COVID-19 SPECIAL

Families doing good in a crisis

Ms Tracy Tan with her husband Mr Lim Hao and daughter Mira. The couple, who run a handyman company, started an initiative to sew and distribute hundreds of child-size masks to needy families.
Ms Tracy Tan with her husband Mr Lim Hao and daughter Mira. The couple, who run a handyman company, started an initiative to sew and distribute hundreds of child-size masks to needy families. PHOTO: TRACY TAN

The pandemic has brought out the best in some families, who are helping those in need

Mira Lim starts pre-school tomorrow, but her parents could not find reusable masks that fit the three-year-old well.

Her mother, Ms Tracy Tan, 32, found that those sold online were pricey.

An active community volunteer who has visited low-income families, she also wondered how needy parents would be able to afford multiple masks for their children, as younger kids tend to go through more than one a day.

Children aged two and above must wear masks or face shields in public.

Ms Tan and her husband, Mr Lim Hao, 35, decided they had to do something.

"My husband was saying: Is there any way we can help in this whole situation? We were like, maybe we can just make toddler masks," says Ms Tan, who has another daughter, aged one.

That sparked the idea for Howdy Gives, an initiative to sew and distribute hundreds of child-size masks to those in need. It is named after Howdyman, the handyman business the couple run.

While the pandemic has left parents scrambling to juggle working from home with childcare duties and home-based learning, it has also galvanised some families to reach out to the wider community.

Some have raised funds, while others have formed groups to match families needing help with those looking to render it.

A few have inspired hope with books about the silver lining in the pandemic. Such acts of kindness and grace demonstrate family values in action, experts say.

Ms Tan and Mr Lim started a Facebook group on May 25 for their project, with an initial target to make and distribute 500 kids' masks.

Within 10 days, they had gotten more than 600 requests, including appeals from charities and individuals. Howdy Gives has distributed about 200 masks so far.

The group has 15 volunteers and counting, with the majority sewing masks from materials on which the couple spent about $500 of their own money.

Parents who can afford the masks can also buy them for $2 each. The proceeds help to offset the cost of fabric.

The project has made the economic fallout hit home for Ms Tan.

"I do have a lot of requests from people who tell me they have lost their jobs," she says.

"We also learnt that there's a lot of warmth in society. A lot of people have been trying to help. They've been texting us: 'If I cannot sew, is there any other way I can help?'"

Similarly, other families started giving back when they saw how the pandemic had impacted their own family members.

When masks were in short supply early this year, Madam Ng Cheng Choon, 68, worried about healthcare workers such as her son, Dr Lee Bingwei, 33, a dentist who works in Australia.

Madam Ng and her husband, Mr Steven Lee, 66, who own textile manufacturing business Rengitex, decided to heed the Government's call to develop local capabilities in mask manufacturing.

Their desire to help resulted in 1929 Mask, an offshoot company helmed by their younger son, Mr Keenon Lee, 32, who owns a renovation business. Daughter Yijing, 36, a music therapist, also helps.

Mr Keenon Lee with his parents, Madam Ng Cheng Choon and Mr Steven Lee. Their family’s company, 1929 Mask, makes reusable masks which are also donated to migrant workers and the vulnerable elderly.
Mr Keenon Lee with his parents, Madam Ng Cheng Choon and Mr Steven Lee. Their family’s company, 1929 Mask, makes reusable masks which are also donated to migrant workers and the vulnerable elderly. PHOTO: KEENON LEE

Their "water-repellent and anti-microbial" masks have been a hit, with shipments going to as far away as the United States and Europe.

For every two masks sold online, the family donates one to the Migrant Workers' Centre or to vulnerable elderly through Lions Clubs of Singapore.

They have given out some 4,000 masks so far and donated water-repellent fabric for hijabs to a hospital in Malaysia, where their factory is based.

Positive comments from customers keep them going.

"We've been getting feedback from parents that their kids wear our masks longer, because it's easier to breathe in them," says Mr Keenon Lee. The project has also brought his family closer as they rally to the cause.

He recounts a memorable incident during the early months, where the adults got carried away at dinner discussing masks and forgot to feed his nine-month-old daughter Sophia, until their helper alerted them.

"It has been a lot more interesting now that everybody's home. We interact more - and with Sophia in the mix, and the grandmother-grandchild interaction, there are many funny moments," he adds.

Such family-driven initiatives build a giving legacy for the future.

Mrs Joanna Koh-Hoe, chief executive of Focus on the Family Singapore, says this "turns the crisis into an opportunity for families to show kindness and grace to those outside the family".

