Thursday, October 19, 2017

Opinion: Strong community support can help psychiatric patients to work toward recovery

8 years ago, on 22 January 2009, I proposed through the press (The New Paper) that the government builds more psychiatric homes, and it has been implemented.  Thank you, The New Paper for your wonderful support.

Last Saturday, a sheltered home for psychiatric patients – the Anglican Care Centre (SACS) managed by the Singapore Anglican Community Services was officially opened and Health Minister Gan Kim Young officiated at the event.  

When the Ministry of Health stands alongside the mentally ill, there is a good chance that slowly persons with mental illness will gain acceptance. It is encouraging that the Government is listening to feedback.  I am indeed very grateful to the government for building this psychiatric home.


In less than 2 weeks from today, 1st November my late wife, Doris who was born on ALL SAINTS DAY will be celebrating her 65th birthday. She watches over me often, I can feel her presence in my room at night and even during the day. After her bath, Doris will put smell talcum powder on her face and body, and that’s the smell I get when I feel her around me. She brings renewed hope to me, and if she was alive, Doris will also be so happy that this shelter has been built.


Here’s my take on the newly opened Anglican Care Centre (SACS).


The newly opened Anglican Care Centre (SACS) managed by the Singapore Anglican Community Services is the right setting for psychiatric patients to work towards recovery, and it is a healthy sign that Health Minister Gan Kim Yong, despite his busy schedule, was there to officiate at the opening (Centre for those recovering from mental illness; October, 14, 2017, The Straits Times).


Dr Arthur Chern, group chief executive officer of SACS and St Andrew’s Mission Hospital, was spot on when he mentioned that with good community-based support, psychiatric patients can lead a normal life that includes being given regular employment.


Unlike, a physical illness, the recovery from a mental health condition takes a much longer time and lots of patience and understanding is required to enable them to stay in control of their lives.


The road ahead for psychiatric patients may not always be smooth sailing as there will be bumps along the way. But as long as they keep to their medical appointments that includes counselling, take the prescribed medications, exercise regularly and receive staunch support and encouragement from enlightened employers and colleagues, along with loving and caring caregivers and the community, there is an excellent chance of patients heading towards recovery. This will be an opportune time for them to achieve their goals – thereby securing full independence that will eventually enable them to gain acceptance in society.


In working towards building a dynamic inclusive society, let us not define psychiatric patients by their condition nor see it as a character flaw, but rather to understand that they are all human beings, who just like you and me, need love, understanding and kindness.


Raymond Anthony Fernando




I am also inspired by people who have overcome obstacles in life, and one such person is famous American basketball player Michael Jordan, who once said: “Obstacles don't have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don't turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it.”

For the past 3 and a half years, I make it a must to pray to my wife at the columbarium in my church where Doris’ ashes are laid. I go as early as 6am to pray to her even though the lights are only turned on at 8am.  I pray in the dark, but the light of the eyes in Jesus and my wife shines on me, and give me hope. It is very dark but I bring along my led light lamp so that I will not be groping in the dark and fall down.

Moreover, the stretch of road leading to the church is tricky as the MRT is being built there so many areas have been blocked off.  Going that early helps me avoid the peak hour crowd in buses and I find solitude at this hour when I can talk to my wife and Jesus – two people who always protect and care for me.

Whatever I have done; and continue to do for the marginalized in Singapore though my advocacy efforts, I do it with courage and conviction.  I fear no one. And those who believe in what I do will always give me encouragement. I will walk tall – as I walk the talk.  

Have a nice day, folks.



Raymond Anthony Fernando  

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Encouraging when ideas get translated into action!

8 years ago, on 22 January 2009, I proposed through the press (The New Paper) that the government builds more psychiatric homes, and it has been implemented. Last Saturday, a sheltered home for psychiatric patients – the Anglican Care Centre (SACS) managed by the Singapore Anglican Community Services was officially opened and Health Minister Gan Kim Young officiated at the event. Read my press letter here:…/letter-to-pressnew-paper-22nd…
Advocacy pays, ya?
Raymond Anthony Fernando

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Public suggestion to the Health & Manpower Ministers: Provide financial options to Singaporeans who can’t pay big bills in private hospitals and review lengthy work hours for senior citizens

Having to pay for huge medical bills in view of rising medical costs has always been a deep concern of all Singaporeans, and it really saddens me to have read of the plight of Mr Thomas Lukose who was saddled with a huge medical bill (Patient could not get place in SGH, hit with $78k bill; Oct 11, 2017, The Straits Times).

But, it was commendable on the part of the operating cardiac surgeon, Dry Sriram Shanker to waive the charges for his services, after which Gleneagles Hospital also waive the medical bill of for Mr Lukose.

