Small Means, Big Heart

Touching Lives - Small Means, Big Heart

Mummy. Mama. Mak. 70-year-old Madam Jainah Binte Awang has been called all of these, and not just by her own children. A sole caregiver to her grown-up son with special needs and two school-going grandchildren, her hands — and her one-room rental flat — are full. Still, the sprightly lady finds the time and energy to give back. With an exuberance that belies her age, she leads a weekly food distribution drive that benefits needy residents, and cares for the well-being of her neighbours like they are family.


On most Tuesday afternoons at the void deck of Block 4 Marsiling Road, a long queue forms, comprising the elderly with their trolleys and tote bags. At 2:30pm sharp, Madam Jainah Binte Awang and six other volunteers start distributing bags filled with vegetables and fruits, meat, fish, bread and rice, to those in line.

“Have you gone for your dialysis?”
“How’s your gout?”
“Have you found a job yet?”

These are some of the many questions Mdm Jainah asks as she hands out the grocery supplies, evidently knowing each and every person in the queue not just by their names, but also their respective ailments and problems.

“Everyone here is like family to me,” said Mdm Jainah, who moved to Marsiling from Yishun more than two decades ago after her husband passed away. “The grief (I felt) when my husband died was immense, but I made many friends here and eventually, got over the sorrow.”

Residents waiting in line for Mdm Jainah and other volunteers in her charge to distribute the food rations.

Everyone in this world has problems. Helping others (with theirs) helps me to forget mine.
Unpacking food supplies from stacks of boxes before these are repackaged into individual bags for the residents.

The weekly volunteer work for the food ration programme, organised by a local voluntary welfare organisation, is laborious and time-consuming. With Mdm Jainah’s lead, the volunteers start packing at least three hours ahead of the distribution. “We make sure each bag is filled with items from the different food groups,” she explained. “Also, because we are no spring chickens, the task takes time.”


Find your tribe, as the saying goes, and love them hard. This could not ring truer for Mdm Jainah, who spends most of her mornings at the Senior Activity Centre located at her void deck. Armed with a pen and paper, she listens intently to fellow residents who come to her with their issues and challenges. In response, she usually offers advice and wise words. But if their situation is extremely dire, she takes note and raises the issue to the residents’ committee (RC) chairman or even the adviser to her constituent for further action.

“Everyone in this world has problems,” said Mdm Jainah. “Helping others (with theirs) helps me to forget mine.”

From time to time, Mdm Jainah also helps to bathe her elderly neighbours, and cleans the flats of those who are older and frail. “I don’t expect to be recognised or rewarded,” said Mdm Jainah of her efforts. “This is my purpose in life — to help others.”

The packing process is a laborious undertaking. The volunteers ensure each bag consists of items from the different food groups.

Mdm Jainah assisting a frail neighbour, who has difficulty walking, with his collection of food rations into the lift.

The care Mdm Jainah so generously dispenses to her community is an extension of her role as a “mother-of-three” at home. She shares a one-bedroom rental unit with Shamsul Bahri, her 40-year-old son with special needs, and her two grandchildren, to whom she is the sole caregiver. “Taking care of them is my full-time job, especially with Shamsul, who can’t be left alone for too long,” said Mdm Jainah. She had quit her job as a cook in order to fully care for him.

Mdm Jainah’s granddaughter, Siti Febrianti, 19, is an ITE College Central student. She refuses to call her nenek (Malay for grandmother), insisting instead on calling her “mummy”. “Siti’s biological mother, my daughter, took off just three days after she was born,” Mdm Janiah confided. “She disappeared and we’ve never seen her since.”

Nine-year-old grandson, Dhiyaulhaq Bin Djoemardie, or Yaul for short, was placed under Mdm Jainah’s care after his parents were incarcerated for drugs-related offenses. “Yaul is so bright, often topping his class and getting bursary awards for his performance in school,” said Mdm Jainah, her pride discernible. The Primary 3 pupil counts Science as his favourite subject, and was recently made his class’ Science representative.

“I have so much hope for Yaul and Siti,” said the grandmother of 14, who is also a great-grandmother of three. “I pray very hard that they can build a better future for themselves and achieve great things in life.”

Yaul (extreme right) and Shamsul watching TV as they tuck into their dinner in the family’s one-bedroom flat.

Taking care of them is my full-time job, especially with Shamsul, who can’t be left alone for too long.
Mdm Jainah stores uncollected food in and outside of her home for residents who are not able to make the distribution drive.


In the meantime, fulfilling her single parent responsibilities means having to rely on financial aid from several sources, including Zakat financial assistance disbursed by Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura (MUIS). This adds up to about $800 a month.

“I have to get creative, which means if I pay my utilities bill one month, I will only pay my conservancy bill the next; I alternate the payments I have to make,” Mdm Jainah said.

Mdm Jainah’s giving spirit is truly admirable. Even social development officer Ms Suhanna Binte Othman is in awe of her tireless efforts and dedication to help the community, in spite of her own challenges. “Mdm Jainah gives back much more than she receives,” noted Ms Suhanna, who manages some 200 welfare cases including Mdm Jainah’s. “She has not only inspired me to do better, but also many of her neighbours to volunteer.”

Ms Suhanna keeps close tabs on Mdm Jainah’s well-being, visiting the family as often as she can. “I always try to remind her to take care of herself first, so she can continue with her passion of helping others,” said Ms Suhanna.

Case worker Ms Suhanna Binte Othman catching up with Mdm Jainah at the void deck.

Mdm Jainah with her “tribe” of fellow volunteers, who are also her neighbours, her friends and her family.

This fasting month of Ramadan, as with previous years, Mdm Jainah is helping to coordinate the delivery of iftar (breaking of fast) supplies to her fellow Muslim residents. On top of that, she is also organising weekly iftar sessions, which are open to all residents living in her area, regardless of their race or religion.

“I feel thankful for a family and community that I love, (having) better health than most people my age, and receiving support from various organisations,” said Mdm Jainah. “It is only right that I spread these blessings to others, one good deed at a time.”

Small Means, Big Heart