Retired cleaner steps up to help rental flat neighbours in need amid coronavirus outbreak

Mr Zulkifli Atnawi, 60, helps to get groceries for several Mei Ling Street neighbours, checking in on them and going door to door with a clipboard to compile a list of items they need. PHOTO: COURTESY OF ZULFEQAR ZULKIFLI
Mr Zulkifli Atnawi, 60, helps to get groceries for several Mei Ling Street neighbours, checking in on them and going door to door with a clipboard to compile a list of items they need. PHOTO: COURTESY OF ZULFEQAR ZULKIFLI

Heroes come in all forms and shapes, and a retired cleaner fits the bill for some Mei Ling Street residents.

With the little that he has, topped up with small donations from friends, Mr Zulkifli Atnawi, 60, helps with the grocery run for several neighbours amid the enhanced circuit breaker measures, which kicked in on Tuesday.

That is not all. Sticking strictly to safe distancing measures, he visits residents in Block 156, where he lives, and Block 155.

He does this to reassure and update them with the latest in the fight to stem coronavirus infections.

"We cannot hang out and talk, so we talk through the windows instead," said Mr Zulkifli, who in 2010 lost his job as a technician and then became a cleaner.

He is among a number of Singaporeans who have stepped forward to help others in these tough times.

Under the measures imposed by the Government, residents can go out only to buy essentials and takeaway food, or exercise in open spaces until May 4.

The neighbourhood has a large number of one-and two-room rental flats.

Mr Zulkifli lives in a two-room rental flat with his four children.

He has gone door to door with a clipboard to compile a list of food supplies that people need.

Sometimes these residents may be short on cash. "I have no money and I'm also not working, but I'm willing to do this because I want to help people, especially the elderly and those families with a lot of children... What I can help, I'll help," said Mr Zulkifli, who stopped working at 53 because of a recurrent skin problem.

Mr Zulkifli and his grown-up children are currently helping 17 neighbours, ordering supplies like cooking oil, rice, bread, coffee and peanut butter, before dropping the items off at their homes. His children have also helped to raise funds for the items through their own network of friends, many of whom are active volunteers in youth groups.

He takes precautions like standing at least 1m away from residents while talking to them, and leaves items at the door.

He and his grown-up children are currently helping 17 neighbours, ordering supplies like cooking oil, rice, bread, coffee and peanut butter, before dropping the items off at their homes.

His children have also helped to raise funds for the items through their own network of friends, many of whom are active volunteers in youth groups.

His daughter, Ms Zulayqha Zulkifli, 25, is a social work associate and recipient of The Straits Times Generation Grit 2018 award.

 
 
 

The family was homeless at one point, but that did not deter Ms Zulayqha from securing scholarships. She now works with a family service centre.

The family was left without a home because Mr Zulkifli had to sell his flat after a divorce.

Despite the hardships, his children have done well. A son, 27, is studying for a master's degree under a scholarship. Mr Zulkifli also has another son, 23, working as a pastry chef and another daughter, 24, working as a student care associate.

Now, he is focusing on his neighbours. He helps by providing them with information, such as the location of the nearest social service office, as well as instructions on applying for the Temporary Relief Fund to tide them over.

Mr Zulkifli gets his children to help with filling up application forms for financial assistance in English.

Ms Zulayqha said she was proud of her father who knew what the neighbours needed. "As much as we want to help others, we must also know what it is they require and not just give because we want to give," she said.

Said Mr Zulkifli: "I hope that people in other areas will also come out to help their neighbours."

LISTEN TO GREEN PULSE PODCAST

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 11, 2020, with the headline 'Retired cleaner steps up to help rental flat neighbours in need'. Subscribe