It’s been 10 months since I joined the Workers’ Party. How time flies.
These 10 months, many things have changed. My perspective, priorities, people who matter and people who don’t. It has been nothing but an honour and privilege to be serving my country in this area; as a member of the Workers’ Party, a volunteer at Bedok-Reservoir Punggol and a member of the Workers’ Party Youth Wing Executive Committee. I’ve seen and heard many things during this time, one of which was an experience I had recently while helping out at the Kaki Bukit constituency.
A Chinese lady approached myself and a case writer for help with her housing bills. She explained that she is a single mother with a daughter in secondary school and recently retrenched. Her daughter is receiving $400 a month from her father and both of them stay in a rental flat. Each month, she pays about $120 for her flat, $80 for her internet and telephone bills, and $80-$100 on utilities. She has been looking for a job, but to no avail. When she approached the CDC, they told her not to be too fussy and to take any job she is offered. You see, her requirements are that she works only on the weekdays, not on weekends. On top of that, her highest educational qualification is Secondary Two.
At this point, many of us are probably thinking that she shouldn’t be so fussy. Or maybe she is just lazy and wants to have it easy by getting the government to give her handouts. Then she continued by saying that she is worried for her child, whose grades seem to be slipping ever since they moved into the rental flat. She finds the environment is not conducive and fears that her daughter will fall into bad company, like she did many years back. She is afraid that if she spends too much time working, she will not be there to watch over her daughter. When I suggested that she cut her internet and mobile bills, she tells me that her daughter needs it for her studies.
She asked, “你们能帮我吗？”
With a heavy heart, I replied, “在新加坡，政府是不会随意的养公民。最好的办法就是经快找到一分工作。”
I know what most of us are thinking. She should just bite the bullet and work wherever she can. But can we look at the situation from her perspective? Having fallen into bad company before, she is afraid her daughter will follow in her footsteps. Internet and telephone bills are expensive, but she wants to provide the best for her child. She is alone, with a daughter to support, poorly educated and essentially, quite at a loss.
I’ve said this before and I will say it again. Our society will have us believe in meritocracy, that if we work hard enough, if we study hard enough, we can rise to the top no matter what our backgrounds may be. That is not only a fallacy, but a narrow-minded perspective that will have us judge everyone else who fails. Not all of us are born in the same circumstances nor do all of us possess the same characteristics. A child born into a whole, loving, well-to-do family will grow up in the best environment he can ask for, without having to worry about his school fees or when his next meal will come. A child born into a disruptive, violent and poor home has to worry about the trauma and violence he has to face at home and when his next meal will come; do you really think he will be in the same frame of mind to focus on his education?
A few months ago, I was complaining to my doctor that I gained weight. With a laugh, she said, “Oh you look fine. But you’ll never be like Fann Wong!” No matter how little I eat, how much I work out, I will never be of that physical frame because I was born different and I’m okay with that. Why is it so much easier to accept physical differences as compared to mental and emotional differences? Not all of us have the same level of resilience, tenacity, perseverance and intellect. While we can aspire to be better, some of us may succeed, others may not, and we should help those who need help rather than throwing a drowning man a rope and saying, “Here’s the rope, pull yourself up.”
While we celebrate strength, let’s not forget the weak. While we celebrate our successes, let’s not forget those who are struggling. While we can accept physical differences, let’s not be blind to physical and emotional ones.
Meritocracy was meant to empower us, not turn us into unsympathetic, unfeeling creatures.