No money for bag, textbooks, or bus ride to school: S’pore girl explains life on financial assistance

Despite everything, the girl telling this story says her life is 'OK'.

By Mandy How | 4 hours

Sometimes we whine about stuff known as “first-world problems” — a lagging internet connection, or fast food that isn’t ready fast enough.

But for one Singaporean girl studying an electrical engineering programme at the ITE (Institute of Technical Education), these are moments she rarely — if ever — experiences.

Running out of financial assistance

In a post on the Facebook page of local nonprofit Beyond Social Services, the girl shares the story of her life growing up in Singapore and Malaysia.

When she was younger, she brisk-walked 30-40 minutes to and from school each day, with a plastic bag containing her stationery in tow, because she didn’t have money to pay for a bus ride or a proper school bag.

Even now, her family continues to struggle financially.

She explains that things get extra-tough when they run out of financial assistance and are waiting for the next round to come in — to the point where she had to borrow money from her friend in school just to top up her EZ-link card in order to attend classes.

No money for school supplies

But paying for public transport isn’t her only problem. She doesn’t have any textbooks either because she can’t afford them.

How she remedies that: In class, she listens carefully and tries to visualise what the teacher says. Sometimes, before an exam, she would call up a friend and ask them to read to her from their textbook.

Despite these challenges, though, she writes that she is absolutely confident of passing her exams.

Her confidence spread to her personal technical skills — she says she fixes all the electrical items around the house.

“I just need to be alone, and talk out loud to myself, then I can do it. […] I didn’t learn these things in school. I just open things up and study the parts for a while, till it starts to make sense to me.”

She writes that she even repairs phones.

Made fun of for her looks, asked why she looks like a boy

Besides her lack of necessities, the girl writes that people would also make fun of the way she looks and dresses.

A few years ago, she even had to leave school, because she stood up for herself when a teacher taunted her about her appearance.

“People don’t always understand how hard it is to show up to school every day when you’re different, when you don’t have money.”

Rough childhood in Malaysia

Her childhood wasn’t easy, either.

The family lived in Malaysia for a few years when she was a kid, as that’s where her stepfather is from. Along with her mum and siblings, they hopped from relative’s house to relative’s house.

According to her, they couldn’t go to school, and at times didn’t have any food to eat.

She collected cans to sell for a few cents. As the cans were sold by weight, she would put little stones in them to make it heavier.

She and her brother also went around neighbours’ homes, asking for work. Some neighbours would give the small errands, like collecting the rubbish.

“My life’s ok lah”

Despite these difficulties, the student remains positive.

“My life’s OK lah. Sometimes, I get worried about things, but mostly, I’m OK.”

She says this even after being hospitalised a month ago, after coughing up blood.

She’s had lung problems for many years now, she shares. She ran away from the hospital before being discharged so she could be at home, though, as her mum suffers from anxiety — a condition that affects her ability to work.

For now, her family will rely on financial assistance until she finishes school and gets a job.

Avenue for donation

A comment on the post from Beyond Social Services explains that this girl can’t be identified for her privacy, but that they help many Singaporeans going through similar circumstances to hers.

It also encourages people to donate to any of three funds with more information accessible here, or to volunteer in their work here.

After donating, you can write to [email protected] to let them know which fund you would like your contribution to go to.

Include your name, the date the donation was made, and the reference number in the email.

See the girl’s post in full here:

Top image from ChrisChitty on Flickr

About Mandy How

Mandy is a pantry rat. She eats everything in the pantry (except other people's food).

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