Author Archives: Candice

Singaporeans Against Poverty

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Contributed on a volunteer basis to ‘Singaporeans Against Poverty’.

1) Vincent Thor’s story:

Text: Candice Neo
Photos: Terence Leong

Vincent is a visually-handicapped resident who stays in a two-room rental flat in Singapore and takes care of two other blind men. Having been diagnosed with kidney failure recently, the former busker can no longer strain himself physically, which causes him to struggle to make ends meet. With his accumulating medical expenses, how can he overcome these challenges?

2) Sheila’s story:

Text: Candice Neo
Photos: Terence Leong

As a single mother, Sheila struggles to raise her nine-year-old daughter Vidya, whom she places all her hope in. Having escaped from an abusive marriage, she’s rebuilding her life again with Vidya in their three-room rental flat. But life isn’t easy – Sheila’s plagued with a myriad of health problems that has made her physically unsuitable for work. What help is she given? How does she cope?

The above photo stories can be viewed at the Singaporeans Against Poverty website.

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xinmsn: May – June 2014

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Published stories on xinmsn for May and June 2014 (from latest to earliest)

20th June: Stars who dedicate themselves to charity work
14th June: Who Killed The Lead: Of laughter, blood and tears
11th June: 黄俊雄欧萱赴上海宣传 《球在你脚下》打入中国
4th June: 谢宏辉拍自捅戏胸口破皮 胡佳琪暴力折断刀
2nd June: Lorraine Tan and local songbirds croon songs of kindness
30th May: Terence Cao: Celebrity in Singapore, teacher in Cambodia
26th May: A series of unfortunate events for Elvin Ng
23rd May: Wickedly memorable fairytale villains we hate to love
21st May: Yvonne Lim meets George Clooney in Shanghai
19th May: 黄俊雄被中年女子搭讪坐大腿 害怕太主动的女生
12th May: 和刘子绚没亲热镜头 黄俊雄渴望“加戏”
8th May: 黄炯耀遭徐彬撞伤腰 与张振寰周崇庆成患难之交
5th May: Jesseca Liu unleashes violent tendencies on Elvin Ng?

Translated features:
23rd June: From not to hot: Overnight celebrity hunks
13th June: Charlene Choi wants to put marriage on hold
3rd June: Chen Hanwei transforms into a madman
27th May: Wang Dawen is grateful towards Vanness Wu and Stefanie Sun
23rd May: Jia Jia moved to tears by Mayday’s Masa
20th May: Jam Hsiao guards himself against overzealous fans

xinmsn: April 2014

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Published stories on xinmsn for April 2014 (from latest to earliest)

27th Apr: 粉丝为Violet粉樱庆生 安排豪华车接送
14th Apr: Pornsak酸赖怡伶脸皮厚 赞杨伟烈有主持潜质
9th Apr: 米雪追求朴实生活 爱情一切随缘
6th Apr: Celebrity couples who conquered the age gap with love

Translated features:
22nd Apr: Olivia Ong is ready to fall in love
8th Apr: Pan Lingling and Huang Shinan share their cancer fighting journey
5
th Apr: A date with Puff Kuo and Kim Heechul

xinmsn: March 2014

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Published stories on xinmsn for March 2014 (from latest to earliest)

28th Mar: Yvonne Lim is engaged
27th Mar: 男友当众下跪求婚 林湘萍哭着答应
27th Mar: 胡佳琪崇拜刘子绚 欲追K-pop歌手梦
24th Mar: 陈泂江晕倒挂彩恐毁容 带伤献唱昨出院
21st Mar: 谢宏辉盼当上男主角 田铭耀想演智障儿
21st Mar: Elvin Ng wants to start a family?
18th Mar: Tay Ping Hui gets tough on Ian Fang and Zhu Houren?
12th Mar: Jesseca Liu pens her first script
10th Mar: 黄俊雄欲成家 怀疑面临“中年危机” 
5th Mar: 刘子绚受邀当编剧 情愿不收稿费

Translated features:
24th Mar: Sharon Au is married!
18th Mar: Chen Hanwei stars as a crybaby
17th Mar: Pan Lingling is recovering from breast cancer
14th Mar: Fann Wong: Christopher Lee reads to unborn baby every night

xinmsn: February 2014

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Published stories on xinmsn for February 2014 (from latest to earliest)

