Friday, December 30, 2016

Mental Illness Linked to High IQ, Creativity & Talent

Is there a link between mental illness and persons with high IQ, creativity, and talent?  From the many talented, creative and expressions, thoughts and ideas from a number of celebrities, singers, sportsmen, writers’, politicians and even some of our own Singaporeans, yes it does point to that.

More than 30 studies have linked higher intelligence to mental health disorders including major depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and other mental disorders.

Affecting some 2.5 percent of the U.S. population, bipolar disorder or major depression alone, has touched many of our greatest achievers, including Vincent Van Gogh, Buzz Aldrin, Emily Dickinson, Ernest Hemingway, and Jackson Pollock – just to name a few.

Some of the celebrities that had to come to terms with mental disorders include TV host Ellen DeGeneres, Lady Gaga, Jim Carrey, Brad Pitt and his ex-wife Angelina Jolie.

DeGeneres was reported to go into deep depression after her show on ABC got cancelled way back in 1998 while Lady Gaga revealed her difficulties in dealing with depression and how she eventually learned to overcome it.

Hollywood megastar Angelina Jolie slipped into a depression in 2008 after tragedy struck in her family while equally big movie star Pitt felt depressed early on in his acting career, and attributes a trip to Casablanca to helping him overcome his depression.

But the plus of facing all these adversities is that they all have the tenacity to bounce back and rebuild their lives.

Mental illness and high grades in education

Other research supporting a link between intelligence and mental health problems shows bipolar disorder may be four times as common among young adults who’d earned straight-As in school.

I am not surprised that the correlation between A grades and bipolar disorder was strongest among students excelling in music and language, supporting popular notions about writers and artists with regard to mental health.

Indeed, persons trying to cope with mental disorders are highly intelligent people and given the right opportunities without discrimination, they can soar to greater heights. They are perfectionists and will not accept slip-shop work.

A professional lady who is also very intelligent told me recently that my late wife, Doris who battled schizophrenia for 44 years was a smart and creative person.  That is so true as she not only produced 8 successful books but was so meticulous in whatever she did. In proofreading all my books, she could spot a missed comma a mile way.

The professional who knew I battled depression for some time in 1995, encouraged me to continue with my writing, speaking engagements and advocacy work as she told me I have the ability to express myself very clearly, can foresee problems coming on-stream and come up with constructive ideas that can make Singapore a better place to live in.

Take proactive measures to comfort and counsel students who fail or do not do that well in examinations

We have in our midst some brilliant students who study in some of our top schools and often peer or parental pressure pushes the students to overstretch themselves. But when they do not do as well as they expect, such as when they score 4 A’s instead of 5, the results can pull them down and they can get depressed, wrongly believing that they are ‘not good enough’.  

On the other extreme end, there are students who try very hard to score well in exams, but fail and when the results are made known, it pulls them down so badly that some turn to suicide as they believe that they cannot succeed in life.

In October 2016, a State Coroner’s inquiry revealed that after an 11-year-old boy failed his exams, he believed – in his troubled state of mind, that he had disappointed his parents. The student then jumped 17 floors from his bedroom window and died.    “11-year-old boy’s suicide due to exam and parental stress: State Coroner

The Ministry of Education (MOE) has to be proactive and come up with measures to prevent a recurrence of such tragedies.  We need thinkers in the civil service to tackle problems.   MOE needs to have a helicopter view of challenges which students will face when they fail to make the grade.

Here’s what I propose:

For a start, there is no need to highlight and publicize the high achievers to the whole school when the exam results are out, because those who fail or do not score as well as they expect to, will be demoralized when the successful ones outshine them.

The high achievers can be recognized privately in a separate meeting with the Principal.

The demand for school counselors will have to go up if we hope to help students cope with the education system which is of very high standards.

Next, given that the school will have the results known from MOE well in advanced, it is best to group those who have not passed the exams to be counselled and comforted by the Principal, teachers and counsellors with the key message that it is perfectly ok to fail as there will always be opportunities to excel with the support of the school.  Parents of these students can be included in these sessions which can be held fortnightly until the situation becomes stable.

Students who pass, but are disappointed that they did not do as well as they ought to, could also have similar separate sessions, with parents tagging along.





Wednesday, December 28, 2016

An appetite for kindness from Good Samaritans


Do check out my article on the above subject-,here on The Malayan Chronicles.


Even though I had to spend Christmas without the presence of my late wife for the third year running, I was not alone when a handful of Good Samaritans rallied around me and brought me for meals and presented me with gifts. They all made my Christmas so special, so meaningful.

Some of them read of my loneliness through my press articles and were deeply moved, while others felt it necessary to give from the heart, which is the true meaning of Christmas. They all fully understand that recreation is so important for those who are lonely.

There was Raymond Ong who treated me to a lovely lunch at the Singapore Recreation Club, while Lawrence Quek and his wife Grace Goh brought me for a pre-Christmas dinner at an upbeat restaurant in Somerset Road. Playing with their lovable kids was such fun as I adore children. Jolene and husband Aaron treated me to a pre-Christmas breakfast before they went on a holiday.

