SINGAPORE: Mr Ng Yue Meng was at a loss when he lost his job at a large tech firm in March last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The 50-year-old’s family were living abroad and he was alone in Singapore, with no one for support.
“I went into depression … I don’t have a career, I don’t have anything and I’m all alone,” he said.
“I saw a very bad place - darkness, demons; I took to alcohol, I took to drugs to cope with all this pain.”
He shared this with reporters on Saturday (Mar 20) as the co-founder of a new non-profit organisation – RISE Community – which aims to help men from disadvantaged backgrounds open up and seek help through difficult times.
The two-year pilot programme will "focus on improving men’s socio-emotional, physical and financial health by creating a peer support community and employment opportunities", said a press release.
At the official launch at the People’s Action Party Nee Soon South Branch on Saturday, Mr Ng called himself “the first beneficiary of RISE”.
He said that Nee Soon GRC MP Carrie Tan, who is the non-profit’s steering adviser, encouraged him to apply his skills from Silicon Valley to start up the social service. The process helped to heal him and he now hopes to apply his own experience to help others, he said.
“Every time I talk to (the beneficiaries), they can see that I also handled pain, that’s something they seem to relate to,” he said, adding that the project will aim to tailor solutions to each individual as “everyone is unique”.
“It’s not a topical solution where I apply, but three weeks later (they come back with) the same pain. I want to dig deeper.”
The programme is being “incubated” in Nee Soon South division, for which Ms Tan is the Member of Parliament. For the first year, RISE will focus on building relationships with the men and identifying their needs, she said.
“Some of the approaches that we pilot might be quite experimental. So we're using Nee Soon South as an incubation ground, and once we formulate programmes that work, we’ll start expanding it to other parts of the GRC and then also further to Singapore,” she said.
It will reach out to a pool of 500 men from Nee Soon South living in rental housing, who have lost their jobs, or have always been in low-wage, unstable employment. At the moment, a group of about 50 members are in the programme.
Mr Amir Nazir, 44, who was released from prison last year, is one of them. He suffered from depression and had spent many years in prison, but said that he was gradually picking up the pieces with support from a member of RISE Community. He’s now found a job as a cleaner with the Nee Soon Town Council.
“At least I have a job, I can have proper food, and can do and learn the things that I really wish to do in life … not be just stagnant,” he said. “I mean, half my life is already gone, but how about the other half?”
Minister for Law and Home Affairs K Shanmugam, the patron of the organisation, said that last year, he had initiated a comprehensive review of issues affecting women in Singapore, but it was also timely to focus on the fact that men face barriers when talking about their emotions and issues.
"When you put up a wall like that, it shows up in higher suicide rates, higher crime rates, higher rates of dysfunctionality," he said.
"It is a welcome initiative to get men to be comfortable to open up and be open to receiving support."
RISE will also work with community partners including SportSG and Yishun Health, and corporate partner AlfaTech.