Initiative links S'pore community up to help poor families

Madam Linda Ismail is grateful for all the educational help given to her son Mohammad Syakir under the ComLink programme. ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

SINGAPORE- Madam Linda Ismail, 46, would not have been able to afford tuition for her nine-year-old son if it was not given to him free of charge.

It has been a load off her mind, which has been preoccupied with the challenges of putting food on the table and making ends meet.

She is divorced with three children aged between nine and 23, unemployed and suffered a stroke in 2017.

She lives with her family in a one-room rental flat in Marsiling and they get financial aid from the Government's ComCare scheme, although she declined to reveal details.

Madam Linda, who has largely recovered from her stroke, gets free medical treatment for her post-stroke follow-up from the Doctors on Wheels programme, which is located in the block next to hers.

Her son is on several programmes, including one on reading by the charity, Bringing Love to Every Single Soul (Bless), and another by social enterprise VivaKids which helps him with his maths and English.

Madam Linda said of the Community Link (ComLink) initiative: "They are giving lots of help to my son. Without them, I can't cope with teaching my son and I worry about him not doing well in school."

ComLink provides comprehensive and coordinated support to low-income families living in highly subsidised rental flats like Madam Linda's.

The Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) piloted ComLink in 2019 in four areas - Boon Lay, Marsiling, Kembangan-Chai Chee and Jalan Kukoh.

In each ComLink town, the Social Service Office leads a ComLink alliance, comprising government agencies, companies and community partners.

The alliance seeks to better understand, coordinate and manage the families' different needs and offers customised services and support to them, among other things.

On March 5, it was announced that ComLink will be expanded nationwide to 21 towns over the next two years to cover all 14,000 families with children who live in rental housing. The 21 towns include Ang Mo Kio, Clementi, Sengkang, Toa Payoh and Yishun.

At the four ComLink sites now, social service agencies, community partners and social enterprises run 59 programmes ranging from tuition classes to employment coaching to programmes to strengthen the parent-child relationship.

A total of 17 companies and donors provide sponsorship and donations in kind.

All the services and programmes are offered free.

For example, the Doctors on Wheels programme in Marsiling is a joint programme between the MSF, Woodlands Health Campus and SATA CommHealth to bring medical services to the elderly and the vulnerable.

SATA CommHealth is a charity providing healthcare services. The Woodlands Health Campus has a hospital, a community hospital and other facilities and it is slated to open progressively from 2023.

The Doctors on Wheels' programme's doctor, nurse, patient service officer and a driver set up their clinical operations at the blocks served by the Marsiling Cares ComLink.

SATA CommHealth's medical director, Dr Cheryl Glenn, said: "This service brings their treatment essentially to their doorstep.

"Hence, it allows for the control and maintenance of their chronic problems and it also has the potential to get their acute problems treated early."

Over in Boon Lay, the Singapore Children's Society runs a drop-in programme, using the premises of the Residents' Network at the void deck, for children called the JYC @ Comlink.

Its deputy director Benedict Kuah said: "A drop-in space is a safe place for children to come to where they can spend their time meaningfully, make friends and learn important life skills under the guidance of social workers and counsellors."

Meanwhile, Engineering Good is piloting a project for the provision of a blockwide Wi-Fi connection in Boon Lay and Circuit Road.

Engineering Good is a charity that gives the disadvantaged access to technology.

Its executive director Johann Annuar said: "The digital divide is deeper than we imagined and because of the pandemic, it will only get wider and deeper for the disadvantaged."

The Wi-Fi project came about after the charity realised, during the circuit breaker last year, that quite a number of families in rental housing do not have a laptop or do not have Wi-Fi at home as they cannot afford it. Some also do not know how to use the computer.

Apart from the challenge they face in affording enrichment and learning support programmes for their children, residents at the four current ComLink sites are also concerned about their job stability, among other issues, said an MSF spokesman.

For Madam Linda, she is happy her son's grades have improved with the help he is receiving.

She said: "He really loves it (the programmes) as he gets to make friends. And it helps to build his confidence."

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