Children of ex-offenders get book and shoe vouchers for new school year

President Halimah Yacob meets past and current residents of the Hindu Endowments Board-Ashram Halfway House on Sunday (Nov 19).
President Halimah Yacob meets past and current residents of the Hindu Endowments Board-Ashram Halfway House on Sunday (Nov 19). ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

SINGAPORE -  Cleaner Mohanarajah Mariappan earns about $1,400 a month, with a big part of his salary going towards supporting his two school-going  children, aged seven and nine.

The 57-year-old single father spends up to $30 a  day on their pocket money, and each year, he forks out a few hundred dollars extra to buy them new school supplies such as textbooks, uniforms and shoes.

"It can be a bit hard for me financially. Most of my salary goes towards food for my family. But sometimes, I'd like to be able to buy my children new things, like clothes," said Mr Mohanarajah, who works for the Woodlands Town Council.

And on Sunday (Nov 19) morning, he received some help as his two children went on stage to receive $150 in vouchers for books and school shoes from President Halimah Yacob at the Hindu Endowments Board-Ashram Halfway House.

It was Madam Halimah's first visit to HEB-Ashram, set up in 1999 to help Indian substance abusers.

The halfway house started its Back-to-School initiative in 2015 to help past and current residents financially as their children prepare for the new school year.

There were 45 recipients this year, up from 35 last year and 30 in 2015.

This year's beneficiaries included 12 living near HEB-Ashram's premises in Sembawang. It marked the first time the halfway house has reached out to those in its estate, and not just its own residents.

Madam Halimah, in her welcome speech, underscored the importance of halfway houses in providing a framework for the rehabilitation and re-integration of former drug offenders.

She said such support gives them a chance to acquire vocational skills and be counselled before they go back to the community and their family.

In 2013, Mr Mohanarajah spent a year at the halfway house at the end of his two-year jail sentence for heroin abuse. He had been in and out of jail 16 times before.

While at the halfway house, he attended language, religious and yoga and meditation classes.

And with a social worker's help, he was also able to meet his children at weekends.

He said: "HEB-Ashram has helped me turn my life around. Now, everything I do is to support my children. I am doing my best and they are my motivation."

During her visit, Madam Halimah also toured the halfway house's Eco Garden, where she was invited to harvest fruits and vegetables, such as passionfruit and kang kong. She also planted a chiku fruit tree.