Virtual family day gives ex-offenders, kin a chance to bond

Incarcerated for drug-related offences, Madam Salimah Sukar could not spend time with her four children when they were growing up.

Upon her release in 2015 after almost five years in prison, she made it a point to get closer to her two sons and two daughters, now aged 13 to 21.

Madam Salimah said the Covid-19 pandemic was a "blessing in disguise", as the family were able to spend a lot of time at home together. They had joined as many family-related programmes as possible before the pandemic, but she said it was hard for them to set aside time to spend together, as her children had their own activities.

Her family was one of the 100 that joined a virtual family day last Saturday that was meant to promote family bonding and provide support for families of reformed offenders during the pandemic.

Madam Salimah, who lives with her husband and children, said: "When they wanted me around, I wasn't around... So I want to take this opportunity to build bonds with my children and society."

The virtual family day was organised by the Iscos ReGen Fund (IRF), the charity arm of the Industrial and Services Co-operative Society (Iscos) for reformed offenders and their families.

The event was held under IRF's Fairy Godparent Programme, aimed at empowering children and families through various academic and social initiatives.

Addressing participants, Minister of State for Social and Family Development Sun Xueling said the role of the family is important, especially with the changes brought about by the pandemic. "Some of us have found the year sad, challenging, stressful, and we've all had to deal with work from home and home-based learning but, at the same time, these challenges have presented new opportunities for all of us."

Despite the worries and frustrations over the new norms that some feel, "we can treasure one another even more and stay united with our loved ones", Ms Sun added.

As part of the 2½-hour event, the families took part in activities such as quizzes and a talent show, where they submitted video clips of performances to compete for prizes like gift cards and vouchers.

One winner was final-year polytechnic student Crystal Tan, 20, who submitted a painting she had done. She said: "I was surprised when I won because there were many great participants. This is definitely something that my family know I can excel in and they are proud of me when they see my work."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 29, 2021, with the headline Virtual family day gives ex-offenders, kin a chance to bond. Subscribe