Friday, March 10, 2017

Fostering Hope: Raymond Anthony Fernando’s article on Happy TV

I have nothing but praise for the Ministry of Social and Family Development which, in partnership with the Social Service Institute, has recently revamped training programmes to support foster parents who are magnanimous in taking care of other peoples’ children.

Foster care offers children the opportunity to grow up in a safe and loving family environment. Families that get involved provide food, shelter, clothing and love to children in need. For children from disadvantaged backgrounds, foster care gives them a positive experience of family life which they may not have had in their natural family setting. 

Foster parents have a decidedly tough job, needing to understand the specific needs and backgrounds of kids they take under their wing, and these include their dietary habits, their emotional needs, cultural backgrounds, religious beliefs and much more.

For parents who already have hands-on experience in taking care of their own kids, their willingness to care and support children outside their own family is truly a kind gesture that can transform the lives of children who lack a stable home for the time being.

In many countries, children who are abandoned become street kids, sleeping on the roadside outside restaurants and supermarkets in the hope that tourists who visit the country will give them money or buy them a meal and a drink.

In Singapore, it is heartening to know that there were reported to be 420 foster families in 2016, an increase of 73 per cent from 243 families in 2013.

The increase in numbers was the result of greater efforts to raise awareness on fostering, said MSF, citing how it organised roadshows, worked with community organisations, religious groups and private organisations, as well as reached out to the community through radio and television programmes.

Being without children, I would very much have liked to foster children who lack a safe and loving home, so who knows, one day when I can afford it, I might consider opening my home to a kid or two.





Thursday, March 9, 2017

Raymond Anthony Fernando’s letter to The New Paper: Educate teachers to recognise their stress levels

My letter to The New Paper on the above subject is published today, Thursday

I was saddened to read the report “Relief teacher used Hokkien vulgarity twice on student” (The New Paper, March 7)

Teaching can be stressful, but it is a noble profession as educators with the right attitude can shape our future leaders.

Teaching is all about managing relationships in an intense and public arena all day.

Some emotions will be overwhelming and difficult to manage. They will not be helpful for teaching and learning, and given that our education system is very competitive, it is vital that our educators are taught how to recognise their stress levels.

Teachers, like anyone of us, have feelings and they could have personal problems. We can and must help those who are struggling to find a coping mechanism. This is where training on mental health issues by experts can prove useful.

We now have programmes for students to learn about mental health issues, so why are the very people who help to educate our children not being trained on this subject?

If teachers learn about mental health issues, they will be better positioned to seek help, first, through school counsellors; and if need be, through mental health providers.  The Ministry of Education should give them full support in this.


Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Thought-provoking article by Raymond Anthony Fernando “Suicides – Saved by Text” here on Happy TV

The delicate subject of suicide has been in the news quite often these past few months.
 It is a worrying concern that our youth are increasingly finding life meaningless.

Youths who are in a crisis often share their struggles and anxieties with peers who may not be well equipped to counsel and advice them.

Some of those who read worrying threads posted on social media can be insensitive or may lack education on mental health issues and therefore pass unkind or ignorant comments that can push troubled youths to end their lives.

As a staunch mental health advocate and a volunteer at the Institute of Mental Health (IMH), I always intervene on insensitive postings and strive to raise awareness of the distressed one’s state instead. 

The negative threads usually cease after that, and I find that this is just one way we can change perceptions and save lives. 

I follow closely the reports and stories published by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), which has its head quarters in America.  They produce excellent programmes and services that have helped thousands of Americans.

Recently, they came up with a brilliant idea on how texting through mobile phones can help those who are suicidal.

NAMI reported that in the U.S.A., teenagers send an average of 100 texts per day—3,100 per month. It’s a concise, direct form of communication that helps contain emotional situations. It doesn’t put anyone on the spot or demand immediate answers.

The success of the programme can be seen in how hundreds of thousands of teenagers have used Crisis Text Line for 24/7 crisis interventions in the last 3 years. The average exchange lasts about an hour, or if there’s a risk of suicide, as long as necessary.

Such a unique service can be most helpful to our own youths here in Singapore, who are constantly on their phones.

Let us learn from success stories and provide better structural support for the mentally ill or distressed.



