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Thursday September 26, 2013 MYT 7:17:00 AM
Thursday September 26, 2013 MYT 12:50:42 PM
by christine cheah
Agape Vision co-founder Gillian Chong (left) with one of the children she works with. Together with another founder, they started a program called Transit Homes, catering for underprivileged youths that had to leave the homes at the age of 18 or whose families are unsafe to reside in.
Growing up with an abusive father, Thenmohlee Selvarajee never found peace at home. At 15, her mother moved her and six other siblings out but the family was poverty-stricken.
The family was always hungry and on the day of her SPM examinations, Mohlee (as she is known) fainted in school.
Teachers then introduced her to Mother and Child Caring Society, a non-profit organisation that cares for underprivileged children of single parents.
Today at 21, Mohlee’s family is still in dire straits with financial issues and her brothers are in danger of taking after her father. But Mohlee now has another option. She is moving into a transit home in January next year.
Transit homes are shelters introduced by Agape Vision, an NGO catering for youths aged 18-21 who have left shelter homes or whose family situation is unsafe for them to return to.
“I’m going to stay there because they have good facilities and it is a peaceful place where I can concentrate on my studies,” she said.
Mohlee has been working after finishing Form Five and plans to further her studies in business information at a local college next month.
“It would be hard for me to concentrate on my studies if I stay at home because there are always fights,” explained Mohlee whose mother supports the decision to move to the transit home.
Upon reaching the age of 18, children who have been staying in shelters are required to leave these homes. Some return to live with their family members or reside in a hostel if they are furthering their studies but not everyone is that lucky.
Joey (not her real name) had a home to go to after leaving the shelter but has since moved into her college’s hostel.
“It’s survival of the fittest after leaving the home. Some of my friends moved about staying with friends and they were very pitiful,” she said. “The transit home is an attractive plan because it gives the youth a place to go to.”
Joey revealed that the homes doesn’t always keep in touch with the youths who leave and one of her friends from the home she was staying with is in jail.
“He had no proper direction, didn’t know where to go and there was no one to give him advice,” said Joey who doesn’t know the reason her friend was apprehended.
Agape Vision co-founder Gillian Chong has been a social worker for 17 years. It was purely through her own observations and experience volunteering with underprivileged children that she recognised the need for Transit Homes.
“After getting to know the kids better I found out that it was very hard for them to cope with life," said Chong.
She added that the youths who lived on their own didn’t know how to budget themselves properly and didn’t pick up nutritional values from meals.
Yap Yen Yen was one girl who inspired Chong to start Transit Homes. Yap’s mother left her when she was only three months old. She was then taken care of by her grandmother.
Her father was around but they didn’t communicate much and he remarried when she was seven.
Yap’s stepmother didn’t like her and sent her off to stay with a nanny that abused her.
“She would cane and beat me with the vacuum cleaner pipe. I didn’t tell anyone because she would threaten to tell my grandma that I was naughty,” said Yap.
She was soon sent to a shelter at the age of 12. “My dad only came in my first year there. For five years, I lived alone,” said Yap sadly.
Her consolation were the friends at the shelter and volunteers like Chong whom she met in a camp in Singapore.
When Yap was 18, she had to move out of the shelter. She returned to stay with her grandmother but was kicked out of the house not long after.
Despite her tumultuous life, Yap never gave up. She worked jobs and finished her studies at a local college with a diploma in multimedia design.
Today, she rents a room and lives a life of her own.
On transit homes, she said: “It’s an excellent idea. It could have been my option back then.”
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