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My name is Zuraidah. This is my story of home.

My first home was a 3-room HDB flat with my parents and siblings at Bedok Reservoir.

At 13 years old, I quit school to work at a confectionery to support my family.

When I was 17 years old, I got engaged to my first husband and married him when I turned 21.

We wanted to stay near his parents, so we bought our first HDB flat, a resale unit, at a block next to my in-law’s flat. As first-timer HDB buyers, we tapped on the first-timer grant which reduced our cost by $40,000.

Photo: Our first home as a couple became my in-laws’ HDB at Choa Chu Kang. (Source: HDB)

With our new home, we started a family.

I gave birth to our daughter at the age of 22 years old.

Both of us worked to raise our family and pay the bills. I worked hard over weekends doing shift work in the sales line.

But… we drifted apart, our marriage broke down. My daughter was only 4 years old, and I was expecting a son.

We sold our home, the matrimonial flat, at the current market price, which was unfortunately not in our favour. We made a loss, but it couldn’t be helped.

I moved back home to my parents’ 3-room HDB with my two young children. When I worked, my mum helped me look after them at home.

It was tough being a single mum.

I yearned to be independent, to have a home to call my own, as I have been working since 13 years old.

In 2003, I applied for a rental flat. I was actually shocked how fast the application went through! Three months later, I moved to a rental flat in Lengkok Bahru.

Graphic: HDB Rental Flat Schemes (Source: HDB)

The location was a bit far from Bedok, but this didn’t stop my family of three from travelling back to Bedok to visit my parents often.

Finding love.

Throughout all these upheavals, I met my current husband. My daughter looked up to him as a father figure, a role which was absent in her earlier years.

We got married in 2005 and had two children of our own. In 2008, my parents sold off their 3-room flat and my mum stayed with us for a year before moving to my brother’s house.

Our humble rental flat was then home to 3 adults and 4 children – it was a bit of a squeeze, but we made it work.

We all slept on mattresses that could be folded and kept by the side. We took turns to use the only toilet based on how early we had to leave the house to get to school or work.

Worrying about home.

After I had my fourth child, I quit my job to look after my children.

I didn’t know I would be unemployed for five years. My husband fell ill and could not hold a full-time job.

We struggled to pay our bills – I worried we would be homeless.

Thankfully, when I approached the Community Development Council, they were able to offer some financial assistance for our rent and electricity as well as $350 a month to put food on the table.

Being unemployed was very stressful.

In the past, I tried different jobs, whatever I could do with my set of skills, as long as employers were willing to give me work. At 16 years old, I was a department store cashier. At 21 years old, I became a sales assistant.

With my time divided amongst my children, I had very little time left on my hands. I also did not have skills that I could use to earn money while working from home such as sewing or baking. On top of that, I breastfed my children and was not ready to stop breastfeeding as it meant a lot to me being able to provide for their nourishment as a mother.

Photo: Drink cans for recycling (Source: Nina Wu)

I remember there was a period of time I would go around collecting aluminium cans during the day. My elder daughter and I would wait for the lorry to come at 3am, so we could sell the cans to the driver at 20c per kg.

Once, someone stole two big trash bags full of cans, I was very upset!

I felt so depressed about my situation that I isolated myself from my neighbours.

When a home becomes part of the community.

In Lengkok Bahru, volunteers from Beyond Social Services would regularly knock on the doors at my block to speak to families living in rental flats.

At first, I did not want to talk much to them as I was stressed and not in a stable mood to discuss my family’s situation.

One day, the volunteers knocked on my door again. I decided to open it and just go through the usual routine of telling them how many children I had before saying goodbye.

But it was different this time, the volunteers shared that they were having a gathering of parents to discuss events they wanted to hold for the community.

Photo: Me (on the left) at one of the community conversations with my newfound circle of friends (Source: Beyond Social Services)

At the gathering, I met neighbours who were fellow mothers I had avoided speaking to for years. These mothers were very nice and shared their stories. I didn’t know that many had similar struggles, some even worse than mine.

Photo: At some of these community conversations, the residents (including myself holding a card) shared our stories and discussed what we could collectively do for our community. (Source: Beyond Social Services)

The feeling I had was so warm and welcoming that I had a brief respite from the problems I faced and enjoyed the company of the community.

For the community, by the community.

At events organised by the community of neighbours, for our community, I opened up about our situation. Beyond staff helped my family with diapers, milk and food rations.

More importantly, being involved in the community brought out the positive side of me.

I learnt how to emcee, how to have good teamwork. I found out that by sharing, I was able to receive even more help and support.

Photo: Myself (in front) and other residents having fun at one of the learning activities we organised with teachers from NIE for the community. (Source: Beyond Social Services)

The community of parents like myself organised several events, such as a 3D2N workshop for single parents. Instead of others planning for us, we planned and executed it ourselves, with support from Beyond.

We knocked on doors to identify homes with single parents, invited them, planned the programme, arranged the transport, divided the responsibilities, booked the venue and ran the event – I felt good that I was able to do something for others.

Community conversations – revealing our dream for a home

We had been living in a rental flat for so long that I did not imagine the possibility of owning my very own home.

If not for the Beyond core workshop that the community of us parents organised for fellow parents, my family would not have thought about discussing the dreams we wanted to achieve in five years’ time.

My children shared they wanted to have a place for our family to call our own, and that struck a deep chord in me, because I realised I forgot my dreams while struggling with our daily lives.

Photo: Being part of the community has given my family more opportunities to bond. It was at one such event that we had a chance to discuss our dreams in five years’ time, and realise we wanted to have our own home. (Source: Beyond Social Services)

Will Mdm Zuraidah and family achieve their dream? Read the second part to learn Mdm Zuraidah’s #myHDBstory

Categories: Opinion