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Fire brings out the kampung spirit

On April 20, shortly after 7pm, a fire broke out at Block 10 Jalan Batu near Mountbatten Road.

SCDF firefighters quickly put out the blaze in the ninth-floor flat, which preliminary investigations showed to have originated from the battery pack of a power-assisted bicycle in the living room.

One person from the neighbouring unit was taken to hospital for smoke inhalation and about 80 residents were evacuated from the block.

Having a fire break out in the neighbourhood can be a scary thing. But the silver lining in the cloud of black smoke is that the fire at Jalan Batu showed how a community can come together in times of adversity.

Within a few hours of the incident, volunteers managed to have the affected families move to some nearby rental homes and bought basic supplies for them.

Said one of the residents, Michelle Tay: “It was heartening to witness the true kampung spirit of fellow residents. Minutes after the fire broke out, neighbours in the other unaffected part of the block were coming out of their homes to check if everyone else was alright.”

She said that some neighbours even brought drinks for the victims and frontliners, as the fire occurred just before the Ramadan break fast timing.

The fire sent black smoke through the entire block. Image source: Justin Fong

Jalan Batu Resident’s Network (RN) chairman Justin Fong told the Pride that the news of the fire was shared almost immediately in the RN’s WhatsApp chatgroup.

He said: “I made my way to the unit to see if I could help, but by the time I got there, several neighbours were already helping to evacuate the affected residents.”

Justin said that the RN coordinated with representatives from People’s Association and HDB to find temporary housing for the affected family in one of the nearby rental flats and provided basic necessities like a mattress, pillows, towels and even toothbrushes.

Toiletries and necessities provided for the affected families. Image source: Justin Fong

Said Justin: “I saw firsthand how residents came together to alert neighbours of the fire and escape together.”

Ageing in place

Image source: Pexels

Community care is what is needed because we are rapidly entering an ageing society.

It is good that the government is starting to lay out plans to expand and improve on community care for our ageing population. But more can still be done.

A recent CNA commentary on the challenges of caring for elderly parents hit home for me. It laid out the very real and diverse issues facing caregivers today.

In his comment, community aged-care physician Dr Ng Wai Chong wrote: “Caring for someone with mild dementia is different from caring for one with a more advanced state of cognitive disability; caring for seniors with anxiety or depression is different from caring for seniors with heart failure requiring careful management of fluid intake and medications.”

“Indeed, the demands of caregiving often take a toll on the physical and mental well-being of caregivers, making self-care all the more critical… Emotions associated with caregiving are complex – from constant worry over the senior’s deteriorating health, to guilt over whether one is doing enough, to resentment and frustration, particularly in families with fraught relationships.”

Too often, when a health crisis presents itself, the focus is (rightfully) on the loved one who is ill. Help the sick recover and all will be well. But what is the health issue becomes chronic? Then long-term measures need to be taken.

Jane and Alan in 2019. She had shaved her head when her cancer relapsed, anticipating hair loss from the chemotherapy. Image source: Jane Koe

Very often, caregivers themselves struggle with health issues. A senior whom I know painstakingly cares for her husband, a stroke survivor, and she does this with an indefatigable spirit that shines through her personal challenges. If you didn’t know Jane Koe, you wouldn’t believe that she is a cancer survivor herself.

Jane has the benefit of a strong family network, loving children who support her and her husband. But not all caregivers are so fortunate. Many suffer alone, walking a simple, tiring journey.

I remember striking up a conversation a while back with a cleaner near my office, because I saw that she was looking rather frail and tired. “I’m okay, it’s okay,” she waved off my concern. I later found out that she was the sole breadwinner in her family, taking care of her husband, who is on dialysis.

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Then one day, I missed her on her rounds, I asked her supervisor, who told me that she had to quit her job after she suffered a fall. Is she getting help, I asked him. A tired shrug and a worried frown was his answer.

I often say that with so many things vying for our attention, we very often don’t have spare energy to care for issues until they impact us directly.

Unfortunately, life has a funny way of getting our attention. We are okay, until we are not. We are healthy, until we are not. Our loved ones are fine, until they are not. Then suddenly we are caregivers, regardless of whether we like it or not.

Sometimes, it is hard not to feel trapped in this situation. Image source: Reader

We recently ran a letter from a reader who shared about how she has been caring for her dad, who has heart issues and her mum, who is mentally ill. She can say it so matter-of-factly because she has been doing it for more than 25 years. She writes simply that she has been doing it alone for all these years, and it takes a toll. Being heard is important for her.

That’s why her story and commentaries from Dr Ng and other experts are so critical. We need to speak up for caregivers, and lobby for more support for our ageing loved ones.

It must be more than just a few cursory days of parental care leave.

Workplaces should be sympathetic to employees, very often sandwiched between the needs of their young children and their ageing parents. Resources should be allocated, be it time off for parental care, training courses for caregiving, financial support or even just a sympathetic ear

All these options should be on the table as we move into a more silver-haired society.

Weekend activities to beat the beat

These past few days have been blazing hot, with temperatures expected to hit 35 deg C. But if you’re up for a weekend day out, head to Parkland Green at East Coast Park for Cat-urday at Pets’ Day Out this Saturday from 10am to 6pm!

There will be cat-themed talks and other activities including an adoption drive. If you’re bringing your catto for the event, you can even register to have little Mittens have a free ear cleaning and claw clipping from 10am to 1.30pm. Find out more here.

But if you just want to stay in the air-conditioned indoors and you’re somewhere near Woodlands, check out Staytion, Stellar@TE2 at Woodlands MRT station from 11am to noon every Saturday in May starting this weekend.

There will be a kindness corner where children can enjoy storytelling sessions, other children’s activities. as well as get free colouring materials and limited-edition souvenirs.

Penguins waddle their way into their new home at Bird Paradise

And talking about air-con comfort, here is your weekly dose of endorphins, courtesy of some feathered friends who recently moved into their new digs at Mandai’s Bird Paradise, which officially opens on May 8!

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