Friday, March 3, 2017

Raymond Anthony Fernando’s letter to the press: Real life struggles with mental illness can eventually remove prejudice

My letter to The Straits Times on the above matter is published today, Friday 3rd March 2017
It is not every day when a patient struggling with serious mental health issues comes out openly to share her journey, and to this end, I have nothing but admiration for Miss Julia Abdullah (Fear of ridicule stops people with OCD from seeking help; Feb, 28).
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is not at all easy to cope with. The bizarre behaviour that patients display during the onslaught of the illness is bound to pose relationship problems.
And when people fail to understand what the sufferer is going through, they become judgmental and prejudice sets in.
People like Miss Julia can take heart in the recent Budget announcement during which Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat announced more support for people with disabilities and those with mental health issues (Increased aid to tackle dementia, mental health issues; Feb 21).
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is not at all easy to cope with. The bizarre behaviour that patients display during the onslaught of the illness is bound to pose relationship problems.
In addition, stronger support for people with disabilities will come in the form of the third Enabling Masterplan, a road map for disability services, which will cover the period 2017 to 2021.
Raymond Anthony Fernando

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Raymond’s article on The Malayan Chronicles: An outstanding and courageous Member of Parliament in Mr Chiam See Tong

Mr Chiam has always been a humble and caring Member of Parliament (MP) and had served all his residents very well. Until this very day, residents in Potong Pasir still speak fondly of Mr Chiam. As MP, he served the residents of Potong Pasir for 27 long years. Truly outstanding!

Despite being outnumbered by the ruling party – The People’s Action Party, Mr Chiam spoke passionately about the plight of our less fortunate Singaporeans.

In a report “Chiam, Peng Siong team up for new charity foundation” published in TODAY newspaper on January 18, 2017, Mr Chiam See Tong and former star swimmer Mr Ang Peng Siong, have come together to set up a foundation that will provide financial aid to people who need it to pursue their goals, but fall outside the current systems that provide such help.

And I share the sentiments expressed by a regular forum writer Geoffrey Kung Kuo Woo on the kindness and compassion shown by this former Member of Parliament (MP) in Kung’s letter to TODAY newspaper “Efforts to help those who fall through the cracks laudable” (Jan 31).

Most certainly Mr Chiam is a true-blue Singaporean. Humble, he is a very approachable man.

Many of our seniors who hit 60 are worried sick that if they fall ill with poor supporting systems, they will face a tragic end.

In Japan, a report published on 18th January 2017 in the Business Insider (Singapore) it revealed a worrying trend: 20 percent of the country’s elderly who commit crimes prefer to stay in prison as they see it as nursing homes where meals, lodging and medical and other forms of nursing care is guaranteed. In these prisons, the prison officers will help bathe the elderly inmates, get them changed, and clean them up. It is such a sad state of affairs that citizens who once contributed to the economy have to end up in such dire straits.

There are so many elderly Singaporeans who live all alone and have lost key social support. Isolation does a lot of damage. Moreover, ageism is still is a stumbling block for those who cross 50 in securing less stressful and physically demanding jobs. In many cases, the elderly in this age bracket will either be offered jobs as security guards, carpark attendants and even cleaners, despite having administrative experience or other useful skills. Carrying out a 12-hour shift duty at security places can be overwhelming for seniors whose health can be adversely affected.

On two occasions when I met Mr Chiam, he showed remarkable concern for those with special needs, including those who grapple with mental illness and their dedicated caregivers.

During his term as an MP, he spoke out courageously in Parliament on the needy and so did his wife, Lina when she served as a Non-Constituency Member of Parliament.

When my wife was alive, Lina came by to our home with a friend and spoke to Doris and myself to learn more about mental illness. My wife was deeply touched that Lina was understanding to her struggles with schizophrenia, her mobility problems with her arthritis condition and my multiple difficulties in taking of her.

Let’s see Singapore have more caring, humble and courageous parliamentarians like Mr Chiam See Tongs and Lena Chiam.



Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Raymond Anthony Fernando’s letter to MediaCorp’s TODAY Newspaper: Seeking public views vital to success of Projects

My letter to the press on the above subject is published today, Wednesday 22 February 2017.


It is a healthy sign that the Government has listened to feedback and decided to rename Syonan Gallery more realistically to “Surviving the Japanese Occupation: War and its Legacies” (“Yaacob apologises for pain that Syonan Gallery name caused”; Feb 18).


