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LIYANA DHAMIRAH (b. 1987)

WOMEN'S ADVOCATE

Liyana Dhamirah has gone through the wringer and now lives to help people like her. A simple illustration of a four-man tent on the cover of her memoir, Homeless: The Untold Story of a Mother’s Struggle in Crazy Rich Singapore speaks volumes – it presents a side of Singapore often left unseen, detailing her experiences sleeping rough on Sembawang Beach with her family in 2009.

During those three months, the then-22-year-old found herself becoming part of a community of families brought together because of financial difficulties and troubled home environments. Whilst looking for food together, or sharing tips on how to evade arrest from the authorities, she also realised that she could help them out by virtue of the fact that she could speak English more fluently. While applying for aid for her family, she also helped others.

Now living in her own home with her husband and four children, Liyana is part of a befriending service, where she helps single mothers and families in need navigate around the red tape of aid organisations. She accompanies them to see social service officers and organisations, and gives them encouragement and support throughout the process.

In 2014, Liyana founded Virtual Assistants Singapore, an administration support company which provides employment to many single mothers and career-switching women who may have experience working in the MNC sector, but require flexible work arrangements around their caregiving responsibilities. She also works for Catalyse Consulting, the corporate training arm for AWARE Singapore, which helps build inclusive work spaces in Singapore.

As someone who has gone through the system, Liyana knows about the limitations of the social service sector in Singapore. She wishes that aid could be processed more efficiently for families which require help more urgently. These welfare organisations also often have very different criteria for aid applications, which adds unnecessary paperwork, and some may not allow individuals to apply for funds from multiple channels, even if they are in dire need.

“It’s surprising that in Singapore, all the non-profit organisations and the voluntary welfare organisations that exist, the majority of them do not work with each other. It’s sad to see that there is no collective that is coming together for the benefit of a greater impact,” she says.

At the heart of it, "it boils down to whether individuals are being treated with dignity. Ping-ponging between organisations, having to recall and repeat their traumatic experiences and re-tell them over and over again, sometimes to the same organisation, is demoralising," says Liyana.

“In a human setting, this is very degrading, especially for a person’s dignity and morale. Up to this stage, in this day and age right now in 2020, I am still seeing the same process.”