~by: Eileen Lee~
Flickering lights, a place where the sun could not shine through. A strong stench of stale urine hits my nostrils as I carefully trudged down the corridors with unknown things scuttled underfoot. I could not see the far end; it was blocked off by carton of boxes and wastes. Surprisingly, they did not seem to be out of place, they fitted nicely as part of the Housing Development Board (HDB) rental flat in Marsiling Block 3.
Doors were shut and windows were closed. My footsteps were audacious as I walked through the passageway, hoping to spot for someone who is willing to talk to me. I scrutinised and listened for possible leads that could bring meto a voice.
Finally, a muffled tune caught my ears as I passed by a dimly lit apartment which the door stood ajar, unlike the rest of its neighbours.
I knocked on the door and was welcomed by a frail looking Malay woman.Her hair was dull and gray and her pale looking face was sagged under her skinny bones. She introduced herself as Masnah, 77 years old, retired.
Dressed up in a wrinkled blue bajukurung, Madam Masnah feebly opened the door and invited me in to take a seat after I have requested for an interview with her.
The apartment was clean. It was not filled with furniture and decorations but only a small screen television, a wardrobe, an obsolete fan and a few stools standing at the corner of the room for a woman living alone. A mini radio was playing at the background but the sound was so muffled that I could not make out the words the DJ was speaking.
“How long have you been staying in this rental flat?” I asked.
“9 years,” answered Madam Masnah as her bony fingers ran through her hair.
The air was stuffy and my shirt was soaked with sweat. She let out a chuckle as I was wiping the perspiration off my face.
Madam Masnah pays a rental fee of $26 monthly. According to her, she does not receive direct aid from any organisations but mere pittance from her two sons who are getting financial assistance from the Community DevelopmentCouncil (CDC).
A burning smell was coming from the kitchen and Madam Masnah hurriedly went over to check the stove. She scooped out few pieces of bread from the pot which she has definitely been re-frying them for a couple of times. The bread was all burnt and rancid.
The kitchen was no room for a third person. Leftovers and dented canned foods were discarded on top of a moldy shelf. Gently, she puts the food on the plate and covered them with a net food cover.
“I do not have enough to buy food after paying for the rental fee therefore I always re-cook my food and save as much as leftover food as possible so that I won’t have to spend more money on buying the ingredients,” said Madam Masnah with a wry smile.
Cases like Madam Masnah are common in the rental flats. They do not have any luxury, but have to think of how to survive daily.
A staff from the senior activities centre, who declined to be name stated, “Thereare four groups of residents staying in these rental flats. We have parents who are neglected by their children, Singles who have no one to rely on, low-income families and ex-convicts who are facing difficulties in finding job and end up unemployed.”
There are 800 needy residents living in the rental flats and the majorities are elderly who lack of adequate help.
When asked for his comment on poverty in Singapore, the staff answered with agrim expression, “personally at first, I didn’t believe that poverty exists inSingapore only until I started to work for this organisation. It opened my eyes, I realised that I have been so ignorant all along. Residents here are all struggling for just a single meal. For example, last Thursday, we had a lunch donation from a nearby mosque but the food arrived three hours later due to some problems. 300 residents waited for that one meal. When the meal arrived,you have to see the way they rushed for the food.” (sic)
“It was so sad to see but how many of us know that this poverty exists in Singapore?” added the staff.
The senior activities centre relies heavily on private donors who provide not only monetary aids but also necessary commodities such as rice,biscuits and bread for the people.
We may have one of the highest GDP in the world and the first class facility that put us ahead of our neighbours but do we actually realise that behind all these glamour, we still have people fighting to make their ends meet every day?
picture credit: transitioning.org