Nineteen-year-old Sarah Lee Jia Yu’s family has been in distress particularly since the Covid-19 pandemic hit Singapore. Her father, a delivery driver and the sole breadwinner of her family of five, faces the risk of losing his income as many of his colleagues had been asked to go on unpaid leave. Meanwhile, Singapore Management University (SMU) fresh graduate, Abumouthuth Abu Ahsfer, 25, is concerned about the burden of his student loan repayments, but has been unable to land a job due to the current hiring freeze. Cheryl Ong Zi Hui, 18, a Year 2 student at Temasek Polytechnic, had to share a laptop with her sister to do home-based learning during the two-month circuit breaker as her family could not afford a second one. While her sister used the computer during the day, Cheryl had to catch up on her projects and lectures at night, frequently staying up past midnight to complete them.

To provide timely financial assistance to disadvantaged youths like Sarah, Abu Ahsfer and Cheryl, ISCA Cares, the charity arm of ISCA, brought forward the disbursement of its ISCA Cares Education Programme bursaries this year. Each of the beneficiaries received the first $1,000 – out of a total $2,000 for the award – in May, much earlier than the usual timing of October. The remaining $1,000 will be issued in October.

This year, ISCA Cares disbursed a total of $110,000 to 55 beneficiaries, up from last year’s 36 beneficiaries. The aim is to provide timely help to the lower-income who are more severely impacted by the economic fallout due to the pandemic.

ISCA Cares Chairperson, Mrs Lim Hwee Hua, said, “In times of crisis, low-income families are one of the hardest-hit groups. This makes it more vital for ISCA Cares to step in and help youths from disadvantaged families tide through this challenging period. Recognising that many such families need urgent financial assistance, we brought forward the disbursement date of the bursaries, and also provided bursaries for more beneficiaries. Our youths represent the future, and with the uncertain economic outlook, we remain committed to investing in them, to ensure that no one is left behind.”

With the bursary award, Cheryl no longer stays up late to catch up on her schoolwork. “My father used the bursary money to buy a second-hand laptop for me so that I don’t have to share a laptop with my sister. I’m grateful for that,” says Cheryl. The bursary award has also helped defray some of her family’s expenses, providing relief from their financial strain.

Cheryl’s mother brings home an irregular income as an apparel shop assistant, and her father is unable to work for long hours as a delivery driver due to his ill health. Her family expenses are high, with medical bills for her father and toddler brother, living expenses for the five of them, and school-related outlays for her and her sister.

Temasek Polytechnic student Cheryl was on home-based learning during the circuit-breaker period

Her family responsibilities and studies leave her little time to take up a part-time job to help alleviate her family’s financial stress. Despite these challenges, Cheryl stays optimistic about the future. Her goals are simple but grounded in responsibility. She wants to earn a stable income to help support her family, so that her father can rest more. When she becomes more financially comfortable, she also hopes to devote more time to simple joys, such as drawing and painting.

Also facing financial difficulties, Abu Ahsfer, who recently graduated from SMU with a Bachelor of Accountancy, is grateful for the ISCA Cares Bursary. Since his father’s passing in 2016, his mother had been the family’s sole breadwinner, single-handedly providing for Abu Ahsfer and his two younger siblings. “The ISCA Cares Bursary has helped tremendously. I do not need to rely on an allowance from my mother, so there is more for my two siblings,” he says. With business at his mother’s mom-and-pop convenience store impacted by the pandemic and Abu Ahsfer not having secured a job, expenses are building up; there are loans to be repaid and mouths to be fed. The family has been dipping into their savings to tide through this period.

Abu Ahsfer, who is also a 2019 ISCA Cares Bursary recipient, is thankful that he could afford to put in fewer hours at his part-time job during his final year at SMU. “With the financial supplement from the bursary, I was able to concentrate more on my studies. This has helped me graduate with good grades.”

Abu Ahsfer (2nd from left) with Vietnamese students and a schoolmate on a two-week community volunteer trip to Hue, Vietnam, in 2017

Abu Ahsfer is motivated to work hard with the goal to give back to society and help others in need. His dream is to set up his own charity to provide disadvantaged children in third-world countries access to education. He was inspired during his volunteer trips to Hue, Vietnam, in 2017, where he helped build a library for primary school students, and later, a fence for a flood-stricken primary school.

Like Abu Ahsfer, Sarah and her family have also found much-needed relief with the ISCA Cares Bursary, especially with her father’s job at risk during this crisis. “The bursary has helped with our household expenses, especially to lighten my father’s burden,” says Sarah. Her father bears the responsibility of supporting the family of five, as her mother is unable to work after suffering a stroke. Her two younger twin siblings are studying at Nanyang Polytechnic, and Sarah has been unable to land a temporary job during this economic fallout.

Sarah (centre), with younger brother Xavier and his twin Samantha, at a Christmas festival in Singapore

Sarah is due to further her studies at a local university in August this year, having graduated from Nanyang Polytechnic. Despite the hardships, the aspiring tax accountant remains optimistic about the future. “I found strength and motivation to work hard because of the people who supported me through challenging times. They include my family, teachers, friends and ISCA Cares. I feel I should not take any of this help for granted.” Sarah hopes that one day, she will in turn be able to help youths who face similar financial struggles.

ISCA Cares is a charity set up by ISCA in 2015, which has been accorded Institute of a Public Character (IPC) status. ISCA Cares Education Programme – a programme under ISCA Cares – aims to provide needy youths with access to quality accountancy education at the local polytechnics and universities. The ISCA Cares Bursary goes towards subsidising beneficiaries’ tuition fees and basic living expenses.

ISCA Cares is made possible with the firm support of the accountancy profession. The PwC Singapore Foundation, Hong Leong Foundation, BDO LLP and RSM Chio Lim LLP are the largest corporate donors this year.

“We would like to thank all ISCA Cares donors for their generous support. Their contributions have made it possible for ISCA Cares to reach out to some of those who have been most financially impacted by the pandemic,” says Mrs Lim.

For information on ISCA Cares, please click here.