President’s Challenge 2022 raises record $16.9m for low-income families

President Halimah Yacob (centre) speaking with Montfort Care caregivers at Montfort Care at Telok Blangah Rise, on Feb 28. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

SINGAPORE – President’s Challenge 2022 raised a record $16.9 million – the highest amount since the annual campaign started in 2000 – to help low-income families.

The amount has gone towards supporting 82 social service agencies, including Fei Yue Community Services and Pertapis Halfway House, both of which are under the President’s Challenge Empowering for Life Fund for programmes on upskilling and employment.

The Empowering for Life Fund has raised more than $21 million in four years, exceeding its target a year ahead of its original deadline, said President Halimah Yacob on Tuesday. The scheme has since been extended beyond its initial five-year tranche and has supported 35 programmes.

Madam Halimah was speaking at the launch of President’s Challenge 2023 at Montfort Care in Telok Blangah.

The President’s Challenge is an annual community outreach and fund-raising campaign for beneficiaries selected yearly by the President’s office.

This year’s drive will focus on caregivers and fund programmes by agencies that help them.

One such programme is Montfort Care’s Care Navigators Programme, which will provide job training and placement for current and former caregivers. It will be launched in July. 

Madam Halimah said: “A lot of caregivers... have left the labour market for years. They have lost skills, they have lost the ability to navigate the employment landscape. They need that kind of help to find their feet again, even as they continue with their caregiving duties.”

The programme will train caregivers for the healthcare and social services sectors.

The initiative was developed through the Caregiver Community Lab – run by Montfort Care and the National Council of Social Service – which designs programmes with the help of caregivers.

Madam Cheong Siew Khum was one of those who contributed to the community lab.

She looks after her 80-year-old mother, who has ischemic heart disease and arthritis, and her 51-year-old sister, who has Noonan syndrome – a genetic disorder that prevents normal development in various parts of the body – and muscle atrophy. Both use a wheelchair, and she has to take them for rehabilitation twice a week.

Montfort Care helped the 52-year-old get a remote bookkeeping job in April 2022 by linking her with community service provider Daughters Of Tomorrow.

She was an assistant accountant in an international firm for 15 years before leaving the job in 2015 to take care of her mother. She took on freelance jobs and had no stable income.

Montfort Care caregiver Cheong Siew Khum, 52, at Montfort Care at Telok Blangah Rise, on Feb 28, 2023. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

Madam Cheong, who is not married, said she appreciates her employer’s flexibility, which has allowed her to earn a stable income of a few hundred dollars a month. “I’ve been able to try human resources work too, such as doing interviews,” she added.

Mr Loh Siew Tong, 75, who cares for his wife, who uses a wheelchair, and his brother, who has dementia, said he appreciates the support group and professional talks on caregiving under Montfort Care’s Caregiver Recharge.

The initiative enables caregivers to meet and share their experiences during monthly sessions.

Montfort Care caregiver Loh Siew Tong, 75, at Montfort Care at Telok Blangah Rise, on Feb 28, 2023. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

President’s Challenge 2023 will also help the Caregivers Support Network run by the Singapore Red Cross Society, which provides skills training, social services, mental wellness workshops and peer support to address the needs of caregivers and help them avoid burnout in the long term.

The programme has helped Ms Azean Aziz, 42, to pick up skills in first aid, emergency care and managing medication and enabled her to re-enter the workforce after her husband died from a heart attack in 2018.

She now works as a medical chaperone with the Singapore Red Cross and accompanies patients to and from their medical appointments.

Madam Halimah also encouraged employers to implement flexible work arrangements for employees who have caregiving responsibilities. “When caregivers are supported and recognised, they feel more empowered to care for others,” she said.

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