If we can build on that compassion and offer some options to Singaporeans who may face a similar situation in future, I am pretty sure the lower income groups will breathe a big sigh of relief.  Moreover, offering options is always useful to have contingency plans in place in anticipation of unexpected situations or developments that may arise from time to time.

Securing a slot in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) is an issue that needs to be tackled quickly given that many Singaporeans are stressed out in having to balance work and family life.  So too securing a bed in a government hospital. Given these challenges, there needs to be some flexibility and options for any Singaporean who have problems paying huge bills due to the unavailability of ICU slots or beds in public hospitals. 

Until such time when the slots in ICU or beds are fully resolved by the Ministry of Health (MOH), there needs to be systems in place for Singaporeans to have peace of mind. 

Offer options

To begin with MOH should collaborate with private hospitals to allow Singaporeans who have life-threatening illnesses and cannot secure a bed in public hospitals to pay their bills at the subsidised rates in the private hospitals – as was rightly suggested my SPH’s Senior Health Correspondent Salma Khalik. 

Then there needs to be some other options open to Singaporeans who are saddled with big bills through no fault of theirs.  For example, patients could be allowed to pay big bills through an instalment plan – interest free as they would need follow-up treatment which includes medication.

Another option is for ComCare to help pay for part of the bill as this government fund was set up primary to help elderly Singaporeans facing financial difficulties. MOH needs to collaborate with MSF on this matter.

Although medifund is given to patients in subsidised wards, some flexibility can be exercised given the circumstances that the patient/s may be caught in – as was the case with Mr Lukose.   Thus, medifund assistance can be yet another option offered to such patients.

Another viable option is for the Tote Board and the President’s Star Charity to allocate some funds for Singaporeans who are in this predicament.

Once approved by MOH, the social workers at the private admitting hospital can then coordinate any of these schemes to make it a smooth sail for the patient/s so that his/her loved ones will have peace of mind. 

While crowdfunding can help to raise some funds, relatives should not be burdened to take this route as it will only add to their stress and anxiety at a time when they will be deeply worried over their gravely ill loved one.   

The recovery from life-threatening illnesses such as heart surgery must not leave the patient and his/her family with anxiety and worry, as it can affect the healing process.

Lengthy work hours will take a toll on the physical and mental health of workers

Separately, the Ministry of Manpower and unions needs to review the long working hours which security guards have to clock in – almost all of our security personnel work on a 12-hour shift on any given day.  Those in the industry could be given the flexibility to opt for shorter working hours (8 hours) or if they are fit to work the 12-hour shift.  With job uncertainty and workers being laid off as companies downsize and restructure, some of our retrenched workers who have bills and mortgages to pay may have to work in the security line or drive cabs as jobs are hard to come by.  

Lengthy works hours – especially for senior citizens can have damaging effects on their physical as well as their mental state.

On 24th August 2015, a study published in the British medical journal – The Lancet had an alarming warning for people who work more than 55 hours a week: They appear to have a 33 percent higher risk of stroke than those toiling a saner 35 to 40 hours each week, and a 13 percent increased risk of coronary heart disease, too.

In addition, a study in 2014 found that working more than 55 hours a week at low-income jobs is associated with a higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.  Then it was also found that the odds for developing depression were more than double for those who work very long hours.

Education and medical care are two important areas for the government to invest in. While the government is wise to invest heavily in education as students can be groomed to become tomorrow’s leaders, the policy makers have to also appreciate older Singaporeans – many of whom have done national service to protect our country and who have dedicated their whole lives to our country. 

Submitted for the government’s consideration, please.  
Thank you.



Raymond Anthony Fernando



Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Opinion: Be mindful of sensationalising and glorifying violence

I totally agree with Dr Ng Eng Heng that counter-terrorism efforts could go on for a long time “7 times more Singaporeans radicalised in the past year: Defence Minister (Oct 9).

The defence ministry has done the right thing by getting our soldiers to participate in counter-terrorism missions for a decade in counties like Afghanistan against the Al Qaeda.  Although more training and deployment for our soldiers will continue so that Singaporeans can be protected should terror attacks occur, it is just as important that the media and movies producers be mindful of sensationalising and glorifying violence as it can influence extremists from following what they see.   

Let’s understand that violence begets violence.  Given the rise in terrorism world-wide, everyone has an important role to play in stamping out senseless violence.  

Because they have so much hatred and anger in them, terrorists’ groups have only one purpose – to maim and kill innocent people. They have absolutely no love for human beings. 

Some time ago, the movie Air Force One was shown in America and many other countries, including Singapore.  In this action-packed thriller, a group of hijackers seized the plane carrying the President of the United States and his family. 