23rd Feb: Back to the ’90s with Michael Learns to Rock
16th Feb: 娱乐圈异性好闺蜜 密友有望成爱侣?
15th Feb: Local rising J-pop idol Valerie inspired by Ayumi and BoA
13th Feb: Ah Boys 与粉丝预庆情人节
12th Feb: Romance films to watch this Valentine’s Day
8th Feb: Foreign celebrities who school their kids in Singapore
3rd Feb: Desmond Tan takes a comic “break”
3rd Feb: 吴杰鸣邀天王歌手制作人合作 盼以古典曲风成名

Translated features:
25th Feb: Jeffrey Xu is the new jock in the block
21th Feb: Felicia Chin wants to fall in love
14th Feb: Him Law evades the Valentine’s Day question
7th Feb: Hu Ge stars in upcoming musical in Singapore

xinmsn: January 2014

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Published stories on xinmsn for January 2014 (from latest to earliest)

26th Jan: Getting intimate with Cynthia Koh & Hayley Woo
24th Jan: Bubblegum romances in K-Dramas 
21st Jan: 专题:今年海外重头剧 续集最吃香?
16th Jan: 5 things you should know about Ah Boys to Men: The Musical
8th Jan: Lizz邀李偲菘合作 自掏腰包圆歌手梦
3rd Jan: What chills your bones in horror flicks

 

Translated features:
24th Jan: Nat Ho is releasing a Mandarin album this year (read original article here)
18th Jan: Asian power couples in showbiz (read original article here)
17th Jan: Kristal Tin supports husband Chapman To’s R-rated films (read original article here)
3rd Jan: Aloysius Pang gives Ya Hui his first onscreen kiss (read original article here)

xinmsn: December 2013

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Published stories on xinmsn for December 2013 (from latest to earliest):

30th Dec: Show Luo craves for old-school romance
23rd Dec: 郭蕙雯产后复出难投入 片场情绪崩溃
19th Dec: 陈汉玮:林慧玲可以超越郑惠玉
19th Dec: Jackie Chan “moonlights” as a hairdresser
11th Dec: 雅慧包勋评被爆搞暧昧
6th Dec: 陈凤玲和李至正“雨中见真情”

 

Translated features:
27th Dec: Ian Fang’s “First Attempt” in fashion (read original article here)
27th Dec: Quan Yi Fong’s daughter makes a stab at showbiz (read original article here)
24th Dec: Chen Hanwei: Rebecca Lim can surpass Zoe Tay! (read original article here)
20th Dec: Tiffany Leong recovering from liver cancer (read original article here)

Growing Up with Less

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An interactive multimedia documentary on the plight of children growing up in low income families in Singapore. Published online: http://growingupwithless.sg/

Published as a Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information (NTU) final year project.

Synopsis:

Growing Up with Less explores the hidden side of cosmopolitan richest-country-in-the-world Singapore where the government-built apartment complexes are littered with trash and used sanitary pads and your neighbor next door could be a drug addict. The documentary focuses on the plight of children from low-income families where parents struggle to make ends meet leaving their children unsupervised, often hungry for food and affection and extremely vulnerable to bad influences. Through the observing eyes of the cameras, the many facets of their lives and the accompanying dramas that rolled over from the adults’ lives are exposed, showing how just how vulnerable the children are and how much they need a guiding hand to bring them out of the poverty cycle.

-Stories-

Claustrophobia

Large families living in tiny rental apartments are often the result of poor family planning and poor education. In a two-room flat, nine children run about the house noisily and the eldest has to hide in the bathroom to study. While their parents work long hours and grandparents spend most of their time watching TV, the eldest daughter takes over the parental role to round up her rowdy siblings and calm the crying baby. We bring viewers into the home of a family with 15 people living under one tiny roof, and explore how living in an overcrowded environment affects the young children during their formative years.

We also include a text story on the importance of family planning based on an interview with the Vice President of the Singapore Planned Parenthood Association, Mr Edward Ong. Though as a whole, Singapore has a low fertility rate, those who can afford it are not having children while those who can’t are. The story attempts to explain why the poor are having more children and what can be done to help them do family planning.

