Friday, August 18, 2017

Caring culture helps prevent suicides in elderly lonely

My letter to The Straits Times on the above matter is published today, Friday 18th August 2017.

Uncertainty and anxiety over health issues with lack of key social support for the elderly lonely can lead to depression and, at a later stage, to suicide, case studies have proven.

Indeed, quality of life can make a big difference in a person wanting to value life or giving up on it as highlighted by Mr Paul Chan Poh Hoi (Less stressful environment helps prevent suicide risk; Aug 17).

When loneliness tears at the hearts of people who are shunned and left to fend for themselves, do we as a society step forward to help? Or do we turn a blind eye because "it is not my problem"?

Loneliness is not just making us fall sick, but it is killing us - literally. Do we discuss suicide sufficiently or do we sweep this problem under the carpet because it is a taboo subject?

Studies of the elderly lonely show that those who do not have adequate social interaction are twice as likely to die prematurely.

Neighbours can play an important role in helping the elderly lonely feel valued by simple gestures which show they care. Showing that one cares can lift the human spirit.

Let us build a caring, compassionate and gracious society so that looking out for one another becomes part and parcel of our everyday life.

Raymond Anthony Fernando


Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Raymond Anthony Fernando’s letter to The Straits Times: Give couple a second chance

Raymond Anthony Fernando’s letter to The Straits Times: Give couple a second chance


My letter to The Straits Times on the above matter is published today,Tuesday 15th August 2017.


I was struck by the emotions Ms Tay Puay Leng displayed when she spoke of the incident which landed her and Mr Chow Chuin Yee with a fine for the use of criminal force and harassment on 76-year-old Mr Ng Ai Hua at a hawker centre (Public backlash ‘making us live like fugitives’; Aug 13).

I sense that Ms Tay is sincere in wanting to apologise to Mr Ng. It was reported that she is a caregiver to her 89-year-old grandmother, who suffers from dementia.

Caring for a loved one with dementia can be very stressful.

It has been reported that some people, probably riled up by the incident, have

tried to pick quarrels with the couple or even intimidate them.

Taking matters into our own hands will only cause more ugly behaviour to surface, resulting in the courts and police having to cope with an increased workload.

What kind of message are we sending our youngsters?

Ms Tay and Mr Chow have already been punished by the court.
She was fined $1,200 and he was fined $1,500. There is no need for us to persecute or punish them any further.


Everyone who makes mistakes ought to be given a second chance.

We can become a far better society if we can accept that people make mistakes, offer forgiveness and move on.

Raymond Anthony Fernando


My philosophy in life: Help anyone who is going through struggles & adversities in their life and embrace forgiveness for those who have made a wrong turn, but are willing to turn over a new leaf.  These are values which I have learnt through my Catholic teachings and what my mother and my late wife taught me.
Sometimes, even a comforting word for those who are going through painful periods helps, but how many people make the effort to do so.  My press letter to The ST seeks to help make Singapore a far better society, and we should all work towards that goal


Monday, August 14, 2017

Proposal to The Singapore Government: Public education on Eczema needed to raise awareness of this skin condition

