His family lost almost everything after his flat was destroyed in a fire. Yet, Mr Mohd Rafi Basiran still feels blessed.
Dozens of his neighbours have rallied to help his family get back on their feet.
From cooking for them to helping to clear the debris, the residents around Block 110, Pasir Ris Drive 1, have shown what kampung spirit is all about.
At about 9pm on March 27, a fire that started in Mr Rafi’s master bedroom ripped through the rest of his four-room flat on the eighth storey of Block 110.
Only some clothes, furniture and cupboards could be salvaged and have been temporarily stored in a room at the residents’ committee (RC) office.
Mr Rafi, a manager at Changi Airport, told The New Paper earlier this week: “I will now think twice about selling my flat or moving out of this estate. My neighbours extended their help without my asking.
“Money cannot buy this type of ‘kampung’ spirit.”
The cause of the fire has yet to be determined, said Mr Rafi, 49, who has lived there with his wife, also 49, daughter, 22, and son, 18, since 2008.
No one was home when the fire broke out. But the blaze killed seven of Mr Rafi’s 10 birds.
He said his biggest regret was not buying fire insurance.
The day after the fire, about 30 neighbours from nearby blocks helped the family to clear debris from the blackened flat.
For seven days, the volunteers worked tirelessly from 9am to about 7pm, sweeping the floors, folding clothes, collecting hangers and chipping away small damaged tiles. Even their children helped out.
Stripping the walls and floors of soot was made easier with the use of a borrowed water jet machine, said Mr Abdul Rahman Abu Bakar, a neighbour from an adjacent block.
He took four days’ leave to head the clean-up. The delicate cabinets in Mr Rafi’s kitchen were scrubbed by hand.
Several women cooked dishes like curry, assam pedas and nasi goreng, and placed the food and refreshments on tables at the void deck to ensure the volunteers did not go hungry.
Their efforts made MP for Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC Zainal Sapari proud when he and RC members visited the family. (See report, right.)
Mr Rafi said some irreplaceable items like his school-leaving certificates, birth certificate and NRIC were lost in the fire.
He was also saddened by the loss of personal “treasures” such as photos of himself posing with his late father at their former Simpang Bedok village.
His wife’s watch collection was also destroyed. While inexpensive, they held special meaning for the couple as Mr Rafi had bought them to mark her birthday or their wedding anniversary.
A neighbour, a driver who wanted to be known only as Mr Rahman, said: “It is heartbreaking to remove pieces of memories damaged by the fire. We told Rafi that we could only offer our effort and sweat.”
Several residents used their washing machines to clean the family’s clothes that had been stained with soot.
Two neighbours told TNP they had offered help because Mr Rafi is a good neighbour.
One of them, Mr Iskandar Muhammad, 41, an offshore risk inspector, said: “I’m always overseas for work, but I’m thankful he checks on my family and offers them food.
“Whenever he returns from fishing, he will distribute the catch to some residents in the estate.”
Mr Iskandar is looking after Mr Rafi’s Merbah Jambul bird – one of three birds that survived the fire.
Another neighbour has Mr Rafi’s two parrots.
Mr Iskandar’s wife, Madam Mashitah Aman, 39, said the fire could have happened to anybody.
She said: “As neighbours, we can’t leave anybody behind when they’re suffering a calamity. If there’s a lesson for all of us, it’s to check if we have adequate fire insurance.”
After the fire, some residents upgraded their fire insurance policies, she said.
On Monday, the couple set up an online donation drive on generosity.com for Mr Rafi’s family. At 6pm yesterday, only $206 had been raised out of the targeted $40,000.
At 10am today, a garage sale will be held in front of Mr Iskandar’s home at Block 111.
Clothes, jewellery, shoes, kids’ wear and household items will be on sale, with all proceeds going to Mr Rafi’s family.
“As neighbours, we can’t leave anybody behind when they’re suffering a calamity.”
– Madam Mashitah Aman