Mr Chng Hwee Hong, Co-Chairman CARE Network and Chairman SCORE,
Families and Friends.
1. I am pleased to join you today at the Yellow Ribbon Celebrating Second Chances Awards Ceremony.
2. We are here to honour two groups of people:
- First, those who have played an active part in giving others a second chance in life.
- Second, ex-offenders who have seized these second chances, to turn their lives around.
Recap of the CARE Network and Yellow Ribbon Project
3. The journey to stay crime and drug free is not an easy one for many ex-offenders. Many organisations and community partners have also invested substantial effort to help and support ex-offenders.
4. In 2000, the CARE Network was formed to bring together public and non-government agencies to coordinate and improve rehabilitation efforts, to encourage and engage the community to get involved; and to develop innovative rehabilitation programmes.
5. The CARE Network has been and continues to remain active. More than 10 years ago, the CARE Network started the Yellow Ribbon Project which has since become a household name. Many of you here are involved in the Yellow Ribbon Project. You have put in a lot to make the Yellow Ribbon a success. Thank you.
6. Employers also play an important part. SCORE has invested significant resources and effort to improve and enhance inmates' employability after their release. It has reached out to employers, especially those which are economically resilient, to secure many jobs for ex-offenders. About 5,000 employers have partnered SCORE to offer jobs to ex-offenders. Such efforts would have been futile if not for the support of these employers.
Achievements of the Yellow Ribbon Project
7. The Yellow Ribbon Project has achieved much. The Yellow Ribbon Prison Run is one good example. It was started in 2009 and has attracted more than 72,000 participants till date. With the support of many, more than $900,000 was raised over the years. The funds were put to good use in supporting rehabilitation and reintegration programmes. One programme that benefitted is the Ex-offenders Assistance Scheme managed by the Singapore After-care Association. The scheme helps ex-offenders who do not qualify for other aftercare programmes. This ensures that as many ex-offenders are helped as possible. Another programme is the SPICE Up programme offered by Pertapis Halfway House. This programme provides life and social skills training to ex-offenders and encourages reconciliation between the ex-offenders and their families. Beyond raising funds, the Yellow Ribbon Prison Run has raised awareness on unlocking the second prison for our ex-offenders.
8. The Yellow Ribbon Song Writing Competition is another meaningful initiative. It allows inmates to express their hopes for acceptance. Through music, they found joy. They found a new purpose and direction in life.They discovered new talents many never knew they had.
9. I am encouraged to hear that many countries have recognised the value of our initiatives and programmes. Countries like Fiji, Australia and the Czech Republic have all started similar Yellow Ribbon projects. We are happy to spark this movement.
More work can be done by the CARE Network
10. But the work does not stop here. There is scope for us to do more, to improve the way we do things, to ensure we reach out to more ex-offenders and their families, and to be more effective in achieving the desired outcomes.
11. In the rapidly changing socio-economic landscape, the CARE Network has been developing its capabilities and capacity. There are overseas study trips for CARE Network partners to learn from other models.There are research partnerships between the Singapore After-care Association and NUS on enhancing social support for offenders. This work is important and must continue so that the CARE Network remains effective and relevant in helping ex-offenders meet employment and social needs.
12. There are also opportunities for CARE Network agencies to work closer with each other. To enhance flow of information between the agencies for sharing of best practices and coordination of outreach efforts, CARE Network has initiated a platform in collaboration with the National Council of Social Services for agencies to engage partners and practitioners. Partners gather to meet for knowledge sharing, feedback and learning on aftercare and through-care issues.
13. There is also a need to take stock of existing programmes, assess their relevance in the present day context, and ensure that they continue to meet the rehabilitation and reintegration needs of offenders. For example, CARE Network agencies started working with Workforce Singapore in 2017 to provide employment assistance to ex-offenders, and there are plans to expand this to reach out to more ex-offenders.
14. Beyond our traditional partners in rehabilitation, I have asked our agencies to look at other non-traditional partners, such as hobby and other interest groups, to explore how we can better reach out and engage the youths. There are many different VWOs out there, with unique capabilities and skillsets, who are keen to contribute to the area of offender rehabilitation and reintegration. We should continue to reach out to these groups, and identify common levers to synergise efforts and ensure that there is constant improvement in our mission for inmate reintegration.