Public education on various health conditions by the media that includes mental illness and physical illnesses has been effective in getting people to better manage their specific conditions.    
However, very little is known about Eczema which affects many people who include children and adults. In the U.S, Eczema affects about 10 percent to 20 percent of infants and about 3 percent of adults and children.  I am sure, Singapore has its fair share of Eczema patients with some diagnosed with the ailment and others unaware that they have it.
Eczema is a term for a group of medical conditions that causes the skin to become inflamed or irritated – the most common type being atopic dermatitis or atopic eczema.  The skin becomes itchy and rashes will appear. These rashes will appear on the face, back of the knees, wrists, hands, or feet. It may also affect other areas as well.
If we have sensitive skin and are not sure if Eczema has hit us, bathing too often or washing hands frequently will only cause harmful effects to the skin. This is why it is useful to see doctors who specialise in this area or at least see one who is knowledgeable in Eczema.
Generally, people fear what they don’t understand. For instance, some people might mistakenly believe that Eczema is contagious, when in fact it is not.  Hence the need for public education on this health issue.
My recent encounter with this skin disease which was fortunately detected early by a knowledgeable and experience General Practitioner (GP) helped a great deal. She advised me to bathe only once a day, apply Eczema prone skin moisturizer and Eczema prone body wash, take omega 3 fish oil and use cloves when washing dishes or clothing.
The itchiness was so bad that I could not sleep at night and I began to feel depressed.
A bottle of Eczema prone skin moisturizer cost $42 and Eczema prone body wash is priced at around $29.  As these products are rather expensive, perhaps the Ministry of Health could purchase these and offer it at discounted or affordable prices at the polyclinics and hospitals for the benefit and convenience of our patients. Even King Salmon Omega 3 fish oil which has several benefits can be made available here.
Together with medications to treat allergy and itchiness, the GP also prescribed oral steroids which will be tapered down as the conditions improves. She comforted me by saying that in cases such as mine, short-term dosage of oral steroids is needed rather than steroid cream, and will not adversely affect the bones. 
More than 10 years ago, I was taken off a medication that caused rashes, and the good doctor reminded me to be mindful as my immune system is weak and thus the rash condition that I encountered a decade ago will return and on off. 
The good news is that within a week of her medical care, the Eczema has been contained and I have every confidence of a recovery in due course.    
For the record, Eczema is not contagious.  It is always useful to share our life experiences when we have benefitted from such a health issue, so that those who might be prone to having Eczema will be well positioned to handle the situation better.
As such conditions vary with different people, it is best to seek medical advice and treatment from the professionals/experts and they include doctors from the National Skin Centre (NSC). NSC is based at 1 Mandalay Rd, Singapore 30820.
For all intents and purposes, this article is meant to raise awareness of Eczema.  To this end, it would be helpful if the Ministry of Health in collaboration with the media, carry out public education on Eczema for everyone to have a clear understanding on this health issue.
In closing, patients trying to grapple with this skin illness, the vulnerable (who include the elderly lonely), understanding, empathy and structural support on the part of family members, friends, religious groups, grassroots leaders and the community can help the patients cope much better.

Disclaimer: These treatment and medications described in this article have worked well for me. Please consult a qualified doctor or specialist for your own condition/s.


Thursday, August 3, 2017

LOVE CONQUERS ALL : By Raymond Anthony Fernando

In memory of my late wife, Doris Lau, who was called to the Lord in April 2014

Often marriages are put to the test when couples are confronted with financial problems or if a spouse is stricken with chronic illnesses.  All marriage will go through good and bad times.  But if couples stick to one another during those rough times, the relationship will improve steadily as time goes by.

I was a caregiver to my late wife, Doris Lau who was stricken with schizophrenia at the tender age of 17. My wife passed away 3 years ago after she lost the battle to pneumonia.  

Be mindful of the symptoms of schizophrenia

Coping with the symptoms of schizophrenia can be extremely difficult for family members who remember how active a person was before he/she became ill.  This illness is terrifying because it is unpredictable.  After caring for Doris for 40 years, I became more alert to the warning signs of schizophrenia. 


A reason to love, a reason to marry

Many people find it very hard to believe that I married Doris despite her mental illness.  

So why did I marry Doris? 

Unlike the many girls that I dated, Doris was very down-to-earth.  I found her to be sincere and caring.  This was the woman that would change my life –dramatically. 


I told myself that the woman I marry, whoever she is, I will love forever.  I believe that Doris are I were fated to be husband and wife.  She was born on All Saints' Day and I am born on Valentine's Day.  Undoubtedly, Good Friday has special significance to both my wife and I.  By some strange coincidence, 12th April 1974 was the day that I first met my wife.   And it happened to be on Good Friday.

 And though it was an arduous and painful journey for me to manage my wife's dreaded schizophrenia for more than three decades, I often draw my strength and compassion from Jesus.  Can you imagine what will happen to Doris if she had married the wrong man?

My wife had a total of five illnesses, including schizophrenia, arthritis, diabetes, high cholesterol and incontinence.  Being the sole caregiver to my wife for more 4 decades was no easy feat and I suffered burnout so many times. 


Memories are made of this


But strange as it may seem, I had grown to love Doris more and more as I saw her struggle with so many illnesses.   And it was such a joy for me to see my wife enjoy life to the fullest despite the suffering that she had to go through.

As we celebrated our wedding anniversaries through our 40 years of blissful union, I recollect the scenes when I took my marriage vows in 1972 when we got married.