That many whose family members the Japanese troops had targeted welcome the change is understandable.


My mother had told me that a large number of males between the ages of 18 and 50 were summoned to screening centres and that those suspected of being anti-Japanese were executed, some at Changi Beach.


She said the Japanese soldiers would check homes frequently, and if people were caught listening to BBC Radio, the soldiers would ram chopsticks into their ears.


The late Elizabeth Choy, my former teacher at St Andrew’s School, was a war heroine who had been interrogated and tortured by the Kempeitai, but she never admitted to being a British sympathiser.


She was released after enduring 200 days of suffering and threats of execution. In recognition of her bravery, she was awarded the Order of the British Empire. Her students loved her and, until this day, speak fondly of her.


The horrors of war are a reminder to us to stay as one united Singapore as we continue to face challenges. There is also the importance of taking National Service seriously.


Seeking the public’s views is vital to the successful development and shaping of services, projects and programmes.


In the case of sensitive issues with long-term implications, like this war exhibition, consultation is needed before implementation.

For example, the Ministry of Communications and Information could have organised a sponsored contest, with two categories — adults and youths — for citizens to have had the opportunity to give the exhibition a suitable name.

I am confident that corporate sponsors would have stepped forward for such a worthy project, and that it would have attracted wide participation and made more citizens aware of the hardships war brings.



Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Raymond’s article on Happy TV: Improve Promotion Systems for Civil Service

The recent move of grouping public sector employees into graduates and non-graduates for promotions is long overdue; and definitely a step in the right direction as it will give opportunities for non-graduates to move up the corporate ladder.

Most certainly, experience on the job should be taken into consideration when assessments are made as loyalty to the organisation is useful to prevent job hopping.  For when resignations are high, disruptions to services are bound to lower productivity. The Japanese value workers who are loyal to the company. 

Surely, we can do the same.

Let’s view worker’s loyalty as a good investment, an asset, instead of seeing them as a liability. No doubt, long serving staff will draw a higher salary as compared to the younger fresh graduates. But that should not be a reason to axe the loyal workers whenever a retrenchment exercise takes place. It is common knowledge – even in this day and age, that whenever retrenchment is on the cards, high on the list of staff who have to go will be those drawing bigger salaries.

Instead of retrenching the loyal and older staff, every effort must be made to retain them, given their wealth of experience acquired over the years and their dedication to the company. With a good work attitude such workers can so easily mentor the young graduates. One way is to review the salaries of long serving employees in consultation with the unions.  If need be, a pay cut can be proposed – especially if the company is not doing too well.

No doubt investing in training, learning new things and upgrading oneself is a must if workers want to secure promotions and pay increases.

2-way staff appraisals

Let us not totally dismiss the remarks made by commentators or netizens who responded to the reports on the policy of grouping graduates and non-graduates for promotions as untrue because there is indeed some truth in what they say. 

How often have we heard this remark when someone who deserves to move up the corporate ladder loses out on promotion/s? “It is not how hard you work, but how smart you work.”

There are concerns that even with these acquired skills, staff can lose out on promotions if bosses or supervisors favour some staff. Bottom line: The staff appraisal must never be used as a ‘weapon’ by supervisors against staff who are out of their good books.

Currently, only supervisors and bosses can rank staff under their charge.  Why not improve on the present ranking system so that there is a fairer system in place? To this end, I propose that all ministries implement a 2-way staff appraisal system in which the staff also have the opportunity to rank their superiors.  

This 2-way appraisal system must be implemented based on a top criterion set by human resource experts so that there is no back-biting, but done so in a tasteful and professional way.

If the public sector takes the lead, then the private sector can do likewise.

Verbal and written expressions

If a worker is equipped with excellent verbal and written expressions, he/she will always be marketable, in demand, both within Singapore and in other parts of the world. I know of graduates who can’t even write a first paragraph, or worse still, cannot even open a sentence, and yet they were promoted.

Thus, public sector officers must be assessed on their verbal as well as their written skills in their staff appraisals.

Added to that, being good at solving problems should give them a higher score.

Participation in volunteer work

With the growing need for voluntary work to support our ageing population and those with special needs, it will be useful for such charitable work to be factored when promotions are being considered.