Touching Lives - Their Father's Daughters
Putri, or puteri, is what the king’s daughter is traditionally referred to in
Malay. Sisters Putri Nadiya Isabella and Putri Amylya Isabella, however, live
a life that is a far cry from royalty. Ever since losing their mother last year
to osteomyelitis, they have been under the care of their wheelchair-bound
father, who is also medically unfit for work. It’s a simple life, but the sisters
continue to find joy in their everyday and unwaveringly support each other’s
dream of a brighter future.
Not many teens or tweens would willingly spend their weekends at a wet market shopping for vegetables, eggs and fish. But for sisters Putri Nadiya Isabella, 13, and Putri Amylya Isabella, 10, the activity has become a monthly family affair since their mother died from osteomyelitis (a rare but serious infection of the bone), heart and kidney problems, in August last year. They have little choice in this new normal.
Father Mr Salleh Thahib is wheelchair-bound due to a severe slipped disc and needs help maneuvering around, running errands for the family’s needs.
“I feel bad to have to depend on my daughters, but they’ve never once complained or whined,” said the 47-year-old. The single father also suffers from heart and lung problems, along with other health ailments. His conditions have resulted in him being certified medically unfit for work since July last year, a month before his wife’s death.
“Having witnessed my wife’s well-being take a drastic decline, the girls foresaw that they would lose their mother,” recounted Mr Salleh. “Still, when the inevitable happened, they were crushed. But life goes on; it has to.”
The sisters are polar opposites in personality and disposition.
The eldest, who goes by Nad in school but Putri at home, is shy and reserved. Putri prefers spending her free time cooking and baking, trying out recipes passed down from her late mother. “She taught me how to cook assam pedas and lemak chilli padi,” the Secondary 1 student let on.
Putri’s school, CHIJ Katong Convent, is about a 90-minute commute from their two-bedroom flat in Punggol, but it is a journey she is glad to take. “KC is my dream school, one that I promised my mum I would get into. So I am happy I made it,” she said, beaming. “When I grow up, I want to be a lawyer first, and if not, a designer or a make-up artist.”
Creative pursuits like painting, and arts and crafts have always appealed to Putri. Her favourite class is Design and Technology because she enjoys creating and building.
Knowing how important art is to his daughter, Mr Salleh recently saved up enough to buy her a set of watercolour paints. “Putri doesn’t ask for much, if at all. In whatever capacity possible, however small, I want to encourage her passion,” he said.
Mr Salleh has to be extremely mindful of every cent spent from the financial aid — totalling $1,100 a month — that the family receives from various sources. These include Zakat financial assistance disbursed by Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura (MUIS). Transportation fees to and from school get top priority. There had been times when the girls had to skip school because they could not afford their bus fares.
While baby of the family, Isabella — as she is called by family and friends — would not mind missing school sometimes, Mr Salleh would not stand for it. Playful, feisty and spirited, the Primary 4 pupil at Horizon Primary School loves being outdoors, playing soccer, and riding her bicycle, and counts swimming as her core-curricular activity (CCA).
“See this?” Isabella pointed to her cast-wrapped left arm. “I fractured it for the second time after losing control of my bicycle as I was going down a slope,” she explained. “But it is just a small fracture! I can definitely ride again as soon as bapak (father in Malay) says I am allowed to.”
For all of her daredevil attitude, Isabella has a soft spot for animals, especially cats. She also takes her duties as a nurturing daughter quite seriously.
“Isabella is like my nurse,” Mr Salleh said, with a hint of pride in his voice. “She remembers all my prescriptions by heart and dispenses my medicines, making sure that my emergency cardiac pills are always within reach both at home and when we are out.”
Of course, the girls lean on their father as well. Every day when his children are in school, Mr Salleh cleans the flat, washes their clothes and cooks.
“We always have dinner together,” said Mr Salleh. “Neither girl wants to eat until the other one is home.”
The family’s situation, according to social development officer Ms Nurfarhana Eusope, who manages Mr Salleh’s case, is atypical. “They are certainly in a uniquely tough spot due to Mr Salleh’s chronic illnesses which prevent him from going to work and earning an income to support his still school-going daughters,” said Ms Nurfarhana, who manages some 200 welfare cases a year.
Initially, Mr Salleh was reluctant to ask for help, but he opened up eventually. Said Ms Nurfarhana, “Sometimes life throws difficult obstacles your way and makes you so vulnerable that you have no choice but to rely on the community for a helping hand to get through.”
“Apart from monthly disbursements, Zakat assistance has also enabled Mr Salleh to acquire a bigger wheelchair that better fits his built, as the one provided by the hospital was too small,” said Ms Nurfarhana. She checks in on the family regularly by calling them weekly, and visiting them at their home once a month.
Mr Salleh is deeply appreciative of Ms Nurfarhana’s efforts in getting his family the help they need. “I can breathe a little easier with this assistance from the community,” said Mr Salleh. “All I want is for my daughters to be able to complete their education and realise their dreams.”
In spite of his hardships, Mr Salleh feels blessed to have daughters who help out when they can, and who look out for him as dotingly as he does for them. “No matter what happens, we have each other, ” said Mr Salleh. “And we will face whatever life has in store for us together — as a family.”