Vulnerable or Vulnerable Not / 残而不废 自食其力

Baey Yam Keng  Baey Yam Keng

English translation MyPaper 8 May 2012

Vulnerable or Vulnerable Not

During “Kopi Talk” last month, a kind lady highlighted a wheel-chair bound middle-age man who wheels himself daily to his makeshift news-stand every morning and home every night.  She observed that sometimes, he has to stop along the way to catch a breather.  Like most passers-by, this lady would always offer a helping hand whenever she catches sight of him.

To make his daily travel more convenient, this kind lady suggested that we help him get a motorised wheelchair.  I am touched by her thoughtfulness and supported the suggestion.  We could apply for a grant from CDC or other welfare organizations. However, as a motorised wheelchair is not cheap, the usual grants may only be sufficient to cover the cost of a regular wheelchair.  However, we can always mobilise the grassroots and the community to raise funds to purchase a motorised wheelchair.

As I was walking towards the carpark after “Kopi Talk”, I chanced upon the wheelchair-bound uncle at the news-stand. I related the suggestion to him and sought his opinion on the proposal. He was most grateful for the kind gesture but mentioned that he already has a motorised wheelchair.  He was using it in the past, but his health deteriorated as he was not exercising his arms.  Eventually he chose to give it up.

The wheelchair-bound uncle is a polio patient from young.  He was abandoned as a child, and has learnt to be independent.  His wife is also wheelchair-bound.  She too does not use a motorised one because she is not confident enough to control it.  Due to their circumstances, they decided not to start a family as they are not confident of providing a good life for their children.

At the moment, they live in an HDB rental flat, and have no problems with their daily needs.  However, when the couple eventually succumbs to old age and illness, with no children to look after their needs, community and governmental aid will have to come in to take care of them.

When I was serving at Queenstown, we gave out ration packs to more than 200 low-income residents every month. Amongst them was a mute couple, with the husband suffering from renal dysfunction. I often spot them cheerfully pedalling their bicycles around the neighbourhood to collect paper cardboard for a living.

Even though the couple leads an impoverished life in a rental flat, subsists on the monthly ration packs and probably also receives Public Assistance, I have not received any appeal from them for additional assistance during my 5 years as their MP.

When Samaritans see some unfortunate or elderly people selling newspapers or tissue paper packets, collects cardboard, clears dishes and cleans the streets in Singapore, some may be surprised at the sight and question why the government seems to turn a blind eye to these fellow Singaporeans.

The wheelchair-bound uncle, as well as the mute couple, for instance, receive assistance from the government or community in one way or another, but have not failed to continue with their abilities to earn their keep. They have made the decision and chosen their way of life.  They do this to kill time, to keep themselves physically active, or perhaps to preserve their dignity.

The good intention of providing a motorised wheelchair was to effectively reduce the physical demand on the user.  However, when we understand the situation better, we may discover that the wheelchair-bound actually prefers to take charge their own destiny.

Taking care of residents is my responsibility as an MP.  I have to assure residents that they are welcomed to approach me with their concerns and to know how to contact me. More importantly, they should have confidence in me that I am able to help them with their problems. I also require the assistance of my grassroots leaders and the community to help me reach out to residents and encourage them to accept help if they are in genuine need. There will always be opportunities later on to return the favour back to the community.

I will also continue to interact actively with residents so that they are comfortable with me and willing to share their concerns with me.  It is only through effective communication and interaction that problems could be understood and resolved.

I respect the decision of the wheelchair-bound uncle.  I have asked the town council to study the route he takes between his flat and the news-stand for any obstruction in his way.  We can do a part to enhance the barrier-free accessibility so that he can continue with his path of life in a smoother manner.

