SINGAPORE – Madam Kalimuthu Sartha never considered any of her 12 foster children as anything other than her own, deserving of a loving and stable home life before they were reunited with their own biological families.
A foster parent for 45 years, stopping only a few years ago, the 83-year-old great-grandmother who was married to a clerk working for the Port of Singapore Authority, welcomed each one into her family, caring for them alongside her own two sons and two daughters.
One of her foster children, a laundry worker who has special needs, still lives with her at the age of 24, despite having aged out of foster care at 18.
Her own son, 64-year-old Ramasamy Chellvan Balasubramaniam, was so inspired by her life of service that he became a foster parent himself.
For her contributions, Madam Sartha, one of Singapore’s longest-serving foster parents, received the Outstanding Lifetime Volunteer Award, the top honour at the annual Volunteer and Partner Awards ceremony which recognises volunteers who have contributed to social causes for at least 30 years.
Altogether, 360 individuals and organisations received awards at the ceremony at Suntec Singapore Convention and Exhibition Centre on Friday.
In his speech, Minister for Social and Family Development Masagos Zulkifli announced 2023 as the Year of Celebrating Social Service Partners, both institutional and through individuals such as Madam Sartha.
He said: “It is a recognition that our partners are an important component of our social compact and crucial to supporting the further progress of our women, developing strong families and uplifting those who need help.
“It is a recognition that the Government cannot achieve these on their own. No government can.”
Mr Masagos noted the existence of social support such as MediShield Life and CareShield Life to give Singaporeans more assurance over life’s uncertainties, as well as safety nets like ComCare to help lower-income families with basic needs.
But businesses and institutes of higher learning also play a vital role in partnering social service agencies to address social issues, for instance in employing people with disabilities, mentoring young people from low income backgrounds, and training social service practitioners.
“As we enter a future of more complex challenges, individual and family efforts alone may not be enough to sustain social mobility,” he said.
“Social service agencies, social enterprises, corporates, academia, community groups, volunteers and the Government must join hands to give families an extra lift.”
The year 2022 was dedicated to celebrating Singapore families, while 2021 was the year of celebrating women in Singapore.
Among the 46 individuals and organisations who received the Community Cares Award, which recognises those who make a social impact, was Casa Raudha, which provides shelter and support for victims of domestic violence.
Madam Zaharah Ariff, executive director of the 15-year-old shelter, said it has helped more than 1,500 women and children who were victims of domestic violence to gain safety and stability.
Casa Raudha, which means “home of tranquility”, started another step-down shelter using Housing Board flats, in mid-2021 to help women clients whose cases are low-risk to re-adjust to living in the community.
There, mothers have a more suitable environment to care for their children, especially those with teenage boys, who are not allowed in the women’s shelter.
Social workers and care staff visit the women in the flat, phone them and engage them in group activities.
Other recipients of the Community Cares Award include corporates such as SP Group and Surbana Jurong.