SINGAPORE - She has fostered five children in the last eight years, and in that time also started a community initiative to help needy families and vulnerable seniors in her estate. Housewife Sarimah Amat also runs a programme to provide stationery to needy children here and abroad, has helped orphans in Thailand and Indonesia and organised relief efforts for flood victims in Malaysia.
For her efforts, the 53-year-old was recognised as the inaugural Yishunite of the Year on Tuesday (Oct 27). Organised by Nee Soon Town Council, the award recognises a Nee Soon GRC resident who has contributed to the community and embodies the spirit of service and giving.
Madam Sarimah, who received the most votes among five finalists in a Facebook poll, had to leave her job as a childcare teacher and silat instructor in 2010 due to a knee injury.
Having worked for a decade, she wondered what to pursue next.
She found out about the Ministry of Social and Family Development's fostering scheme from her brother, and decided to apply. "I wanted to do something that is satisfying to the soul, and not just for monetary value. It is more of helping people out of their predicaments and their challenges," said Madam Sarimah.
In 2012, she took in a four-year-old girl, who is still currently living with her. The following year, she took in a three-year-old boy but he died from infantile epilepsy seven months later. In 2014, Madam Sariyah fostered another three-year-old boy for half a year, and in 2015 took in a two-and-a-half-year-old boy for five months. She welcomed a two-month-old girl into her home in 2016, and the girl is still living with her currently.
Madam Sarimah's own three children are all grown up now. Her eldest son, 29, is married and has a 10-month-old daughter. She also has a 27-year-old daughter and another 25-year-old son who is serving his national service in the Singapore Police Force.
Her husband, 54, is a safety supervisor in the construction sector.
The nine of them live in a mini jumbo flat in Yishun Street 71, where Madam Sarimah has stayed for 35 years.
She said that before every decision to foster a child, there will be a family meeting to ensure that everyone agrees with the move and are prepared to welcome the new child.
Commenting on her fostering, she said: "It is still with a heavy heart that you let them go, but at the end of the day it is time for them to return to their families..I believe while they are with us in our care, we still have to nurture them with the best knowledge and values."
Madam Sarimah started a community initiative called Yishun 71 in March this year, to help vulnerable seniors and needy families in 16 blocks in her estate, including by delivering food, taking them for health check-ups and buying groceries for them.
She first had the idea for such an initiative in 2018, after a neighbour died alone at home and the body was only discovered a week later.
"Nobody was there for him and he must have been in pain. If a neighbour had known then it could have made a difference.. That incident was really a slap."
Yishun 71 now finds those who need help by word of mouth at the market and coffeeshops, on their Facebook group, and through the feedback of Grab delivery riders, said Madam Sarimah.
Six years ago, in 2014, she started Project Pencil Singapore in which stationery is delivered to children here and in other countries around the region.
Madam Sarimah organised a donation drive that same year for an orphanage in Pattani, Thailand, and through her neighbours and friends on Facebook and unexpectedly collected about 70kg of stationery.
In 2015, about 200kg of stationery was collected for an orphanage in Surabaya, in Indonesia.
Project Pencil's biggest achievement to date has been an initiative in 2016, when flooding struck rural villages in Kelantan, in Malaysia, destroying school facilities and disrupting the water supply. On top of stationery, Project Pencil Singapore collected and donated a ton of relief supplies including mineral water, clothes and bags.
Madam Sarimah was inspired to help others due to her own family's background.
Madam Sarimah's husband lost his job in 1999 as a result of the Asian financial crisis. At the time, her mother also fell very ill. Her three children were young and she had to seek help to make ends meet.
She said she is honoured to win the inaugural award, and commended her fellow finalists. "The main thing is we're helping the community. It just makes me more determined to do more and reach out to more people."
Nee Soon GRC MP Derrick Goh, who is chairman of Nee Soon Town Council, said: "I'm glad that with the start of Yishunite of the Year, more of Singapore can get to know Yishun as the somewhat quirky but ultimately caring community that we are."