What is life like for poor people in Singapore?

I had a friend once. She was a single elderly lady. She lived in a one-room flat with her nephew. Every day, she would go to the nearby church where she ate lunch and helped out with feeding the dog, folding pamphlets and such. The dog’s name was Ginny, and she (the dog) listened to no one but her.

One day, her nephew sold the flat and bought another place to live. He didn’t take her along, and she was very sad because she had no place to live.

She met the conditions to stay in a charitable home and was transferred to St Vincent’s Home for the Ambulant Elderly in the city area. She stayed there with up to 13 other occupants.

She had no possessions except for what could fit into a small wooden cabinet. Mostly a rosary, a purse, and a statue of Mother Mary that I once gave her.

She received $450 a month from Public Assistance. Her medical bills were paid by Medifund, a financial support scheme that only the poorest of Singapore had access to.

The Home provided her with at least 1 meal a day. Her typical day started at 6am when she attended the morning Mass at a nearby church. This was followed by breakfast with the priests. Then she would help out around the church until lunch.

In the afternoon, she would meet a friend or go to Chinatown to window-shop. Sometimes she would buy a dress, or a purse, or some make-up. Alternatively, she would return to the Home where various schools and organisations would visit.

After dinner, she is usually asleep by 9pm.

She was happy most of the time, except when she quarrelled with her room-mates.

I used to visit her about once a month and listened to her stories.

When I got busy in my new job, I stopped visiting her. One day, I got a phone call from the administrator of the Home. She told me that my friend had been admitted to Assisi Hospice, and found my phone number among her belongings.

I visited my friend at the hospice. No one else visited her. She was so glad I came that she cried. She had late stage liver cancer and the doctor said she would go within the year.

I spent some time with her that afternoon. She passed away 5 days later. I attended her funeral service at 6.00am the following morning. There were only a handful of people in attendance.

She lived a simple, insignificant life, brought smiles to the people she met. She didn’t touch a lot of lives, and she didn’t make a lot of money. But she was happy, most of the time. And she was my friend.

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