"When they do it together, this enables parents to demonstrate to their children the family values they wish them to emulate and, as a result, the family comes out stronger and more resilient."


Birthday with extra meaning

Ms Juwel Nyla Ang and her husband, Mr Suffian Noor, with their daughters (from left) Alesha, Azalia and Amelia. To mark Amelia’s second birthday in April, Ms Ang raised almost $30,000 for low-income families.
Ms Juwel Nyla Ang and her husband, Mr Suffian Noor, with their daughters (from left) Alesha, Azalia and Amelia. To mark Amelia’s second birthday in April, Ms Ang raised almost $30,000 for low-income families. PHOTO: JUWEL NYLA ANG

When her daughter's birthday fell in April during the circuit breaker, Ms Juwel Nyla Ang did not just celebrate with a pretty cake.

Instead, she spearheaded a fund-raising effort which raised almost $30,000, which she hopes two-year-old Amelia will be proud of in the future.

"We thought it was apt to give her the 'gift of giving' and set up an initiative in her name to contribute to the community," says Ms Ang, 28, who owns No Skin Attached, a seven-year-old clothing store.

She called for volunteer administrators, who helped her approach public figures on Instagram for publicity and coordinate with suppliers for groceries and care kit items.

Amelia's Rainbow Fund launched on April 9 with an initial target of $8,000 for 50 care kits, which consisted of groceries, supermarket vouchers, essential items and activities for kids.

These were given to needy families living in Bukit Merah and Henderson who receive help from the charity Beyond Social Services. Within three days, it had raised more than $12,900.

Ms Ang then upped the target to $25,000 for 150 kits. By the 10th day, the fund had raised $29,415.

"I honestly didn't expect such an overwhelming response," says Ms Ang, who has two other daughters aged eight months and three years.

"Ultimately, I wanted to help as many families as possible and not utilise any charity platforms, as I want to give 100 per cent of the contributions to these families."

She and her husband Suffian Noor, 32, who is self-employed, packed the items.

A handful of volunteers helped to distribute the kits while practising social distancing.

"My fondest memory is probably when I handed the care kit over to a family with three girls, just like my daughters.

"When I walked past their home again, all of them were gathered around the care kit and saying 'wah' while taking out the items. I really felt glad to be able to provide them with some comfort in such times."

Ms Grace Toh, lead community worker in food support for Beyond Social Services' Covid-19 response team, says: "The families really appreciate that a lot of love and thoughtfulness went into sourcing the items that were requested. As such, the gift packs were different from the usual food ration packs.

"The volunteers had the kids in mind and included items like Nutella, colouring and activity books, and indeed, these items were greeted with cheers from the younger ones.

"When they received more funds, they increased the number of packs and amount of vouchers, which are very useful during this difficult time."

Ms Ang, who had previously organised a cat welfare volunteer trip to St John's Island and other donation drives, hopes to involve her daughters in her giving efforts when they are older.

"As a parent, I believe that the idea of giving and recognising there is a wider world around us starts from young.

"It doesn't take much to say 'hi' or smile at our neighbours, the construction workers and so on. All these little things are impactful for a growing child."


Once upon a pandemic

Singaporeans Nuha Zahra Mohamad Adil (left) and RaeAnne Tse (right) worked with their respective families to create their own children’s books.
Singaporeans Nuha Zahra Mohamad Adil (left) and RaeAnne Tse (right) worked with their respective families to create their own children’s books. PHOTOS: NUR DIANAH SUHAIMI, LYNN WONG

Seeing the Covid-19 crisis through their children's eyes inspired two families to spin uplifting tales.

When the circuit breaker period extension was announced in April, Mr Eugene Tse let out a sigh - to which his daughter RaeAnne quipped: "What's so bad about staying at home? I think I quite like it."

The nine-year-old's positive attitude motivated Mr Tse and his wife, Ms Lynn Wong, both 43, to find joy in family activities, and they embarked on a children's picture book project.

Ms Wong, an associate lecturer at the Singapore University of Social Sciences, wrote the text for the e-book, which teaches children to see the positive side of the pandemic. Mr Tse and RaeAnne did the illustrations.

Launched on May 26, the e-book I Wonder is available to download for free at iwonderpicturebook.wordpress.com.

Readers are encouraged to donate to The Courage Fund by the Community Chest, says Mr Tse, who is a director of corporate finance at Ernst & Young.

According to a Facebook post by Manpower Minister Josephine Teo, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong highlighted the e-book to the Cabinet. Mr Tse says a pre-school also shared it as part of its home-based learning.

RaeAnne says she had "a lot of fun drawing the illustrations".