By some strange coincidence, several years later in September 2001, American Airlines Boeing 767 crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center in New York City killing 2,996 people and injuring 6,000 others, with damages estimated at $10 billion in infrastructure and property. The Islamic terrorist group al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for the coordinated attacks.

Many of the Hollywood blockbusters which has excessive violence and broadcast through wide TV networks around the world could in some way be giving ‘ideas’ to terrorists or potential ones. These movies tend to ‘glorify’ violence. Given that terrorism is causing havoc in many cities, broadcasting stations may want to review what they telecast as the outreach is big.

World-wide media coverage of terrorists’ cruelty such beheading people or bombing crowded places will give terrorist groups the attention they crave for.  Bear in mind that a discontented society paves the way for terrorists to recruit followers and carry out terror attacks.


The media and platforms on the internet all over the world should therefore not play into the hands of terrorists by sensationalising coverage on violence and terrorism because it will not only instill fear and anxiety in people, but divide everyone.


Once fear grips people, they panic and become vulnerable to the evil doings of terrorists.  Thus, an effective way for nations to defeat terrorists is to build unshakable resilience and stay united – period.   


But while it is important for everyone to stay vigilant against terrorism, we cannot also be looking over our shoulders all the time, and be held ransom to terrorists.



Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Opinion: Implement a Block Watch programme to stamp out vice in the heartlands

Foreign women here on social visit passes are becoming bolder and in wanting to make a fast buck through vice are upsetting residents in Jurong West Street 61 and it’s understandable that many of the residents there feel unsafe (“Heartland brothels make residents see red”, The New Paper, October 4, 2017)

Our homes are our sanctuary and it represents who we are and the principles and values we live by. Landlords, for their part, must keep tabs on the people they rent their premises to, especially if they are unknown to them.

Neigbours play an important role in keeping the estate safe and secure from crimes. They can keep a look-out for strangers entering homes.  Neighbourhood safety is a shared responsibility in which both citizens and police have important roles to play.

Unlike condominiums where there is security personnel round-the-clock to check on visitors, HDB flats do not have such a security system, so it makes it so much easier for vice to take place in rented flats where the landlord may not be aware of such illegal activities. 

Therefore, I suggest that a Block Watch programme be introduced in Jurong West estate and other housing estates where appointed neighbours can work with the police to report suspicious characters – be it for suspected vices and other criminal activities – to reduce or eliminate any residential crime.


Opinion: Volunteers can play an important role in the rehabilitation of patients in the long staying wards of the Institute of Mental Health: An open Public Suggestion to the Singapore Government

I applaud the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) for their untiring efforts in helping long-stay psychiatric patients reintegrate back into society with a new rehabilitation programme (“A new dream for IMH long-stayers”; The Sunday Times –  Sunday 1 October 2017)

Well trained volunteers who exercise patience, empathy and compassion will be an excellent position to offer friendship to patients with mental illness who will feel loved and care for. Such social stimulation with reminiscence therapy conversations, combined with singing, games and storytelling by volunteers on a regular basis that can bring some enjoyment to those in the long-staying wards is the first step to getting the patients there to understand that that they are not alone in this world. 

Once the patients feel loved, the confidence they gain is the second step that will motivate them to learn a skill, secure a job and get back into society. 

The third step is to organise outings for the recovering patients as recreation is important for those who have been cooped up for years.

During my visits to the Institute of Mental Health (IMH), I have met some of our loving and caring volunteers – locals as well as foreigners, and it is so heartwarming to see them give their time and energy to bring a smile on the faces on the mentally ill. Those who have much love in their hearts and know how to feel for another human being would want to pass it on – and sometimes it breaks their hearts to see patients in their predicament.

During my conversation with a young Filipino volunteer on one Sunday, she broke down and cried when speaking of the plight of psychiatric patients.  It is no big deal for her and her whole group of domestic helpers to sacrifice their only day off in the week to bring happiness to the mentally ill. 

Right now, community visits to IMH is restricted to certain wards, but maybe it is time to cast the net wider by extending these community visits to the long-staying wards as well so that visitors will have a clearer understanding of mental illness and witness firsthand how patients there cope – and to see what the job entails for our dedicated healthcare workers.

With this suggested programme in place, IMH might just be able to secure more volunteers as they might be deeply touched by the plight of patients in the long-staying wards, some of whom have been abandoned by their relatives. Under the training of IMH healthcare workers, the volunteers together with the nurses can gradually bring these patients for outings.   As a pilot project a small number of patients – maybe around 4-5 could be taken to see the outside world.

