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Man receiving MSF assistance says he did not intend to cause trouble with his video

By Sean Francis Han

Ravi Rajasagaran, the man in the viral video involving the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) said that he did not intend to cause trouble and appreciates the help provided to his family by MSF.

The video showed a conversation between Ravi and Mr Lee, the MSF officer in charge of his case. Mr Lee was trying to explain to Ravi why financial assistance to his family had been delayed, but the conversation turned sour when the officer blurted out words which Ravi found offensive.

Ravi had expected to receive his monthly financial assistance of $600 on 4 December, but was informed by MSG on 3 December that the money would only be paid to him on 9 December, five days later than expected.

Ravi asked Mr Lee why more notice of the delay could not have been given.

"Number one, it's not a pay. We don't owe you that money," Mr Lee replied.

"It's a financial assistance," he added. "You apply, it's a financial assistance."

Incensed, Ravi and his wife promptly left the meeting.

The video above was shared on 3 December by Gilbert Goh of transitioning.org on his public Facebook page.

A day after the quarrel at MSF, activist Gilbert Goh visited Ravi’s daughter at KK Hospital’s ICU and had raised a sum of money to help Ravi. After hearing of the incident, Goh offered to upload the video on his Facebook page with Ravi's consent.

At the same time, Ravi made a complaint via MSF’s Facebook page and was called down to meet with the MSF assistant manager on 4 December.

According to Ravi, the assistant manager explained that Mr Lee had said "we don't own you", and that the actual statement had been misheard. Ravi isn't sure if this was truly the case, but left the meeting feeling that his concerns had been dismissed.

Soon after, MSF issued a clarification on its Facebook page:

According to the MSF statement, Ravi recently sought an increase in financial assistance, as he and his wife were expecting a child in December. His case was then given an early review and the amount of assistance increased from $600 to $800 per month. This change resulted in the delay in paying out the assistance that his family was due.

MSF also said that it had prepared vouchers for the family for their basic necessities in the interim, but Ravi left before officers could give him the vouchers. In the video, Mr Lee can be heard offering Ravi such vouchers.

Ravi maintains that he initially had no plans of uploading the video. He says he recorded it out of frustration as he felt that he had been looked down upon.

Ravi also alleged that Mr Lee suggested he spend less money by using less formula when feeding his son (not shown in the video). Ravi said that it made him feel extremely upset, and the conversation was recorded to “ask more educated people about why (he) had to keep being talked down to”.

Despite his tone in the video, Ravi says that he was not angry with Mr Lee, and that “actually [he] is a very helpful guy, I never deny that he help us. Just that the way he talks will hurt people deeply.”

Ravi has been affected by critical online comments, and says he didn't realise that the things would blow up like this. He adds that he is grateful for the help MSF and Mr Lee provided, but felt very hurt by Mr Lee’s words, which made him feel like he had been begging for money.

PSLE graduate with severe case of muscular dystrophy

Ravi has been forced to rely on financial aid for the past six months due to muscular dystrophy. His condition has caused him to lose some control of his hands and arms. It has also caused his hands to shrink, and his spine to lose strength.

Ravi would not have known about his condition if not for an unprovoked slashing attack in 2012 that greatly exacerbated his muscular dystrophy. The condition had stayed undetected throughout his life, and was only diagnosed after it had worsened two weeks after the birth of his first son in June 2013. Prior to the slashing, Ravi worked as a driver.

unfitforworkOn 4 September 2014, Ravi was declared by Tan Tock Seng Hospital to be permanently unfit for work.

Ravi, who only has with a PSLE certificate,  tried to apply for a range of jobs – from selling garlands and cleaning, to being a hawker stall owner – all of which did not come to fruition.

Ravi’s wife was working as a flower seller, but had to switch to part-time home-based work two weeks ago because of her pregnancy. She intends to find a full-time job as soon as she resolves her pregnancy-related medical conditions and can safely bring her daughter out of intensive care (Ravi’s daughter was born 30 days premature).

TOC interviewed Ravi on the incident:

Q: Are you genuinely incapable of working?
R: They told me I had Muscular Dystrophy two weeks after my first child was born. It was hard for me to find a job because I was still doing therapy and I couldn't move my hands well. Then they told me I am permanently unfit to work.

Ravi's "uneven" arms
Ravi's "uneven" arms

But I still keep trying. I tried to sell flowers for awhile but that one they tell me I don’t have permit to sell.

So I try to be hawker. I applied four times. They told me that I’m not old enough to be a hawker. So I go to Shanmugam and ask him to help but nothing. Now I keep trying to ask CDC for job but they don’t want to give me.

[junkie-toggle title="Application for hawker license" state="closed"]NEAletterhawker[/junkie-toggle]

Honestly, I want to work, then I won’t feel so depressed. Who in the world would want to be a beggar? If I can I just want to work and make money, any job also can.

Q: Some people on the internet are questioning why your wife is not working to support the family.
R: My wife is now working part-time marketing, taking orders for flowers for other people. Last time she worked full-time selling flowers. She’s working part-time now because she just give birth. And she has medical issues. And also because our daughter is in the ICU. Once all this is settled, she will go back to working full-time.

Q: Why did you choose to have 2 children given your financial situation?
R: When I had my first child I was working as a driver, I didn’t know that all this would happen, I thought I can still provide for them. We had the second child because we believed the children would be covered for under HOPE Scheme (which includes housing and education grants). I want my children to take care of each other and form a happy family.

Wife: We also got no money for toys, we find he will need a sibling and it’s bad for him to feel alone.

R: And also, to be eligible for the HOPE Scheme we cannot have more than 2 children, so we won’t be having any more children now.

Q: What do you think of the MSF?
R: I really appreciate all the help they have given me and my family. Actually Mr Lee is a helpful guy. I never deny he help us. But the way he talks will hurt people deeply.

Q: Why did you decide to record and post the conversation?
R: At first I didn’t think about uploading the video anywhere. I only record it because I wanted to ask more educated people about why I had to keep being talked down to.

Q: Why were you so upset with MSF about the delay in financial assistance?
R: It’s not that we’re so crazy over the money, but actually it’s very important. We need to top up phone to stay contactable for baby in ICU and my wife needs money for her check up for her pregnancy complications. We also need to buy milk powder and diapers. So our money is very tight and we plan our finances to get the money of the 4th. When it is delayed by five days it’s very difficult for us.

Actually, I am still okay if it comes late, and I am very thankful for it. I just wish they could have told me about the delay earlier so that my family can have more time to plan.