On Boxing Day, Michael Png and some of his friends brought pastries and sang Christmas carols in my home. My youngest brother Terrence makes it an annual tradition to give me some cash during the yuletide season.

At the opening of the new year in January, I can look forward to an invitation to have a meal of my choice at a café run by a European lady who recently became my friend on Facebook. Such Good Samaritans can so easily make Singapore achieve its goal of being a caring, gracious, compassionate and inclusive society.

Reaching out to the needy lifts the human spirit. Even though there will always be people who prey on individuals’ prosperity and kindness to get money through unethical means, it should not in any way discourage us from helping the needy. This was so well expressed by reader Miss Lee Kay Yan in her letter” (“Don’t let fear of scams stop us from helping others”, The Straits Times, Dec 24, 2016).

In opening our hearts, we need to distinguish between those who are in genuine need of financial assistance and those who seize the opportunity to make a quick buck. The less fortunate in our society should not feel ashamed to reveal their heart-wrenching stories and seek help as there will always be kind-hearted people who will be moved by those who live in the shadows of life.

The media has been doing an excellent job in raising awareness of the marginalised in our society, and through this medium, many are getting the help they so badly need – and that includes having a decent meal.

There are thousands of people all over the world who go through hardships and sufferings, yet accept it as part and parcel of life. Take for instance in the Philippines, where typhoons continue to damage homes and wreak havoc to the Filipinos leaving many of us to wonder how they were going to have a Merry Christmas (“Strong typhoon Nock-Ten is set to hit Philippines on Christmas Day”, The Straits Times, Dec 23, 2016) We can all do a little to give back to society – pay it forward, so to speak.

For my part, someday when the opportunity arises, I would love to go and teach English to children of poor families in the Philippines because having a good education is necessary to build a strong foundation in life.

The Buddhists believe that the greatest gift that can be given to humanity is when we share our true stories and give good advice and support to help others.



Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Supportive Bosses raise Productivity

Dear all,
Do find time to read my article – here on Happy TV.
Raymond Anthony Fernando

A lecturer who plays the violin was once asked by his students whether he found his job interesting and if he had any hobby.  He was giving a lecture on working life.  His reply was pleasantly received by his students –males and females.

“Playing the violin is my hobby and lecturing is my job,” replied the bearded professor with a big smile on his face.

There is a saying which goes like this: Work is so bad that they have to pay people to do it.  Quite true, right?  But work can be fun if both employers and their staff love what they are doing. Then, payment becomes the icing on the cake.  Ultimately, a manager’s success is directly related to how well he/she leads and connects with the staff under their charge.

Today’s work culture, unlike the early years, is far more stressful and with stiff competition and Singaporeans having to compete with foreigners for jobs, there is a tendency for workers to be anxious and at times back-biting colleagues to move up rapidly up the corporate ladder.

Employer-employee relations can be tricky and at times, subordinates who lose out on promotions can be de-motivated, what more with office politics not being uncommon, and some bosses regrettably tend to favor certain staff.  For as human beings, we all have our ‘little favorites’. 

But before we can secure strong boss-employee relations, it is just as important to have inculcated a healthy and cooperative working culture amongst ALL employees.  This is because many full-time employees spend most of their working hours with co-workers than they do with their spouses and families. As such, it is important to allow employees the opportunity to build quality relationships with their co-workers. This can be accomplished through the organization of informal get-togethers away from work, as well as by encouraging employee interaction.

During my employment with the local TV and Radio station, the management organized tea sessions at all departments.

That is why it is not advisable to engage in gossip at the workplace. Rather, as workers, we have to build a good rapport with our superiors. Once a healthy relationship develops between the manager and his /her staff, productivity goes up and the company benefits.

Healthy working relationships during our career can help retirees to secure job opportunities on a full-time or part-time basis.  I have benefited tremendously from my past relationships with my broadcasting colleagues in the 60s’, 70s’ and 80s’ and very uplifted that today, even at 66 years, I have writing opportunities in a media company to contribute to the literary culture here in Singapore.  For if anyone enjoys what they are doing, they can be very productive.  And I enjoy writing so much.




Sunday, December 25, 2016

Letter to The Sunday Times: Various ways to manage stress, anger

My letter to The Sunday Times is published today, Sunday 25th Dec 2016.

The number of road rage incidents in Singapore – 75 last year, 69 in 2014 and 90 in 2013 – is cause for concern (“Why are we so angry on the road?”; Dec 18).

It is important to bear in mind that when people are unable to manage their anger on the roads, it may spill over into their homes, resulting in destructive relationships.

Many people are bound to lose their cool at some point in time, especially in such a fast-paced society.

Bosses and supervisors have a role to play in ensuring that their staff are not overwhelmed by work stress, and should encourage employees to approach them or human resource staff when they are unable to cope.

