“I am always running around, racing around, fighting for everything.  But Richard and Breadline never say no, never let me down.  They have always helped me when I needed it”.

Breadline is a community service that was formed to alleviate the difficulties faced by poor and disadvantaged families living in Singapore, and it has been one of NCA’s partner charities for many years.  Breadline are rightly protective of the privacy and dignity of its clients, so we were delighted when Breadline volunteer Richard Lim contacted us to say that Madame M. had invited us to her home to chat.

Breadline has supported Madame M. for over 7 years.  A bright-eyed, energetic woman in her sixties who is sole carer for her 3 grandchildren, she welcomed us with great warmth. The HDB apartment is homely, clean and tidy, with walls painted in a fresh aquamarine, and the living room decorated with an altar and family photographs.  Madame M. explains that the family are churchgoers but the many god statues on the altar are gifts from friends and relatives of different faiths, and they are treasured and respected as such.

The sense of trust and friendship between Madame M. and her Breadline visitors is immediately striking.  Although the charity primarily provides financial assistance, this goes hand in hand with developing a caring bond between volunteers and clients.  Whether sharing a cup of tea, helping with a household fix or just providing a listening ear, Breadline gives so much more than money.  Madame M. observes wryly that she has few confidantes to whom she can open up to discuss the daily challenges of her life and her many responsibilities, but she trusts Richard and the other volunteers: “You know sometimes, looking after all these children, running around, seeking for help, it’s kind of a race.  And I do it all alone.  But the Breadline people are very understanding and they always stop to ask ‘How are you?’  Afterwards, I feel so good, like my worries have slackened down a bit. And I always give them a hug! Of course, I can’t tell the kids what I’m going through. I can’t speak to outsiders, because news spreads very fast”.

Madame M. has experienced great difficulties in her life, yet she tells her story with a smile, and her courage in the face of her own problems and ill health is remarkable.  “Mine is a long, sad history – it’s a miserable love story.  When I got married, I was only a teenager, a child.  And I thought my husband would take care of me and give me a better life.  But it never turned out OK.  He lost his job due to drinking and fighting, and he beat me terribly.  He threw me, I had stitches… I was beaten, beaten, beaten.  I didn’t know what happiness meant.  But I never left him because I didn’t want our two children to suffer.  A lot of people make fun of kids if they are from a single parent.  And I went on taking care of him when he became terminally ill.

“My grandchildren came to me when they were babies, their mother was not there.  And their father, my son, is permanently unfit to take care of them due to ill health and many issues.  So, I took all three kids into my hands and went to fight for their rights.  It’s not easy for them but they know that grandma can take care of everything and they are safe, there is always someone here.  I have no problem with the kids, because they are very good, obedient children. Many, many nights after I’ve spent all day taking care of them I watch them sleeping so well – they know they are safe because grandma is here”.

Madame M.’s deep love and fierce protectiveness for her grandchildren has defined her life for the past two decades while she has been their sole carer.  Although suffering from a number of health issues, she is reluctant to be admitted to hospital to receive treatment because of her family responsibilities.  She laughs off the pain, and comments that she will have time to receive treatment when she has completed taking care of the children.  But she worries what will happen to them if she can no longer fight for them and keep them safe.

With a tiny income from the welfare system, Madame M. is enormously grateful to Breadline for the support that she has received for the last 7 years, since her youngest grandchild was 4 years old.  The allowances that Breadline can give towards living expenses and educational support have made all the difference between getting by and not getting by.  At the same time, she makes the point that it is Breadline’s understanding and ungrudging support that means the most to her.  She has to show continual determination and energy undertaking repeated reviews to qualify for public welfare for the children, so she is always battling to receive the money the family needs to live on.  Richard observes that one difficulty with the system is that each review may be with a different officer, who might interpret the rules a different way, so it is not possible to rely on receiving the same allowance each time.

In spite of all of these difficulties, Madame M. regards the future hopefully.  Her adored grandchildren are receiving their education, and she proudly tells us that the eldest will graduate from high school next month.  “I let them choose their own dreams” she says, but it is clear she hopes for a life for them much easier and happier than her own has been.  To see them grow up and thrive is her only concern, and while they need her she will always be there.  And while she and other disadvantaged families need Breadline, their warm and practical support will always be there too.

NCA is proud to have supported Breadline for many years.