Single mum Fiona Pang works as a scalp therapist in a hair salon. Work is busiest on weekends, so the 28-year-old spends more time with her darling daughter, Jaelyn, who’s four this year, on weekdays. Looking at the hardworking young woman today, you’d never guess that she was once a juvenile delinquent who was sentenced to 18 months’ detention and probation in a girls’ home.
According to Fiona, she could not be where she is today without the support of two families. Besides her parents and loved ones who never gave up on her, she also thanks her Big Sisters from Beautiful People’s volunteer network and and Families for Families support group. She believes that their support and friendship is what kept her going through the ups and downs in her life.
(See also: 10 Places to Volunteer with Kids in Singapore)
“Life at home was really quite chill. My father was a delivery man, and he was always working. My mother was a housewife. They were not strict with me at all, and I had the freedom to do what I wanted.
I have one older and one younger brother, and we were quite close. I leaned on my older brother for support a lot through primary school. Later, he would help to pay for my hairstyling course fees and expenses too, which I really appreciated.
Things were different in school. I was quite the rebellious kid. By the time I was in Primary Three, I was already getting into fights with anyone who provoked me. I guess it was to gain street cred with my so-called group of friends.
My parents had no idea of all this back then. I had good parents, so of course I didn’t want them to know that I was getting into trouble.
(See also: 4 Ways you can Empower Your Daughters)
Till I Got Caught
When I was in Primary Four, my friends had stolen items like liquor and tidbits from the supermarket near our school. The staff saw this and called the police immediately, detaining us until they arrived. When the police questioned us, I told them that I did not steal anything and was simply accompanying my friends. They brought us to the police station, where they called our parents.
Later, the police said that because I had not stopped my friends, I was an accomplice to their shoplifting crime. I was honestly dumbfounded because I did not actually steal anything that time. We were remanded for a day at the police station, then we were allowed to go home. It wasn’t till much later that I was sentenced in court, I suppose due to my age.
In 2006 when I was 12, my friends introduced me to a place where we could rent bicycles for free just by presenting our student IDs. It was run by Beyond Social Services. Later, I saw that they always ran events and activities near the block I was living in, so I joined in for fun. I have many fond memories playing street soccer and team-bonding games with the Big Sisters I met there.
One of these was Big Sister Dawn, who was really kind and approachable. She took me out every week to get to know me and I really enjoyed spending time with her. I felt that she truly listened to my issues and understood my problems. As time went on, I got to meet other Big Sisters like Melissa and Dora who welcomed me with open arms into the Beautiful People family too. I really felt that I could connect with all of them and felt a strong sense of belonging with them.
Lesson Not Learnt
Unfortunately, I continued to mix with the wrong crowd in secondary school. This group of ‘friends’ provided me with comfort and friendship that felt welcoming. I felt like I belonged there, at that point of time. And so, I did what they wanted to do. Shoplifting, vandalising, getting into fights….
Finally, when I was 14 years old, I was charged with a total of eight charges in the Juvenile Court. My memory of the exact charges is vague; it all happened so fast and I could barely process it. But I do clearly recall the day of the sentencing — it was my mother’s birthday. I remember that I was so disappointed in myself that I let her down on that day, her birthday. As the officer handcuffed me and took me away, I watched my mother crying so hard. That broke my heart.
Another memorable moment was an analogy the judge shared: that just like in windsurfing, I must climb back onto the surfboard after the wind has pushed me down. The judge also reminded me of the seriousness of consequences and the importance of learning from my mistakes. This has stuck with me ever since.
I was first sent to Andrew and Grace (AG) Home, a Christian girls’ home for troubled teenagers. There were structured mealtimes, and after school, we could do leisure activities like drawing and even windsurfing at the National Sailing Club. Mummy Grace spent a lot of time with me and taught me how to play the piano. Playing and hearing her the piano was very soothing. At night, we recited prayers, which sometimes helped to calm me too.
Yes, I was still getting into fights with the other girls there. Eventually, they deemed me ‘too rebellious’ and the AG Home staff couldn’t manage me anymore. Looking back now, I was uncontrollable to them. Pastor Andrew, whom I look up to, explained that I needed to be in an environment where I could grow and learn from my mistakes.
They transferred me to Singapore Girls’ Home (SGH), which was much stricter. Staff escorted us everywhere to ensure we were behaving. If we were on good behaviour, we could leave the Home to go to school. Foot Drill was also compulsory for another who did not have classes. If you were defiant to staff or picked fights with other residents, there were other forms of punishments such as cleaning the library or kitchen, or even getting locked in an isolation room. My time there was a difficult experience that I wish to forget.
I was released on 13 October 2010, when I was 17 years old, full of mixed emotions. My parents came to fetch me home. I was so relieved to be out of SGH and to be back with my family. But I was also fearful of the uncertain future ahead of me.
After my release, I was even more involved with Beautiful People activities. I am super grateful to my Sister Christ from Beyond Social Services and Mummy Elsie from SGH, who arranged for me to enrol in a hairstyling course, which I attended and really enjoyed. They also facilitated my first job application at a hair salon, as well as my diploma course certificate.
One day while I was at work at a hair salon along Scotts Road, I felt dizzy and not well at all. A pregnancy test turned out positive. I was in shock. When I told the child’s father, he was shocked too. Soon after, we broke up due to familial disagreements. I felt so alone and miserable. Mostly, I felt gravity of how challenging it would be if I were to become a single mother.
I tried several ways to force a miscarriage. I took abortion pills, and even scheduled an abortion. But during one of my gynae appointments, a nurse questioned me about bruises on my stomach. I explained that I was trying to lose the baby because I had no partner to support me. She told me that I didn’t need a man, that I can be strong as a woman on my own and still be a good parent. The way that she said it was so touching and convincing, it changed my perspective on being a single mother.
A conversation with Pastor Andrew also echoed this. He told me to be strong and to seek God’s help. That God will bless me and my daughter’s life and make it possible to raise her on my own. And that is proving to be true today, so I am grateful for their advice during a time in my life that I felt so alone and vulnerable.
The Miracle of Motherhood
Although I had support from friends and family, the nine months felt dreadfully long and emotionally difficult. At gynae appointments, I felt envious of other women who had husbands or boyfriends by their side. Thankfully, my pregnancy was complication-free — not even morning sickness — and I had a smooth delivery, giving birth to a healthy baby girl.
I never expected to become a mother, but it has been a life-changing experience. It gave me purpose in life to live more courageously and be more accountable in all that I do. Now I have to take care of and be responsible for another human being, more so than I took care of myself. It has really shown me how strong I can be.
Jaelyn was a cute and feisty baby and a very loving toddler. She’s now four, and we share a very close relationship. Her hugs and kisses greet me when I come back from work and that makes my day. I am so glad to have her.
My hope for my daughter is that she will have a safe, bright, and happy childhood, unlike mine. But most of all, I want her to impart to her these three lessons:
- Every action has its consequences. Before acting on anything, make sure to think through the action before doing it.
- Face your problems and don’t run away from them.
- Reach out no matter what troubles you face. I will always be here for you and I will help you through anything and everything.”
To any other girls or women who find themselves in similar situations, never be afraid or shy to seek help. Be it from your family members, friends, support groups or social services. I think it is important to recognise that it is okay to reach out to people you can trust to help, listen, or simply be there. You are never alone in this journey.