Chinese but adopted by a neighbouring Indian family myself, so I wanted to share my love with all these children," said Madam Sembugavalie in Tamil.

Madam Chan may have fostered only one child, but her love was no less intense. When she took Ah Boy under her wing, finances in the family were tight. Her husband was a hotel bellman and she was a housewife. But that did not stop her from hiring a maid for Ah Boy so that he could receive round-the-clock care.

Though she is a Buddhist, she did not give up any hope of healing for Ah Boy and went to a church for nine weeks to pray for him.

She remembers the little things that made him happy, such as keeping the radio on all day as he loved to listen to English pop songs, and taking him out for children parties.

When asked if she would continue to volunteer as a foster mother, she said tearfully that she needed time to accept his death. "I may, but not now. I will wait till my heart is okay and not painful any more."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 17, 2015, with the headline 'Foster mum among 247 volunteers hailed'. Print Edition | Subscribe