Nurasikin Binte Ashari, 42, and Mohamad Fairus Bin Jaafar, 44, were a jet-setting couple.
Being avid motorcyclists, the couple used to go on biking trips up to three times a year before the Covid-19 pandemic, with each trip lasting from a week to a month.
In the last five years, the pair has traveled to remote places like Kashmir, Cambodia and Nepal where they embarked on road trips on their bikes.
One could say that their lifestyle now is a far cry from before. They have since taken on another type of adventure with a new addition to the family, four-year-old Aisha (not her real name).
No, the couple isn’t babysitting Aisha and she is not their adopted child either. Instead, Aisha is Nurasikin and Fairus’ foster child.
For those who are unfamiliar, fostering is a temporary care arrangement for children who have been abused, neglected or abandoned. The goal is to reunite the foster child with their natural parents.
Fostering differs from adoption as adoption is a legal process where the child’s adoptive parents will assume the legal rights to the child, whereas a child on the fostering scheme keeps their own identity as the legal child of their natural parents.
Where before, Nurasikin and Fairus led a carefree and wanderlust-filled lifestyle, their life now revolves around the little one.
“Everything changed”, Fairus says of the day Aisha first stepped into their home in Jan. 2020. The couple’s schedules had to be altered to accommodate the toddler, with each adult taking turns to fetch her from her daycare after ending work each day.
Accepting a foster child was also such a new experience that on one day, the frazzled couple simply forgot about Aisha’s dinner.
Nurasikin laughs as she recounts them buying a packet of spicy mee goreng to share with her husband, before suddenly remembering that Aisha did not have any dinner, upon which Nurasikin immediately went to cook some noodles for her.
This isn’t to say that Nurasikin and Fairus are forgetful in any way when it comes to caring for Aisha — the little girl is showered with love and attention, and the couple is genuinely invested to ensure Aisha grows up well.
It took five years before deciding to become foster parents
You might also wonder how the free-spirited pair made this decision, and it was indeed not an easy one for the couple.
The pair shared that they spent five years pondering over the decision.
Fostering was not a new concept to them — Nurasikin came from a family of foster parents, with her siblings and cousins also fostering children.
“We saw how [my cousin and her husband] made a difference in the kid’s life,” Nurasikin said. This prompted them to learn more about fostering themselves, and they started to attend outreach events on fostering as well as meeting other foster parents in between their overseas trips.
The sharing sessions on fostering also helped them realise that instead of focusing on their self-centered mindset, it was a matter of putting the child before them and understanding that the foster child’s needs were greater than theirs.
“Initially, it was only about us, us, and us,” Fairus said. Nurasikin chimed in: “We were always thinking about ourselves, does [fostering] fit us, does it work for our family, our schedule.”
In 2019, the pair decided to take a break from travelling, and in the meantime, upgrade their home from their three-room flat to a jumbo flat.
The added living space, as well as their newfound perspective on fostering, were the push factors for the couple to finally take the leap of faith to foster a child.
Ensuring the child feels safe and secure in her new home
After submitting their application to the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF), Nurasikin and Fairus went through the assessment process.
The couple then underwent a training course at the Social Service Institute for foster parents to better equip themselves to care for the foster children. They were matched with Aisha not long after.
In the matching process, foster parents whose preferences most closely match the profile of the child in need of foster care would be contacted and provided with information regarding the child’s background and needs.
The foster family will then make the decision on whether they are able to care for the child.
When Aisha finally walked into Nurasikin and Fairus’ home for the first time, the couple’s main objective was simply to make her feel safe in the new environment.
They showed Aisha to her new room and pointed out the furnishings she could use. They highlighted that it was important that the child understood that she had her own space to play, rest and relax in the house, which would give her a sense of security and belonging.
Thankfully, the transition process was “very smooth”, the couple shared, and like her foster parents, Aisha was a friendly and outgoing child, which matched Nurasikin’s and Fairus’ adventurous personalities.
Of course, this was not to say that there weren’t any teething problems at the beginning of the couple’s fostering journey.
In the first two days, both Aisha and Nurasikin were down with a fever, likely from the stress of a new environment and new experience. With Fairus’ care though, both recovered soon after.
In order to cultivate a sense of normalcy for Aisha, the foster parents also had to set a routine for the child to follow, as well as certain ground rules, such as not walking around while eating.
Of course, as “kids will be kids”, Fairus says, this naturally led to some temper tantrums.
“Any kid, [will] have their own set of behaviours, whether good or bad. So we also have to keep an open mind. We have to learn about the child themselves, because they come from different backgrounds [with] different family values. So there are problems along the way of course, because the child needs to adjust to our environment now."
