The road to recovery
“Back when I was still the boss, I was always downstairs cooking, drinking and smoking with friends. To suddenly go from that to being stuck at home, it was difficult for me. And the house condition slowly became worse,” said 63-year-old Uncle Ong.
Vulnerability is a slippery slope and the home environment almost always reflects the physical and emotional turmoil the homeowner is facing. In Uncle Ong's case, the tipping point was losing his independence and capability to primarily provide for his wife and children who were diagnosed with intellectual disabilities.
In his prime, Uncle Ong was a successful, self-made man who supported his family of 5 by starting his own noodle stall 33 years ago. He was independent from his own family at a young age and jobs were hard to come by when he first got married in the 1980s.
“It was very hard back then. I didn't have a stable job until I decided to start my own business in 1988,” he shared.
In his business heydays, Uncle Ong’s noodle stall had earned a reputation and his earnings could comfortably provide for the family. After 2 decades of entrepreneurial success, Uncle Ong was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2009 and he underwent a major operation to resect his large intestines.
“After that my whole life changed. My business was my life but I couldn’t work anymore. Walking is so painful,” shared Uncle Ong. 11 years later, he still feels the pain where 2 stoma bags are attached to his abdomen and relies on a wheelchair to get around.
“I had to hand my business over to my younger brother, who gives me about $500-600 every month. For my family’s sake, sometimes I still go down to work for about 2-3 hours. I’d try to earn an extra $60-$80, which is better than nothing,” said Uncle Ong.
Uncle Ong’s business was also his family’s lifeline. Even until today, Uncle Ong continues to be the main caregiver of 3 family members diagnosed with intellectual disabilities - his wife, younger son & more recently his grand-daughter.
Uncle Ong’s eldest son had skipped university to start working after his National Service and picked up the monthly bills like utilities and the $180 medical cost for Uncle Ong’s stoma bags. The pressure to support his family eventually led to him getting into trouble with the law.
“When people are sick, their temper is bad. It’s painful to walk, I couldn’t eat without someone helping me. I was always in a bad mood. My son was a good boy but I think I gave him too much stress. I could only afford to buy the food to feed the 4 of us at home. He must have found other ways to earn extra money,” said Uncle Ong.
As the only able-bodied person in the house left, Uncle Ong’s health condition made it impossible for him to manage the state of his house. It was only after his eldest son's recent release from prison that things started to look up again for them.
Thankfully, Uncle Ong's eldest son was recently released from prison this February and had taken on the task of decluttering & cleaning up of the family home. At the same time, Uncle Ong’s social worker from their nearby Family Service Centre kickstarted the referral process for their home to be rehabilitated by Project HomeWorks.
Earlier this month, youth volunteers from the NTU Welfare Services Club partnered us to clean and repaint the bedroom walls, while Habitat Singapore provided brand new bed frames and mattresses for the family.
With help of our volunteers, it only took half a day to turn the family's bedrooms into a brighter, more comfortable space.
Every home improvement gives families a better chance for a stronger future. We hope this Project HomeWorks session will Uncle Ong's family a second chance at a safe and healthy home for years to come.