Type of story: Photo stories, text stories

Complex ties

In the same neighbourhood, three sisters and their families live in three-room and two-room rental apartments. One sister, Madam Tan, has a few children, fathered by different men. Both her nieces, one of whom had committed suicide, had the same experience. The orphaned children are being cared for by relatives. The vicious cycle of dysfunctional families perpetuates itself in this household – the dead girl’s 19-year-old sister has two children, and is living with her 18-year-old boyfriend, who fathered her second child.

This baby is barely a year old. Madam Tan’s daughter, eight-year-old girl Jamie, feeds the baby and changes his diapers. She acts all grown up for her age, and together with her seven-year-old sister Michelle, often oppresses her quiet cousin who is also being taken care of by her mother in the household. Her speech is punctuated with vulgarities – which are ignored by her mother, who takes care of seven children.

Madam Tan says that she does not hold much expectation for her children’s future. “As long as they don’t go astray and end up at the police station, it’s enough,” she says. At home, she does not pressure the children, most of whom are still in primary school, to study or do their homework. “I tell them that if they don’t study hard and do well, and they end up as road sweepers in future, they will have to deal with it themselves,” she says. “I don’t force them to study.” She appears resigned to her circumstances and does not believe that they can break out of the poverty cycle.

The children eat barely enough – sometimes just a bowl of porridge or chee cheong fun to last them through the day. We seek expert advice on how much food is enough for children. We also explore the rich-poor gap in Singapore, policy philosophies of financial aid schemes, and how children grow up with all the negative influences of the neighbourhood and ironically, their own parents.

Type of story: Video stories, text stories

Picking up the Pieces

Children growing up with divorced parents suffer from lack of parental supervision. After her husband left her nine years ago, Madam Salbiah goes for job interviews and skills-improvement classes to enhance her employability. She only returns home in the evenings, with barely enough time to take notice of her three children. Left to their own devices, her 14-year-old eldest son Irfan plays computer games till the wee hours of the morning, while her 10 and 12-year-old daughters run about outside the house, engaged in their own playtime activities.

Having had the maturity to experience the full blow of his father’s sudden departure, Irfan grows up with much bottled up angst and loneliness – he becomes less trusting of the people around him, seeking solace in his computer games and companionship from the family cat.

Good financial management is also seen in Madam Salbiah’s family. Despite having been unemployed for three months, Madam Salbiah scrimps and saves to put food on the table. She would cook instead of eating out, for instance. Having homecooked meals also keeps her children at home for a longer period of time.

In Madam Salbiah’s story, we also explore the role of a social worker, and how they help low income families obtain financial aid, giving emotional support and counsel; ensuring that their client’s basic needs are being met. We speak to Saiful, a case officer at Association of Muslim Professionals, to find out more about his personal motivations and beliefs that inspired him to choose his profession. We also explore the struggles and challenges of being a case officer, and lend insight to the day-to-day responsibilities of the job.

Type of story: Video stories, Photo stories

Through their Eyes

13-year-old Gavin and his 11-year-old sister Germaine live with their father. Their parents are divorced. When not in school, Gavin has his eyes constantly glued to the computer screen while Germaine keeps herself busy on her smartphone.

We explore how children in single parent families grow up as they struggle with the absence of one parental figure, and how the presence of parental supervision can have significant impact on the child’s growth and activities.

We also get the children to talk about their neighbourhood so viewers could see their environment through their eyes.

Type of story: Video stories

 “All for my Daughter”

Thila is a single mother looking after her daughter who has just set for ‘N’ levels. They live in a rental flat in Jalan Kukoh, but despite their challenging circumstances, Thila has never thrown in the towel. Well aware of the dangers in her neighborhood, with drug addicts as neighbours, contraband cigarettes being sold, and strange people going into supposedly empty units, Thila has put in place many safety precautions to safeguard her only child. Her daughter is expected to stay at home after school and not open the door to anyone. Thila’s occupation as a nurse also affords her some respect among her neighbours, though she has to make sure that she doesn’t get the midnight shift so that she can be with her daughter through the night. Sharp and articulate, she has managed to protect her daughter from the uncouth influences of the neighbourhood.