Nurasikin shares that when they encounter such “hiccups”, explaining to Aisha their reasoning works well to calm her down.
And as the child adjusted, things also got better and the couple enjoyed the daily moments of simple joy as they cared for her.
Simple wish to see the foster child grow
After joining the couple, Aisha has made leaps and bounds in her development.
Aside from giving Aisha the love and attention she needs, Nurasikin and Fairus also wanted to ensure she hit the developmental milestones required of her age, such as those in motor skills, speech and reading.
For example, the pair noticed that Aisha was fluent when it came to singing the alphabet song. However, show her the letters and the toddler would not know what the letters represented.
Children typically learn to say the alphabet around the age of two, and Aisha, in this respect, fell behind her peers.
The foster parents informed their social worker and brought her to a specialist. Taking heed from the doctor’s advice, Nurasikin and Fairus would read to her in their spare time after work.
Four months later, and the couple’s efforts paid off — Aisha is now the top of her class in reading.
Nurasikin expressed her amazement at the child’s growth, exclaiming that there was even one instance where the little girl rebuffed her attempts to read together, saying: “Mama, can you please don’t worry, I know how to read.”
The couple were both taken aback by the toddler’s claim of independence, but proceeded to let her read on her own. Nurasikin confessed that she also cried grateful tears in bed that night, touched that they had managed to reach such an achievement with Aisha.
Despite becoming foster parents with zero expectations about what Aisha’s journey would be like, her development pleasantly surprised her foster parents.
“We didn’t expect anything with this child, we just wanted her to grow, or evolve at her own pace. But when given the opportunity with a good environment and a lot of attention… she [managed to develop] as a better person,” said Nurasikin.
Hoping for the child to become a better person
For foster parents, it is crucial to remind oneself that the foster child is with them only temporarily.
Despite Aisha being akin to the couple’s own child — she even calls them ‘Mama’ and ‘Papa’ — the couple does not separate her from or ‘replace’ her biological parents.
After all, what propels Nurasikin and Fairus is the goal of helping to reintegrate Aisha back with her biological family.
And it’s clear fostering isn’t simply like babysitting — Nurasikin and Fairus are not just caregivers, but are genuinely invested and play an active role in Aisha’s growth.
All they’re looking for is to give as much as they can to make Aisha a better person, to shower her with love and allow her to experience her childhood to the fullest.
Covid-19 and working-from-home has also afforded them much more time to spend together and bond. With her foster parents, Aisha has ventured to plenty of new places, such as the Singapore Zoo, Sentosa, and Pulau Ubin.
Regular trips to the neighbourhood 7-Eleven to get snacks as a reward for finishing her homework are also cause for much excitement.
When asked what they find most rewarding about fostering Aisha thus far, Fairus says:
“I think if you see the changes in the child, in terms of behaviour, or education… You find that [the child] changed for the better. There’s that rewarding feeling.”
Nurasikin echoes her husband’s sentiments, adding that hopefully, in some small way, they’ve managed to make a difference in the foster child’s life.
“For us, this journey… is a temporary care. But what we hope for her is that wherever she goes in the future, she will continue to remember what we have taught her and instilled in her. To be kind, to be respectful, to have good manners.”
Even though Aisha will eventually return to her biological family, Nurasikin and Fairus still plan to love and care for her all the same while she is with them.
“We have so much love to give,” Nurasikin said. “If you got the space, you got the heart, bring in a child la.”
To be eligible to be a foster parent, one must:
- Be married and apply together as a couple,
- Be willing to ensure a child-safe home environment,
- Be at least 25 years old,
- Have a minimum monthly household income of S$2,000 and a PCI (Per Capita Income) of at least S$700,
- Be a resident of Singapore,
- Be medically fit to care for children,
- Have a secondary school education,
- Preferably have experience in caring for children.
Following the submission of the application, applicants will be assessed by MSF on their suitability on a case-by-case basis.
If you’ve been inspired by Nurasikin’s and Fairus’ fostering journey and want to foster a child of your own (or know someone who is keen to do so), you can find out more about MSF’s fostering scheme or join them for their upcoming sharing sessions here.
2021 also marks a special year as MSF celebrates its 65th anniversary for its fostering scheme. To help families be better prepared before embarking on their fostering journey, MSF launched the Fostering Starter Kit in October 2021.
The Starter Kit was developed in partnership with the Fostering Agencies and foster parents, and addresses feedback that potential foster parents could do with more information to guide their decision to join the fostering community.
You can find the starter kit here.
For more information, you can contact 1800 111 2222, WhatsApp 9645 8231 or email [email protected]
This sponsored article by MSF made the author more knowledgeable about fostering.
Top photo courtesy of Nurasikin and Fairus