My first Magazine - Page 11

SERVING WITH NOTHING The mid-1970s, early 80s was a heady time for Singapore. As the multinationals started arriving, local companies went from producing mosquito coils and fish hooks to hard disk drives and silicon wafers. Old buildings were also giving way to new ones and along with it, the homes of the samsui women and majies - Singapore’s pre-war pioneer generation, many of whom had little to no family support. Meanwhile, in the Western part of Singapore, Canossian Sister Mary Tan had just returned from a three-year nursing stint in London. Her first order of the day was to start a mobile clinic. Catholic Welfare Services (CWS) wanted to do something for the poor who could not afford medicine. As Sr Mary recalls, “I said to myself ‘I’m a nurse, I’m not supposed to give medication. That should be a doctor’s job’ so I was really scared. Luckily, CWS had a volunteer doctor - Dr Mendoza who was a Filipina. So she went with me and dispensed the drugs while I administered them. We visited the Chinese in Tuas, Indians in Jalan Kayu and Malays in Jalan Eunos. But the Malays were afraid we would convert them. So we went to the now-defunct Siak Kuan Road, near Upper Changi Road where our Sisters sometimes visited for their holiday retreat. The Malays there knew the Sisters well so they were willing to get their medication from us.” Amid the rapid industrialisation, the mobile clinic quickly lost its relevance and a new challenge emerged - who would look after the samsui women, majies and the destitute when they could no longer manage on their own? Jurong Town Corporation or JTC asked if the Sisters could start an aged home in Boon Lay using 20 three-room HDB flats as their base. With no clue on how to start, let alone manage a home, three Canossian Sisters - Sister Mary, the late Sister Elizabeth Yeo and Sr Maria Teresa Rizetti visited other homes for ideas. Among them, the Home for the Aged Sick which was run by the late Teresa Hsu who was then its Matron. Says Sr Mary, “One of her advice to us was that if someone is dying, don’t take them out of the room. Let the others in the room look after her so that psychologically, the dying person will say ‘this is the place for me to die’. If you take her out, they will feel isolated.” Another piece of advice Sr Mary took to heart? “She said ‘If you have eight people living in a room, make one of the them the ‘referee’ and they will tell you things no one otherwise would.” One day, the Sisters’ little research project reached the ears of the then Archbishop of Singapore, Frenchman Michael Olcomendy. Sr Mary recalls, “He said ‘Show me where you want to start the home’. We showed him the Boon Lay HDB units and he said ‘Don’t put them in a ‘cage’, let me take you to Gek Poh Road to see a plot of land.’ When we arrived, we were like ‘WOW! The land is huge!’ It was a football field for the children but not much else.” Apart from Sing apore, the Cano ssian Sisters also Malaysia. The ph operated mobile otos above and clinics in Johore on the facing pa , ge are examples of how they saw to their patients St Joseph’s Home | 9