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Youths to help peers cope with having parents in jail

SINGAPORE — At age 11, Ng Zhong Hau’s only memory of his father was a visit to the police station, following which his father did not return for a long time.

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SINGAPORE — At age 11, Ng Zhong Hau’s only memory of his father was a visit to the police station, following which his father did not return for a long time.

Zhong Hau eventually realised his father was in prison when his mother signed both him and his sister up for The Salvation Army’s Prison Support Services — Kids In Play (KIP) programme, through which he could visit and have physical contact with his father.

Currently a student at ITE College East, 17-year-old Zhong Hau shared his story at the charity’s annual Red Shield Appeal Luncheon yesterday, at which it introduced two new initiatives under the KIP programme for children with parents in prison.

One initiative is a peer mentoring programme — C.H.O.C. Ambassadors (Children Helping Other Children) that will see teenagers like Zhong Hau sharing with other teens separated from their incarcerated parents how they had coped in such a situation. For now, the bi-monthly group sessions will be conducted by a team of some 10 mentors, and the aim is to reach out to about 50 teens.

The second initiative is a befriending programme called Journey With Me, which involves adult volunteers befriending and supporting younger children. The programme aims to reach out to some 20 children.

The guest-of-honour at the event, Acting Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing, encouraged more to join the social service sector. He said: “The next set of challenges is not money per se — it is manpower. It is getting enough people into the sector as social service professionals and … as volunteers to really touch the lives of people.”

Ms Linda Auyong, 56, Director of The Salvation Army’s Social and Community Services Programme Department, also encouraged more to volunteer with the charity because “this is a segment that needs help, but (does) not want to draw attention to themselves”.

Zhong Hau recalled how his relationship with his father took a turn for the better upon the latter’s release from prison last year, something he is keen on sharing in his new role as a C.H.O.C. mentor. “I did not feel that he was a total stranger at all. He is still my father,” he said. SIAU MING EN

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