Besides the good upbringing of Thila’s daughter that is a contrast to many of our other subjects, we also explore the issues of single parenthood in a complicated neighbourhood and the dynamics of the mother and daughter.

Type of story: Video stories

The Void Deck Entrepreneur and The Aunty with a Cause

In heartland estates, there are sometimes community leaders who rise up to make life a little better for the needy. Leaders like Joanne Lim and Nicole Seah have banded together to start an affordable tuition centre for needy children living in Circuit Road, while Samsuri has started up a self-help group among the Muslim community living in Jalan Kukoh. We speak to these people to find out about their motivations behind rallying up a strong community spirit, and understand their difficulties and struggles in the process.

Joanne Lim is well aware of the dangers lurking in her circuit road neighbourhood. Forced to work part time in order to supplement her husband’s meager income, she brings her daughter to work every day to prevent her from mixing with bad company. Despite not knowing much English, she is also very savvy with the different help schemes available.

But more than that, Joanne is the go-to aunty of her block when anyone has a problem. More than just dishing out advice on help schemes, Joanne is very passionate about helping the younger generation so that they can break out of the poverty cycle. Recognizing education is the key, she hopes to get her daughter into tuition, but she is unable to afford the $80 a month fee. If this story sounds familiar, it’s because this is the exact case Nicole Seah was talking about during the general election rally where she teared up. Despite losing the election, Nicole went back to find Joanne, and together they managed to start a free tuition programme with 80 children from her rental flat block involved in it at its height. Though the programme has since been scaled down, Joanne feels no less passionate about her cause and is always encouraging every child in her block to study hard. Not willing to succumb to her disadvantaged circumstances, her desire to help not just her own child, but her entire block of lower-income children is truly inspirational.

Similarly, Samsuri is equally aware of the dangers of his Jalan Kukoh neighbourhood, which is littered with drug addicts and suspicious people smoking, drinking and loitering around the void deck. Having observed the sedentary lifestyles of the children living there, he teamed up with a few other concerned residents to start up Pekik Jalan Kukoh, the only independent self-help group in the neighbourhood. This group organises activities for the residents, such as neighbourhood concerts, celebration of festivities, and a children’s football team. The main motivation that mooted the team was to encourage the children to engage in a healthier manner such as this, instead of leaving them to loiter around the void deck and pick up habits like smoking and drinking from residents who do so. Samsuri wants to ultimately set up a social enterprise that can allow him to be the go-to person whenever companies look for temporary manpower from Jalan Kukoh, which according to him is a “minefield of manpower resources”.

Type of story: Video stories, photo stories

Children’s Playspaces

HDB common areas such as void decks and common corridors frequently serve as play spaces for children living in Singapore. However for the children living in the troubled neighbourhood of Circuit Road, they can be seen playing outside mostly unsupervised, sometimes way past midnight. We capture these moments of mindless play, which also reflects the absence of parental guidance in terms of discipline and education. We explore if these children are exposed to risks that come from their complicated neighbourhood environment, where sometimes one can find heaps of refuse on the first floor after being thrown out of windows, walls covered in graffiti sprayed by loan sharks and stairwells littered with used syringes discarded by drug abusers. We seek to explore and give insight to the environment of a rental flat area.

Type of story: Photo story

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Our stories are also featured in both mainstream and online media.

One of our interviewees, Mr Samsuri from the Void Deck Entrepreneur story, has also recently been featured in Al Jazeera’s programme on the widening income gap in Singapore.

Look out for updates and contact us on our Facebook page.

Our videos are also available on our YouTube channel.

Caring for the dying

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Written: Oct 2012

For a Science Journalism module.

Also published in SALT online here.

Caring for the dying

Saving lives may be the priority of many doctors. But to Dr Ramaswarmy Akhileswaran, ensuring that patients live their lives to the fullest before they die is even more important.

Dr Akhileswaran (centre) in a consultation with a patient (left) and a nurse (right) at HCA Hospice. PHOTO: COURTESY OF HCA HOSPICE

The Chief Executive Officer and Medical Director of HCA Hospice, Dr Akhileswaran, or more affectionately known as Dr Akhilesh to his staff and patients, has been practising medical care for the dying – palliative medicine – for 10 years.

