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Home is where the children are...

Updated: Feb 17, 2020

Nita used to think that having a big brood of lively and healthy kids, with a doting husband to boot, was the definition of marital bliss and domestic fulfillment. As a young girl back in her hometown of Pekanbaru in the Riau Province of Indonesia, she had always dreamt of this whilst helping her father in their vegetable allotment.

When she met her husband Ram and eventually moved to Singapore more than twenty years ago, it seemed as though she was on the cusp of realizing that dream. The first few years of Nita’s simple life were idyllic; she and Ram worked feverishly to save for a flat of their own. Nita being a nimble with needle and thread managed to find work making alterations at a small boutique, while Ram worked as a crane operator at a large construction firm. When they found out they were expecting their firstborn, their happiness knew no bounds.

Baby Gerard was ushered into the world on the same day Ram was promoted to assistant foreman at his job site, a sign that the stars were aligned in their favor. Time passed and the couple welcomed two more children in quick succession; they imagined their family was complete.

Then disaster struck when Ram suffered a slipped disc; it proved far more serious as it had affected critical vertebrae in his spine and he was confined to bed. Upon recovery a month later, the specialist advised him to lay off strenuous work altogether, as it could lead to paralysis.

Not wanting to incur workplace injury that would threaten his mobility, Ram tried to negotiate with his boss for lighter duties. However, he was unsuccessful and ended up being retrenched; his firm was downscaling since the construction industry was entering a slump.

Despondent and nursing a bad back, Ram became increasingly moody and withdrawn, leaving Nita to manage their 3 boys, then 10, 6 and 4, single-handedly. An added worry that beset Nita, causing many a sleepless night, was the fact that she was pregnant once more. Though only a few weeks along, Nita recognized all the classic symptoms, particularly a strong craving for hot and spicy food.

Gerard a sensitive boy and the eldest, realized something was amiss when his mother would suddenly rush from table to retch in the back room. Ram however was oblivious to the situation, gripped by his own malaise.

When I met Nita at the polyclinic, she was already 12 weeks pregnant. Attired in a loose smock and being rather petite, she concealed her condition well. She wanly told me that against her better judgement, she had decided on termination. I could see hopelessness etched in her careworn, prematurely lined face. “As a mother I should be protecting my child, but I don’t know what else to do,” she whispered, her breath catching on the last word, she began to sob piteously.

I weighed my response carefully, urging she discuss her decision with Ram. But Nita’s mind was made up, she felt that Ram had enough to bear, was barely coping as it was. She shared that her salary barely put food on the table, and Ram’s compensation package, meagre to say the least, went toward his medical expenses.

Still I entreated her to reconsider. She acquiesced, all the while cradling her belly with both hands, as though warding off an invisible blow to the fetus within. To me, this spoke volumes, presaging how she felt about the abortion.

Nita and I became very close as a result of her coming to see me; I managed to put her in touch with various government agencies that offered her some measure of provisional relief and family support. Through aLife’s best efforts, we were able to get the family re-housed into a smaller, more affordable rental flat, which was a temporary reprieve on their finances. This was a huge relief for Nita and Ram.

When Nita opted to continue with the pregnancy, a decision occasioned by the first fluttering of movement in her womb, I signed her up for the ‘Milk & Diaper Program’. Through this platform clients are supplied with disposable diapers and infant milk formula within the first two years of their baby’s birth.

aLife was there for Nita at every turn; we found someone to mediate when unemployed Ram, at his lowest ebb, resorted to anti-depressants. The case worker was able to steer him back on the right path, and find him a job as a part-time school-bus driver.

Moreover, aLife was instrumental in helping to find a tutor pro-bono for all 3 boys. They were also enrolled for enrichment activities and literacy classes at the Centre, giving them a much-needed head start at school.

Best of all, aLife rejoiced with the family when their bundle of joy, a healthy baby girl, was delivered safely on Christmas Day that year, over a decade ago! She was not only a much-cherished gift of life but the long-awaited daughter Nita had secretly prayed for.

Nita has never forgotten what aLife has done for her and her family. She and the boys volunteer regularly at the Centre, and though they may not have much materially, their contribution of time and talent is immeasurable.

Nita designs and sews costumes for drama plays, Gerard, an eagle boy-scout, organizes holiday camps for the Caterpillar Club kids. Ram too does his part, ferrying beneficiaries to and from the Centre for family services like counselling. Moreover, aLife greatly values that he and his boys help collect, pack and deliver rations to needy families.

“Paying it forward is the least we can do, it also sets a good example for my kids to always be mindful of others less fortunate than ourselves,” Ram shared. ‘We know first-hand what it’s like to struggle and live rough.”

What is even more astounding, despite the odds, Nita and Ram welcomed their fifth child early last year! Though little Nathan was born with Down’s Syndrome, his wide-eyed wonder and responsiveness to his siblings is such a blessing to everyone, even perfect strangers comment on his friendly cheerfulness.

“God has been very good to us…”, Nita told me the last time we met up. “True, He has sent us testing times, but look at our dividends!”

Resisting her initial decision to abort her daughter Noella, now 11, has molded Nita into a deeply spiritual person.

“I used to be fearless and stubborn, believing I was tough enough to deal with any situation. But if not for divine intervention, a guiding light, I wouldn’t be where I am today!” she beamed.

Whenever she speaks of her family, Nita is inexplicably transformed, lit-up from within, her energy is infectious. I even catch myself envying her, why, I’m not quite sure. Maybe it’s the fact that nothing gets her down nowadays, she’s buoyant and upbeat despite her on-going struggles and financial hardships.

But then her philosophy is simple as it is heart-warming, “Fairy-tales do come true…For Ram and me, home is wherever the children are, where they’re safe and contented, that’s all that matters!”

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