It would be useful for companies to incorporate meditation sessions into their healthy lifestyle programmes.


Meditation is an excellent way to calm the mind and body. Breathing techniques can also help to relieve some of the stress.

Community centres should organise such programmes to reach out to those who are not able to attend such sessions at the workplace.

Time management is vital, for when we are late for anything, there is a tendency to lose our cool.

Drivers should listen to soothing music, such as jazz or classical tunes, to calm themselves, rather than loud or aggressive music.

Raymond Anthony Fernando



Friday, December 23, 2016

Bouquets to the Buddhist: By: Raymond Anthony Fernando

The Buddhists worship Buddha, and their teachings always have in mind the needy that are very much in need of compassion and to be freed from suffering. Many of the Chinese here are Buddhists, although there are other races such as Indians and even Africans in Africa who embrace Buddhism.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong rightly paid tribute to Buddhists, the largest religious group here for helping the needy, fund scholarships and bursaries and fostering racial and religious harmony when he officiated at the opening of the new Buddhist College in Bright Hill Road in Bishan.

I admire the statue of Buddha and am glad that his teachings have molded caring and kind-hearted citizens to engage in charity work – both in Singapore and many parts of the world.

What has struck me most about the Buddhist who put into full use the teachings of Buddha is their humility.  And I was privileged to learn useful lessons in humility what I got to know of the wonderful work which the Tzu Chi Foundation does–worldwide.  So impressed by thousands across the globe, many people have become volunteers of this Buddhist Charity who never fail to help in relief efforts by rebuilding homes destroyed by natural disasters in many countries like the Philippines and in Sri Lanka.  

Dharma Master Cheng Yen, a Buddhist nun on 14 May 1966 in Hualien, Taiwan, founded the Tzi Chi Foundation. Inspired by her master and mentor the late Vulnerable Master Yin Shun, this nun was so moved by the poverty and lack of services in Taiwan that she decided to set up the charity, Tzi Chi Foundation.

From their humble beginnings, this group has expanded to become a major civil society actor with approximately 10 million members and chapters in 47 countries worldwide.

Tzi Chi, which does not use its religion to influence all races and religions, has hundreds of doctors who volunteer their time to care for the sick in many parts of the world.  Besides doing charity work, the Foundation is also actively saving the environment through their on-going recycling programs in Singapore and in other nations.

So let’s take lessons from the Buddhist teachings to learn of humility to order to make this a better world.



Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Press letter: Motorists should get extra insurance cover for mishaps

My letter to MediaCorp’s TODAY newspaper on the above matter is published today, Tuesday 20th December 2016.

Ensuring that our motorists exercise caution and obey traffic rules is necessary, given the many accidents on our roads, some resulting in death or serious injury.

To this end, I support the call for long-time motorists to take a refresher safe driving course (“Hold a refresher safe driving course for veteran motorists”; Dec 17).

Besides this, motorists, including riders, must be mindful of flooding and fallen trees, which could injure them or their passengers, and damage their vehicles. With ageing trees and climate change, an accident could occur when one least expects it.

All motorists have insurance cover for their vehicles, but how many would buy insurance that compensates them if their vehicles get damaged?

They may want to save costs by only taking up accident insurance, or they may be unaware that floods or fallen trees are not covered by accident insurance.

Recently, a motorist had a narrow escape when a tree fell on his van along Upper Aljunied Road and crushed it. Other motorists have been in a similar predicament too.

Drivers cannot claim compensation for such mishaps unless they got additional cover for such mishaps when they bought their accident insurance. The additional sum can be only S$50 or so.


Sunday, December 18, 2016

Act on ideas to help those who fall through the cracks: Raymond Anthony Fernando’s letter to the press

My letter on the above subject is published in the Sunday Times, today, Sunday 18th Dec 2016.

Mr Francis Cheng ("Consider allowing inmates conjugal visits, private time with families"; Dec 11) and Mr Kuharajahsingam Karalasingam ("More work needed in caring for the marginalised"; Dec 11) were right in pointing out that many of those who are marginalised and fall through the cracks are not receiving sufficient support and help.

I fully agree that allowing inmates conjugal visits or private time with their families can help to strengthen the bond between them.

Why not allow inmates and their families to communicate with each other via computer, such as e-mail messages, three or four times a week?

I also applaud Mr Karalasingam for his suggestion to set up a national committee to rally around those who fall through the cracks so that these people can live with dignity.

With Christmas around the corner and a new year in sight, I hope we will also spare a thought for the mentally ill, their caregivers and the lonely elderly who are isolated from society and feel unloved.

No one should have to suffer a "blue" Christmas.

Raymond Anthony Fernando

Letter to The New Paper: Foreign workers with hearts of gold

Letter to The New Paper:  Foreign workers with hearts of gold


My letter on the above matter is published in The New Paper today, Saturday 17th December 2016


I am deeply touched by the kindness and bravery of the foreign workers who stepped forward to rescue Mr Terrence Tang, who was trapped in his vehicle after a tree fell on it, as described in the report “Foreign workers pull trapped man out of van” (The New Paper, Dec, 15).