It is by no means easy to secure volunteers, so an effective way is for those volunteering to have their contributions factored in their staff appraisals (for workers) and in the case of students, in their reports cards. For volunteers who give their time and energy to bring sunshine into the lives of the mentally ill, it also a learning journey for them as they can better understand what psychiatric patients go through trying to cope with the various brain disorders.  To some extent, it’s in a certain way – public education, and when more people are educated on mental health issues, we can slowly, but surely remove the stigma that plagues the mentally ill.


Sunday, October 8, 2017

A roof over the head, a meal on the table: A public suggestion to the Singapore Government on the homeless in Singapore

I am deeply saddened to read the report –“Homeless stereotypes busted: Most hold jobs, have been destitute for over a year”; CNA (Channel News Asia) Insider, October 7, 2017).

It is be without a roof over your head or not be able to have a decent meal.  Everyone needs at least a bunker and a bed to rest their weary head on.  Singapore is not the only country that have homeless citizens. There are many other countries across the globe that have homeless people; among them America, India, the Philippines, China, Australia, France, Canada and Germany – just to name a few.   

A United Nations global survey in 2005 found that an estimated 100 million people are homeless worldwide. Habitat for Humanity estimated in 2015 that 1.6 billion people around the world live in "inadequate shelter.” Sometimes we witness Good Samaritans milk human kindness by coming to the aid of homeless people where they give blankets and meals to homeless people.


In a first study on the homeless in Singapore, a group of professionals – SW101 who carried a survey were surprised that even though people had jobs, being without a proper home was what these citizens of lower skills and education had to grapple with.


At a social work seminar, a member of SW101, Dr Ng Kok Hoe said that “Homelessness is one of the most serious implications of this kind of wage conditions.” Dr Ng added: “It was a wake-up call for us that you could hold a job, and still be in such housing instability that you end up on the streets.”   


In one night, more than 100 people including SW101 members, staff from community organization Montfort Care and other volunteers combed many places all over Singapore to determine how many people could be homeless.  They discovered that 180 people were homeless with 29 not wanting to reveal the public places they were sleeping at.  The vast majority of homeless people were men.  The locations where they rested included parks, and shopping centres, public housing blocks, pedestrian walkways and town centres and these areas were most unhygienic: pest-invested, uncomfortable and urine-stained.


Dr Ng said that the survey carried out was not a nationwide count, hence “is likely to underestimate the actual extent of homelessness in Singapore.”


Difficult task for MSF

 The Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) don’t have it easy; they assist an average of 300 cases of homelessness a year. Not being able to get along with the relatives or wanting to sleep near their places of work are some of the reasons why some people choose to sleep outside their homes.


But citizens who have much empathy for the less fortunate can rally around MSF to bring that elusive rainbow to the homeless people in Singapore.


Set up a Foundation or Charity

To help resolve the problem of homelessness, I propose that a foundation or charity be set up by a group of budding entrepreneurs or volunteers who want to make a difference in the lives of the homeless people and in doing so, will be able lift the human spirit. Youths are the ideal group to set up the foundation as they could be the leaders of tomorrow. I would name the organisation as Home-Grown Foundation because it can set up on home ground.  It can be a start-up with grants from the government to invest in this venture.


To help Home-Grown Foundation be successful, it has to grow to meet the needs of the homeless; and as such its resources and funds need to grow as well.


The foundation’s office can be built at a HDB void deck and staffed by a few people on a paid salary. Staff employed through support from the government and the community, could include those who can raise funds, secure sponsorship and provide counselling services. If is not feasible to hire a counsellor/s, these professionals can be seconded from MSF. Given that Singapore has a multi-racial society, counsellors should come from the 4 main religious groups viz, Muslim, Christian, Buddhist and Hindu where spiritual support or even pastoral care will help lift the dampened spirit.


Computers and office equipment such as photocopiers and furniture could be supplied by successful companies who can be ‘enticed’ to give back to society for a worthy cause.  Corporate responsibility should be part and parcel of successful companies. Meals for the homeless can be provided by food charities with expenses for the meals met by philanthropists or corporate giants. Of course, it will help if the government can provide some funding from money that is raised for community projects on national levels or through Comcare.


I know of two food charities that have been magnanimous in providing free meals for the needy – Willing Hearts run by Tony Tay and Free Food For All (FFFA) managed by Nizar Mohd Shariff. Both require funds to keep doing these kind deeds. FFFA gives a healthy wholesome meal that comprises rice, a veggie and a meat to some 300 beneficiaries in Tampines, Chai Chee, Bedok North and Bedok Reservoir.  Both Nizar and Tony Tay can be co-opted to run a canteen at the Foundation or the locations where sheltered homes are located.


