Breaking the poverty cycle

Breaking the poverty cycle
Mdm Tan Chiew Leng

Mdm Tan Chiew Leng, 52, has been through some rough patches in life. At the age of three, she was placed in a children’s home by her mother, where she stayed till the age of 18. Later in life, her marriage ended in a messy divorce and an accumulation of huge debt by her ex-husband under her name.

In desperation, Mdm Tan sold her house to pay off the debt and was left with little savings to live on. Despite her dire circumstances, Mdm Tan has a fighting and persevering spirit, working three jobs to raise her three young children. “It was a very tough time,” she recalled. “I would buy food for my kids but drink water for my meals because I couldn’t afford to eat.”

New challenges

While her three kids with her ex-husband have since grown up and are leading their own lives, Mdm Tan now has a 16-year-old daughter from another relationship and a minor ward under her care.

To devote more time to her children, Mdm Tan works as a cleaner on a part-time basis. Her battles with chronic carpal tunnel syndrome, a condition causing pain in her hands extending to her back, has rendered her unable to work in many jobs.

As the sole breadwinner of the family, Mdm Tan’s concerns about providing for her children’s growing needs has been alleviated, thanks to the savings she has accumulated since joining MWS Family Development Programme (FDP) in 2018, where MWS matches $2 for every dollar that Mdm Tan saves.

“I feel less stressed now because I have some savings in the event of emergencies or for my children’s education in future,” shared Mdm Tan.

She added that being under MWS FDP has motivated her to curb unnecessary spending and save for emergencies, and that the savings have come in handy.

“When I was going through the divorce in my 30s, I borrowed money from my childhood friends to repay my ex-husband’s debt. Till today, they didn’t chase me to return the money,” she shared.

“But recently, one of them had a family emergency and asked me to pay her back, so I used a portion of the savings. If not for these savings, I would be stressed out. I think this is a wonderful programme and I have been blessed by it.”

Not journeying alone

As befriending is a key aspect of the programme, with the aim of transforming the beneficiary’s behaviour towards their finances, Mdm Tan was paired with MWS befriender Roy Tay.

A volunteer with Hakka Methodist Church, Roy has been journeying with Mdm Tan and her family for the past two years. During his monthly visits to the Tan household, Roy guides and encourages Mdm Tan to save and spend wisely. Through his guidance, Mdm Tan has taken small steps towards effective money management that has improved life for herself and her family.

“Roy taught me how to save, for example, by advising my kids not to waste water or electricity. I followed his advice and managed to cut my electricity bills in half,” shared Mdm Tan.

Today, Mdm Tan is close to reaching her savings goal and is expected to graduate from the programme by early 2023.

Paying it forward

The peace of mind and financial safety net that MWS FDP has provided Mdm Tan with has also freed her up to serve the community as a volunteer.

From befriending neighbours in need to distributing donated goods to needy families, Mdm Tan embodies the kampung spirit through her selfless acts of service. She also helps to care for others, including assisting her neighbour’s 30-year-old autistic son with daily living activities like showering and dressing.

Her heart to serve others has sprung forth from her own tough life experiences and rough childhood.

“I want to volunteer because I want to give others what I never had growing up—the warmth of family love,” shared Mdm Tan.

Empower low-income families to break the poverty cycle

For families like Mdm Tan’s which struggle to make ends meet, clearing mounting debts or

saving for a rainy day can seem impossible. They find themselves trapped in the poverty cycle, which can be alienating and isolating. Studies have shown that poverty can lead to not only mental health problems, but tunnel vision in decision-making which perpetuates poverty.

MWS Family Development Programme (FDP) is a debt clearance and savings matching programme, designed to alleviate poverty by helping people get out of debt and into asset building and saving. MWS FDP matches $2 for every dollar that beneficiaries clear in debt or save up.

Empowering families like Mdm Tan’s to build an emergency and rainy-day fund relieves them of the emotional strain of dealing with debt, giving them greater emotional capacity and cognitive bandwidth to plan for the future.

Bless low-income families by matching their debt clearance or savings payment and give them hope for a better life by donating at mws.sg/give.

By the Methodist Welfare Services Communications Team/ Photos courtesy of Methodist Welfare Services