Tucked in a quiet corner in Singapore, there is a safe haven with a little garden. Some days, you may find women working in this garden where vegetables are planted. Mdm Sumaini (not her real name) would have been one of these women tending to the garden. “Usually, I will wake up early. I do gardening and help out as much as I can. At the same time I will also learn about the different types of plants,” she said. “The money that I get from gardening is spent on my children’s and personal needs.”
The garden that Sumaini worked in is in Casa Raudha Women Home, a residential shelter for women victims of domestic violence, and their children. “The living environment here is like a ‘kampong’,” Sumaini shared. “Everyone works together and looks out for one another. I’m so happy to have met so many other women who are all my friends now.”
A village for healing
Casa Raudha started in 2008, offering empowering programmes for abused women. But even then, there was a bolder vision – to build a physical space where these women and their children can feel safe, and regain peace and stability in their lives. “We want them to live their lives as per normal, and with minimal disruption, especially for the children, so that they can continue to go to school to receive an education,” explained Mdm Zaharah Ariff, who is the manager of the shelter and one of Casa Raudha’s founding members.
By 2010, that vision was becoming a reality: Casa Raudha was allocated a property to build a shelter that could house 100 people. Temasek Foundation came into the picture as the shelter was being built.
Besides meeting the shelter residents’ basic needs, Temasek Foundation supported the provision of core services for the women and children, which included accommodation, counselling, casework, and financial assistance.
Counselling for the women was a necessity as most of them had gone through traumatic experiences. Mdm Farhana Johari, who stayed in Casa Raudha for four months in 2014, shared that she benefitted from the counselling then. So much so that now she returns to the Home yearly to share her experiences with the shelter’s residents. “The counselling sessions really helped me. That’s why I keep going back to give motivational talks and help those who need counselling.”
Selvi (not her real name), who was one of the residents, told of weekend programmes that helped her in her personal development. “I attended programmes like ‘feel good and look good’ and ‘emotional management’, which I definitely found very useful,” she said.
Art therapy is another form of support provided for the shelter residents. Rachael Yang, an art psychotherapist who worked with the residents, explained that art can be a way to build on the psycho-social development of the women. “Women and children who come to the shelter often need different forms of support to enable them to make positive changes in their lives,” she said. “I believe that when women are shown the right avenues, they can make a more positive change.”
For Farhana, that support gave her courage to venture beyond Singapore to realise her dreams. Having always had an interest in baking, she shared this with Zaharah, who in turn encouraged her to pursue her dream. “I was fully sponsored by Casa Raudha for cake decorating classes,” she shared. A volunteer mentor also met her twice a week to help her with setting up an online bakery business. Sometime later, an opportunity for an overseas internship came up, and she ended up working and learning at a semi-fine dining restaurant in the United States for a year.
Farhana’s time at Casa Raudha certainly helped her to regain the confidence to dream big dreams. Besides going back to share her experiences, and encouraging the residents, she also baked a cake for the shelter’s 10th anniversary celebrations last year. “Casa Raudha helped me to become more independent, and to overcome my fear of being alone,” said Farhana. “The community really helped to show me that failing once doesn’t mean that we fail in our lives.”