In adversity, a fighter emerges

By Alina Tee, Corporate Communications and Marketing

When life deals a bad hand, most people will play along but it is the truly resilient ones who will choose to fight on against all odds.  

Born with cerebral palsy, life has been a constant struggle for 48-year old Mr Lau since the get-go. As a result of his condition, Mr Lau is unable to walk and relies heavily on his motorised scooter when he’s out. At home, he gets around with the aid of a regular chair with wheels. His speech, heavily slurred, is often marked with long pauses, as he tries to form words.

Unknown to many, cerebral palsy does not impact one intellectually. An average man, trapped in a body that does not cooperate, faced with difficulties expressing himself physically and verbally. That’s life for Mr Lau. Due to his condition and appearance, he often receives unkind remarks or rude stares from outsiders. Once, he was even warned by a bus driver not to take his vehicle again.

As though living with a severe disability and social stigma isn’t hard enough, Mr Lau’s world came crashing down when his sole caregiver and the family’s breadwinner - his mum - passed away some ten years ago. Left with no income and assistance, his only support was his elder sister, who also suffers from cerebral palsy. The blow was devastating but even as he grieved, Mr Lau knew he had to step up and take charge, for the sake of the family.

To support his family, Mr Lau started selling tissue paper for a living. Getting to and fro via public transportation alone is no mean feat in his condition and he has to leave his house before 6am each time. Despite having a less severe condition, Mr Lau’s sister does not work due to her extreme shyness and instead, takes care of the household chores, such as cooking and cleaning.

Fortunately, Mr Lau was introduced to Singapore Red Cross’ FoodAid in 2013 by a director at SRC. He currently receives $120 worth of supermarket vouchers every month, which helps cover the costs of their food and daily necessities. Red Cross volunteers also visit the family monthly to help with errands, keep them company and take them out for walks. Twice a week, other volunteers come by to help them with showering, as they are unable to do so on their own. The family does not receive other forms of aid.

For the siblings, life is tough but manageable, especially with the support of volunteers. However, misfortune never comes singly. In September,  Mr Lau suffered a fall at work. While going up a slope, he lost control of his scooter due to lack of strength in his arm and fell backwards. The fall fractured his collarbone. Mr Lau underwent an operation on the same day and had to be warded for 10 days. Unfortunately, while he was recovering at home, Mr Lau fell a second time. This time, he fractured his rib bone.

With the injuries, Mr Lau’s limited mobility is further compromised. When a Red Cross social worker found out about his situation, she made arrangements for him to receive TransportAid. While unable to alleviate his physical pain, the Red Cross TransportAid team helped to support his recovery process by ferrying him to and from his hospital check-ups.

Due to his existing condition, doctors estimates a minimum period of six months for Mr Lau to recover fully. Unable to resume working, he currently relies on his savings to get by. Yet, he insists on paying for the TransportAid service out of his own pocket. While the fees are largely subsidised, the added cost is still a heavy burden for him. Perhaps this is his way of retaining independence and control over his situation.

Despite all the pain and hardships, the affable Mr Lau remains upbeat. When asked about the future, his only wish is to get better soon so that he can resume selling tissues before his savings deplete. He says he does not hope for much. Being able to live on with family by his side, one day at a time, that is all he wants.

Before we concluded the interview, I asked Mr Lau if he had anything to say to Red Cross, its donors and its volunteers.

“xie...xie…...ni...” (thank you in mandarin) He struggled to speak; and in fact, he never finished the sentence. Yet, in that moment, we understood him perfectly. Words were not needed to convey his appreciation and gratitude, for these emotions were evident in his smile and the look in his eyes.

In time, Mr Lau’s injuries will heal and he will return to selling tissues but the daily struggles he faces with basic tasks like walking or even speaking will not cease to exist. As he continues to age, his strength will wane and his physical struggles will likely exacerbate.

With the generous support of donors and volunteers, the lives of Mr Lau and others like him can be uplifted and improved. Join the Singapore Red Cross in helping to make a positive difference to their lives, today.