Minds ramps up efforts to care for caregivers of loved ones with special needs

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat with Madam Sarojah Ayasamy (left), a caregiver, and her sister Madam Paggajam Ayasamy (right) at the Minds Caregivers Wellness Day on Sept 1, 2018.
Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat with Madam Sarojah Ayasamy (left), a caregiver, and her sister Madam Paggajam Ayasamy (right) at the Minds Caregivers Wellness Day on Sept 1, 2018.ST PHOTO: JONATHAN CHOO

SINGAPORE - When Madam Sarojah Ayasamy was 11, her mother died and she dropped out of primary school to help care for her two siblings, both of whom were intellectually disabled.

She remembers her father asking her if this was truly what she wanted to do.

"He said: 'Do you really want to take care of your brother and sister? This is a very heavy duty'," recalled Madam Sarojah, now 59.

She said she did not think twice as she felt that it was her responsibility. Even so, the intervening years have not been easy.

Her father died in 1990. Her sister, Madam Paggajam Ayasamy, is now 48 years old, but their brother, who was a year younger than Madam Sarojah, died several years ago in a car accident.

But despite the challenges in taking care of her siblings, Madam Sarojah said staff from the Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore (Minds) have provided invaluable help.

She now works as a cleaner at the SIA-Minds Employment Development Centre located along Margaret Drive where her sister Madam Paggajam is undergoing vocational training.

Madam Sarojah and her sister attended the first Minds Caregivers Wellness Day held on Saturday (Sept 1) at Our Tampines Hub.

The event was organised to encourage caregivers to take time out for themselves, even as they care for their loved ones with special needs.

Ms Sally May Tan, chief executive of Minds, said: "We have noticed that there are many caregivers who gravitate towards social isolation - not because they dislike accessing community resources but because they do not want or are unable to leave their special needs family member.

"It's important to also identify community activities suitable for their participation and have people accept them for who they are."

Also present at the event was Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat, who is also MP for Tampines GRC.

He announced that Minds will be rolling out a respite care programme where trained volunteers will step in on behalf of caregivers for several hours each week.

During this time, said Mr Heng, the caregiver "takes a breather and attends to his or her own needs", which can help to relieve stress.

The pilot programme will be rolled out in October.

Minds has also set up a new support group for people caring for their adult siblings, who often face a unique set of challenges.

Some of these caregivers may be caring for their aged parents or young children at the same time, Ms Tan said.

For Madam Sarojah, who is single, the time has finally come to focus on improving herself.

In recent years, she has taken a basic English course and is now pursuing a diploma in customer service.

"Any small matter I have, Minds will help me," she said.

"They are like my family, I have no secrets from them."