《我报》8-5-2012  炎下之意(专栏)文/马炎庆  

残而不废 自食其力

上个月“咖啡开讲”交流会上,有位好心的女士提起,一位坐轮椅的中年男子,每天早上很吃力地自己用手从家里推轮椅到他的报摊,晚上又吃力地推回家。有时候累了没办法得停下来,休息片刻再继续。女士看他很辛苦,只要碰上了就会帮他推一段路,其他路人也会主动助他一臂之力。

好心的女士问我,可不可以帮他找一台电动轮椅,以方便他出入。我被女士的善意感动,当场表示支持。我们首先会向社理会(CDC)或其他福利团体申请资金,但电动轮椅价格不菲,一般的援助可能只限于普通轮椅,那我们可以发动基层和群众,筹款买台电动轮椅给他。

“咖啡开讲”结束后,我前往停车场的路上,碰巧遇上了在报摊的轮椅叔叔。我上前向他阐述了好心女士的建议,并问他对我们的计划意下如何。轮椅叔叔非常感激,不过,他说,他其实已经有一台电动轮椅了。那时,他用了一阵子,因为双手闲着没有劳动,反而身体不舒服,所以他还是选择用回手推轮椅。

轮椅叔叔患有小儿麻痹症,从小被父母遗弃,几十年来学会了自食其力。他的妻子也坐轮椅,但她对控制电动轮椅没有把握,所以,也选择用手推轮椅。他们知道自己的情况,照顾自己还勉强可以,所以决定不要有孩子。在他们身上,我看到一股不想麻烦别人、凡事靠自己的坚强毅力。

目前,他们住政府租赁组屋,日常生活不成问题,但总会有一天他们年老了或生病了,又没有子女奉养,国家社区得负起照顾他们的责任。

坐在轮椅上,双手掌控命运

之前在女皇镇服务时,每个月会定期分发干粮礼包给200多名低收入居民。当中就有一对哑巴夫妇,丈夫还患有肾病。在区内经常看到他们一脸笑容,骑着脚车,收集纸皮过活。

他们虽然生活清苦,除了每个月的干粮礼包,他们住租赁组屋,也应该有领取公共援助金,当他们的议员那五年,他们从来没有要求过什么其他的援助。问了他们好几次,有没有任何方面我帮得上忙,他们无法说出来,但我从他们的笑脸,看得出他们知足常乐,基层和邻居们也确定他们的生活没问题。

社会上的好心人看到一些不幸人士,或年长者卖报纸、卖纸巾、检纸皮、收碗碟、做清洁工,总会引发怜悯之心,并惊叹新加坡为什么还有这么多贫困的人,甚至质问政府为什么不帮他们,忍心让他们受苦?

就如轮椅叔叔和哑巴夫妇,他们接受了政府或社区某些方面的帮助,但还是选择靠自己赚点生活费。打发时间也好,用手劳动也好,这是他们的决定,他们的生活,或许更是他们的尊严。

好心人要给电动轮椅,完全出自好意,因为看到别人吃力的挣扎,认为有电力代劳肯定会更好。可是,当我们进一步了解个别情况后便会发现,坐轮椅者其实宁愿用自己的双手控制自己的命运。

若撑下去,接受帮助没什么不好

身为议员,照顾居民是我的义务。我得让居民们知道,需要帮助时随时可以找我、可以如何找到我,最重要的是,可以安心有信心地来找我。我也需要基层领袖和公众的协助,散播讯息,甚至鼓励他们,如果真的撑不下去了,不要再勉强,接受社会的帮助并没有什么不好,以后有能力、有机会时,还是可以回馈社会,饮水思源。

我也必须通过言行举止,让人们乐于接近我、与我交谈分享。只有通过有效的沟通,才能了解实际情况,对症下药。

对于轮椅叔叔的处境,既然他目前不需要任何帮忙,我尊重他的意愿。我已交代市镇会研究他来回报摊的路途,是否有梯级或任何路障,尽可能加强无障碍设施,让轮椅叔叔在继续掌控自己人生旅途的当儿,可以行驶得更顺畅顺心。

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