"Will you Raymond Anthony Fernando take Doris Lau Siew Lang to be your wedded wife, to live together in the estate of matrimony?  Will you love her, honour her, comfort her, and keep her in sickness and in health, forsaking all others, be true to her as long as you both shall live?"


These marriage vows and my Catholic teachings had given me the strength and courage to love and care for my wife despite the arduous journey of being her sole caregiver.  And when you are looking after a loved one with mental illness, you must be prepared to walk alone in the dark because there is still so much discrimination and prejudice against the mentally ill.  That's the bad news. 


But the good news is that through my love, encouragement and support, I had managed to turn Doris into an author of not one, but 8 books.  This is a remarkable achievement for someone suffering from a serious mental disorder.


Through the many talks that I have given, I have always mentioned that people with mental illness just need one person to love them and with medication, they will recover. 

Love conquers all


During the SARS outbreak in 2003, Doris suffered her 10th relapse.  It was another very difficult period in my life.  I had no choice but to admit Doris into the Institute of Mental Health (IMH), but at the back of my mind, I feared that the government in wanting to stop the spread of SARS , would close all doors for hospital visits.  


Two days after Doris was admitted to hospital, the Ministry of Health (MOH) imposed the no-visitors ruling at all public hospitals and I could not visit my wife for one solid month.  Doris was shattered, I was shattered. My heart was torn apart.


Usually I would visit Doris every day and spend as much time as I could with her as emotional support plays a big part in her recovery.  This time around, the picture was totally different.  My wife's biggest fear became a reality.  In her disoriented state, Doris "believed" that I had abandoned her.  Left her for another woman. 


After one month, through several appeals, I managed to see my wife.  When I saw her from a distance, I ran as fast as I could. I tripped and fell. My knees were badly bruised, but I did not feel any pain because when I spotted Doris, all pain -- physical and emotional seemed to go away.  Indeed, love conquers all.


When Doris returned for home leave 4 weeks later, she was still not out of the woods. She had to continue her ECT (Electro Convulsive Therapy) and she was only 50% recovered.  It was close to our 29th anniversary and I wrote her a poem entitled "Ring on your finger" framed it on an A1   size poster and mounted it on the wall.  The moment she saw it, her eyes lit up and so did her heart. She kept reading the poem, over and over again, until it brought about her total recovery.  She hugged me and told me, that the delusion that I had abandoned her was not true and I really loved her.  Once again, the healing power of love reunited us.

Raymond Anthony Fernando


Ring on your finger

A poetic tribute to my lovely wife, the late Doris Lau Siew Lang


My Dearest Doris,

It was placed on your finger many years ago

That wedding ring now in our home, still glows

Though you are safe with God, my love for you, Doris, continues to flow

This, I am sure, my love, you already know


The colour gold of the ring reminds me of how pretty you are

Your inner beauty that is sparkling like an evening star

The shape of the ring

Reminds me of one thing

You have carved our destiny

Through happy times, and amid uncertainty


The ring bears my name

It remains the same

The words have not faded

And our love has been upgraded

It reminds me that I will always belong to, Doris

It is a documented promise


The ring stood out on your finger that was so tender

It reminded me of how fragile you are

This ring on your finger reminded me that we have come this far

You will always have a place deep in my heart Doris, my eternal partner

And even if I have to start life all over again,

I will still choose you, Doris

And no other




Raymond Anthony Fernando

© copyrightraymondfernando2014






Thursday, July 27, 2017

Motivate jobless Singaporeans to attend training courses by providing a training allowance: An open proposal to the Singapore Government

In an effort to get all Singaporeans to upgrade their skills in an ever-fast changing world to meet global challenges, the Singapore Government has come up with a skills future credit in which those who attend training courses need not have to fork out cash, but can use the skills credits to pay for a wide range of approved courses.

Time and again government leaders have been reminding Singaporeans to attend training courses.

Unfortunately, the take-up rate for the skills credit scheme for training courses is weak, and there is a dire need to examine why many unemployed Singaporeans are not taking advantage of this scheme.

It was only when I attended a training course that I now fully understand why this is so. Let me recap my experience.

