Hubert Burda Media

Second Blessing

A decade on and the Yellow Ribbon Project is still going strong. This year, they focus on reaching out to the children of female ex-offenders. By Suhana Ab

“Tie a yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree” by American pop music group Tony Orlando and Dawn is a meaningful tune that tells a story of forgiveness granted to an ex-offender by his wife. This, too, is the basic belief of the Yellow Ribbon Project Singapore.
Much like the song, the Yellow Ribbon Project hopes that the community at large would be more supportive of ex-offenders and give them a second chance at life. This initiative was launched in June 2004 and is led by the Community Action for the Rehabilitation of Ex-Offenders (CARE), a group of government and community committees that have undertaken the responsibility of rehabilitating ex-offenders.
Since its inception, those behind the project have worked tirelessly to raise awareness for the cause, facilitate acceptance of ex-offenders and spearhead reintegration programmes. Ten years on, much of the Yellow Ribbon Project’s objectives have become a reality, with the organisation registering a number of success stories. This includes ex-offenders who now make an honest living through occupations in F&B, operations and maintenance.
Outcomes such as these have encouraged project members to continuously push forth in their endeavour to reach out to more people. To achieve this, the project established the Yellow Ribbon Fund, the fundraising arm of the organisation. It is involved in various activities such as fundraising galas, golf tournaments and the unique Dining Behind Bars experience, where individuals enter a prison complex, dine and gain a better understanding of what the organisation stands for. Initiatives like these help to secure funds for the reintegration and family support programmes designed for their beneficiaries.
Over the years, such steps have succeeded in inculcating a greater level of acceptance of ex-offenders. As Wong Ai Ai, executive committee member of the Yellow Ribbon Fund, shares: “I believe there is greater acceptance now, both in terms of people coming forward to make donations and contributions of their time — whether it is to help in mentoring or their willingness to employ ex-offenders.”
In 2013 alone, the Yellow Ribbon Fund disbursed some $1.14 million to help 2,311 ex-offenders. Under its umbrella is the Prestige-Yellow Ribbon Children’s Fund (PYRCF).Established in 2012, it is led by a committee that focuses on raising funds for their chidren.
To contribute to this cause, Prestige published the coffee-table book Visions of Luxury in 2012, channelling all sale proceeds to the PYRCF. This was also the case when we hosted the fundraising Starlight Carnival in April 2013 chaired by Michelle Eng (pictured above).
The year 2014 has also seen approximately half of the funds raised for the good cause. The committee launched the Yellow Brick Road (YBR), a one-year pilot programme that focuses on the welfare of the children of female offenders aged between seven to 12-years-old.
Due to the sudden incarceration of their parent (or parents), these children often feel cut off from them as they get passed from guardian to guardian. To help ex-offenders and their children reconnect, the organisation has carefully formulated a series of initiatives to help bridge the gap. Launched in April 2014, it aims to help some 60 families in the next 12 months.
As part of the YBR programme, a case worker will be assigned to each family. Together, they will draw up a realistic action plan to help parents achieve at least two of the following within a six-month period: (a)employment for more than three months; (b)long-term accommodation; (c) the ability to cope with the new life; (d) a social support network and (e) the achievement of a positive lifestyle.
Through the initiative, it hopes the parent will achieve a more positive mindset, which in turn has a positive effect on their children. Together with the case worker, the parent will also formulate an action plan to help ensure their school-going children register an attendance rate of at least 75 percent. Through counselling sessions, it also hopes to encourage children to be on their best behaviour and be involved in at least one co-curricular activity and meaningful activities such as community work.
The YBR also acknowledges that bonding activities between parent and child are of utmost importance for the reconnection. Which is why the programme has built in a family-bonding component. Over a period of a year, parent and child are required to attend six four-hour sessions of bonding and social activities.
Conducted in small groups, the sessions (held at Changi Women’s Prison) are intimate and encourage both sides to communicate their feelings to each other. Through workshops conducted by the case worker, mothers are made familiar with good parenting skills and are taught the principles of raising children who are independent and responsible.
“With the Yellow Brick Road, we hope to first reinforce the mother-child bond. That is so fundamental and crucial, as it reinforces the mother’s will to reform while encouraging the children to do better because their mother cares,” explains Wong, who also chairs the Family and Children Welfare Committee.
Many, including us at Prestige, agree this is not just a worthwhile cause, but also an imperative one, to support.
Plans for another major fundraiser, scheduled for the last quarter of this year are already underway. Chaired by Stephanie Lee, co-chaired by Prestige Director of Operations Laura Lim and with committee members Michelle Eng, Natasha Liok, Elaine Neo, Marilyn Lum and Tan Min-Li, the event promises to be a fun-filled affair. Lim, who sits on the PYRCF committee and also on the Yellow Ribbon Project’s family and children welfare committee says: “I believe in helping these families as it is a form of investment for our future.”
“It is about setting the right foundation for the next generation,” she adds.