Many of us will be scared stiff when an incident like this takes place, but the bravery of the foreign workers who risked their lives to save a man is truly commendable. 


I have read several reports of foreign workers who will not hesitate to come to the rescue of any person who is at risk of serious injury or death.


These are the kind of workers Singapore must not only welcome with open arms, but also encourage to serve in the community as grassroots leaders as they have big hearts filled with compassion.




Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Hire Retirees for Community Nursing Care: By Raymond Anthony Fernando

More Singaporeans are living longer and many of them want to live meaningful and healthy lives.  Most, if not all, will not want to end up in nursing homes or in hospitals. 

With the retirement age being extended slowly but surely by our government, it is imperative, that those who had retired earlier or lost their jobs due to retrenchment or failed businesses have opportunities to work once again. Working provides us with key social support. For being gainfully employed not only allows for financial security but also ensures that the person keeps their sanity – for an idle mind is often the devil’s workshop.

To ensure employability, it is absolutely necessary for the job seeker to be kept updated on the latest technological advances, be computer savvy and be able to multi-task. For multi-tasking is the buzzword these days. 

To this end, I share the sentiments expressed by forum writer Paul Heng in his letter to The Straits Times, (“Hiring mature talent a win-win for firms, workers”; Saturday, September 3, 2016”)

With an aging population rapidly coming on-stream, coupled with the shortage of health care workers in nursing homes and community hospitals, it would be useful for the Ministry of Health (MOH) to employ retired nurses or those who are out of work– for one reason or the other. MOH should allow for freelance or locum work for workers who prefer shorter working hours as opposed to longer, draining hours can badly affect the employed seniors.   

Helping to give love and care to the elderly sick in nursing homes can be so rewarding. Most certainly, retired nurses or seniors who have a love for the less fortunate and want to pay it forward can help the residents in the homes to spend their twilight years with some dignity.  With the warmth and empathetic presence these re-employed nurses or retirees can bring, it will mean the difference between a dismal day and a bright one. Seniors are also more willing to show their gratitude.  They appreciate what you’re doing for them and they don’t mind telling you so.

With the Government providing attractive subsidies for courses through the skills development fund, those seeking such meaningful jobs, should seize the opportunity to upgrade themselves as such jobs will always be in demand – not just here in Singapore, but in many parts of the world where there is also an ageing population which governments have to tackle. 

Some of the simple, but by no means important tasks that health care workers in nursing homes or hospitals have to take on include taking patients’ vital signs, such as temperature and blood pressure, helping to clean, bathe and dress them, or serve the patients their meals as they help them eat.

Many of those who are currently not working are not keen to work full time, as they would prefer quality time with their own families and a more relaxed lifestyle. But if the pay is attractive and good incentives given, I am sure those who are out of work will be willing to consider working in such settings.




Monday, December 12, 2016

Bring back the TV series The Green Hornet in memory of Williams and Lee


This article brought back beautiful memories of the exciting action-packed TV series “The Green Hornet” in the early years “(TV’s Green Hornet feared series would be silly” Life! Section of The Straits Times  Dec 7, 2016).


I still recall how the superb acting skills of Van Williams and his co-star Bruce Lee combined with marital arts skills drew thunderous applause from people from all walks of life in the village as well as in the community centres.  It was hilarious to witness the youngsters clapping their hands and yelling their heads out when the duo gave a thrashing to the bad guys in every episode. Most certainly, the show was the perfect way to build the community spirit.


In agreeing to participate in the series, Williams made it abundantly clear that he was going to play it straight and was not in favour of including other characters like Batman in the show which he termed would be silly.  This paid off handsomely and the series became a smash hit –not just here in Singapore, but in so many other countries.


As a fitting tribute to Lee and Williams, it would be good if the series could be brought back on national television and shown at community centres island-wide.  This is also a good way to provide nostalgic entertainment to our pioneers whom I am sure would welcome the revival of the show.


Will MediaCorp TV rise to the occasion? I urge CEO Shaun Seow and Dr Yacoob Ibrahim, the Minister of communications and information to explore this possibility.



Raymond Anthony Fernando


Saturday, December 10, 2016

Motivated by His Holiness, Pope Francis' wisdom and the compassion to reach out to the mentally il & their caregivers .

I  have always been motivated by His Holiness, Pope Francis’ compassion and love for the mentally ill and their caregivers – as well as my mother’s repeated advice to help as many people as I can – even though I have my fair share of critics. 

Pope Francis teachings and homilies are excellent.

In a recent homily, he said these words of wisdom:

“Priests are called to console, not heap obligations on people.

Priests are called to be mediators between God and God's people, offering their time and their very lives in service; they are not God's "intermediaries" or functionaries, who go to work to get paid or, worse, enter the priesthood in search of status,” His Holiness added.

