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How Society Staples and Debra Lam ensure vulnerable communities in Singapore are not forgotten during circuit breaker period

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Apart from curating resources and helplines for families that includes persons with disabilities, they also feed the vulnerable communities.

When the circuit breaker started in April, most Singaporeans were probably worried over the arrangements they have to make over working or staying from home. 

But for a group of Singaporeans - families that include persons with disabilities - there were more reasons to worry. For example, how can parents keep their child with special needs engaged at home and find time to do their work or even run errands such as grocery shopping? 

With that in mind, Debra Lam and her teammates at Society Staples, a society enterprise founded in 2015 promote inclusiveness in the community and help those with disabilities, thought of setting up a website to curate a list of resources for them.  

The website, SSWithYou.sg, has had over 5,000 views so far. It includes a list of fun stay-home activities, helplines and resources and support for home-based learning. 

"The intention was not to create new things, or even duplicate, especially if the efforts are already being done," explained Debra. 

"While we already knew about the various resources, what we (Society Staples) found out is that caregivers may not even know that these resources exist. Even if they do, a lot of the caregivers aren't tech-savvy, or may not even speak English as well, which is why we also created a manual for some resources in all four languages to guide them." 

Apart from SSWithYou.SG, Society Staples is also one of the organisations running the Good Food for Community initiative that aims to supply meals to the vulnerable communities in Singapore affected by COVID-19. 

To date, more than 16,400 meals have been delivered, with over $35,000 raised to pay for the meals.

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The team behind SSWithYou.SG. (From left to right): Yap Yong Yin, Gena Tay, Debra, Ryan Ng, Etienne Leow, Grace Tham. 
PHOTO CREDIT: DEBRA LAM

"We realised with circuit breaker, some communities are even more vulnerable and many of them hold informal jobs, either getting paid by hour or based on the amount of work they did," shared Debra, 26.

"Even before the circuit breaker, some were badly affected already. So this initiative came up really with the intention of supplying food for them. But it's not just that. We also take a lot of care and concern to understand what the recipients would like to have as well."  

Debra added that they constantly check back with those receiving food, through their social worker, over their feedback and share it with the caterer. They also ensure that the food provides a balanced and nutritious diet for those receiving it. 

However, Debra also shared that caregivers have told her increasingly that they are beginning to feel the stress over not having enough time for themselves. 

"Before circuit breaker, their kids go to school, or go to day activity centres so parents can focus on their work and household chores, or even just having time for themselves. Right now, all those are being taken away," she said.

"They play multiple roles in the household. They are mothers and some of them may not just have one kid with disabilities but other kids too and they need to supervise these other kids as well. Coupled with work, these factors combined are accelerating the stress levels and a lot of them have indicated that their mental health status at the moment is very good." 

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Debra and her team at Society Staples want to make Singapore a more inclusive community. 
PHOTO CREDIT: DEBRA LAM

While Society Staples has recognised that problem, they are still working on solutions to try and alleviate that problem. 

They could try and put up more fun at home activities for parents to keep the children occupied, but even then, Debra said that it may not be sufficient enough because those with disability, particularly the ones with moderate and severe condition, will need parental supervision still.

"We are looking into that and any plans we push out will have to be meaningful. We also recognise that the problem did not just surface up during circuit breaker, it's only made more prominent, so we want to address this problem even after circuit breaker with our solution," she explained. 

How can the public step in to help, then? 

While different families require different support systems, Debra suggests that if anyone knows a family facing difficulties, there's no harm in reaching out to ask if they need any support.  

"What I've noticed so far is families do like to remain independent and self-reliant as much as possible. There's always the mindset that if I can do it myself, I don't really want to trouble others," she said. 

"So if they raise a concern and ask for help, it means that they really need it. There's really no harm asking. If you asked and the family says they are doing okay, just respect them and let them be then."

BANNER AND TEASER PHOTO CREDIT: DEBRA LAM

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