Her mother adds: "I learnt that our children can achieve far more than we can imagine. We just need to believe in them."

Meanwhile, in Abu Dhabi, under lockdown since March, nine-year-old Singaporean Nuha Zahra Mohamad Adil was fascinated by the articles her mother had shared on animals coming out to play while humans stayed home during lockdowns around the world.

"Nuha wanted to write a story about this and to help her stay focused, I offered to be her scribe," says her mother, Ms Nur Dianah Suhaimi, 38, a former journalist with The Straits Times. Her family relocated eight years ago to the United Arab Emirates because of her husband's job as a strategy consultant.

The first draft of The Cure took mother and daughter just one day to create.

Excited by its potential, Ms Dianah pitched it to Singapore-based independent publisher Helang Books. Local illustrator Jafri Janif waived his fee for his work on the book, as proceeds will go to charities helping migrant workers.

The Cure costs $12 and can be ordered from wardahbooks.com.

"We now have more than 250 paid orders for the book," says Ms Dianah, whose younger child is five.

"I guess for many people, it was a way to show support to a child who has big dreams. And I know many bought the book as a form of giving to charity. They know proceeds will go to migrant worker charities and they like that."

Nuha, an avid writer who loves animals and nature, says she will never forget the moment she found out she was going to be published.

She has this message for buyers of her book: "Thank you for reading my story. Let us all do our part to help the animals and the environment."


From mums to mums, with love

Ms Cassandra Tan and her husband Mr Jonathan Pham with their baby. They received essential items such as diapers through local Facebook group SG Mummies United, which connects mums in need to mothers who have items to donate.
Ms Cassandra Tan and her husband Mr Jonathan Pham with their baby. They received essential items such as diapers through local Facebook group SG Mummies United, which connects mums in need to mothers who have items to donate. PHOTO: CASSANDRA TAN

Retrenched as a sales trainer in December last year, Ms Cassandra Tan found it difficult to find another job because she was pregnant.

She became a private hire driver to make ends meet, but was forced to stop in March when her pregnancy became high-risk because of a blood clotting condition.

In April, she found out about SG Mummies United, a Facebook group where mothers can "bless" other mums in need with items they wish to donate.

She received a secondhand bassinet, diapers, confinement bathing herbs, breast pads, milk bottles, milk bags and baby clothes from mums who had posted items they no longer needed.

"It's great to have a group that allows needy mums to ask for things they really need and have other mums help them if they can," says Ms Tan, 37, who gave birth last month.

She has three other children aged 13, five and two. Her husband works as a private hire driver.

"During this difficult period, many mums are jobless and unable to find work. Some are unable to find things in the shops as they are closed (such as baby clothes, suitable breast pumps, slings) or are unable to afford new things. We can pass around what we don't need anymore to mums who still have use for it."

In return, she paid it forward by delivering donated items - contactless, of course - to a few mothers who were unable to collect them.

SG Mummies United is a "community-driven blessings group" started by Ms Gidania Wong, 35, and Ms Dolores Au, 45.

Both mums, who run mothers' e-zine Mommyfique, rallied friends and their network to help.

"The aim is to serve as a stopgap measure to assist needy mums during this period. Yes, our Government is giving out grants and there's also assistance from charities, but such efforts do take time and while waiting for assistance, this group of mums would still have to take care of their kids and could use all the help they need."

Since its inception on April 9, the closed group has grown to more than 1,900 members. Its administrative volunteers conduct checks on mums who want to join the group and monitor transactions closely to prevent abuse.

The most commonly requested items are diapers, formula milk and breast pumps, while the most commonly donated items are children's clothing, says Ms Wong, who has two children aged two and five.

Administrative volunteer Sara-Ann Shuen Krishnamoorthy, 40, reckons she has donated about eight cartons of diapers and about 12 boxes of formula milk.

"When you're a mum, knowing another child might be going without is heartbreaking," says the presenter-emcee and consultant, who has a two-year-old and a new baby due in September.

The outpouring of blessings from their community has created a virtuous cycle.

"We had several mums offering to purchase groceries for others and some offered to buy other struggling mums a nice meal for their families, too," Ms Wong says.

"Some needy mums have also, in turn, re-blessed the items they do not need to others. We have mums on welfare sharing their NTUC formula milk vouchers with others too."

She says the group will continue as long as it can make a positive difference. "Examples like these warm the heart as we are seeing mums helping one another, regardless of our background and situation. This spirit is exactly what the world needs right now in the face of this life-altering pandemic."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 07, 2020, with the headline 'Families doing good in a crisis'. Print Edition | Subscribe