Teochew Foundation commits $2m to Yellow Ribbon initiative to fund prison inmates' tertiary education

Bursary recipient Jack (not his real name) wants to start a hawker business and reconnect with his children. PHOTO: SINGAPORE PRISON SERVICE

SINGAPORE -  Inmates looking to upgrade themselves can tap a $2 million fund from the Singapore Teochew Foundation for their tertiary education and subsequent post-release living allowances.

Under a memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed on Friday (April 1) by foundation chairman James Teo Wee Wee and Yellow Ribbon Fund (YRF) vice-chairman Keith Tan, $200,000 will be pledged annually from 2022 to 2031 for the YRF's Skills Training Assistance to Restart (Star) Bursary.

Jack (not his real name) is one of the bursary's recipient.

He had his first run-in with the law in 1993, when he was just 20 and was handed a two-year prison sentence for drug-related offences.

Due to a lack of support upon his release, Jack, now 49, slipped back in with the wrong company and got stuck in a cycle of crime and drugs, which saw him clocking time in prison over the next 23 years.

Then in 2016, following another brush with the law, Jack was sentenced to 11 years and six months' jail. The divorced father of two finally resolved to make a change for good and decided to hit the books.

For Jack, Prison School was a turning point.

"Initially, I did not have the intention to study. I was just thinking about how to survive the long sentence," he said.

In 2018, with the encouragement of prison staff and officers, Jack started on a diploma course in international supply chain management from Ngee Ann Polytechnic and graduated with a grade point average of 3.76.

He is now doing a part-time degree course in marketing offered by the Singapore University of Social Sciences.

At the MOU's signing ceremony at the Lifelong Learning Institute on Friday, Minister of State for Home Affairs and National Development Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim, who was the guest of honour, said education remains an important driver for successful rehabilitation.

It provides inmates and former offenders a better chance of securing better economic and social opportunities, and deter them from reoffending, he added.

The bursary is expected to benefit 100 inmates, including those outside the Teochew community, who are keen to pursue degree programmes while in prison.

Minister of State for Home Affairs Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim speaking at the signing ceremony on April 1, 2022. PHOTO: SINGAPORE PRISON SERVICE

The Teochew Foundation's Mr Teo said: "Through this ground-up initiative, we hope to empower our beneficiaries to rebuild their lives and to create a better future for themselves and their families."

Since the Star Bursary was launched in 2010, YRF has collaborated with various community partners to expand its coverage to support more inmates and former offenders who want a tertiary education.

Some $2.5 million has been disbursed to 230 beneficiaries since its inception.

To date, 111 beneficiaries have graduated from their studies, while 54 others are completing their courses.

Beneficiaries are also expected to volunteer in the community, participating in events organised by YRF to develop a sense of responsibility and give back to society.

For Jack, he wants to start a hawker business selling chicken rice, as well as reconnect with his children and be a positive role model for them.

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