National Day supplement

Celebrating Singapore's community spirit: A friend in need is a friend indeed

Madam Veerama at her corridor in Marine Terrace.
Madam Veerama at her corridor in Marine Terrace.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM
Madam Veerama at the WeCare@Marine Parade Community Enabling Network in Marine Terrace.
Madam Veerama at the WeCare@Marine Parade Community Enabling Network in Marine Terrace.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

The Straits Times will run a National Day supplement on Aug 9 profiling Singaporeans who display various shared values of the Singapore Spirit. Here is a sneak peek of one segment focusing on individuals who embody the community spirit.

SINGAPORE - Housewife Veerama Talaniyandi Sivalinga, 66, has deep roots in the community in Marine Terrace, which has been her home for close to four decades.

A familiar figure in the neighbourhood, she organises block parties, Deepavali events as well as flea markets, which let residents generate extra income by selling used items.

And as an executive member of the Marine Terrace Breeze Residents Committee, she visits residents, listens to their woes and refers anyone who needs more help to WeCare@MarineParade, a community network that supports vulnerable residents.

She also asks neighbours if they need anything when she goes to the market, and sometimes tops up their Pay As You Use pre-paid power metering accounts for them. The residents, a close-knit bunch, meet for breakfast every Friday.

But many of her deeds as a neighbour have gone on behind closed doors, taking place even before she joined the RC about five years ago.

Six years ago, her next-door neighbour, who was diabetic and partially blind, had to be hospitalised, leaving no one to care for her sickly adult son, who was being fed through a tube at home.

Madam Veerama stepped in: preparing milk for the man; cleaning his feeding tubes and changing his diapers, and rearranging her schedule according to his needs.


Another memory that spurs her on is her final encounter, seven years ago, with an elderly man who lived alone and relied on her to fetch him lunch and dinner.

One day, he did not respond when she called on him. Sensing something was amiss, she looked through the window and saw him lying on the kitchen floor. She called his niece for help, but unfortunately he died later. Madam Veerama, an HDB Good Neighbour Award recipient in 2015, said: "He was a really nice, humble person. I was very, very, sad."

On her desire to help seniors in her community, she said: "They are helpless and cannot go out to get things. Some of their relatives just leave them alone. They eagerly want someone to get something for them, but don't know where to go or who to ask for help."

But behind her drive to help the vulnerable and less privileged is a story of struggle and hardship.

About 25 years ago, after divorcing her abusive and controlling husband, she became a single parent raising two young sons. She received little help from her family members aside from her mother.

For a while, she had a part-time job at a tailor shop and restaurant, while her mother, despite having a tumour in her kidney, cared for her sons, the elder of whom has Down syndrome. It was the most challenging period of her life, she said.

After her mother died, Madam Veerama stopped working as she had to care for her sons. During this period, the Singapore Indian Development Association provided pocket money and stationery for her children, and the Community Development Council gave her a monthly allowance.

Still, it was a struggle making ends meet. "During that time when I needed help, there wasn't much help. Because of that, I really wanted to help the needy people here. I know the feeling... you feel that there is no help, (you wonder), is this a life for me? I don't want that to happen to others."

Her sons are now aged 28 and 26. The older one lives with her, and the younger has just finished his polytechnic studies. Madam Veerama, who still receives financial aid from a church, said: "I can't afford to help others (much) financially. But at least I use my energy to help them, and I feel happy doing that."