An authentic priest, Pope Francis went on to say, “is close to the life of his people, while a functionary "does not know what it means to get his hands dirty."

Serving as a mediator, immersing oneself in the joys and sorrows of the people is the most satisfying part of being a priest, the Pope said “Those who are functionaries, on the other hand, are not happy, but seek happiness "in being noticed, in feeling like an authority."

"To make themselves important, they take the path of rigidity," he said. "Many times, detached from the people, they have no idea what human pain is. They have lost what they learned at home from the work of their dad, mom, grandparents, siblings," he said. "Those rigid ones heap upon the faithful many things that they cannot carry."

In concluding his homily, Pope Francis said: "They hold a whip in their hands with the people of God: 'You can't do this, you can't do that.' And many people who come to them seeking a bit of consolation, a bit of understanding, are chased off by this rigidity."

In yet another motivating speech, the Pope advised all of us to smile even though  life is hard because when we smile  there is hope. 

God Bless you, Pope Francis and I wish you, "A Blessed Merry Christmas 2016 and A Happy New Year 2017".

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Article on Happy TV: Postnatal Depression; Write About It, Talk About It

Dear all,

Do read my article on the above matter, here on HAPPY TV.


Women don’t have it easy, they have menstrual periods every month where some of them have cramps in their stomach; and when they have menopause, they have mood swings and get irritable.  Added to that, when women are in the family way, they may go through Postpartum Depression.  All these issues, their male partners must fully understand so that the relationship can blossom.

Like many types of mental illness, education on postpartum depression is also necessary to prevent the loss of life – be it for the mother or her child.  The greatest gift that God has given mankind is a child. 

A young nurse dies

It was heart-wrenching to read of how a young nurse in Canada lost her life in what was thought to be of her suffering from Postpartum Depression in the article “Another First-Time Mom with Postpartum Depression Takes Her Own Life” 

Our prayer must go out to her husband and all family members as they try to cope with grief, and rebuild their lives.

Movie actress Brooke Shields struggled with Postpartum Depression.

You would think that a beautiful woman like actress Brooke Shields who played a lead role in the of the movie “Blue lagoon” and who is happily married to a doting husband seemingly has it all – and there was nothing in the world that would make her depressed. Think again.  Following the birth of her child was born, Shields had to fight the "mother lode" of emotional battles: a crippling bout with postpartum depression.

After giving birth two years ago, Shields was not singing lullabies in the pleasing voice that has earned her rave reviews on Broadway. Nor was she learning how to swaddle her newborn girl, Rowan Francis, named after her late father, Francis Shields.

When she was struggling with postpartum depression, Shields  found herself staring out of the window of her fourth-floor Manhattan apartment, contemplating suicide.

"I really didn't want to live anymore," she admitted.  During that painful period, she revealed candidly that seeing a window was enough to prompt her to think, "'I just want to leap out of my life!” But the rational side of her told her, “You're only on the fourth floor. You'll get broken to bits and then you will be even worse.'"

When it rains, it really pours.

There will be times when it rains, it really pours. Another risk factor for postpartum depression is a temporary upheaval, such as the death of a loved one. For Shields, this was her father, who lost his fight with prostate cancer just three weeks before his namesake was born. She was also still mourning the death of her best friend and Suddenly Susan co-star David Strickland, who committed suicide in 1999.

You’ve got a friend.

Sharing experiences with those who have walked the journey can make a huge difference in reclaiming or saving a life. The words "postpartum depression" didn't mean much to the actress  at first, but it finally hit home when a virtual stranger told her about the guilt, shame, and reclusiveness that were connected to postpartum depression – the same symptoms she had struggled with since the baby was born.

Writing a good way to heal; to educate.

One of the most effective ways of raising awareness of mental health issues is to write about it. Now, two years later and seriously considering having more children, Shields is doing what she can to remove this stigma in her new book, “Down Came the Rain”.

Tragedy – on home ground.

Closer to home, the tragedy that took place at a HDB block at Fajar Road in which a 29-year-old woman and her three-month-old daughter fell to their death, shocked many of us and brought tears to my eyes as described in the report “I feel sad a baby is dead” (The New Paper, Nov 24, 2016).

Although life is precious and must be valued, when people are unable to cope with challenges and do not reach out for help, lives will be lost.

After they give birth, women could experience physical changes and emotional issues as follows:

♦  Physical changes. After childbirth, a dramatic drop in hormones (estrogen and progesterone) in the woman’s body may contribute to postpartum depression. Other hormones produced by her thyroid gland also may drop sharply — which can leave the mother feeling tired, sluggish and depressed.

♦ Emotional issues. When the woman is deprived of sleep and overwhelmed, she may have trouble handling even minor problems which in other times she can handle easily. She may be anxious about her ability to take care of her newborn. Even begin to feel less attractive, struggle with her sense of identity or in the worst-case scenario, believe that she has lost control of her life.  Any of these issues can contribute to postpartum depression and that includes relationship problems.

Doctors and counselors should team up to support and educate pregnant women.

