More offer helping hand to foreign spouses

WeddingThey may face difficulties securing long-term visit passes, permanent residence or Singapore citizenship, but the tribulations of foreign spouses go beyond immigration issues.

Some only speak their native language, while others have ventured into marriage ill-prepared.

They end up socially isolated, hardly venturing out of their homes — either from lack of confidence or to abide by their husbands’ wishes — and their children may even look down on them.

Recognising the needs of this group, some voluntary welfare and non-government organisations are developing resources for foreign spouses here.

The Government, too, has formed an inter-agency special interest group to look into integration challenges of foreign spouses, TODAY reported last week.

The Archdiocesan Commission for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People (ACMI) began English and Mandarin classes for foreign spouses in 2008 and piloted a marriage enrichment programme for four Vietnamese-Singaporean couples last September and October.

Facilitated by a Vietnamese interpreter, the course equipped couples with skills for open communication and to cope with cultural differences and other issues.

ACMI plans to hold another marriage enrichment course for either Singaporean-Vietnamese or Singaporean-Thai couples in July, incorporating more hands-on activities like getting couples to take train rides together or tasking the wife to purchase a specific item from, say, Marks & Spencer.

Such programmes are part of ACMI’s efforts to tackle transnational marriage issues before conflict occurs, said its Executive Director, Mr Jeremy Khoo.

“Once the marriage breaks down, issues are magnified.”

He hopes Family Service Centres (FSCs) — given their accessible heartland locations — will offer language courses for these spouses, as “language is most basic” in helping one integrate.

It has shared its language syllabus with one FSC and is open to sharing it with more groups.

Meanwhile, Fei Yue, with three FSCs in Yew Tee, Bukit Batok and Choa Chu Kang, will organise a pilot support group in June for 15 Mandarin-speaking foreign wives and their families, said Mrs Elyse Wong, senior social worker and manager at Fei Yue FSC (Yew Tee).

The families belong to the Home Ownership Plus Education (HOPE) scheme conducted by Fei Yue’s FSCs.

Fei Yue has over 800 families under the HOPE scheme. Mandarin-speaking wives — from China, Thailand and Indonesia — make up the biggest group among foreign spouses, numbering over 40, said Mrs Wong.

While some foreign wives are doing “very well”, others face issues like isolation, barriers to joining the workforce, and relationship problems with their families, said Mrs Wong.

Its social workers discovered some children who felt embarrassed by their mothers — they did not want their mothers to attend Meet-the-Parent sessions in school, insisting that only their fathers attend, for instance.

“Society has formed a negative view of foreign brides and the children pick up on the negative connotations,” said Mrs Wong.

Fei Yue’s support group will be organised over a weekend.

Counsellors will address the self-confidence and self-care of the mothers, as well as their marital relationship.

A children’s session will be held concurrently.

The next day, the families will embark on an outing.

Its staff will then follow-up twice with the mothers, and Fei Yue will provide a venue should the women wish to continue meeting up, said Mrs Wong.

The number of foreign spouses has increased with the rise of transnational marriages.

There were about 9,000 marriages involving a citizen and a foreigner last year and they made up four in 10 marriages involving at least one citizen in 2011.

That year, the Government piloted a transnational marriage preparation course but take-up was “low”, a Ministry of Social and Family Development spokesperson said without providing numbers.

Transnational couples may now sign up for any secular marriage preparation programme conducted by 24 voluntary welfare groups that are supported by the MSF.

They are eligible for a S$70 rebate as long as one party is a citizen or permanent resident.

Last year, 57 transnational couples attended MSF-supported marriage preparation programmes, the spokesperson said.

The MSF spokesperson added that from feedback, many transnational couples did not want to be singled out, and this is something organisations like Focus on the Family (FOTF) are mindful of.

FOTF launched a new coaching programme called Marriage Builders this year to couples wanting more personalised attention to unique circumstances such as age gap or intercultural issues.

Counselling manager Tan Soh Hiang said the organisation is not looking at a “full-fledged programme” for transnational couples.

“We may not want to single them out because the foundation for a good marriage is the same (for all couples),” she said.

Property agent Dennis Ng, who is married to Vietnamese Nguyễn Thị Diệu Hiền, agreed and said couples of the same nationality could also come from different backgrounds.

Mr Ng, 39, and Ms Nguyễn, 23, attended ACMI’s marriage enrichment course and found it useful despite having few adjustment issues in their marriage.

“I learnt about taking care of my family and my relationship with my husband,” said Ms Nguyễn in halting Mandarin.

“My husband and I don’t quarrel.

When I first came here I missed my family, but my husband cares for me.”


Source: TODAY 29/4/2013


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