SINGAPORE - Retired principal Yong Cheng Huat and his wife have two sons, both of whom have special needs.
Their older son Joel, 32, has autism spectrum disorder since he was eight. The younger son, Philip, 30, was diagnosed with severe attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
It is tough being a caregiver, said Mr Yong, 62, who retired in 2010 to become Joel's primary caregiver.
"It was a struggle for us to find help. I wish there was more help earlier," he said.
The opening of Caregivers Pod will be much welcomed by caregivers like Mr Yong.
Located in the Enabling Village in Redhill, the Caregivers Pod is a multi-purpose facility where caregivers can attend peer support group activities, training, and where various voluntary welfare organisations (VWOs) and community partners can engage with them.
This is the first time a common dedicated space has been opened to help caregivers gain skills and give them support.
Launching the Caregivers Pod on Monday (Dec 3), Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee said that the space was convenient for caregivers to access a range of services such as information or referrals to disability services, support for transport and assistive technology and information about employment.
"We want to support and empower you (caregivers) not just to provide the best possible care to your loved ones, but also to yourselves," he said.
According to a 2010 Survey on Informal Caregiving commissioned by the former Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports, nearly half - or 45 per cent - of potential caregivers said they needed help or training to properly care for an elderly family member aged 75 and above.
Ms Ku Geok Boon, chief executive of SG Enable, said: "Caregivers play an absolutely critical role in the well-being of persons with disabilities, yet the demands of being a caregiver can create enormous stress on the individual. Caregivers should not have to be alone in their journey. By pulling together various partners in the social and healthcare sectors, government agencies and the community, we hope to make the Caregivers Pod a safe environment where caregivers can learn from one another, share experiences, and have better access to support."
The facility was first announced during the Ministry of Social and Family Development's 2018 Committee of Supply debate, and developed in partnership with private and public sector organisations.
The facility is free for use. Caregivers need only to register with SG Enable first. There is also a free shuttle service from Redhill MRT station to the facility.
In May, SG Enable also brought together 24 organisations, comprising VWOs and hospitals, to form a caregiver support coalition.
Members of the coalition, including the Down Syndrome Association (Singapore) and AWWA, will collaborate to better support caregivers.
Mr Alvin Ho, assistant director of services at the Down Syndrome Association (Singapore), said: "Social service organisations have been working on their own to provide the necessary support to caregivers. With the formation of the coalition, DSA (S) hopes the impact we make collectively will be greater and by coordinating everyone's efforts, we can better support caregivers in their caregiving journey."
Ms Juliah Kasiman, 37, the primary caregiver of her nine-year-old son who has cerebral palsy looks forward to using the facility.
"The caregiving journey can be challenging and life-changing - it can be emotionally and physically draining and taxing," she said. "Any help matters a lot. It means a lot to caregivers to know they are not alone. I look forward to using the Caregivers Pod to learn from the experience of peers and experts."