Helping People on the Breadline in Singapore
Kate Burke, our Charities Co-ordinator, met the remarkable Richard Lim and discovered the fascinating history of The Breadline Group, one of the five charities supported by the British Association.
MISSION OF THE BREADLINE GROUP
The Breadline Group is a community service comprising of volunteers. It was formed because we share a concern for the welfare of the old and needy in Singapore, and want to channel our efforts towards helping them.
A moment of inspiration, a lifetime of dedication
“But there isn’t any poverty in Singapore anymore…”
So said Singaporean journalist Betty Khoo back in 1975 when tasked with writing a feature on the island’s poor. That sentiment may strike a chord with today’s newly arrived expatriates, confronted with the conspicuous consumption of modern Singapore.
What that journalist found, however, is that first impressions are not the reality. A tour of Chinatown’s Sago Lane, then known as “the street of the dead” unveiled the plight of the destitute and terminally ill, waiting to die in crowded hospices housed above funeral parlours.
Her experiences and discoveries inspired a group of volunteers to band together to help the poor. They began by distributing loaves of bread one day a week and became known, fittingly, as The Breadline Group (Breadline). Today, the organisation has grown and evolved: Instead of bread, they now donate cash, supermarkets vouchers and other essentials to clients but still remain true to their roots.
Richard Lim, one of the original volunteers who first handed out loaves of bread back in 1975, is now the Honorary Secretary of Breadline. He does most of the organisation’s administrative work and meets up with potential donors and volunteers.
I recently met with Richard to talk to him about his work. He is an impressive and inspiring person. After witnessing poverty and disadvantage in his community he did not turn away but instead faced it head on, and made tackling it a lifelong vocation.
Giving on a shoestring
Richard explained that one of the strengths of Breadline is that unlike many charities with bloated administration and overheads, it remains an organisation staffed entirely by volunteers. It has no paid staff, office or overheads. Volunteers use their own computers, buy their own stationery and drink their own coffee. This means all the money donated to Breadline goes directly to support people who have been left behind in Singapore’s rush to modernisation.
Helping those who fall through the cracks
So, in this prosperous nation, who are the people who need help from Breadline? According to Richard, it is those who have fallen through the cracks of Singapore’s welfare system. Clients tend to be referred by social and health workers and are allocated to volunteers at Breadline committee meetings.
Older people and those who are chronically or terminally ill are common clients because government support is limited and may not cover medical dressings and other health treatments they might need. Breadline tries to help cover the shortfall, which means people don’t have to choose between buying medical goods or food.
There are also older people, usually illiterate, who have always lived in Singapore but are still considered Malay citizens as they never applied for Singaporean citizenship. They are not eligible for the full range of government benefits and struggle as a result. Breadline supports them with money, but can also help them with the complex paperwork they need to complete to access more government support.
The breakdown of relationships can also lead to crisis for whole families. Richard explained that, in circumstances where one parent is Singaporean and the other is not, abandonment can mean that the non-Singaporean parent is left without support. This can lead to whole families falling into poverty.
The BA’s support of Breadline has made a real difference to vulnerable people in Singapore
When asked how donations from the BA has made a difference, Richard was definitive. 100% of the BA’s donations have gone directly to those in need, have alleviated suffering and have helped lift whole families out of poverty.
As a result of the BA’s support, children have been able to complete school and University and now support their families. Older people and those with terminal illnesses have been freed from money worries in their last few months and years.
Do you want to help?
There are opportunities for individual BA members to further Breadline’s work.
If you are able to commit the time, you can volunteer to make monthly visits to a family or individual in need, to deliver money and check on their needs and progress. Breadline match volunteers to suitable families and provide training to volunteers.
Make a direct donation
You can make donations to Breadline via their website.