SINGAPORE (Oct 1): Milah, 38, sits on the edge of the sofa in her two-room rental flat in Yishun, surrounded by an assortment of belongings, a cage housing several squawking parrots at a corner, and a heap of groceries in the centre of the living room. The stash of food, like her home, is accessible to children living in the neighbourhood. Milah has seven children of her own, aged between 14 and 22. Other children sometimes come in during the day to lounge on the sofa or have a quick meal. “Sometimes they don’t have enough to eat at home, so they can just come here and we cook whatever they like,” she says.

Running a small events company and a catering business, Milah earns an irregular income. But with the help of donations from friends, she stocks up on food and organises small parties at the void deck for the children in the neighbourhood. About 20 to 30 of them turn up at these gatherings, she estimates. Milah also runs a youth dance group, Plus Point, which holds practice sessions at the void deck. For the young people who show up, Plus Point provides fun, companionship, and a way to keep out of trouble.

Milah’s generosity in spite of her circumstances is a vital, even if informal, source of support for children in low-income households. Such efforts, often invisible to the broader society, are just as integral to tackling poverty as formal or institutionalised sources of help are, experts say. As conversations about social inequality gain prominence in Singapore, it may be instructive to pay attention to individuals like Milah and their role as social brokers between official channels of help and needy children.

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