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Working hard to pay the bills


All parents want the same things for their children. They want to give them a good education; they hope their children are healthy and happy; and they hope their children grow up to be responsible adults with good jobs. Those who have more labour-intensive jobs or those who are on their feet all day are not excused from the hardships of being a parent when they go home. As exhausted as they are, they still have to deal with helping their children with homework and paying for tuition fees.

Always on call
M. Malaiarasan Muthusamy, 45, works as a network leading hand with Indah Water Konsortium. What that means is that he is part of a three-man team that responds to customer calls when there are sewerage blockages. They are despatched to the site where they have to sort out the problem. He literally opens manholes to see what the problem is and where the blockage is and then uses the equipment they have to dislodge the bloc
kage. He works an 8am-5pm, five-day week. However, he and his teammates are on call from 5pm till the next morning. There have been countless occasions when he's been called back to work in the wee hours of the morning when there is a problem. Malaiarasan's job is to clear sewerage blockages. When he's not at work, he is still on call. Malaiarasan has been with IWK for the past 15 years. His wife is a homemaker and his two daughters are six and 10 years old. The elder daughter is in Year Four in primary school and the younger one is in kindergarten. They enjoy going to school and are often awake earlier than him because they can't wait to go. On a monthly basis, he has to pay the fees for his younger daughter's kindergarten and his elder daughter's tuition and taekwondo. Taekwondo is something she enjoys, so he bears the cost. Despite his busy schedule, he manages to spend time with his daughters after work and even helps them a bit with their studies. On a daily basis, he spends about an hour with the children and on weekends, the family spends more time together, usually visiting relatives.
“When we have some time, we try to take the children out and let them enjoy themselves a bit. We hope the children will study hard and go as far as they can. Depending on how they do in school, we'll see what they want to do after that, hopefully go to university.“I asked my elder daughter what she wants to be when she grows up and she said 'doctor'. She likes to watch TV shows about doctors and because of that she is keen to become a doctor, too. “My daughter says when she grows up and gets a job, I won't have to work anymore as she will take care of both me and my wife,” he says. Malaiarasan says he has explained what he does for a living to his children and they understand how hard he has to work so they can get an education and have food on the table every day. In fact, they have expressed sadness that their dad gets called back to work at odd hours.“My elder daughter says that all jobs are the same as long as you get a salary and can look after your family and pay the bills. She says any job is good as long as you have a job. She's not embarrassed of my job,” he explains. He says he manages to make ends meet despite the rising cost of living and the family's expenses. In fact, he managed to take his whole family on a two-week holiday to India recently.

No home to call their own

Single parent Ranee Perumal works as a cleaner in an office building. Her hours are 7.30am-6pm from Monday to Saturday. She has a 10-year-old son in Year Four.Her husband left her after their son was born. She has been working as a cleaner for the past nine years. She has no home to call her own. She used to live with her brother and his wife until some gossip started circulating about her. Believing the rumours, her brother beat her up. That very night she left his house.Now, her son lives with her sister and brother-in-law. She has moved back in with her mother and other siblings where she sleeps in the hall. She knows she is not welcome. Her mother has even told her to go and stay elsewhere. But Ranee has nowhere to go.
She is currently not doing any part-time work even though making ends meet is a hand-to-mouth situation. She somehow manages to pay the important bills every month. But, there are days when Ranee's pockets are empty and she goes without dinner. Her son goes for tuition which she has to pay for and whenever she has a bit of money she gives it to her sister – the one taking care of her son. As her son goes for tuition on weekday nights, she doesn't see him until Fridays or Saturdays. That's when she takes him to her mother's house with her. Sometimes on weekends, they go to the park where he kicks a football around or they go to the supermarket. “I want him to study hard and learn how to take care of himself and to take care of me, too. I want him to know how hard I have to work to make a life for us. I don't want him to mix with the wrong company or play too much. I want him to study hard. I don't know if he can go to university because I don't have the money for that.“He can get any job as long as it is a good job. It is important for him to get a good job with a stable company and not go down the wrong path.“I always tell my son, 'Your mother never studied. Now, I have to work as a cleaner. Sometimes I have no money. All my money is for you because I want you to study hard. Do you want to be like your mother?'“I have asked him what he wants to be when he grows up, and he has said he wants to be a soldier or a policeman. I told him if he wants to do that, then he has to study. I told him, he mustn't think of anything else, he must just think of his studies now.
“Sometimes I try not to show him I'm sad but I think he knows. When my son was younger, my family said they wanted to protect him from the truth but I said no, let him know that his father left us, how it gave me a bad name and what my family said. I want my son to know. Then only will he work hard to come up in life.
“There are only two things I worry about – getting a house and my son's studies. If I have a house I don't have to depend on others, my son can stay with me and I will be so happy. If I have my own house, I don't mind if there's no rice (to eat).
“I told my son, you have no father; your mother works as a cleaner. You must study hard and come up in life.”

Cutting costs
Norsuzilawati Abd Karim works as a waitress at a restaurant. Her hours are 7am-5pm five days a week. Her husband works as a contractor renovating homes. They have two sons aged seven (Year One in primary school) and four (going to preschool next year).Wati sends her elder son to school and the younger son to her mum's house in the morning. After school, the elder son joins his brother in the grandmother's house.
The elder son goes for Agama class in the evenings so by the time he comes back, there is only about an hour before it's time to go to sleep.
Sometimes Wati helps him with his homework and sometimes he does it on his own while she does some chores around the house. If the younger son isn't playing with her, he usually just looks at what his brother is doing. On the weekends in the morning, they are usually at home and in the evenings, she takes them to the park. Although Wati says she and her husband can make ends meet most months, there are still times when the money is tight. Those are the occasions when there is a dearth of renovation jobs for her husband.
“On the months there isn't enough, we try and cut costs here and there. By sending the children to my mother instead of a babysitter, we are already saving some money. If we sent our children to a babysitter, it would cost more,” she says. Wati says the great thing about being a mum is seeing her children play after a hard day's work. “I forget all the day's worries and I don't feel tired anymore. It's like it all suddenly disappears. I feel so happy to see them and to watch them play.
“Sometimes when I come home exhausted and I see the mess they have made in the house, I cannot get angry. I just have to calm down. Sometimes I go out for a while to calm myself down and when I return I'm okay,” she adds.
Like all mums, Wati is constantly worried about her children. She worries if the other kids are bullying her elder son and if he's home before her, she worries about what he's up to.
“I would like to see them achieve success in their lives – in their studies. I don't want them to become like me – I didn't go very far in my studies. I would like to see if they can look after me one day. I would like them to study until they go to university and then get a good job.
“I tell my elder son to study well and to be careful when choosing his friends. As a boy, he needs to be careful who he mixes with. Don't always think of just playing; think of studies also. There is a time for everything – when it's time to play, then play; when it's time to study, then study well.
“He seems to understand. He has told me that when he grows up, he wants to buy us a big house and a big car and let mama and papa rest. I felt so touched when I heard that,” says Wati, beaming proudly

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