Heroes Unmasked: ‘Covid-19 has unified us as a nation’ — working mum leads effort to give 300 welfare packs to cleaners
SINGAPORE — While at work, Ms Yvonne Kong-Ho noticed that staff members doing cleaning work in her office were putting in longer hours and taking on extra tasks after her bosses stepped up sanitisation efforts in response to the Covid-19 outbreak.
As Singapore battles the Covid-19 outbreak, TODAY’s Heroes Unmasked series highlights those who are doing their bit to spread kindness and compassion during this period. In this instalment, we speak to Ms Yvonne Kong-Ho, who enlisted the help of friends and family to put together 300 welfare packs for cleaners who have been working harder during the outbreak.
SINGAPORE — While at work, Ms Yvonne Kong-Ho noticed that staff members doing cleaning work in her office were putting in longer hours and taking on extra tasks after her bosses stepped up sanitisation efforts in response to the Covid-19 outbreak..
The assistant director at a university, who declined to reveal her age, started striking up conversations with cleaners she came across, and asked them how they were coping with their increased workloads. Many of them were elderly and told her not to worry about them.
“When I spoke to them, the impression I got was that they were too old to be loved or looked after. It kind of broke my heart. Isn’t that so sad?” she told TODAY.
Observing that many cleaners often worked with bare hands or thin gloves, she was concerned that they would develop calluses on their palms and that their hands were frequently exposed to chemicals in the disinfectants they used.
Ms Kong-Ho began handing out bottles of hand cream to these workers at her workplace, but later decided to assemble welfare packs with extra items in a bid to show them the appreciation she felt they deserved.
On Feb 19, she applied for a grant from Majurity Trust’s SG Strong Fund and last Friday (Feb 28), received funding for her ground-up initiative.
Together with her family and two of her friends, she started to put together more than 300 welfare packs in her living room.
Inside each pack was a pair of latex household cleaning gloves, a bottle of store-bought hand cream, a packet of Salonpas topical pain-soothing patches, sachets of Milo choclate drink and Nescafe instant coffee as well as a handwritten thank-you card.
One of the welfare packs prepared for cleaning workers. Photo: Matthew Loh/TODAY
“The hand cream is symbolic because we want to show the workers that they are worthy of love and care,” Ms Kong-Ho said.
“If you notice, office cleaners usually don’t dare to take tea or coffee from the office pantry. But many of them have water bottles, so I decided to give them Milo and coffee in case they want something to drink,” she added.
The thank-you cards were crafted by her two children, a boy and girl, who are both studying in primary school.
Ms Kong-Ho put out a call on Facebook asking her friends if they were keen to help her distribute the packs to cleaners at their workplaces or homes. Many agreed to do so, asking for five to 10 packs at a time.
By Sunday, Ms Kong-Ho had given out 280 packs to friends and acquaintances, as well as organisations such as Touch Community Services and Lion Befrienders that would also distribute the packs. The remaining 20 packs have been reserved for other friends who also expressed interest in distributing them.
“My husband became my courier driver. He delivered the packs to all the organisations,” she said with a laugh.
Her friends said that the cleaners responded shyly when receiving the packs, but were “happily surprised”.
One of her friends told her that a cleaning staff member in his housing complex was especially grateful for the gloves in the pack, because his own pair had broken just the day before.
“Most of them kept saying, ‘Oh I’m old, there’s no need’. But they were so happy to receive the packs,” Ms Kong-Ho said.
“I realised that doing good doesn’t require you to be very rich. You don’t need, like, two million dollars. You just need to get your hands dirty and start doing something,” she added.
Ms Kong-Ho said that while she knows there are tens of thousands of cleaners in Singapore who have not received her packs, she is undecided on whether she will create more, since that would mean first applying for another grant. However, she said that many of her friends told her that they would follow in her footsteps.
“What really got to me was that after I gave the packs to my friends, some of them said that they would make their own to give out to cleaners, since they already saw what I put inside the welfare packs. It’s really like 'paying it forward' and I thought it was wonderful.
“I think we’ve started something here. I would say that Covid-19 has unified us as a nation, and it’s been an impetus for us to meet the needs in the community. It’s made us realise that there is a greater community around us and that there is always more we can do to help,” she added.