To ensure that women who are in the family way have better coping mechanisms, there is a dire need for gynaecologists to team up with counsellors to educate women on postpartum depression and then take the opportunity to find out if they have any problems which they are unable to cope with.  It would also be useful to educate the spouse or other family members on postpartum depression where printed information can be handed out.

Finally, education on this matter through other platforms such newspapers, television and radio will prove useful to save and reclaim lives.

Raymond Anthony Fernando



Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Celebrities can change mindsets on HIV testing

The article, “Prince Harry, Rihanna take HIV test on World Aids Day” in the Life Section of The Straits Times on Saturday 3rd December 2016, caught my attention first thing in the morning.  I have the utmost respect and admiration of leaders and world famous celebrities who go out of their way to help change mindsets. 

Sufferers of HIV are often discriminated against. The fear surrounding the emerging HIV epidemic in the 1980s even persists today and misconceptions of this illness need to change.   Thus, public education on HIV has to be intensified.

HIV-related stigma and discrimination refers to prejudice, negative attitudes and abuse directed at people living with HIV and AIDS.

Many people mistakenly believe that:

  • HIV and AIDS are always associated with death
  • HIV is associated with behaviours that some people disapprove of (like homosexuality, drug use, sex work or infidelity)
  • HIV is only transmitted through sex, which is a taboo subject in some cultures
  • HIV infection is the result of personal irresponsibility or moral fault (such as infidelity) that deserves to be punished
  • inaccurate information about how HIV is transmitted, creating irrational behaviour and misperceptions of personal risk

Some people even believe that one can get infected if you mix with people with HIV. It is clearly a misunderstood illness – just like mental illness. I still recall how a mental health counsellor told me that some ignorant people mistakenly believe that if you drink from a cup used by a psychiatric patient, you can be infected with a mental illness.

There are still people in our midst who feel that because HIV patients have led a flirtatious lifestyle, they are being punished and they don’t deserve help.   Medication is expensive – and some patients travel all the way from Singapore to Thailand to buy the medication which is cheaper over there.

The effort on the part of Prince Harry and Pop Queen Rihanna is indeed a very noble one.  It was Prince Harry who persuaded Rihanna to take the HIV test with him when they attended a concert in celebration of Bridgetown’s capital Barbados’ 50th anniversary on Wednesday 30th November 2016.

It hilarious reading of how Rihanna teased the Prince when the needle that was pricked in the future King’s finger caused him to make a face as he took the test: “Oh, that’s not bad. You made it seem like it hurt,” Rihanna took a jibe at the Prince.

Leaders and celebrities can so easily change mindsets and eradicate discrimination and stigma because people in general look up to them as role models. 

To this end, I urge our local celebrities and even our politicians to emulate the good work Prince Harry and Rihanna have done and step forward to support the Ministry of Health’s programme to get more of our locals and foreigners working here to participate in HIV testing next year and every year thereafter.

Raymond Anthony Fernando



Initiatives to promote and support GIFT
By:  Raymond Anthony Fernando

"Strength does not come from winning. Your struggles develop your strengths. When you go through hardships and decide not to surrender, that is strength."
 - Mahatma Gandhi -

I am often very uplifted when I read of how His Holiness – Pope Francis reminds the Catholic Church that they must always attend to the needs of the mentally challenged and their caregivers.  

In an on-going effort to raise funds on a large scale that is needed to support the many programmes which the Archdiocese has the unenviable task to undertake, all Catholics are being urged through GIFT to donate to this worthy cause.

GIFT stands for Giving In Faith & Thankfulness which the Catholic Foundation is rendering full support. 

According to a communications staff in the Catholic Foundation, basically, what is needed for GIFT are three things: (1) Money, (2) Time (meaning securing volunteers) and (3) Prayers.  In carry out this task, the Catholic Foundation is not in a position to spend money and is hoping that Catholics will contribute from their heart.   The lady also asked me to think of ways of how we can get Catholics to return to church and find out the sentiments on the ground.

There are valid concerns that Catholics are moving away from the church. We need to bring them back to the church. I am attempting to provide genuine and constructive feedback on how we can also help improve services and programmes so that all Catholics come out in full support of their faith.


For my part as a born Catholic, I want to do my best to support GIFT, but to make it a success story, it has to be done in a more articulate manner – bearing in mind that there are hundreds of our Catholics who are out of work, and struggling with challenges.  Workers are being retrenched and the job market is bad.  Families are worried sick of their mortgages.


In striving to make GIFT a success, I have presented an article here on my blog on this meaningful project and I hope that it will be well received.  

Exercise sensitivity on appeal letters

The appeal for support to GIFT must exercise sensitivity for Catholics to ‘voluntary’ contribute as opposed to ‘compelling’ them to do so – as that is the message I and others are getting.  I have read the bulletins and the articles and it is not possible for Catholics to give a monthly contribution for reasons which I have mentioned.


We can do much better that this by learning of success stories from other faiths/charities.


