He cooks, dresses the kids up, takes them to school and stays up till 3am to finish his job.
The 12-year-old is known simply as “Abang” (or big brother in Malay) to his siblings. We are not using his real name.
He is a remarkable boy thrown into an unfortunate crisis. His biological father was allegedly abusive, his mother is unwell and his stepfather absent.
To his younger siblings, including a 30-month-old brother, Abang is father, brother and when he feeds, mother too.
His sad story begins with his parents’ divorce, five years after his birth.
Abang’s mother, who wants to be known only as Madam Nora, 35, remarried in 2008.
But Abang has not seen his stepfather since January after a slew of letters proclaiming outstanding credit card debts landed at Madam Nora’s mother’s flat in Woodlands.
The couple moved to the current rental flat last August.
Madam Nora, who has five children (three from her previous marriage and two with her current husband), says her husband owes $40,000.
To make matters worse, doctors at Tan Tock Seng Hospital have deemed Madam Nora unfit for work until the end of this year because of her health.
Before her injury, Madam Nora worked at the Woodlands Checkpoint as a Land Transport Authority customer service officer.
With his mother visiting hospitals and clinics almost three times a week for diabetes and chronic shoulder injury, Abang has no choice but to hold the fort at home.
“I need to help mama,” the soft-spoken boy tells The New Paper on Sunday during a visit to their two-room rental flat in Woodlands.
He is set to take his Primary School Leaving Examination this year.
“She is already sick and if I don’t help her, she will be alone,” he says.
Every day after school, he prepares lunch – it is usually fried rice or instant noodles – for his four younger siblings.
While his three siblings, aged 11, nine and seven, eat their lunch, Abang sits patiently feeding his 30-month-old brother.
“I used to make lunch in the rice cooker. But now we have new pans, so it is easier to make makan (Malay for food) for my adik (Malay for younger siblings)”.
The family is under the North West Home Fix Scheme, a collaborative effort between North West Community Development Council and Grassroots Organisations. The initiative aims to provide essential household items or repairs to upkeep basic living conditions.
The family recently received donations comprising cookware, slow cooker, gas stove, kitchen cabinet and a mattress.
They also get financial assistance from several agencies including the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore and the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF).
Madam Nora says the family receives a combined total of $1,270 from the two in cash every month.
The young boy, 12, allows himself briefly to be a boy again when he plays with his precious kendama toy. He has no digital devices, and hardly watches TV. The toy is packed neatly away and has pride of place in the bare house when he is done. He then goes and gets the younger children to do their homework. TNP PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR
An MSF spokesman says Madam Nora and her children are also provided with “Comcare financial assistance and assistance for medical, rental, utilities, and service and conservancy charges for the six-month period from July to December 2015”.
The family also gets $100 worth of North West Food Vouchers monthly as part of the North West Food Aid Fund.
To supplement the financial aid her family gets, Madam Nora prepares food packets for people who like her cooking.
Abang has to help her and because of that, he usually goes to sleep at 3am three times a week.
He tries his best at school and has passed all the subjects except mathematics.
“Sometimes, when I am in school, I feel tired but usually, it is okay. I can stay awake,” he says. Abang and his three siblings attend a primary school that is a 15-minute walk from their home.
Abang does not ask for anything for himself. But he does have one wish – to meet his football heroes. He says: “The LionsXII footballers are good. My favourite players are Khairul Amri, Sahil Suhaimi and Faris Ramli.”
When asked what he would do if he got the chance to meet them, he laughs and says: “I don’t think I will get to meet them. They are big stars.
“If I ever get the chance to meet them, I won’t know what to do but I think I will ask them to teach me ball tricks.”
He then excuses himself and goes back to helping his siblings with their homework.
“Sometimes, when I am in school, I feel tired but usually, it is okay. I can stay awake.”
– Abang, who often goes to sleep at 3am three times a week because he has to help his mother prepare food packets