I am 67 years old, a Singapore citizen and have been unemployed for more than 10 years. I recently attended an 8-day full-time course (4 modules) that was conducted by Asia Gold Bell Singapore in Paya Lebar. This is to equip me with the necessary skills to get back into the workforce.

The 4 modules included:
(a) Maintain personal presentation at supervisory level.
(b) Communicate and relative effectively.
(c) Work in a team.
(d) Solve problems and make decisions at operational level.

The course was full funded by the Government using the skills credit. The trainer, Keith Yuen was very good. Kudos to Yuen for motivating the 20 participants.

I was told that people like myself are not allowed to claim a training allowance through workfare. I have been unemployed for more than a decade. On the other hand, those who are currently employed can claim the training allowance through the workfare scheme. There were several participants who are unemployed.

May I ask if the government is prepared to review the scheme to provide a training allowance for the total number of training hours for Singaporeans who want to upgrade themselves. In my case, this work out works out to 36 training hours?

The course started on Monday 17th July and ended on Wednesday 26th July 2017. It does not make sense to me that those who are employed can be given a training allowance while those who are out of work can’t make any claim whatsoever.

Participants had little or no choice but to take their meals which include breakfast and lunch at the Kopi Tiam Food Court at this place. It is expensive to eat at the food court and the meals cost at least $10 per day, which works out to around $80 for the 8 days training. Then what about transport cost? For Singaporeans who are unemployed, it will be a financial strain on them. This amount can be used for 2 weeks marketing for those who are jobless. More so when the cost of living is skyrocketing.

On the 19th July 2017, I wrote to the Employment & Employability Institute, e2i as well as phoned one of the staff there, but at first no one was willing to give me a reply. I then had to write an email to Mr Heng Chee How in his capacity as Deputy Secretary of NTUC and copied it to Mr Chan Chun Sing, the Secretary General of NTUC, having to explain myself all over again.

Mr Heng who is a fine gentleman and who cares about my welfare and that of all Singaporeans took the imitative and informed the management of e21. This is the kind of leader Singapore needs.

On Thursday 27th July, a Ms Irene, coach at e21 phoned me to apologize for the delay in replying to me as she informed me she was on leave.

In striving for excellence, let us not just implement a scheme or policy without studying the implications. Moreover, the media has an important role to play in highlighting constructive and useful suggestions. Forums letters that can help make improvements to any policy or scheme should be published with a mindset that active citizenry plays an important role in nation-building.

Policies that are outdated or not fine-tuned will not help to build a better society. We cannot have a “one-size fit all” scheme that benefits some Singaporeans, and does not provide the much-needed support for another group of Singaporeans.

I would therefore urge the Singapore Government to consider reviewing the skills credit scheme to allow unemployed Singaporeans to be given the same training allowance that employed Singaporeans get when they attend such courses.

I have every confidence that if such an allowance can be given to unemployed Singaporeans, much more jobless Singaporeans will be motivated to attend training courses to upgrade themselves, and the scheme will become a success story.

The Ministry of Manpower and NTUC could undertake a brainstorming project to fully understand why the skills credit scheme is not working as well as it ought to. Civil servants must feel ‘comfortable’ to give their points of view and provide useful suggestions to improve the lives of all Singaporeans.


Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Article for The Malayan Chronicles: Pave the way for the healing process for PM Lee’s family

