Yet despite the harsh rays of the merciless afternoon sun beating down on his greyed head, 76-year-old Mr Lee Liang Soon slips on a pair of well-worn sneakers and shuffles around the Boon Lay area with his trusty old cart, sifting through rubbish bins in search of empty drink cans to sell.
His only daughter has a primary school education and brings home about $700 a month from working odd jobs, of which $100 is given to him and his sickly 74-year-old wife. He collects cans to supplement this meagre sum.
“I’m old and can’t hold a proper job because of my diabetes. What else can I do?” rasps the former air-conditioner repairman in Mandarin.
A November 2008 article in the Mandarin daily Lianhe Zaobao details that more than half of residents in the Boon Lay area live in flats that are three-roomed or smaller, and the amount of Boon Lay residents coming forward to seek financial assistance had increased by 50 percent in 2008.
Boon Lay is also a rapidly-aging precinct, with over 50 percent of residents aged 40 and above. Even when the springs in the old mattress Mr Lee shared with his wife began popping out through its dirty, mouldy fabric, he just had one simple request for the group of volunteers who came knocking on his door early this year.
“I didn’t ask for much; just that they help me throw the mattress away. I couldn’t do it on my own,” he says.
But these volunteers of FACELIFT 2011 had a better plan.
“From the start, we identified 3 areas that we could help the families in: cleaning, painting and replacement of furniture. When we visited each family, we interviewed them to find out about their family circumstances, what they needed help in and surveyed the house to take note of its condition,” explains student Lee Xin Hui, one of the youth leaders of the annual community project, which is in its second year running.
The committee embarked on a search to get Mr Lee a replacement mattress for the old one they were about to throw out.
“We were surfing the internet to check out the prices of mattresses in general when we chanced upon BEDS.sg and found out about the Free Mattress Programme. With the encouragement of the helpful sales personnel on the livechat, we decided to seek sponsorship from BEDS.sg,” Xin Hui says.
Now, after a hard day’s work, Mr and Mrs Lee can enjoy a good night’s sleep on their new mattress, one of the two which were proudly sponsored by BEDS.sg.
“Thank you, BEDS.sg, for being of such great help! We love this new mattress. It’s not too hard or too soft, even not too warm. It’s just nice,” he says with a toothless grin.
“I don’t know what I’ll do without the sponsored mattress. Even if I discussed it with my daughter, she’ll probably tell me to wait till after the Lunar New Year to see if we have enough money to get another one,” Mr Lee adds.
Sobering, Yet Heartwarming
Stories like those of Mr Lee have had an impact on the volunteers, as Xin Hui tells us.
“Through my conversations with the residents, I discovered a side of Singapore that most people don’t hear about. It was humbling to learn about the struggles of many families for a better life,” she says.
“It was heart-warming to know that we managed to make, at the very least, a small difference in the residents’ lives. After understanding the needs of the residents, we are not only inspired to do more, but also have a better idea of the projects we should launch for the benefit of the residents,” Xin Hui adds with a smile.