I studied under the candlelight and spent many nights taking care of my sick mum

By Rohaishah Hamid

6 years ago on this date, I remembered having to vacate the HDB flat I lived in at Sengkang with my mum. I was 18, still schooling and was given a monthly allowance by MOE; she was ill and unemployed for the longest time. The the both of us had no place to go. We eventually agreed to mutually separate; we had to find different respective friends who could give us shelter separately, whether it was for a day, a week, a month, a year, whichever would suffice.

She found a friend she could live with for a few months so I was relieved. On my end, I had friends here and there who offered shelter, offered sleepovers, and on some unlucky days when they couldn't, I would spend most nights staying up at beaches or void decks with my bags of unwashed and unused clothes and cheapskate art materials plus my crumpled assignments, looking for a plan, in hope of another saviour to take me home. I seeked help from MPs, from different Family Service Centres, different Homeless Shelters, however they could only help so much.

Prior to the days when I had nowhere to go, I couldn't do my assignments, I had no money to get materials, didn't even eat or sleep properly, as such I ended up skipping school very often. I even skipped exams. I was already bonded with MOE's 9-year teaching contract at that point, however my absenteeism and grades were horrendous. I couldn't graduate after my 3rd year of study at NAFA. So I had to retake a hell lot of modules. My allowance from MOE was being rescinded. I had to pay for the modules I had to retake, and having no allowance forced me to work 2 jobs while schooling.

Working 2 jobs allowed me to earn just enough for a decent rental of a room on the open market, which was ridiculously costly. But I was devastated and separated from my mum too long, eventually I managed to afford renting a room with my mum, at different houses of strangers and the owner was present in their homes while we stayed there. Unpleasant experience they were, living in someone's house you don't even know, they had rules like you can't cook, can't use the living room, you can only do your laundry once a week and all. They assume and accuse you of every minor or major thing that could possibly go wrong within the premises. It was like living in a prison cell with no privacy yet laden with numerous obligations. But I couldn't complain. At least me and my mum were sheltered together.

Spent a year to clear all my modules but I still failed and couldn't graduate after my 4th year. NAFA was going to expel me, MOE was going to terminate my bond, which simply meant I had to pay back all the liquidated damages. I appealed, begged, pleaded for them to give me one more year. So again I had to pay for the modules I retook, rental cost got more expensive when we moved from one place to another each time our contract ended, my mum's health worsened, and I ended up having to work at 3 jobs instead of 2.

At that breaking point, I kept reminding myself one thing, that I already spent my teenage secondary school years in an abusive and dysfunctional household while I was still staying in my own home at Sengkang. Already spent years of my teenage life working in KFC every night after school even during 'O' Levels,there was no electricity at home so I studied with a candle and spent the remaining hours of my sleepless nights taking care of my sick mum. I had an elder sister who used to provide for us but she passed away. People from the Subordinate Court entered my place to seize all our furniture because of debts; in the end my house became bare and empty. Or when people splashed paint at my door because of debts again. Or when policemen had to keep coming to control a scene made outside my home. And I thought THAT was bad. Until I lost my home eventually. Felt like I lost everything.

Finally graduated from NAFA after my 5th year and moved on to NIE. Life got better when I stepped into NIE because I finally started receiving monthly allowance all over again. I could finally quit my 3 jobs, and in that same year HDB finally granted me a home to stay in. Eventually graduated from NIE and started my teaching career till today. I never had to look back since then.

Throughout that journey, I owe my life to my friends and teachers from secondary school, my colleagues from KFC, a few close classmates from NAFA and some other friends and roommates I met along the way, for seeing me through and providing for me when no one else could. I wouldn't have stayed sane without you guys. Sure, like every other typical kid I've been depressed as hell, suicidal attempts were endless, and now when I think about it, I laugh at myself. Thank you God, for watching over me and my mum, and for blessing me with amazing friends. They were the family I never had.

This first appeared as a post on the Facebook wall of Miss Rohaishah Hamid on 12 September 2015. She deserves to be applauded for her tenacity and grit, so do drop a positive line on the page to spur her on.


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