Volunteers help mums in jail read storybooks to their kids

Ms Saleemah Ismail heads a non-profit group that records female inmates reading books and visits their children to play the recordings.
Ms Saleemah Ismail heads a non-profit group that records female inmates reading books and visits their children to play the recordings.ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Every week or so, a group of volunteers has been visiting female inmates with young children to record them reading storybooks.

They then visit the children to play the audio recordings, so that the children hear their mothers' voices as the books are read to them.

The effort by non-profit group New Life Stories aims to encourage the mothers to stay engaged with their children, and give these children a better shot at life, said Ms Saleemah Ismail, who helped to start the group in 2013.

She shared her experience at a session organised by the Community Leaders Forum at Wisma Geylang Serai on Tuesday night.

"We remember the values that come with stories," she said. "By reading to the children, and telling stories, we can not only increase the children's reading level and self confidence, but we can also reduce inequality by giving these children a similar starting line (to others)."

She added: "The odds are stacked against these children. Research has shown that they (children with parents in jail) are 21/2 times more likely to become offenders as well in adulthood - not because of genetic reasons, but because of their environment."

Also sharing her experience was Ms Aminah Syed Ahamed from the Singapore Kadayanallur Muslim League, who spoke about support programmes for families.

 
 

At the session was Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Masagos Zulkifli, who chairs self-help group Mendaki and is also Environment and Water Resources Minister.

He said it is important to have ground-up initiatives and passionate, like-minded people working together on key community issues. "We are very happy... to recognise the work that they are doing on the ground - mostly on their own initiative," he added.

At the event, Mendaki gave out more than $550,000 to 46 organisations to support their work. Said Mr Masagos: "If they are sustainable and effective, Mendaki will continue to fund them."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 27, 2019, with the headline 'Volunteers help mums in jail read storybooks to their kids'. Print Edition | Subscribe