SINGAPORE — Jasmine Eng, 41, quit her job as a customer service officer – one she had for almost two decades – three years ago to take care of her brother with intellectual disabilities.
Eng’s mother was the main caregiver for Yong Chuan – the youngest of her four children – before she passed away from thyroid cancer and leukemia.
Quitting her job was a difficult decision that Eng spent months thinking about. However, she understood that her brother, now 29, needed “200 per cent” of her attention given his emotional instability, especially after their mother’s passing.
“Getting someone else to take care of him might even (negatively) impact him further,” she said.
Yong Chuan’s strong dependence on his family members meant that showing the slightest attention to others, such as young nephews and nieces, could easily end up in him throwing childish outbursts like a jealous “5-year-old”.
He is also extremely frightened of being alone and requires someone to be at home when he returns from the Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore (MINDS)’s employment development centre in the evening.
With the help of her younger sister, Eng is slowly training Yong Chuan to be more independent, by leaving him on his own for up to an hour and giving him the keys to the house.
Eng and Yong Chuan were one of seven pairs of caregivers-siblings present on Wednesday (15 January) at the opening night for this year’s MINDS film festival.
The annual event, now in its fourth year, will run till Sunday at Shaw Lido and features six international films co-curated by MINDS and the Singapore Film Society.
Centring around the theme of inclusion, this year’s edition highlights the caregivers who have siblings with intellectual disabilities and the challenges they face.
“The complex, yet endearing, relationship that caregiver-siblings have with their special needs siblings remains largely untold,” said MINDS chairman Augustin Lee.
“Caregivers-siblings are given early responsibilities – they face a steep learning curve, to understand and care for their siblings.”
In her speech, Jurong GRC Member of Parliament and guest-of-honour Rahayu Mahzam, who is a mother to a child with Down syndrome, said that such initiatives contribute significantly towards a more inclusive society here.
Currently, there is no government data on the number of households with persons with disabilities here.
In 2015, the National Council of Social Service estimated that 3.4 per cent of the resident population between 18 and 49 have some form of disability. Of that, about half have intellectual disabilities or autism.
Sherry Lim, 34, who attended the event, recalled a particular incident in her teens involving her younger brother Kian Say, when the electricity supply was cut off for a day in their home.
The latter, who has been diagnosed with Down syndrome since birth, packed his belongings and left home abruptly. The family spent five hours searching for the then 12-year-old.
On another occasion, he left home to go to a friend’s house after telling his family that he was just stepping out to dispose of household waste.
But those incidents have not dented the siblings’ close bond. Every night, the siblings will set aside time – after work for Lim and after a day at MINDS’ employment development centre for Kian Say – to have a short chat before bed-time.
The human resources assistant manager would also occasionally bring her brother, who is four years her junior, out for rock-climbing sessions with her friends as well as partake together in dragon boat activities organised by DB Hearts.
“We are very close. He is someone you can depend on if you need a shoulder to cry on. He will always be there for a hug and he doesn't judge,” said Lim.
When Lim asked Kian Say, “What’s good about jie jie (elder sister in Mandarin)?”, he expressed his affection for her with a wide grin.
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