Allow fund raising

MSF could allow the proposed foundation, with supervision and audits to raise funds as follows:

  • The Public can make a general donation – They can make a general donation on behalf of people experiencing homelessness, mental or physical health issues and addiction.
  • Become a monthly donor – As a monthly donor, you can help keep administration costs low, allowing the foundation to allocate more funds to programmes and services.
  • Make a gift in memory of a family member, friend or colleague, or in honour of someone special or in recognition of a special occasion.
  • Organise its own fundraiser

Building simple inexpensive homes/shelters  

There are a few options which the government may want to consider.

(a) Many homeless people pitch tents at our beaches, but have to leave when the NEA checks the area.

With approval from the government simple inexpensive homes can be constructed in a hived-off area at the beach or in places where there is some land that can be used for makeshift homes. The Singapore Land Authority (SLA) should be able to identify unused buildings such as old primary schools which have large halls and classrooms. These old schools could be converted into sheltered or makeshift homes


(b) Religious groups can also play a role in helping homeless Singaporeans find a resting place. There are also some places in churches like the Catholic Church in Bukit Timah which can be used for this purpose. The caretaker there can ensure that the sheltered home serves its primary purpose of providing a safe haven for those who cannot secure a permanent home – for one reason or the other. 


Teaching a man to fish


There are endless typhoon and storms that plague the Philippines throughout the year. Singapore is blessed to be free from such natural disasters. Yet being without a home is also to some extent – a disaster.


Through these calamities of natural disasters, help will come to those who are willing to help themselves. It is the Buddhist Charity –Tzi Chi Foundation that rises to the occasion and gives hope when all hope seems hopeless.  The Filipinos are sort of immune to their homes and property being destroyed during the natural disasters. Through these adversities, they have become resilient with the wonderful support of the volunteers from Tzi Chi Foundation who fervently believe that it is unwise to give fish, but far better to teach people to fish.


With this in mind the charity came up with the programme, CASH FOR WORK where they pay the affected families a fixed sum (500 pesos or $15 per person) to rebuild their homes. This programme was so popular that it attracted thousands of Filipinos to step forward to rebuild the damaged homes.  Good karma returns like a boomerang when kind deeds are done. Delighted and happy to see their homes rebuilt through the compassion of Tzi Chi, many Filipinos are today volunteers with this charity.


Like Tzi Chi Foundation, Caritas Humanitarian Aid & Relief Initiatives, Singapore or CHARIS for short has done much humanitarian work.  CHARIS is the umbrella body for overseas humanitarian aid by the Archdiocese of Singapore.

Humanitarian situations cover natural disasters and other adverse circumstances faced by the poor and needy, especially in developing countries in the region. Aid provided by CHARIS includes funding, medical aid and volunteers for immediate relief as well as the long-term support of those displaced and in need.

For a period of one week, from 29th Nov - 5 Dec 2015, 25 CHARIS volunteers came forward to help and experience working alongside the victims of Super Typhoon Yolanda within Bogo City, Cebu, one of the shelter building sites that CHARIS supported with the generous donations from the Singapore Catholic community.

His Most Reverend José S. Palma, Archbishop of Cebu, commented, "The biggest donation came from all of you (CHARIS), and it came immediately, while government aid took months to arrive. The support and aid that we received from our brothers and sisters in Singapore provided us with the belief and strength to carry on. At first, when the disaster struck, it saddened us all that many lives were lost and many more displaced but the Philippines - even though we are a country with many natural disasters.

The house building project, aptly name Caritas Village, is run by The Archdiocese of Cebu’s Relief & Rehabilitation Unit (RRU), a group comprised of passionate young Filipinos intent on bringing hope back to their fellow displaced and poor Cebuano’s. Led by Father Charles Louis Jayme, the group has so far completed 48 out of 150 homes in the village of Bungtod, where 25 volunteers from Singapore went to help with basic construction work.

Cebu’s Relief & Rehabilitation Unit (RRU), a group comprised of passionate young Filipinos intent on bringing hope back to their fellow displaced and poor Cebuano’s. Led by Father Charles Louis Jayme, the group has so far completed 48 out of 150 homes in the village of Bungtod, where 25 volunteers from Singapore went to help with basic construction work.


RRU has also put in place a program of ‘Sweat Equity’ for the villagers who will live in the houses. The idea of this is to encourage a sense of ownership, equality and teamwork among the villagers to work together to rebuild their lives after the disaster. This is also to promote self-reliance and reduce the dependence on foreign aid groups who come in to build houses without requiring much help from the locals. Thus, each family in the village would need to complete about 400 hours of house building and would only be allocated a house by drawing of lots upon completion of the 400 hours.


