"Every night I sleep, I hear them squeak."
The worst part about rats infesting their house for 3 years was not the sounds they made at night. To Mdm Kng, it was the damage they left in their wake after scurrying around the house.
“I bought a lot of the Mortein (household insecticide) to spray, and I just keep spraying. Some die but they still keep coming back. The troublesome thing was the rats keep biting & spoiling my things like the cupboard, electrical wires... I had to change my fridge and washing machine wire a few times already," said the 64-year-old part-time cleaner.
Habitat Singapore first came across Mdm Kng's case in 2017 when her social worker put in a request for us to help de-clutter, repaint & exterminate pests in the home - usual business for Project HomeWorks.
Typically, Project HomeWorks focuses on elderly and low-income families living in rental flats. What made Mdm Kng's case unique but no less deserving of help was that she lived in a 4-room purchased flat.
On top of having to continue paying the mortgage for her home, Mdm Kng is also the sole caregiver to her 4 grandchildren, with the youngest being only 9 years old.
Groceries, bills, school allowances and transportation - all on a combined monthly family income of about $2,500 including financial assistance - has been a long struggle for Mdm Kng.
Spending over $1,000 on replacing wires for essential appliances because of rats was a financial burden Mdm Kng could not afford. “Where I can save money, I’ll save," she adds.
To cope with her tight financial situation, Mdm Kng would take in items like utensils, cooking pots, soap and other daily necessities passed down to her. Years of accumulation eventually led to the home being cluttered and a breeding ground for pests.
On the path to a better life
It took a total of 3 sessions - the latest group of corporate volunteers from M1 and UPS in a single day on 2 November 2018 - to de-clutter the kitchen, re-paint the living room and capture one of the last remaining rats that had escaped all extermination efforts.
Not one to sit and just watch, Mdm Kng, her husband and youngest grandson also pitched in to help.
“It makes me happy to see the volunteers help me clean. I didn’t have the strength alone,” said Mdm Kng. “The house looks much cleaner now. So now everyday I have to come back and keep it clean.”
For Ivan, our corporate volunteer from M1, his biggest takeaway from his first Project HomeWorks session at Mdm Kng's house was the empathy he's gained from learning about Mdm Kng's situation.
“Generally a lot of people hold the view that (disadvantaged individuals) have hands and limbs, why can’t they go out to work. But actually the truth is a lot of times, the family situation is such that it can be seen as quite hopeless. In this case, the grandparents already did their job and raise their kids. Now they’re tasked with 4 grandchildren to look after," said Ivan.
“There’s an inequality gap and I think (volunteering) is the best way to close it - start with empathy and then do more from there.”
*Front-facing photos of Mdm Kng & her family were intentionally blurred and left out to protect their identity.
At Habitat, we believe that everyone deserves to have a decent place to live.
On average, Project HomeWorks serves about 350 homes a year. With your help, we're confident we can raise this number to 400 in 2019.
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