"We all use language to communicate, to express ourselves, to get our ideas across, and to connect with the person to whom we are speaking. When a relationship is working, the act of communicating seems to flow relatively effortlessly. When a relationship is deteriorating, the act of communicating can be as frustrating as climbing a hill of sand."
- Chip Rose, attorney and mediator -
I have, with much sadness, followed closely the on-going feud between Prime Minister (PM) Lee Hsien Loong and his siblings Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee Wei Ling.
While Workers Party Chief Low Thia Khiang and his fellow members of Parliament are of the view that the best way to settle the dispute is for PM Lee to sue his siblings for the serious allegations (“Dispute should be resolved in court: WP Chief’), I fully support PM Lee’s view that it would not do any good to sue his own siblings for they are still his own flesh and blood (Suing siblings cannot be my preferred choice, says PM Lee”;  Monday 3rd July 2017, The Strait Times)
It is troubling that because of this unsettled feud, the whole Lee family is paraded on the world – and for all the wrong reasons.
When it comes to getting money, often, sadly, there is no such as family.  Many families get caught into this unfortunate predicament, and that’s the harsh reality. Certainly, those with special needs have to get better protection as their conditions can be taken advantage of and be deprived of a fair share when properties are sold.
While social media is useful is raising awareness of social problems, it can also be unhelpful in some ways.
If one looks at the many problems that arise in relationships, you would be able to find a common pattern – many people just don’t know how to communicate or at least communicate in an effective manner. 
American psychologist, philosopher and author William James once said: “Whenever you're in conflict with someone, there is one factor that can make the difference between damaging your relationship or deepening it.  That factor is attitude.” 
As with any relationship, every happy successful partnership begins and ends with the same ingredient – the willingness to negotiate.  Unfortunately, as human beings, we have the tendency of not wanting to submit.  We do not want to admit that we are wrong as it can be seen as “losing face.” 
Bear in mind that bitterness only eats inside of us and will eventually destroy us. One problem that should not be ignored is physical illness. When you’re bitter, you’re causing your body stress, and sustained stress can make you sick. In addition, bitterness robs you of your chance to be happy.
I have always admired Dr Lee Wei Ling as she has been an extraordinary caregiver to her father, the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew. She was always there for him – often 24/7.  Caregiving is extremely taxing and entails huge sacrifices.  Perhaps this arduous journey could have taken a toll on her with her being bent on protecting her dad and his wishes.  Dr Lee should have been given an award by the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Family and Development for her remarkable caregiving responsibilities.  It is not too late to do so.
Now that both PM Lee and his siblings have made their views public, let us put an end to the squabbling and begin the healing process. Top-notch family therapists and counsellors could help with reconciliation efforts.
For all intents and purposes, let’s remember that it takes years to build trust and just seconds to destroy it. This applies to marriage, while studying, nation-building , at the workplace and in the community.
With the Lunar New Year 7 months away, I am sure all Singaporeans would love to see the Lees reunite for the reunion dinner on the eve of this beautiful spring festival.
Footnote: I had earlier submitted a shorter version of this article to the Forum Editor of The Strait Times, but he chose not to publish it.  In fact, of late all my letters to the Forum Page of the ST have been rejected.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Educate parents on child abuse through teachers-parents meetings

Dear all,
Do read my article that is published in The Malayan Chronicles today, Thursday 25th May 2017 that has a big outreach and who is very supportive of my suggestions. Indeed, I analyze the issues/problems carefully and come up with constructive solutions that can make Singapore a far better place to study, work and live in.  Critical thinking and the ability to resolve problems & trouble shoot is what is needed in the civil service and in our society – and activists play a crucial in this matter.  The media must play a supporting role in giving due recognition to citizens who have a love for their country.  That’s the long and short of it all!
Have a nice day!
Raymond Anthony Fernando
Educate parents on child abuse through teachers-parents meetings
Like many readers and netizens, I was very upset that a young crying child was beaten by her parents in Jurong West – as described in the report “Police called in over parents hitting child with cane and tree branch” (The New Paper, May 20, 2017). It was so pitiful seeing the young girl pleading with the parents not to beat her. As the mother hit her, the girl tried to snatch away the cane.

It is natural for parents to want their children to excel in their studies, but fear of failure should never be instilled in young minds as they will hate going to school.

Fortunately, the abuse of the young girl was captured on video and the matter brought to the attention of the police. But what would have happened if this incident was not highlighted on social media? Will the child have to suffer in silence?

The good news is that after the police spoke to her, the mother was remorseful.

Parents need to be mindful that the run-up to examinations often sees children getting little jittery, and some may fall into what is known as ‘test anxiety’. The chances of test anxiety can also be increased if the child already suffers from social anxiety. In this particular incident, the young girl must have felt all alone.

Parents must be made to understand that abuse of any sort can cause psychological problems for kids who cannot cope. As long as their kids study hard, do not neglect their homework and do their best, parents must show understanding and support.

I believe all schools have regular teachers-parents’ meetings, so this will be an opportune time to advise parents on disciplining their children in the right way. Counsellors and the police can also be invited at this platform to talk on the dangers of child abuse and give proper guidance on bringing out the best in children.

The Institute of Mental Health (IMH) is already treating young children who are unable to cope with their studies. Do we really want to increase the workload at IMH?