By Jorge Sng , Diploma in Mass Communication, Republic Polytechnic

To many of us, when we think about someone who is in his 60s, retirement comes to mind in the Singapore context. However, this is not the case for Mr Teo Soon Kheng.

For most of his life, Mr Teo has been living each day with uncertainty - he is constantly plagued by concerns about making ends meet. As an odd job worker all his life, he could earn as much as $800 or as little as $200 on a regular month. Despite his age, retirement is not on his mind. Given the high cost of living in Singapore, he has too little savings to rest on his laurels.

Speaking in Chinese, Mr Teo said, “There are days when I wake up worrying whether I can get a job to feed myself.”

His situation unfortunately, mirrors that of his parents, who struggled to support him and his siblings. As a result, Mr Teo had to ditch school books for work at the tender age of 10, taking on all kinds of odd jobs he could find.

He waited tables at restaurants and cleaned equipment on shipyards, amongst others.

In 2000, he and his family took on the burden of caring for the cerebral palsy-stricken daughter of an adopted brother. When Mr Teo’s mother passed away in 2006, it was impossible to juggle caring for the girl and working. Fortunately, Singapore Red Cross (SRC) lifted that weight off Mr Teo. At SRC’s Red Cross Home for the Disabled, his niece has been receiving full-time care and fully subsidised expenses.

“Even though she is biologically not my niece, I cannot leave a human out there without care... My heart just cannot take it,” he explained.

For a simple man such as Mr Teo, he could go by with just a bowl of plain porridge with canned pickled vegetables. All he needs is to fill his stomach.

Fortunately for Mr Teo, his life turned around for the better when he became a FoodAid beneficiary. FoodAid is SRC’s initiative to bring food to the table for families which face financial difficulties, such as Mr Teo’s family. It identifies households that have fallen through the cracks of the social service safety nets such as the working poor, single-parent families, and skipped-generation families. Through FoodAid, Mr Teo now has nutritious meals on his table.

“My life has transformed radically after the Singapore Red Cross staff shared about FoodAid. The $120 worth of vouchers may not seem much to others, but it made a big difference to me.”

For the past three months, Mr Teo has utilised the vouchers that FoodAid provided to purchase household necessities at the supermarket.

“Singapore Red Cross staff and volunteers have really helped me a lot. The staff advised me on the financial schemes which I could apply for. Life has improved a lot because of them.”

Despite the numerous troubles he faces every day, Mr Teo’s positive attitude and mindset got him through his struggles with a smile.

“We have to be content as humans... I believe there are people out there who are worse off than me.”

Story and photo by Chai Xin Yi, Republic Polytechnic, School of Management and Communication

Photo Caption: Glynn Maung preparing an Asian cuisine for the staff members of Red Cross Home for the Disabled.

From a distance, music can be heard coming from the kitchen. As I approached closer, two chefs worked in sync to prepare meals for the residents at 7am.

I was at the Red Cross Home for the Disabled, which houses 100 residents that are unable to care for themselves due to various disabilities. Some are brought into day care for the assurance that their loved ones are well cared for. However, there are also those who are without known families. Others have been there since they were children. These residents have different food diets that the chefs have to take note of. There are four main diets - soft diet, porridge, puree and tube feeding.

Soon after my arrival at the home in Lengkok Bahru, the Chief Chef, Glynn Maung Kan Min, arrived.

As I watched him cook on the line, he tasted each time he seasoned the dish. When asked about the standards of each dish, Glynn laughed and quipped, “I always tell my staff that if you don’t want to eat the dish, what more those who are unable to speak for themselves?”

Despite his strict and specific instructions for his staff, the 41-year-old listens to their opinions with interest. He treasures the importance of staff welfare as well as feedback in order to improve and plan for the future.

Donated food, which comes from private individuals and organisations at various timings are greatly appreciated. More so is the need for consistent donated food items, be it fresh, frozen or canned food. Donated food is always thoroughly inspected and labelled according to expiry dates and whether it is halal certified or not. Since serving healthy food to the residents is the kitchen’s utmost priority, Glynn meets up with dieticians every six months to refine his menu.

As we chatted in between his slicing and dicing, he recounted many phenomenal experiences when he was working in restaurants and hotels overseas. Going to Europe and working at Michelin-star restaurants has allowed him to learn the essence of presenting quality food while Asian culture influences the colourful outlook of each dish.

Listening to him really made me feel as though I was there with him, witnessing every moment that he made in the kitchens he worked in. It felt so surreal that I was talking to a chef who has an incredible knowledge of various cultures and experiences.

On the difference between a glitzy international kitchen and a relatively sparse one at a rehabilitative home, Glynn said, “Both kitchens are the same. Just that Red Cross food is donated, so it would be difficult to follow recipes. Thus we would improvise often to make use of it.”

Once lunch was prepared and cooled to room temperature, he personally sent the food to the different wards. Every door that he went, the residents’ mood seemed to lift and they show a keenness to engage with him. Whenever I went into a ward, I was overwhelmed by the change in atmosphere.

However, Glynn’s advice resonated within me, he affirmed, “I feel that our food is appreciated more because of their genuine smiles.”

From there, I composed myself and put on a smile and interacted with the residents as I followed Glynn around. Despite communication barriers, I held hands with them and felt the connection through their smiles as my heart filled with warmth.

Glynn chose this path after a personal realisation. He explained, “As I have worked in top restaurants, cafes and hotels in Switzerland and Singapore, I realised that regardless of social status, people are still wasting food. So I decided that I’m going to make use of my culinary skill by giving good food to the less fortunate.” And now, he hopes more people will take the same path.

“I hope more people will know about Red Cross Home for the Disabled and be willing to help out,” he encouraged.