That said, I applaud two very kind Catholics who have made a difference in my life and that of my late wife, Doris Lau who until today I miss very badly, especially during the yuletide season.


(a) Willie Cheng


Willie Cheng and the team from Charis for the excellent work they have done to reach out to the Filipinos in the Philippines.  He has also supported many of my books and that of my wife, and I deeply grateful to him.


(b) Rev Fr Andrew Wong


I am also touched by Rev Fr Andrew Wong’s kindness to me and how he brought me back to the church when my wife fell seriously ill. I discuss this further in my article.  He lets me have blessed candles whenever I or my relatives need prayers and it helps very much.


Loss of key social support after my wife died


However, sadly ever since my wife died two and a half years ago, the lack of support I am facing from the church is troubling. The NCC that is supposed to reach out to the lonely elderly is not there for me. So is the Legion of Mary.


Next, the St Vincent De Paul Society is not supportive of my needs as an elderly and isolated citizen.  Even when I appeal for some vouchers to be given to me so that I can buy a log cake and some roast beef which was a tradition that my late wife and I faithfully kept, my appeal was rejected by the SVDP.  At the Church of Holy Spirit some of the SVDP volunteers show a ‘black’ face to me when they see me. What have I done to deserve this kind of treatment? And mind they do this just after coming out from the daily morning mass.


But I continue to pray to Jesus and my wife so that I can get the support I so badly need. 


When the volunteers at Tzi Chi Foundation give financial support to their adoptees, it is they who bow to their clients – not the other way around. With our SVDP volunteers, it is the opposite. I have seen and heard with my own eyes and how an SVDP volunteer in another church, humiliated an adoptee by raising his voice in front of all the other people present and said as he handed him the money, “This will be the last one, no more ok? Don’t come and ask again”.  Couldn’t that directive be done in private?


So, let us take lessons in humility from the Tzi Chi Foundation and heed the calling of our beloved Pope Francis to rally around those with special needs.  


It is so important for the church to ensure that her volunteers or ministries treat Catholics with decorum and respect, especially those who are marginalized.


If we want get Catholics to attend mass or return back to church, the clergy must learn to ‘talk to people’ instead of ‘talking down’ to people.   My sister who met an Indian Catholic Priest recently and requested his assistance to give holy communion to my twin brother who has been hospitalized in IMH for more than 6 months for chronic depression was told by this priest that he scolds the parishioners when they tell him this and that. So, my sister asked him how does Catholics have the heart to go to church when they are being chided like this.


I have got feedback that some Catholics do not attend mass at certain churches as the people there are snobbish.  I agree with him.


Now, even as I try to rebuild my life and find a new suitable partner to support me in my twilight years, I am condemned and judged by Catholics. So, I ask these people: “Where are you when I need support?” 


Inter-faith sharing

An effective way for GIFT to succeed is to have inter-faith sharing and learn how other faiths have succeed in meeting their social mission.

For example, the Buddhist Charity – Tzi Chi Foundation, guided by the principle of showing love and compassion is rendering support to the needy that includes financial assistance for all races and religions – not just here in Singapore, but across the globe.  

I first learnt about the good work which Tzi Chi Foundation does through Mr Raymond Ong, the boss of a printing company “Unique Press Pte Ltd” who has been a volunteer with this charity for 10 years, counting. His wife and one of his staff are also volunteers.  Ong’s company had printed many of my late wife’s books and mine, and their quotes are pretty competitive. Added to that since Ong knew that my wife had to struggle with mental illness and arthritis for many years, he went the extra mile and gave us fantastic quotes to some of our books. His compassion has perhaps made it possible for his printing business to be sustainable for decades – even though there are challenges that now lie ahead with a digital world. 

Ong brings me out for a nice meal at a club occasionally because he knows that after my wife’s death, I have become isolated. Ong, a couple of months ago, bought 10 kilos of good quality rice and gave it to me.   He wants me to be able to have food on my table as he knows I am jobless. I was in tears over his kindness.

For countries that are often hit by typhoons such as in the Philippines, Tzi Chi Foundation has a ‘Cash-For-Work’ programme in place which was initiated by Master Chens Yen in which 500 pesos are given by Tzi Chi Foundation to the Filipinos to clean up their homes that are affected by the typhoons.  The concept of teaching a man to fish, rather than giving him fish has paid off handsomely as many Filipinos have become Tzi Chi volunteers.  This is one way the charity secures volunteers.

They have thousands of volunteers all over the world, including Africa, and some of the Tzi Chi volunteers are Christians.  They have doctors who give their time to attend to the sick in many countries that are hit by natural disasters or who have citizens who can’t afford medical treatment. 

Thus, it will be good if our Catholic doctors and nurses could move in this direction as well. 

A softer approach for donations

It is good to get a feel of the ground when such appeals go out, and although there are keyboard warriors who will criticize anything and everything, there are also netizens who do provide comments which are realistic.

