Interns have been a very valuable resource for our work and the organisation. With the diversity of skills they bring, we have had much support in grant applications, communications, research, administration and fieldwork. This week, 6 of them who were helping us to administer our COVID-19 Family Assistance Fund said goodbye after 10 weeks and as they reflected on their experience during the exit interview, we continued to learn much from them.
“Just because someone needs financial assistance, it does not mean that he or she can access it.” One of them sighed and recounted how almost everyone she met had much difficulty producing bank statements, payslips and other official documents needed to accompany an application. One lady had so much trouble getting her documents scanned that she brought them to a shop to get it done. After which, she could not upload the documents and did not submit it eventually. This intern found it ironical that to apply for financial assistance, one had to fork out money that one could ill afford for bank statements and scanning services. For example, bank statements for the past 3 months need to accompany every application and for those who have no e-banking arrangements, retrieval of bank statements for each month costs $20. The $60 needed could feed the applicant for a week.
We also learnt from the interns that many applicants were reluctant to seek help.These applicants said that application processes always made them feel like they were trying to “game the system.” Moreover, it was not infrequent that they had no answers to questions such as “if you have no money why you have so many children?”
The application process was daunting but not all were cowed.An older applicant said, “I understand people need to ask questions, but at least ask reasonable ones.” When she was questioned about her grocery list, she elaborated on her list of household chores, the time needed for them and why her choice of grocery items made sense.
In sum, our interns revealed that they initially thought of social workers as “gatekeepers”, but they now see that they should be “guides” who can help people navigate and access help and, in the process, uplift them.
To date, we have received some $3 million to provide financial assistance to families affected by COVID-19 and we have committed $1.8 million in support of 1,279 families for 1 to 6 months. Come 31 July, $1.3 million would have been disbursed and we will continue to receive applications with a view of stabilising families as they get back on their feet with the help of government and community support. We anticipate that all remaining funds will be disbursed by January 2021 and hopefully, less families will need financial assistance then.
When these families thank us, we tell them that it is not us that they should thank but the many donors who cared for their well-being. Like these families, we thank all our donors for entrusting us with the responsibility of disbursing their funds. It has been humbling listening to the woes of those seeking help and most rewarding seeing how our efforts made a difference. We are very grateful to be an instrument of the goodwill of our Singapore community.
Wishing you health and peace of mind.
Life is short and we have never too much time for gladdening the hearts of those who are traveling the dark journey with us. Oh, be swift to love, make haste to be kind. – Henri-Frédéric Amiel