Let charity also begin at home

( c )Taking the cue from both Tzi Chi Foundation and CHARIS, Home-Grown Foundation could, with the assistance of these two organisations help our homeless Singaporeans to build some inexpensive homes using the same concept of empowering them to build their own homes. MSF, the Ministry of National Development and the Ministry of Manpower can oversee the operations to ensure that the sheltered homes are clean and safe for living.


Skills training

Once the homeless people are housed with proper meals, they can be sent for skills training to enable them to earn better wages.  Once they become fiercely independent, they can apply for rented flats or even purchase it with government housing subsidies.


Submitted for your consideration, please.




Raymond Anthony Fernando
Positive reply from MSF today 10th Oct 2017

Dear Mr Fernando,
We refer to your email of 8 October 2017. Thank you for your feedback. We appreciate the time and effort you have put into the suggestions, which we will consider further.

The Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) works closely with social service organisations and other government agencies to support families and individuals who may be at risk of homelessness. Our priority is to ensure that their immediate needs are met and they receive support to address their long-term housing and living needs. MSF also funds 3 Transitional Shelters, which provide shelter to homeless families and individuals who have exhausted all other means of accommodation. Social workers at these shelters will work with them to improve their family situations and on their long-term housing arrangements.

As you have highlighted, members of the public also play an important role in helping the homeless. For example, they may refer such persons to the nearest Social Service Office or Family Service Centre for assistance. They may also call the ComCare hotline at 1800-222-0000.

Thank you.

Justin Sim

Assistant Manager (Social Support Policy) | ComCare and Social Support Division

Ministry of Social and Family Development


Opinion: Members of Parliament, Policy Makers and Civil Servants need to stay connected to the ground

There are many social problems which Singaporeans are struggling with every day so it is vital that members of parliament (MPs), mayors, ministers, policy makers and civil servants stay closely connected to the ground.

Long working hours, financial stress, unhappy home or married lives, lack of social interaction, high cost of living, homeless people are some of the problems that contribute to people falling into depression and in severe cases leading to suicide.

Many people are of the view that during the run-up to the General Elections, the politicians will visit homes to find out what are the issues residents face, in order to secure support so that they can get elected as MPs. After they get elected, it’s a different situation altogether, because very few MPs visits the residents. 

While MPs and Mayors are busy people, it is crucial that they stay in touch with the ground and visit the residents periodically – especially those who have mobility problems or are full time caregivers. 

Recently Mr Chee Hong Tat who is Senior Minister of State for Health took on the role of being a “Being a nurse for the day” at the Institute of Mental Health where he got an insightful peek into how the mentally ill are being care for by a dedicated team of healthcare workers and seeing for himself how mental patients are trying to cope with mental disorders.  This is a noble gesture on the part of Mr Chee as he was able to witness what it is like for caregivers to have to give love and support to their care recipients often 24/7.

The role of Non-Constituency Members of Parliament (NCMP) ought to be expanded beyond speaking in Parliament. NCMPs, together with civil servants who could include Permanent Secretaries should shadow the MPs during their Meet-The-People’s Session (MPS) to get a better feel of the ground and have the flexibility to give constructive solutions to our policy makers.


Raymond Anthony Fernando



Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Raymond’s letter to The Straits Times: Upskirt offences: Culprits need counselling too

My letter to The Straits Times on the above matter is published today, Tuesday 3rd October 2017.
District Judge Kenneth Yap recently correctly pointed out that there have been far too many upskirt cases and there was a need for stiffer sentences (Ex-bank officer jailed for upskirt videos; Sept 29).

But we should not just fine or jail those who do not respect a woman's modesty.

There are underlying issues that need to be addressed.
From the cases reported, there appears to be a link between stress and voyeurism.
Those caught include engineers, bank officers, salesmen and students who seem unable to cope with the demands of daily life, are lonely or are just plain bored.

They may see taking upskirt videos as a means of escapism and for a cheap thrill.

However, once caught, they pay a heavy price for their offence.
Those who are convicted are bound to lose their jobs, and both they and their loved ones can easily fall into depression from the negative publicity.

They will also be shunned by friends and former office colleagues.

So, let’s not just punish the sinner, but condemn the sin as well.
To this end, it is vital that voyeurs get mandatory treatment that includes counselling to rid them of their obsession with support groups helping them along the way.

Raymond Anthony Fernando

Monday, October 2, 2017

Letter to The New Paper: Gurmit a good choice as hospice ambassador

My letter to The New Paper on the above subject is published today, Monday 2nd October 2017.

I refer to the reports that television celebrity Gurmit Singh did not place his late father in a hospice because of wrong impressions and lack of knowledge.

Hospice care is end-of-life care. The objective is to help give the dying peace, comfort and dignity. But a hospice is not a place where people go to die.