15. Here I would also like to make a pitch for everyone here today, who has been through the programme, to give us frank feedback on what you feel has worked and what you feel has not, so we are continuously in the process of improvement. And it's important to make this beneficiary-centric and tailored. So I sincerely invite all of you to get in touch, email me or the prison officers directly. Give us your frank feedback on what are the things that have worked for you and what are the things you think could have been better. Because if we are not able to speak frankly among friends, there is not much hope for us.
16. I invite all of you, our CARE Network partners, each and every one of you who have been through our many programmes, to come in, join us and make this a better programme. So we can truly realise our mission of helping those who are out there, who feel lonely or who may not know how to get help. It's in our mission to reach out and make things better.
The Role of the Family
17. Another important factor in an ex-offender's recovery is family. Ex-offenders will face many challenges after their release. They struggle to find acceptance and a place in society. That is why family support plays an important part in helping recovering ex-offenders overcome these struggles. The fact that there are many family members here today is proof on how crucial this support is. And I thank them for always being there when the ex-offenders need them the most. It is very tough, it is a very long journey and it is a continuing journey. It is not a sprint, it is truly a marathon, so thank you very much for being here.
18. But we must also not forget that the families themselves need support. Families will be affected when their loved ones are sent to prison. Many relationships will be strained or torn apart. I remember I met this ex-offender and his family. I asked the mother what she tells her son – who is very young, about six years old. And she said "I tell my son that dad went on a trip". These are some of the sad and heart-breaking stories that we know happen. We must help families hope and help them manage, so they can be strong for themselves, for the inmates and most importantly for the children.
19. This is where the Yellow Ribbon Community Project plays an important role. YRCP volunteers from the grassroots have been visiting families of newly-admitted offenders. Families who require assistance will be referred to social agencies. By helping the families tide over the daily issues, it encourages them to focus on rebuilding and rekindling bonds with their loved ones.
The Reintegration Journey of an Ex-Offender
20. My message to the ex-offenders is this – cherish the love and support your families and employers have given you. They have sacrificed much to support your reintegration journey. But you too need to take ownership of this journey. Rehabilitation and recovery begins with you. You must stay the course.
21. Today is an important milestone in your lives. We are here to celebrate your successes. It is possible to turn your lives around, as you have shown. So thank you very much for doing this for yourself and serving as an inspiration to many of us.
22. I would like to show you the importance of family support with the story of Firdaus, who is one of the award winners today. At a young age, he saw his father imprisoned multiple times for drug offences. It was not too long before Firdaus himself mixed with bad company and was sent to prison for drug offences. But the person who suffered the most was Firdaus' mother, who had to see both her son and husband imprisoned. She yearned for their release and stayed hopeful that they would change for the better. She never gave up. Her love for them inspired a change in Firdaus. With some help from a welfare organisation and through working part-time, he completed his studies and is now working as a sports trainer. He also coaches a soccer team. Firdaus firmly believes in the importance of family support and aspires to be a strong and positive role-model for his six-year-old daughter. His determination to change for the better had helped his father, Awang, who will also be receiving an award today.
23. Awang himself has been in and out of prison and when he was admitted to a halfway house, Firdaus went there to volunteer. With his son as a role model, Awang was determined to change. Today, Awang has been working in the same company for 14 years. He is now a senior supervisor for a sub-contractor and leads a team of workers. Both father and son enjoy playing sports together and spend quality time together with the family.
24. Han Lay is another example of a person who had shown grit and fortitude in his journey. Han Lay's mother passed away when he was 6 years old and his father struggled to raise him together with 3 of his siblings. He soon fell into bad company and spent most of his time in prison for various drug and criminal offences. During his last stint, Han Lay's turning point came when he was inspired by his prison counsellor who also introduced him to faith. He was released in 2010 and started work as a cleaner. He worked hard and his efforts paid off. In just 6 years, he was promoted to the role of an operations manager. Han Lay continued to improve himself and attended night classes. In 2015, Han Lay started his own company with his wife and offered jobs to ex-offenders. Since last year, Han Lay and his wife started volunteering as prison counsellors. He wants to give back to society what he has graciously received from others and is grateful for the many who had helped him along the way. Every award recipient here has your own story that can inspire others.
25. I would like to thank everyone who had played a part in the Yellow Ribbon initiative. You have given others hope and optimism.
26. I hope that your passion continues to encourage more to unlock the second prison and make full use of the second chances offered to them and lend help to many others. We all can do more as a society and we need to do more together.
27. I wish all of you a pleasant evening.