Helping Singapore’s Poor

The hallway is dirty and there is a scent of moist coming from the walls. Inside the apartment it no longer looks dirty – it looks empty. The square room has no furniture. Unless the two mattresses lying on the floor in one corner can be considered as such. On the walls a few pictures are hung up but they are not family pictures, paintings or posters but various magazine cuttings.

By the looks of things, one would not think that we are right in the middle of rich, fast forwarding Singapore. But we are. The apartment belongs to one of the families assisted by the Scandinavian Women’s Association (SWA).

“You see the breathtaking architecture and the fancy cars, therefore many people are surprised when told about people like the ones we support,” says Lis Heisselberg, the President of SWA.

“Most of these people have no resources others than the money they receive from us. There are so many who desperately need of help,” she adds.

A clear request
Singapore volunteer organization Breadline contacts SWA telling them about less fortunate families. The social workers of Breadline, which is affiliated to the Singapore Council of Social Services, recommends families for support that have various extraordinary struggles to overcome in everyday life, poverty often being the predominant one.

In a total six families are right now supported by SWA charity. Furthermore Singapore care centre The Tent is supported by SWA giving young girls with no contact to their family a monthly allowance. And every year, two scholarships are handed out by the organization.

To finance these charity activities, Lis Heisselberg has a clear request.

“Actually I believe that all Scandinavian women in Singapore should pay the modest membership fee of S$80 whether they intend to use the organisation or not,” she says candidly.

“Members are assured that at least $ 75 will go directly to charity, so they can with a clear conscience say that they contribute, which must be a nice feeling for everyone.”

Heartbreaking stories
One of those families in desperate need of help is a mother with three children. Lucky for her, she is one of the six women that the SWA supports. The father is gone and the middle child at age seven has a bladder disease, forcing her to stay home from school. Thus, the mother is not able to get a job as she has to look after her child.

“When we met her, she had an income of $ 90 a month. It was “milk-money” for the children giving by the government. $ 90 and three children, that’s just horrific,” Lis Heisselberg says shaking her head. But the sadness in her voice is quickly replaced by joy and admiration.

“Oh yes, there’s this other woman I just have to tell you about,” Lis says, and starts telling about a single woman with four girls of whom the two oldest would not accept the money offered to the family by SWA. They were simply to proud! But the money was much needed. Therefore SWA representatives met with the mother in secrecy, giving her the monthly check.

“Then one day she suddenly contacted us, saying that she had found an extra job, so she didn’t need our help any more. That’s just damn impressive,” Lis Heisselberg bursts out.
    As of now the 100 members of SWA puts in $8000 as contingent a year. And with the help of sponsors and private donations the Scandinavian women are able to do a lot more good. But it is always hard when you have to turn somebody down.

“It’s just heartbreaking sometimes. We want to help as many people as possible, but due to our budget we can’t just keep on bringing in new families. Hopefully we’ll see a lot more passionate members, and we will definitely continue our important work,” ensures Lis Heisselberg.

Wrong perception
Currently, SWA have around 100 members.

“We need more people willing to get involved,” Lis Heisselberg says. But often people have the wrong idea about what SWA is and stands for.

“Many have the misconception that we are a coffee club for older women who don’t know what to do with their time. I tell them, ‘please come and see what we are really about’. If they don’t like it they can choose never to come back. We don’t shanghai people into anything,” says Lis Heisselberg.

Sometimes the women of SWA actually do drink coffee – and tea – because it is not all charity. The social part is also very important as the association brings Scandinavian women together and create friendships. Thus, it is a great place for newcomers to start out and meet new friends.

The SWA President emphasizes, though, that their newcomer events are not aimed only at the newly arrived to Singapore.

“The other night a woman asked me: SWA, what’s that? She’s lived here for six years. That tells me, that we need to find a way to get our message through more clearly,” says Lis Heisselberg with a hint of frustration in her voice.

Go to see the SWA homepage and become a member.

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