For more than 25 years, my Singapore revolved around the financial district. Raffles Place, Centennial Tower, Marina Bay Financial Centre and One Raffles Quay – these were all familiar sights to me. I had lunches with my colleagues and met my friends for drinks and dinners in the vicinity. It was all pretty nice – nice new buildings, everyone was well-dressed, we ate well, and we talked about what was happening in the world and the global financial crisis. We attended glitzy events, F1 races, and new property launches. Everything was pretty nice.

Truth be told, I lived in a bubble. I was comfortable. Stories that I happened to hear about people in need, such as school children with no pocket money, moved me and burdened me.  I donated my first paycheque to The Straits Times School Pocket Money Fund. I would attend galas for hospices and children’s homes, help raise funds for The Business Times Budding Artists Fund, and support the movement to end violence against women, never once needing to set foot in these centres and step into the lives of the people I was helping.

Since my appointment as Group Executive Director of MWS in August last year, my Singapore expanded beyond the scenes of the financial district. I had never driven so many kilometres on our Little Red Dot – from Choa Chu Kang to Marsiling, Geylang to Tampines, Teck Ghee to Yishun – visiting MWS’ centres peppered around the island. I saw a lot of greenery, a lot of construction of HDB flats, and observed a lot of older folks in the coffee shops, who are often stirring and staring into their kopi-o.

I still vividly remember my first MWS Home Care visit to a pioneer generation resident. A smiley 90 year-old man who is a great fan of the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew, he lived in a single room rental flat in Aljunied. He happily narrated to me how he, as a 14-year-old, was a caddy of a dashing young man who advised him to study hard and work hard. This man turned out to be our Prime Minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew. I also visited an old lady who lived on her own whom we affectionately call Popo. Our MWS Home Care nurse would visit her 3 times a week to bathe her and make sure that she eats her meals.

In the last 3 months, I visited families with different challenges – complex issues exacerbated by financial woes. I had the privilege of visiting our nursing homes and sitting with our residents and engaging them in activity. That is where I met Mdm Moo See Moy, a resident of MWS Bethany Nursing Home – Choa Chu Kang. She is a sprightly 90 year-old who used to be a famous singer at New World in the 1960s. I got to see how our nurses and therapists interacted with them and with every visit, I gained new insights into the work of our nurses and staff, and newfound respect for all in the healthcare and social service sector.

I learned so many things. I am learning so many things. I learn every day that we can all make a difference. I learned that people under financial duress make poor decisions. I learned that people with dementia sometimes cannot help themselves and we should accord them with dignity and respect. I got to know families who had been disadvantaged in their circumstances and environment. There is no formula to help them as each family unit is unique and requires as much care, and not just a statistic. They were not lazy and waiting for hand-outs, they were responsible people trying to love their children and put food on the table. What moved me was how even as they were struggling with life’s challenges, when someone who had helped them met with difficulty, they would eat less and spend less to give to the one who was more in need – just like the widow in the book of Mark who gave sacrificially, even if it exhausted all her resources (Mark 12:41-44).

I learned that caregiving is a challenging role and caregivers, especially informal caregivers, are susceptible to burnout from the multiple stresses of their roles. I learned through conversations with the next of kin of our beneficiaries that the demands of their roles can be physically, mentally and emotionally draining.

In my first year here, I have received kind comments from the public that MWS is doing good well. Moving forward, to remain relevant and innovative in the changing service landscape and needs of our beneficiaries, we will spare no effort in doing good better. Collaboration is key in the current landscape – close collaboration with our beneficiaries and partners including the government, donors, volunteers, churches, schools and the business community, in creating sustainable positive change.

At the end of the day, the disadvantaged are simply those who have disadvantages in life. It is our mission at MWS to persist in enriching the lives of not only the disadvantaged and the distressed among us, but also in supporting their caregivers who are a critical extension of our ecosystem of support. And it is our calling to restore dignity, and empower them to have life to the full.