Madam Jamilah Binte Selamat, 65, is no stranger to a hard life. Widowed as a young woman, she became a grandmother at the age of 45. Since then, she has worked tirelessly as a cleaner to raise her granddaughter, Aliyah Nur Qistina in a rental HDB flat they both call home. Her granddaughter’s mother - her daughter - has not been part of their lives. But a nasty fall broke her ankles and she has not been able to work. Since enrolling in the Singapore Red Cross Family LifeAid programme, her family has been receiving monthly supermarket vouchers.
Life has a habit of throwing tragedy and hardship Madam Jamilah’s way.
She broke her ankles in an accident last March.
“I was on my way to work when I slipped on an oil patch at the void deck of our block,” she recalls, speaking of a nasty fall in March last year that resulted in her breaking both her ankles.
With both her legs in casts, she is unable to stand, let alone walk or get back to work. The months that followed were brutal, especially for Madam Jamilah, who was an independent woman used to doing things on her own.
Trudging on, Through Adversity
The second oldest of seven children, Madam Jamilah grew up in a kampong in Bukit Timah. As a child, she made home-made kueh with her mother to support her large family of nine. She said it was challenging for their family to make ends meet. Her father was unemployed.
She wanted to go to school, but with the responsibility of having to look after her family, school, like many of her dreams, fell by the wayside. The lack of education held her back in life.
“I cannot speak English, so not easy to find a job,” she said.
Her family was a close knit one, and it was devastating when she lost her oldest sister to kidney failure. It did not stop there; her third sister too died young.
She speaks of her first husband with fondness, a good man whom she fell in love with at the age of 17. Life wrenched him cruelly away from her a year later, when he died too suddenly in an accident, and much too young, leaving her with their only daughter. Madam Jamilah was heartbroken.
A second chance at love came seven years later when she met her second husband, but it was short-lived.
“My second marriage very difficult,” she said while apologising for her poor English.
“My husband no good. He gamble, take drugs, and then go jail.”
Ties that Bind
Madam Jamilah filed for a divorce soon after.
Her priority was, and always will be, her 20-year-old granddaughter Aliyah. She brightened noticeably when she started talking about her granddaughter.
“I take care of Aliyah since she was two days old!” she said animatedly.
It is clear that she loves her granddaughter dearly.
Madam Jamilah raised Aliyah without any financial support from relatives of family members. They depend on Social Service Agencies' financial assistance to ease their heavy financial burden.
But things are even harder now after Madam Jamilah stopped working after her fall.
Her limited mobility made it exceedingly challenging for her to leave the house. A trip to the hospital was a tricky, tiring and tedious process, and one realises how much and how often we take for granted our mobility.
Aliyah juggles school and taking her grandmother to the physiotherapist and appointments at the hospital (both of which have been heavily subsidised by Medisave).
But the demands of school took its toll, and Aliyah, who is studying Graphic Communication full-time, already carries a heavier burden than most 20 year olds have to bear.
Reluctant to trouble Aliyah more than she had to, Madam Jamilah opted to continue her recovery exercises at home.
“Aliyah must study,” she insists, saying she dreams about Aliyah having a better life than hers.
“Because if study, then won't be poor like me."
Her voice cracked when she spoke and it was heart-wrenching to witness.
Light at the End of the Tunnel
When asked if she could make ends meet, Madam Jamilah took a long pause before she responded.
With a stoic smile, she said, "It's hard."
Fortunately, their social worker introduced them to the Singapore Red Cross (SRC)’s Family LifeAid Programme last year. Madam Jamilah was overjoyed to receive $120 worth of fresh produce every month through the programme.
“It’s a lot,” she says, adding that she is grateful for the help she is receiving.
“There are so many things that $120 can buy,” she added.
Today, Mdm Jamilah still struggles to stand for more than 15 minutes at a time but she is determined to soldier on.
“Life no good. Must be strong,” she said, with grit in her tone.
Truer words have never been spoken.
By Heidi Boon, Volunteer
Copyedited by Su-Lin Tan, Volunteer
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