Claudine Fernandez, Volunteer Writer, SCC
On the surface, Rita, a Chinese lady in her 40s, seems very unfriendly. She raises her voice to prove to others she is right and her fierce demeanour is her way of showing her 'strength'. It would be so easy for onlookers to judge her and label her as 'difficult' or ‘problematic’.
However, those who are aware of Rita's background, for example the social workers at the South Central Community Family Service Centre, know that she had a painful upbringing filled with many failed relationships and experiences of being abandoned. Her suffering got the better of her and she became very angry and aggressive towards others, perhaps as a way of protecting herself. She refuses to reveal any of her vulnerabilities or let herself be taken advantage of.
Rita lives alone in a one-room rental flat and because of her health problems, she cannot sustain a long-term job. As a result, she frequently demanded help from the social workers, acting as if it were her right. She was also often rude and abusive towards them.
If Rita had a soft spot for anything at all, it was for plants. She regularly attends the community meetings with the gardeners in the centre, sharing her extensive knowledge of plants. During the first meeting, she met Rani, a lady in her 50s, and almost immediately felt connected to her, because of their passion for plants. That year, Rani invited Rita and the other gardeners to her house for Deepavali. Rani kept a beautiful garden that visitors admired very much. After everyone had left, Rita stayed behind to have a long chat with Rani. She ended up falling asleep on Rani's shoulder. It was a tender and touching sight and it was also a sign that Rita had finally begun to trust someone again. Rani gave her a kind of maternal love that Rita had always desired, but was missing, in her life.
This wasn’t the only act of kindness received by Rita. At another one of the gardeners’ meetings, Rita had privately approached one of the gardeners to ask if he had any food to give her but he had none. Jacqueline, who was also at the meeting, noticed this and she left to go back home, returning with some eggs. Quietly and without any proclamation of her good deed, she gave the eggs to Rita.
Caring for someone could also come in the form of accountability. John, a gardener in his 50s, had witnessed Rita being extremely rude to a social worker and scolding her harshly. The social worker was so affected by Rita’s behaviour that she could not eat. John later reprimanded Rita, telling her that it was “wrong to bite the hand that feeds [her]”. Rita bowed her head, feeling contrite. The social worker got to know about this incident and felt vindicated that someone would speak up for her. Gradually, Rita began to act in a more reasonable and respectful manner towards those around her.
Imagine if the members and the social workers from the centre had turned their backs on Rita because they couldn't tolerate her rudeness. Or if no one cared enough to correct her socially reprehensible behaviour. Rita would probably still be a bitter and acrimonious person, hardened by her life experiences. They say it takes a village to raise a child. It also takes a village to accept and care for someone like Rita, looking beyond her apparent flaws.