SINGAPORE - Amir Nazir has lived a life of crime since he was 15. Now 44, he has been in and out of prison for various offences, including those related to drugs.
Unmarried, his relationship with his siblings and mother is strained. Just released in November after his latest spell in prison, the Nee Soon South resident said he was struggling with depression, anxiety, and anger management issues.
He said: "I needed to find hope, control my emotions, and overcome negative thoughts."
In January, hope came in the form of a new non-profit in Nee Soon South, Rise Community, which is the brainchild of Ms Carrie Tan, an MP for Nee Soon GRC.
Made up of residents and volunteers, it is the first organisation to focus on men from low-income backgrounds, helping them find employment as well as cope with mental health issues.
A Rise Community volunteer encouraged Mr Amir to look for a job, checked in on him every day and got him to pen his emotions in a diary. A month ago, he got a job as a town council cleaner.
The non-profit was unveiled on Saturday (March 20) at the PAP Nee Soon South branch in Yishun. Rise is short for resilience, integrity, strength, and energy.
The organisation works on improving the men's socio-emotional, physical, and financial well-being through peer support groups and by creating employment opportunities.
For a start, as part of a two-year pilot, Rise Community aims to reach out to 500 men between the ages of 20 and 59 in Nee Soon South.
The men will include those who are the sole breadwinners in their families living in rental flats, those who have lost their jobs, or have always been in low-wage, unstable employment and are looking to gain social mobility.
The non-profit, which started work a few months ago, is currently working with about 50 men who were identified through outreach at rental flats and referrals from Ms Tan's Meet-the-People sessions.
The pilot's first year will focus on befriending and building trust with the men, so that Rise Community can understand their needs, and design specific programmes with them.
Trust-building is the most crucial first step for the non-profit, said Ms Tan, who will be the non-profit's steering adviser.
"Men build up walls around themselves because of traditional notions of manhood and masculinity, and it is not easy to get them to share their problems."
She added: "Men's identity and self-esteem should not be solely defined by being breadwinners, but as equal partners with women, and as enablers at home, at the workplace and in the community."
After designing specific programmes from the pilot, she hopes to expand Rise Community to the rest of Nee Soon GRC and Singapore.
A new MP who entered Parliament after the 2020 General Election, Ms Tan is no stranger to helping low-income individuals.
In 2013, she founded the charity, Daughters of Tomorrow, which facilitates job opportunities for underprivileged women, and supports them in achieving financial independence and building resilient families.
"Time and again, I've been asked by community partners: 'When will you start Sons of Tomorrow?'
"Women in rental housing tend to have a lot of different support from the community. But I noticed that the dads in the family are sometimes neglected, and they also tend to be the breadwinners of the family," said Ms Tan.
Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam, who is the anchor minister of Nee Soon GRC, is the patron of Rise Community.
Speaking at the non-profit's launch on Saturday, Mr Shanmugam said the traditional expectations of men, where they are not allowed to show emotion or openly share their issues and just act as the provider, can be brutal.
"When you put up a wall like that, it shows up in higher suicide rates, higher crime rates, higher rates of dysfunctionality, particularly when their central core is the family and their working environment," Mr Shanmugam added.
Sociologist Paulin Straughan from the Singapore Management University said it was crucial for non-profits like Rise Community to act as a bridge between low-income groups and job assistance and training schemes introduced by the Government.
She said: "As with all helplines in Singapore, the difficulty we have is getting the information out to those who need it, and reach out to those who have fallen through the gaps.
"What the Government needs is the warriors on the ground to drive the take-up rate and fine-tune the support that is available."
For such ground-up initiatives to be successful, Professor Straughan stressed that it was important not to present them as a form of charity to the men, but as an innovative form of philanthropy to support breadwinners.
"We do have to be sensitive to the fact that men do not want to be seen as needy or recipients of charity," she added.