The good work of hospice care staff needs to be published so that more people who are sceptical of admitting their relatives into these places will consider this option which can also significantly reduce the strain on caregivers.

The stress and strain of caring for close relatives who are in the last stages of their life can lead to burnout.  

If the patient insists on living alone, there is also much anxiety for family members, as was the case with Gurmit, whose father was battling cancer.  

With his wacky and bubbling character, Gurmit is the right person to bring some joy into the lives of patients and create more awareness of end-of-life issues as a hospice ambassador.



Saturday, September 30, 2017

Raymond's letter to The Straits Times: Supportive employers key to staff welfare

Multi-tasking at the workplace,. I wrote this letter after I read about the front-line staff at Tan Tock Seng Hospital getting stressed out by a heavy workload.

Raymond's letter to The Straits Times: Supportive employers key to staff welfare

My letter to The Straits Times on the above matter is published today, Saturday, 30th September 2017.
It is a wise move on the part of the Healthcare Services Employees’ Union (HSEU) in collaboration with the Association of Psychotherapists and Counsellors (Singapore) to look after the welfare of their workers (Boosting healthcare workers’ well-being; Sept 27).

Today’s working environment requires most employees to multi-task.

 Thus, it is not uncommon for staff to suffer from burnout when they are unable to cope with the heavy workload.

With jobs hard to come by, stressed-out employees often bottle up their frustrations and emotions, as they are fearful that their bosses will view them as being uncommitted if they complain.

Having a frank discussion with the boss on their workload requires the right mindset.

When employers create an environment where workers feel comfortable to speak up on any issue that is troubling them – be it personal or work-related matters then any stressed-out worker will willingly step forward to seek help.

When workers go through tumultuous periods in their personal lives, with their families for instance, they would not be able to balance family and work at the same time.

In such instances, an understanding and compassionate manager can make a big difference in helping an employee to cope.

Healthcare workers, in particular the frontline staff, can better manage their duties if they have an understanding of stress and mental health issues.

In addition, strategies to deal with overwork must be taught to frontline staff.

Raymond Anthony Fernando

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Trained Estate Mental Health Ambassadors (EMHA) can help people grappling with mental health issues : A public suugestion to the Singapore Government

The police have been alerted to a case of a naked man roaming in Tampines and are trying to establish his identity, “Police investigating case of naked man who roamed around Tampines” (Channel News Asia; Sept, 14, 2017).

Photographs of the man wearing nothing but boots, spectacles and a lanyard while carrying a handphone, taking a public bus and walking near Block 523C Tampines Avenue 9 has been circulated.

I would not be surprised at all if the man in question could be having a mental health issue that is untreated because obviously no person in the right frame of mind goes around naked in public.  

There have been similar cases in the past where even women have gone nude in public.  In addition, there are incidents where persons with untreated mental health issues have caused disruptions in the neigbourhood, leaving residents to conclude that they are troublemakers. This only deepens stigmatisation of mental illness.

Circulating pictures or videos of persons who expose themselves when they are not aware of what they are doing will not only humiliate them, but cause much embarrassment to their relatives and friends as well.
The police have more pressing issues to handle such as terrorism and crime, so citizens who can contribute ought to help out.

To help resolve this growing social problem, I propose we train suitable people in the neighbourhoods on mental illness by well-established mental health providers who could include professionals from the Institute of Mental Health, Silver Ribbon Singapore and the Singapore Association for Mental Health.   After they are trained, they can be appointed as Estate Mental Health Ambassadors (EMHA)  to serve in the respective estates.

These trained EMHAs whose contact numbers can be given on HDB notice boards, community clubs and on a given website can be contacted to help anyone grappling with mental illness.  
It must be made abundantly clear to both the EMHAs and the person/s being helped that patient confidentially will be respected at all times.

As it is difficult to secure volunteers, an allowance can be given to the EMHAs for their time, efforts, meals and paper work every time they handle a case. The funds can come from the community clubs and all cases must be handled with privacy and confidentially on the person being helped.  Once a case has been handled professionally, the EMHA submits a simple report to the grassroots leader to make a claim.  Such allowances can also come from any charity or organisation that supports mental health.
I urge the government to support this proposed EMHA scheme so that there will be little or no disruptions in public places.


Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Let’s honour Singapore's centenarians: Raymond Anthony Fernando’s letter to the press

Dear readers,

It's a good idea to honour those who hit a century– because it shows the resilience these citizens who have gone through difficult times such as during the Japanese occupation – and witnessed the transformation of Singapore from the days of simple buildings to the skyscrapers we see today. To see a simple bus service transformed to the sophisticated transport system we have today. They do need to be recognised. See my press letter that is out today in The Straits Times

I have sent it to the Singapore Government.