Often it is not WHAT you say, but HOW you say it.  In wanting to secure $238.1 million over the next 7 years, the crafting of appeals for contributions could have been better worded as there are hundreds of Catholics who are out of work, have physical illness and mental health challenges which makes it difficult for them to make a monthly donation to the archdiocese.

A better way to make this appeal is to say something to this effect: “The archdiocese welcomes any contribution from Catholics, for $10 is not too big and 10 cents or 20 cents is not to small.”

Being unemployed for more than 10 years, I can honestly say that my weekend contribution to the church I attend mass at, is only 50 cents, as it is the only amount I can afford.  When I was gainfully employed and when my wife was in a stable condition, I could give between $4 to S5.  When I was able to sell my books at churches, a $40 donation to the church was no big deal for me.

Allow books or other arts crafts to be sold at churches for those with special needs with a percentage going to GIFT

Another way for contributing to GIFT is allow Catholics with special needs to market their art works – books or arts and craft at churches with 10 to 20 percent of sales going to the Archdiocese. It serves a purpose as it is a win-win situation. It helps those with special needs and their caregivers to become self-reliant and at the same time, some contribution can be made to support GIFT. To give a blanket ruling that no one is allowed to sell their products is not in keeping with what Pope Francis has advocated for the poor and those with special needs.

T-shirts to promote GIFT

An effective way to soft sell the GIFT project is to design and print T-shirts with GIFT logo and message and appoint GIFT ambassadors to wear them. The cost of printing of the T-shirts can be borne by a sponsor. Picture the message on the apparel: “As a Catholic, I fully support and donate to GIFT. How about you?”

Shortage of priests

The Church is also in dire of priests as we have many ageing priests and if younger ones do not take up the priesthood, then our current pool of priests will be overworked and overstretched, as they not only have to conducts daily masses, but have to take on many other duties, that includes giving communion to the sick, conducting funeral masses and wedding celebrations – just to name a few.

It is therefore vital that our younger generation see the value of becoming priests and that is by no means an easy task as many would want to have an office job and good pay. Our priests are not well paid, but given a small allowance.

To this end, it will be good if seasoned priests from the seminary, like Father Ignatius who gives beautiful moving sermons could give talks at Catholic schools to encourage the students to consider taking the priesthood as a vocation.  This priest teaches at the seminarian at Punggol.

The power of prayer

I’d like to share my thoughts on suffering and the power of prayer.

Many people blame God when they are going through suffering. They blame God for causing them so much suffering – be it financial problems, sickness or emotional distress.  From my own perspective as a Catholic, I fervently believe, that God being the loving person He is, does not GIVE suffering, but He ALLOWS sufferings so that our faith in Him can be strengthened.

Initially, I felt that way too, but two things changed my mind. One was when my Parish Priest prayed over me and gave me blessed candles which helped a great deal to heal my wife when she had a serious relapse of her schizophrenia illness and the other was related: That unflagging support from this kind priest helped me to return to church after a long absence and restored my faith in Jesus.

Having regained my Catholic faith, I am prepared to evangelize my experience at any Catholic church, organization or school, free of charge during the evenings or at night. Given that I am unemployed, it would help, if transport expenses incurred could be reimbursed to me.

The power of collective prayer

Never underestimate the power of Collective Prayer. Praying together simply means more prayers are prayed.  Each of us has a unique way of praying and praying together brings a new voice to our needs.  Praying together gives me a deep feeling of belonging, being cared for, being loved.

Praying together improves the pray mood and the group.  Looking out among others and feeling their love and care regardless of how I felt when I began, I leave feeling comforted and this is why I attend mass every week.

Collective prayer can lift the human spirit – even with the passing of a loved one. This was so apparent when so many people came to my wife’s wake and prayed for both my late wife and myself. They came from all walks of life and included relatives, former classmates, friends and two kind-hearted journalists from the press.

Although I know God is always with me, and I often pray alone and enjoy the benefits of my solitary prayer time, I feel His presence most strongly when I'm praying with others. This is why I make it a must to attend mass every weekend, even if I am sick.  I believe lifting one another in prayer is one of the richest experiences we can share.  Together, we are strengthened and blessed.

Promote GIFT through YouTube

No need to spend on publicity for GIFT or to evangelize, as everything is free on YOUTUBE.  Tzi Chi Foundation’s master does daily teachings from Taiwan in Hokein and it is broadcast ‘live’ to their HQ here in Singapore where they have a few branches. Around 100 volunteers attend her talk at 5.30am.  The teachings are broadcast on YOUTUBE so that all their thousands of followers can pick up the teachings whose focus is often on showing love and kindness to everyone.  That is how this spirit of giving has been molded.

Seek sponsors, volunteers to fund/support GIFT’s programmes

The archdiocese, in collaboration with the Catholic Foundation could approach corporate organizations to fund and support some of her programmes. Ideally, target companies whose management staff are Christians.

Next, secure the services of those in the Arts Ministry of Catholic churches to design creative material to promote these meaningful programmes.