Help Them To Stand Up

“Yah!!! Wah!! Aaaaah!!!” Loud and shrill screams rang eerily through the neighborhood for more than ten minutes.

It was past midnight. I went up to the window to see what was going on. The street was quiet, not a soul was seen. A few other neighbors were also standing by their window sills trying to see what was going on.

Another loud scream came through the house opposite mine.

It is her.

She is a young woman who has mental illness. Over the years, I have seen her throwing ceramic dishes onto her next door neighbor’s compound, throwing her brother’s toys onto the street and screaming at passer-bys.

The ambulance was rushed in once because she cut herself. The family’s maid jumped over the fence several times, screaming for help, because she was chasing the maid with a knife. Once, she walked into my house uninvited and tried to push me to join a multi-level marketing scheme. When I politely refused, she was so angry that I thought she would hit me.

I am only her neighbor. I can avoid her when she screams and throws things at me. But not her family. They often look tired and harassed. When I walked past and said ‘hi’, they lowered their heads and pretended that they do not see me, then they hurried into the house.

In a society filled with prejudices about people with chronic illnesses, I can understand how they feel – embarrassed and ashamed – about the havoc the young woman causes in the neighborhood.

In contrast, my late brother who used to have Down Syndrome, was much easier to take care of. He occupied himself with his drawing and piano-playing. He rarely got angry. If he did, he expressed his emotions with a few loud mumbles. He was only difficult to take care of when he couldn't walk due to swollen legs from his weak heart. Two people were needed to lift and carry him.

At that time, we were all families with dependants who needed medical care constantly. Expenses were high because our dependants did not have health insurances, or rather, no health insurance company would insure them. Taking them to government hospitals was not a choice sometimes when one had to work and had no time to queue for hours.

My brother who didn’t know how to talk also needed rehabilitation to learn how to communicate his suffering when his health deteriorated. There is no Down Syndrome center for people over 40. I had to pay for a private practioner and there is no insurance scheme for this. And no tax-break either.

When I read about how rich businessmen avoid paying taxes and top-notch company directors driving luxury cars bought under company expenses, I find myself asking, “How does this happen? The rich get the tax breaks but not all those who need it!”

A friend once said to me, “Life is never fair. What are you complaining about? You have more to be thankful for than many people!”

I know. So does every middle-class family who have dependants with chronic and acute conditions. I have known of middle-class families who sold their houses, cars and jewelleries to treat illnesses. Often, the family houses that they have lived in are the only assets the entire family has.

One such family has two adult children inflicted with a nerve disease that has rapidly degenerated over the years. Click here to read about them - and The elderly parents’ savings have all been used up in treatments over the last ten years. They can’t afford to send the siblings for the operations and rehabilitation they need.

Harsh words from their brother make them depressed – If not for you, our parents would have a nice life! He has a good job but he feels that he has helped his siblings enough over the years. He needs money for his own growing young family. There is no tax break to motivate him to help out either.

As the siblings' condition worsens, one of them is contemplating suicide. The other has been admitted to a home for the disabled. The future is bleak if the elderly parents leave this world. Who is going to ensure that the children are well taken care of?

They are not the only ones who need help - there are so many others out there. Not hardcore poor. But trapped in a helpless cycle of illness. And there is no end in sight.

A group of us has been trying to raise funds for them but the progress is very slow. Sometimes we feel discouraged but we remind ourselves of what Mother Teresa once said, “We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.”

By Chong Sheau Ching


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