I urge the government to support this suggestion. If need be, sponsors/philanthropists can be approached to stand alongside these centenarians. It is a win-win situation for these donors as they get good publicity which will further enhance their image and it provides an incentive for these centenarians to always stay positive in life.

 Thank you.


Raymond Anthony Fernando

Let’s honour Singapore's centenarians: Raymond Anthony Fernando’s letter to the press

 My letter to The Straits Times on the above matter is published today, Tuesday 26th September 2017.

I have nothing but admiration for former principal Mr Nagansthan Vaithinathan who not only devoted 13 years of his life to education, but also kept himself busy reading and doing translation work (Tanjong Katong Secondary’s founding principal dies at 102; Sept 22).

Mr Vaithinathan valued life-long learning. He obtained a barrister-at-law certificate at the age of 57 and managed his own law firm for 18 years and learnt five languages.

Longevity can come about when seniors keep themselves actively engaged in work, have social interaction, are cheerful, optimistic and embrace positive energy.

The general life expectancy in Singapore is around 80 years or so. Not all of us can live to the ripe old age of 100 and beyond, like Mr Vaithinathan.
But if anyone does hit a century, their lives should be celebrated.

Honouring our centenarians is acknowledging the strength and resilience of these citizens and all they have gone through.

In the Philippines, the government gives a cash gift of 100,000 pesos ($2,648) to any of their citizens who reaches 100 years.

Besides the cash gift, they get an increase in the senior citizens discount from 20 per cent to 50 per cent on the sale of goods and services and value-added tax exemptions.

In the same vein, the Singapore government can consider adopting the Philippines government’s centenarian policy to honour our very own 1,100 or so centenarians with a cash gift.

Raymond Anthony Fernando



Monday, September 25, 2017

Raymond Anthony Fernando’s press letter: Halimah has what it takes to be people’s President

My letter to MediaCorp’s TODAY newspaper on the above subject is published today, Monday 24th September 2017.
I can understand the unhappiness expressed by some Singaporeans with the Presidential Election, as they felt that they had been deprived of a choice (Hundreds protest against reserved Presidential Election; Sept 16, online).
A contest would have been good, as it would have given Singaporeans the opportunity to vote for someone they believe in, who can represent them on the world stage.
With the decision made, however, perhaps we can now give Mdm Halimah Yacob a chance to prove herself.
A dynamic politician or leader is one who shows empathy and is willing to speak out on an issue, no matter how thorny it is. To the best of my knowledge, Mdm Halimah is one such person.
During her tenure as a union leader, Minister of State and Member of Parliament, she often spoke up for workers’ welfare and supported the marginalised in our society.
While I was a volunteer for six months with Club Heal, a voluntary welfare organisation helping Muslims and other Singaporeans with mental health issues, I could see that she felt for those facing adversities in life.
Despite her busy schedule, she found time to attend Club Heal’s events and mingle with patients and their family members.
She is a people person, as she is humble and mixes with Singaporeans from all walks of life.
I am confident that with her positive energy, she will also become the people’s President.
The two other applicants had mentioned that they wanted to serve all Singaporeans, but were disappointed not to have been able to contest the election. They can still serve Singapore by considering setting up a charity each to help the needy.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Raymond A Fernando’s letter to The Straits Times: Let’s rally around those with mental illness

My letter to The Straits Times on the above matter is published today, Friday 22nd September 2017.

I fully agree with Miss Lee Kay Yan that labelling people with mental illness and calling the police instead of linking up with the Institute of Mental Health is not the right approach to destigmatising mental illness (Be empathetic towards anyone with mental illness; Sept 20).

Even though it is a mammoth task to completely eradicate the stigma associated with mental illness, a national effort that involves healthcare agencies, the criminal justice system, the police, employers, schools, religious groups, recovered patients, resilient caregivers as well as the media can help a great deal in helping persons with mental illness gain acceptance in society.

Given that mental illness is affecting many people here, it would be timely to carry out large-scale surveys to track people’s beliefs on mental illness.

What we need is a holistic approach and ongoing education on mental illness that reaches out to the masses and is supported by all our mental health providers, the Agency of Integrated Care and the National Council of Social Service.

It must be clearly understood that mental illness is treatable with medication, counselling and psychotherapy.

Together with good support from an enlightened community, loving caregivers, and employers who offer jobs to recovered patients, there is an excellent chance that persons with mental illness can integrate back into society and live happy and meaningful lives.

World Mental Health Day is on Oct 10.

Let us rally around persons with mental illness here in Singapore and around the world to raise more awareness on mental health issues and mobilise efforts in support of mental health.

Raymond Anthony Fernando