Previously specialising in the treatment of cancer patients as a radiation oncologist after being trained in India more than two decades ago, Dr Akhilesh, 53, has been asked the same question many times.

“Other doctors ask me, why choose cancer when 40 per cent of your patients are not going to survive?” he says. “And now, for palliative medicine, it’s even worse – 100 per cent of my patients are dying.”

But Dr Akhilesh finds his passion in caring for patients who are at the last stages of their lives. It is a different challenge compared to treating patients for other illnesses, he admits.  “What’s crucial is not prolonging the patients’ lives, but enabling them to have a better quality of life – reducing their pain, enabling them to go in peace,” he says.

“Sometimes, patients just want us to listen to them. To us, it may not seem much, but to them, it may be a huge difference,” he adds.

He says for healthcare workers specialising in palliative care, showing love, care and compassion towards patients is of utmost importance. “Death is a sensitive topic – no one likes to be told that they are dying,” he says. “It is usually difficult for patients and their family members to accept this fact.”

One common difficulty the palliative medicine specialist often encounters is balancing patients’ expectations and family members’ demands, for instance when the family members request to hide the severity of the patient’s illness from the patient.

“The family members feel that their loved ones would not be able to handle it if they knew they were dying,” he says. “But on the other hand, some patients want to know the truth of their condition. Sometimes they have issues they want to settle before they die, or problems they hope to reconcile with their loved ones, and if they know their days are numbered, they will want settle it so that they will not leave with regrets.”

When confronted with this dilemma, Dr Akhilesh would speak to the family members to understand why they prefer to hide the truth from the patients, and work with them on how they can break the news to the patient stepwise in a gentler manner.

On a more personal level, working with hospice patients is also emotionally draining for Dr Akhilesh. “72 per cent of our patients pass away within three months,” he says. “When we see them, develop a relationship with them and watch them pass on, it affects us. And it happens all over again for the next patient.”

“So very often, we need to recharge, to protect ourselves, to give us the energy and motivation to continue doing what we do,” he added. He spoke about a particular instance when his personal friend for several years was diagnosed with rectal cancer. This friend was a middle-aged volunteer at HCA Hospice and used to play the piano for patients. He chose to receive home hospice care to be in the company of his elderly mother.

“I never expected that he would become a patient himself,” says Dr Akhilesh. But he never managed to see him before he passed away in 2006. “I knew he wanted to see me that day – he was just admitted into Dover Park Hospice. I rushed down, but it was too late,” he says. “I reflected a lot on what happened. Ultimately, I had to tell myself – I did my best. We just have to move on from there.”

To many patients, Dr Akhilesh is a doctor who genuinely cares for them.

Low Soo Eng, 67, who has been a day care patient at HCA Hospice for four years after being diagnosed with kidney failure, says in Hokkien: “I can’t speak English to the doctor, and he also doesn’t speak Mandarin or dialect, so I can’t say a lot to him. But he always tries to see that I’m well, whether I’m in pain or uncomfortable. He’s a doctor who really loves us.”

Dr Akhilesh sees giving the best care he can as his duty. He says: “Treating the dying requires greater sensitivity and resilience. We need to be patient with them, respect their wishes, and we need to be emotionally strong to go through the last stages of their lives with them. It’s not easy.”

To ensure that his team understands how to deal with complicated cases, such as problems with patients and their family members, Dr Akhilesh holds a meeting with his HCA nurses twice a week to discuss each case that the nurses need help with.

Senior nurse manager Angela Tan, who has been working at HCA hospice for two years, says: “He will make sure that the nurses know what to do, and also assess our medical knowledge from time to time. We learn a lot from him.”

Dr Akhilesh’s work has also inspired some medical students to specialise in palliative medicine. He gives lectures to local medical undergraduates twice to thrice a year. Some were even inspired to volunteer as medical social workers at the hospice.

He also shares his experiences with his wife, a local pathologist, and occasionally with his two sons aged 19 and 23.

To him, being a specialist in palliative medicine is more than simply the job itself. “Learning about palliative care allows us to reflect on life and death, and many things that are out of our control,” he says. “We learn to deal with many emotions, make a difference, and it makes us better human beings.”