The power of community: Rallying behind the Ho brothers
Updated: Apr 22
It started with a fall, but Uncle Ho's unfortunate accident unwittingly became the catalyst that rallied a host of community support behind him and his older brother, after decades of getting by on their own.
It's a common misconception that Habitat Singapore works alone in our mission to rehabilitate the living conditions of vulnerable Singaporeans. In reality, our work through Project HomeWorks is part of a larger ecosystem of social services that act as a comprehensive safety net.
It's really only through partnerships forged with like-minded organisations, volunteers and donors that we are able to make the radical transformation of the Ho brothers' home even possible. (L: Before, R:After)
While a good Samaritan proceeded to call an ambulance after seeing Uncle Ho, his thoughts were only of his older brother who was alone at home in their rental flat at Redhill.
At 80 years old, Uncle Ho has been looking after his older brother for over 60 years. It started with another accident, one that happened when his brother was 21 years old and left him blind. They were playing when someone accidentally pierced his brother's face near his nose, recounted Uncle Ho.
Since then, the brothers were bonded for life. Uncle Ho looked after his brother and helped him with everything from cooking, showering, and moving around.
With no other family or care-giver to look after his older brother, the pair was admitted together at Singapore General Hospital on the day of Uncle Ho's fall. They were subsequently referred to Methodist Welfare Services (MWS) Bethany Nursing Home for rehabilitation in May last year.
That's where he first met Ms Eva Yeo from MWS, a social worker who uncovered their story and started them on their journey of building stability in their lives.
In their younger days, Uncle Ho used to assist his brother when he was still working as a medium in a Taoist temple. As they got older, the brothers turned to odd jobs like working as a cleaner, sometimes getting the opportunity to be hired together with Uncle Ho doubling as his brother's eyes at work.
His deteriorating health eventually forced Uncle Ho to stop work more than 10 years ago and turn to government financial aid. "As he grew older, Uncle Ho started suffering contractures in his right hand, which eventually caused his hand to stiffen into a permanent fist. It was thus a greater challenger for him to physically support his brother," said Ms Yeo.
Continuing the upkeep of their rental flat in Redhill also became too much of a physical task for Uncle Ho to manage on his own. Years of smoke from altar incense turned their walls brown; popping floor tiles became walking hazards, especially for Uncle Ho's visually impaired brother; and old wooden furniture and boxes of belongings brought over from their previous house made perfect hiding spots for bed bugs.
While the brothers were receiving occupation and physical therapy at the nursing home, it was still their wish to return home. But with the safety hazards and unhygienic conditions there, it was near impossible to meet the conditions for discharge. To help transform their home back into a safe and liveable state, Ms Yeo reached out to Habitat.
It took 4 Project HomeWorks sessions and a community of volunteers to complete the works needed for the brothers' home. In September 2019, our first team of volunteers from Tiffany & Co. started the ground work by de-cluttering boxes piled high from floor to ceiling and discard bed bug-infested furniture. Peeling paint from the ceiling had to first be scrapped off, a time-consuming but necessary step before fresh coats of paint could be applied.
10 September 2019: Tiffany & Co.
With the walls and floor spaces cleared of obstacles, volunteers from SAP focused on painting the walls and ceiling in the bedroom area. It took slightly longer than the original half-day session but the team from Woods Mackenzie gamely tackled intensively cleaning the kitchen, and painting the remaining walls and ceiling to cover the entire house. By October, all traces of discoloured walls were gone.
21 September 2019: SAP
3 October 2019: Woods Mackenzie
In January earlier this year, our last team of individual volunteers capped off the entire process with another round of wiping down the brothers' belongings, caulking any gaps in the wall to seal off potential bed bug hiding spots and setting up the new brand new beds.
Ms Yeo also engaged the Housing Development Board (HDB) to repair the popping tiles in the brothers' flat.
16 January 2020: Individual Volunteers
By March, the brothers bid their friends in the nursing home goodbye and finally headed back home together. For Ms Yeo, the months of liaising back and forth with various stakeholders to help get the brothers home had been a "challenging but very inspirational journey".
"To witness the devotion and bond between the brothers has been extremely motivational, and I am blessed to have been able to support them in achieving their simple dream of returning home," she added.
Today, Uncle Ho and his brother are back in the comfort of their own home while continuing to be supported by a range of community services such as meal deliveries, transport service for medical appointments and regular house-keeping.
For us at Habitat, it's a privilege to play our small part in the ecosystem of social services dedicated to providing comprehensive support of Singaporeans in need. And Uncle Ho's story is a shining example of the power of such a community, who help to make the positive changes we want to see in the world possible.