RECENTLY, I had a few encounters with the destitute in our society, who are in dire need of assistance to break free from poverty.
Our nation has made significant economic progress after 66 years of independence. However, in terms of eradicating poverty, there is still much to be done.
Frequently, we hear about the wealth gap widening, with the affluent becoming richer while the impoverished becoming poorer. There is a degree of truth in this assertion.
Many people are tirelessly struggling to provide necessities, such as food and shelter, for themselves and their families. As a nation, we can do more for those facing economic hardships.
Recently, a man approached me and asked me if I could buy him lunch. He said he did not want money but simply needed a meal because he had no money. I led him to a nearby food stall and paid for his lunch. In hindsight, I realised that I should have gone further and learnt more about his situation and extended assistance in any possible way, including aiding him in accessing social welfare support.
A few days later, as I parked my car, I noticed an elderly man in his seventies diligently washing cars. He used a modest setup, relying on a pail of water he had fetched from a nearby source. His means of transport was an old bicycle, and he had two buckets of water hanging on each side. Under the intense afternoon sun, he meticulously washed one car after another, earning a meager sum.
The weariness and struggle he has been enduring were evident from the expression on his face. He was toiling tirelessly for a modest means of livelihood.
Another similarly distressing incident took place outside a bank. I observed an elderly woman begging for alms. Her clothes were soiled and tattered, and she probably had no place to call home.
There are countless others who can be seen begging in the streets.
Another increasingly common sight on our streets these days is people involved in the collection of scrap iron, aluminum cans and corrugated boxes. They can be found in towns and villages, scouring for discarded materials that can be traded for a small sum.
It is not uncommon to witness them rummaging through shop bins in search of items they can sell.
These harsh realities paint a vivid picture of the challenges we are facing in our developing nation.
In these trying economic times, where financial stability is elusive, these individuals have to exhibit remarkable resilience just to endure.
The question that arises is: What actions are the authorities taking to address this pressing issue?
It is easy to demean people and pass judgements on those who beg rather than work. We must realise that we are unaware of the challenges and difficulties they face.
As a compassionate society, the least we can do is extend a helping hand to empower them to secure their livelihoods.
While the government is allocating millions in monetary aid to help the B40 group, it is imperative not to overlook the hardcore poor, many of whom lack literacy and the means to register for such assistance.
Eradicating poverty requires a collective responsibility that extends beyond governmental efforts. The authorities, civil society organisations and religious groups should proactively involve themselves in aiding the hardcore poor at the grassroots level.
The elderly struggling on the streets deserve our attention and care, and should be placed in old folks’ homes.
Identifying these vulnerable members of our community is not a challenging task as they are often in plain view. You can find them seeking assistance outside banks, supermarkets and various other locations.
Now is the time for social welfare officers and relevant government agencies to venture into the community and assess the well-being of the underprivileged among us. It is vital to ensure that the substantial financial aid distributed reaches those who need it most – the hardcore poor.
How can we claim to have achieved greatness and be proud of 66 years of independence when the stark reality of poverty remains a conspicuous and disheartening presence in our society?
Dr Tan Eng Bee