Thursday 24 May 2012

PM Lee: Self-help groups vital for mobility

He urges them to help families move up socio-economic ladder
By Robin Chan, The Straits Times, 23 May 2012

PRIME Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday called on self-help groups to take on the task of helping to improve the social mobility of families.

The groups play a vital role in ensuring that families have opportunities to move up the socio-economic ladder, he said.

He was speaking at the 20th anniversary dinner of the Chinese Development Assistance Council (CDAC), the self-help group set up to look after the educational needs of the less well-off in the Chinese community. There are similar groups for the Malay, Indian and Eurasian communities.

Mr Lee noted that the Chinese community group has already embarked on this new direction.

Since 2008, the council has started offering help not just to students from low income families with poor school grades - or what it calls 'the double poor' - but to any student from a low income household, regardless of grades, Mr Lee said.

It plans to do more, including extending education programmes to students from junior colleges, ITEs, polytechnics and arts schools, and students not in the mainstream education system.

It will also go beyond just academics, to help develop the character of students, equip workers with skills, and help families with financial management, he said.

'Help them do better not only in school, but also to be more successful in life,' he added.

Noting that community efforts such as those by self-help groups exist alongside the Government's programmes to create an inclusive society, Mr Lee said: 'How we fare as a nation depends on how Singaporeans respond to our challenges, individually and as a community.'

He added: 'Self-help groups will continue to play very important roles, especially in helping families and improving social mobility.'

Even so, he stressed, individuals must also try to help themselves, and he urged them to seek help if they need it, make use of programmes to lift themselves, and then in turn help others.

As for the Government, he said it is doing its utmost to help preserve social mobility. There are GST vouchers for low income families, and schemes such as Workfare and Special Employment Credit for low-wage and older workers.

'We will always look after the less fortunate, and leave no one behind. That is one thing I promise all Singaporeans,' he said.

Other self-help groups also say they are doing more to help families climb the social ladder.

Madam Moliah Hashim, chief executive of Mendaki, the Malay self-help group, said that it started opening up its tuition programmes to students with marks higher than 55 three years ago.

'We don't differentiate because of their income or grade levels. When programmes are more inclusive than exclusive, it is good for the whole community.'

Mr T. Raja Segar, chief executive of the Singapore Indian Development Association, said: 'We are more conscious of those being left behind.'

CDAC marks 20 years of 'paying it forward'
It has tapped into S'poreans' desire to give back to society: PM Lee
By Robin Chan, The Straits Times, 23 May 2012

FROM humble beginnings in borrowed premises, the Chinese Development Assistance Council (CDAC) has since 1992 become a source of help for many. Its programmes have benefited about 75,000 workers in skills development, and 400,000 needy students through tuition classes.

Mr Lim Swee Say, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office and chairman of the CDAC's board of directors, said at the 20th anniversary dinner last night: 'We have come a long way in 20 years... CDAC now serves more than 60,000 beneficiaries annually.'

Among them is Lee Jia En, 10. Her father, Mr Lee Chin Ho, 48, was an odd-job worker in 2007, when her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. They had to sell their three-room flat. The CDAC helped them pay for food, utilities, transport and medical bills. Mr Lee now has a job as a kitchen assistant and earns $1,300 a month.

Jia En, his youngest daughter, is an active volunteer with CDAC and hopes to become a doctor. Her older sisters are students at the National Institute of Education and Singapore Polytechnic.

Yesterday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong singled out the three sisters and two others for praise.

Mr Bryan Ong, 24, is a third- year National University of Singapore Business School student and author of a motivational book for young people. After his parents separated in 1999, CDAC's Redhill Student Service Centre gave him a place to study for his exams and learn computer skills.

Thanks to a CDAC training award, Madam Teo Lung Hiang, 63, became a professional hairstylist after being a housewife for 30 years.

She now gives free haircuts to the elderly and students from low-income families.

PM Lee, the CDAC's patron, said it has 'tapped on Singaporeans' desire to contribute back to their own communities'. In a Facebook post later, he wrote: 'Let us all embrace this spirit of paying it forward!'

At the dinner, PM Lee thanked United Overseas Bank chairman Wee Cho Yaw, who will be stepping down as chairman of the CDAC's board of trustees after 20 years, describing him as a prime mover who will be 'sorely missed'.

Mr Wee helped raise more than $10 million for its endowment fund. The billionaire banker stepped down from the Singapore Federation of Chinese Clan Associations in 2010, and asked not to be nominated to the CDAC board, said CDAC executive director Goh Chim Kim.

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