“I hope all my children go to university. That is my dream.”
Norhayati Shamsudin voices out a desire typical of any parent wanting a bright future for their children. It is a simple wish.
But if you have eight kids, just as Norhayati does, it becomes that much more challenging.
The 37-year-old part-time swabber remains optimistic. She and her husband, who is a private-hire driver, work hard to give their big family a chance to succeed in life.
“It’s very tough. We really struggle at times. But I try to carry my problems and be more positive for my children and my family,” said Norhayati.
I visited Norhayati’s humble three-room flat on a weeknight, when most of the family was home.
There wasn’t a lot of space to move around but they made me feel very much welcome. The kids were polite, even offering me a seat while we were preparing for the interview.
Speaking to Norhayati, I felt her pride knowing that she raised independent, well-behaved children. No mean feat given the circumstances that brought them together.
She said: “Five of them are my own, and three are my sister’s daughters who have been under my legal guardianship since 2010.
“When MSF [Ministry of Social and Family Development] first asked me if I could take them in, I thought about it hard, ‘Can I do it or not?’ I just said to myself, ‘I can, lah!’ I treat all of them as my own.
Life threw Norhayati a curve ball five years ago when she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. This meant she had to give up her job at that time to undergo treatment.
The setback didn’t dampen her resolve. Back then, she started baking pastries and other homemade goodies to supplement the family income.
She has now recovered and is feeling much better. And again, she credits this to her upbeat outlook.
“Staying mentally positive I think is the best medication. It wasn’t easy when I had to be in the hospital sometimes. I didn’t want my kids to worry because I wanted them to focus on their studies,” she shared.
For the past year, Norhayati has been working at the Singapore Red Cross doing swab tests for staff and vendors.
It is a job she enjoys because as a frontliner, she believes she’s doing her part to keep people safe.
“I feel this is a chance for me to give back to society,” she said.
I couldn’t help but admire Norhayati for her strength and quiet determination to get past challenges. She will do what it takes to get her family to a good place.
“Only you can help yourself. Only you can help your family, your children,” she said passionately.
Having said that, Norhayati also truly appreciates whatever support the family gets.
They are beneficiaries of the NTUC-U Care Fund and have received assistance through vouchers for daily necessities and school supplies.
When asked what this meant for her, she got emotional.
“These small amounts are really a big help for us. When you have low income, this makes a huge difference,” Norhayati said.
At the end of our chat, I left with the certainty that this woman will make it through, no matter what.
“Never lose hope. Never give up. Just try your best,” she said with a smile.