24th November 2018
Mr Heng Swee Keat
Prime Minister-Elect and Finance Minister
& The Cabinet
Let’s treat the elderly lonely and the needy with dignity, wrong to abandon them: An open proposal to Mr Heng Swee Keat, Prime Minister-Elect
Dear Mr Heng,
To be perfectly honest with you, I am somewhat sceptical to present you with my feedback, but nonetheless, I will take a chance and present the hard truths to you and the cabinet as I sense that you are a sincere and kind person who has a genuine desire to help caregivers, the mentally ill and the elderly lonely.
I hope I am not wrong in my assumption. My feedback is a no-holds bar write-up that is bound to ruffle some feathers. But I will pen my thoughts and earnest feelings just the same.
Minister of State (Health & Law) Edwin Tong recently asked how caregivers and the elderly can be better supported. By now most, if not all Singaporeans including politicians, church leaders and yourself, Mr Heng, know of my plight.
To jog your memory, I have been a caregiver 4 times over, having taking care of my late wife who battled schizophrenia for 44 long years, my only late sister and my late mother, in addition to now taking care of my twin brother Roy who has severe mobility problems and is wheelchair-bound in the ECON Nursing Home at the Institute of Mental Health (IMH).
I pen this feedback to you with tears in my eyes and I recall how within a space of 4.5 years I lost 3 immediate relatives who were so dear to me – my wife, Doris Lau, my only sister, Veronica and my mother Mrs Pearl Fernando.
Grief is never easy to cope with, for it will come and go, come and go.
Despite the enormous pain I have to grapple with, I am not getting any support whatsoever. That’s makes my journey as widower even more painful.
As the yuletide season kicks in, it pains me to see couples shopping and merry-making as I spend ‘Silent Nights’ all alone.
For sure, most of us will experience loneliness at some point or another. Many may experience it many times in their lives, and many may experience different types of loneliness. Loneliness is usually attributed to the elderly but it also affects young people from the 16 – 24 age group.
Married couples can also experience loneliness when there are problems between the couple, be it infidelity, financial problems or abuse -physically and mentally
Loneliness has been linked to a number of illnesses and negative conditions. Professionals recommend that we should take it seriously when someone reveals they are lonely because it usually means they are having difficulty in other areas of their lives. Feeling lonely can be a mental health issue by itself.
Lack of recreation for the elderly lonely
During the period when my wife was alive, the church would provide us with $100 cash to buy groceries every month, and take us for outings 4 times a year. All adoptees were taken care off during the outings which included some fine dining by the volunteers from St Vincent De Paul (SVDP).
Now that my wife has died, for close to 5 years, I am deprived of such recreation, and even when I made 2 appeals to my church, it was flatly turned down.
Pope Francis has often said that the Catholic Church has a responsibility to take care of the mentally ill and their caregivers, but this directive is not being followed and people like myself are left feeling unloved and uncared for. In one word – abandoned.
Contributing to the literary culture; mindset for improvements
Whenever I come across anyone – young or old who is struggling with depression or life-threatening issues, I will step forward to give a helping hand, either to counsel them or if they have a writing flair and are keen to ‘learn how to fish’, I would be more than willing to help them carve a writing career.
I have done this to some ex-colleagues of mine and to a 21-year-old student from the Philippines who writes beautiful poetry. The book which we are co-authoring is entitled “I’m so afraid to be alone”.
When we have a skill, share it. That is my motto in life.
A former schoolmate of mine purchased copies of my novel, Loving A Schizophrenic for me to send to the Mayor of Calapan City, Aran C P.
Why did I do it? In 2015, I read a report that every day 7 Filipinos commit suicide. My novel will inspire and motivate people to better understand depression and schizophrenia and for caregivers to embrace caregiving a as a noble job.
Even when it comes to ideas and suggestions that can make Singapore a far better place to live in, I contribute actively, having been motivated by my former General Manager, Mr Mosses Lee and former Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong who invited me to sit on the Feedback Unit Sub-Committees.
During my career in broadcasting, I contribute hundreds of suggestions that made vast improvements in the broadcasting station where I gave 31 loyal dedicated service. I left in 2001 to offer full-time care to my beloved wife whose schizophrenia was damaging to her health. On all accounts, it was no easy feat for me as her sole caregiver to balance work and family life simultaneously.
Translate contributions to rewards, don’t deprive me of my frozen pension and bonuses
Despite my dedication and commitment to the industry, my frozen pension and $4,000 bonus was not given to me. Former NMP Ms Cham from the NTUC Union put up a strong case for me, but the Media Development Authority (MDA) rejected the appeal without showing any compassion whatsoever. The answer given to Ms Cham was that if the MDA returned my bonus, and gave me my frozen pension, they would have to ‘answer to the Public Services Commission’. I can never understand how such Human Resource practices are allowed. To this end, Mr Heng, I appeal to you to look into this matter and take to task those who have done this to me.
MPs must show care and concern to the needy
When my house almost caught fire a couple of months ago, I photographed the burnt cooker and emailed my MP Dr Koh Poh Koon, PM Lee and a few cabinet ministers. No one bothered to visit me nor show any concern whatsoever. Yet when it comes to the General Elections, the MP comes along with his entourage and wants me to give him my support.
My twin brother, Roy who was a bankrupt and who has a wife and son who are mentally ill was humiliated by his MP Zainal Sapari when he requested for some NTUC FairPrice vouchers in the presence of other residents at the Meet-The People’s session, Sapari waved the vouchers in his hand and taunted Roy, saying “If I don’t want to give you these vouchers, what are you going to do?
Are these the kind of MPs Singapore needs?
Better politicians who feel for the needy
Education Minster Ong Yue Kung is MY KIND of minister. When he heard about my late wife, he offered kind words and showed deep concern.
Likewise, Senior MOS Heng Chee How and MP Ms Tin Pei Ling have shown much care and comfort to me.
But the politician that I have the most respect for, has to be SDP Chairman Dr Paul Tambyah. He understands I am a widower living all alone and have to go for cataract operations, so out of the kindness of his heart, he buys my books and I can set aside the money to meet the hefty cost of my eye operations that is coming on-stream, Dr Paul advised me on more than one occasion to give GP tuition to students as I write very well and with compassion. I was so uplifted!
I am a strong believer in Jesus Christ, just like my family and my late wife. The Lord has been my strength through the many storms I have ridden, and will continue to ride.
I am fiercely independent.
We are living in a precarious world. An imperfect world with imperfect people, brought down from original sin from Adam and Eve. To this end, let us not become entrapped by sin, unkind deeds and injustices that divides society. Rather like, the Saints, let’s build a kind nation that gives unconditional love to everyone.
I look forward to a reply from you, Mr Heng.
Raymond Anthony Fernando