ST pocket money fund helps her on path to SAF scholarship

Miss Abigail Sim with her mother, Ms Eillron Goh, and brother Churston on board the SuperStar Gemini when the fund beneficiaries were taken on a tour of the ship on Friday.
Miss Abigail Sim with her mother, Ms Eillron Goh, and brother Churston on board the SuperStar Gemini when the fund beneficiaries were taken on a tour of the ship on Friday.ST PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI

Miss Abigail Sim, 19, is a Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) scholarship holder who will study medicine next year. Just four years ago, she was juggling her studies, track and field and basketball training, and door-to- door sales to make ends meet.

Her father had lost his job earlier and the family of five could not survive on her mother's $1,500 salary as an administrative clerk.

"I started selling toothbrushes door to door. On good days, I made maybe $30 to $40; on bad days, not even $10," she said.

Becoming a beneficiary of the The Straits Times School Pocket Money Fund (SPMF) when she was in Secondary 4 was a relief. "I could stop working, so that helped me concentrate on my studies a lot more and I could get much needed sleep."

Miss Sim is one of 133,290 needy students who have been aided by the fund in its 15 years.

A study done by the National University of Singapore's Department of Social Work in 2009 and 2010 found that fund beneficiaries are likely to do better in school, be more active in co-curricular activities and be less self-conscious about not having money.

Last year, the fund disbursed a record $7 million to 13,911 students - more than seven times the $900,000 handed out in 2001 to 3,735 students in its first year.

This year, it could give out $7.9 million to 14,100 needy students, said its chairman at the time, Mr Han Fook Kwang, in October.

The fund gives pocket money to students whose families earn not more than $560 in per capita gross monthly household income. Each month, primary school pupils receive $60, secondary school students get $95 and those in junior colleges, polytechnics and the Institute of Technical Education get $120.

The fund works with the National Council of Social Service.

The fund had its beginnings in 2000, when then ST journalist Braema Mathi mooted the idea after being moved by four children she had interviewed who overcame poor backgrounds to make good.

She and her colleagues saw the big difference a small sum of regular money made to such children.

The idea turned into a firm proposal for a charity to the management of Singapore Press Holdings, which gave its full backing.

The fund was launched officially on Oct 1, Children's Day, in 2000.

Ms Mathi, now the president of human rights organisation Maruah, said: "The best part about it all is that it's helping students to get on with their studies with, hopefully, one less worry."

In August, the fund became the first charity to allow consumers and businesses to donate via Fast And Secure Transfers, a banking service for instant fund transfers.

In October, ST editor Warren Fernandez took over from Mr Han as the fund's chairman.

Mr Han said: "I have been involved since the beginning, and it is time to hand over to a younger person. We also have to do leadership renewal."

Mr Fernandez said: "I remember Braema first pitching the idea for the fund to me way back in 2000. The idea was to help make sure kids went to school with some money in their pockets so they did not go hungry, could focus on their studies, and did not feel excluded.

"That was our aim from day one, and remains so today. It's amazing how far the fund has come and we are grateful to all our partners and sponsors who have helped the fund grow and enable us to do our part to help these children in need."

Beneficiaries of SPMF spend an afternoon on a cruise ship http://str.sg/Zz7T

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 13, 2015, with the headline 'ST pocket money fund helps her on path to SAF scholarship'. Print Edition | Subscribe