(Top) Cookery class for women at the Social and Welfare Centre at Jalan Kayu. (Middle) CWS Breadline: Sister Roseline distributing a loaf of bread to each person in the line. (Bottom) Official Visit by Inche Othman Wok, Minister of Social Affairs in 1968 – Minister together with Director Mr Cyril Chew presenting a mattress donated by CWS to a recepient

AFTER BEING RETRENCHED, Luke (not his real name), 40, searched unsuccessfully for a job. Feeling lost and desperate, he walked into a Catholic church one day and sat there crying. “I was already on the verge of committing suicide. I felt so useless and I felt like I failed my family as I could not provide for them,” Luke said.

That day, someone approached Luke and directed him to Catholic Welfare Services (CWS). Together with his wife, they made their way to the CWS office with only two dollars in their pockets.

CWS gave them two bags of groceries and put them on financial assistance until the family was able to financially support itself. CWS also provided a “scholarship” fund for Luke’s two children which helped pay for their school fees and bus fares, and provided them with some pocket money. At the same time, CWS helped Luke to find a job which he worked at for a few years. He left when he was able to secure another job with a better salary.

“Not knowing where the next meal would come from and then to meet an organisation with a heart was such a blessing,” Luke said. “CWS gave us the strength and encouragement to carry on. I was touched to learn that they do not stop at helping only Catholics.”

Luke is one example of the many people CWS has successfully helped, and is continuing to do so through its various services such as food relief programmes, monthly financial assistance, and scholarship aid for students. Each case is evaluated individually.

CWS also serves the elderly through its three nursing homes – Villa Francis Home for the Aged, St. Joseph’s Home and St. Theresa’s Home; a community home (St. Vincent Home); and the Gift of Love Home for the destitute. CWS also operates Good Shepherd Centre, a shelter for abused women and children to rebuild their lives.

Meanwhile a joint project between CWS and Boys’ Town – Poverello Teen Centre, a drop-in-centre for kids at risk – sees youths like Itiel, 15, learning the guitar, ‘Taiko’ (Japanese drums), and others kayaking. These activities help to develop the youths’ potential, instil in them the values of self-worth, discipline and responsibility to prevent teenage delinquency.

Itiel, who performed the ‘Taiko’ for arriving guests at the CWS 50th anniversary dinner, credits the centre for his change. “I used to be shy performing in front of others. I have learnt to overcome difficulties and all…and learnt to be a leader,” he said.

Gabrielite Brother Emmanuel, CWS Chairman since 1994, thinks one of CWS’ biggest achievements over the last 50 years is its reaching out to the elderly: “We have been able to run three homes. It has brought publicity to the Church that we are caring for the elderly, who, in general, are not very well treated.”

“The homes for the elderly are reaching out to all people of all religions and creed,” he added. “It has changed them altogether and given them a new lease of life.”

But Brother Emmanuel acknowledged that there are limitations to what CWS can do. For people who are saddled with loan shark and credit card debts, CWS can only lend a listening ear and direct them to specialists who might be able to help. “It has helped some of them to get out of their problems,” Brother Emmanuel said.

While CWS is able to offer temporary relief and financial assistance such as those to Luke, Brother Emmanuel stressed that CWS cannot help people who refuse to help themselves and who become overly reliant on CWS aid.

“They could do things on their own, but they don’t. They are healthy and capable, but unwilling to work hard to help themselves,” he said.

“I wish in the 50 years to come, we would be able to have a kind of system to help these people help themselves. And there are many of these people on the streets,” Brother Emmanuel said.

James Chew, 52, CWS Executive Director, shares Brother Emmanuel’s sentiments. He feels that it is necessary to understand the needs of the poor to help them help themselves.

He gave an example of a boy whom CWS had supported from primary school right through university with pocket money. The boy did well in his studies and subsequently headed one of the multi-national companies located in Singapore. When Mr Chew asked the boy what drove him to succeed, he replied that “all he needed was for someone to believe in him”.

Looking forward, there are challenges for CWS. These include competing for a piece of the charity fundraising pie, catering to the needs of an increasing number of elderly in Singapore, and service development for other needy groups.

In October, CWS will launch a new project ‘Hearts@Work’, a work-focused programme for the intellectually-challenged.

The programme will offer job coaching skills in simple tasks such as cleaning and serving food, and will try to arrange work for the intellectually-challenged to enable them to earn a living. CWS hopes the Catholic Business Network would partner them in this initiative.

Meanwhile Albert (not his real name), mid-20s, has managed to rebuild his life with the help of CWS. Albert lost his dad to cancer, and both his health and his mum’s health took a turn for the worse and they could not go out to work.

CWS provided Albert’s family with financial assistance and groceries, a listening ear, emotional support, advice and hope.

“CWS is a modern day Angel of God,” Albert said. They very often go out of their way to help us.”

By Darren Boon
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