Sun, Aug 31, 2008
The Straits Times
More for SPMF students

By Grace Chua & Jessica Lim

TWELVE-YEAR-OLD Muhammad Walid will get $10 more in pocket money every month from next month.

The reason: The Shuqun Primary School pupil is a beneficiary of The Straits Times School Pocket Money Fund (SPMF), which will need to raise at least 28 per cent more money to help the over 8,000 primary and secondary school students who, like him, come from low- income families.

From Sept 1, primary school pupils will receive $45 a month, up from $35, while secondary school students will get $80, up from the current $60.

Other qualifying criteria will also be tweaked:

Children from families earning up to $450 a person, or $1,800 for a family of four, can now apply for help from the fund. Previously, the income cut-off was $300 a head.

Students will also be eligible for funding until they complete secondary school, instead of up to age 17, as was the case previously.

These moves are aimed at giving a cushion against inflation, which has been driven by higher food prices.

The inflation rate for June was 7.5 per cent, a 26-year high, which made the sums the students were getting insufficient for their rising school expenses, said the National Council of Social Service (NCSS), which administers the fund for The Straits Times.

The prices in school canteens have gone up recently, noted the NCSS; a Straits Times check in April confirmed that at least 12 schools from primary through junior college levels had raised the prices of their canteen fare this year.

The council hopes that the increase will help the children and their families cope with the rising costs, said NCSS chief executive officer Ang Bee Lian.

She added: 'The additional pocket money will also help the children to cover their transport costs and have pocket money to spend on other school-related expenses.'

This is the second time in two years that the SPMF has raised the financial support amount.

Last year, the monthly stipend for its primary school beneficiaries went from $30 to $35, and that for secondary school students, from $50 to $60.

The eight-year-old fund has raised more than $20 million since its inception and has helped over 50,000 children.

The increased amounts for each child mean that the SPMF will need to raise a record $4.4 million for next year, up from the $3.6 million raised last year.

SPMF organising chairman Peter Khoo said: 'The challenge is not an easy one, but we are approaching more sponsors and speaking to old ones. I am pretty confident we will meet the new levels.'

Fresh sponsors and events have been lined up to help meet the target. For example, The SPMF has become the beneficiary of the October charity premiere of My Magic, local director Eric Khoo's new movie which was nominated for the prestigious Palme d'Or award at this year's Cannes Film Festival. The premiere is expected to raise about $200,000 for the fund.

The extra money will be useful to Muhammad Walid's family. He is the only child in the family now on the fund. His sisters, Asmaa'widad, 14, and Siti Aisyah, 13, were recipients in 2005 and 2006. To get back on it, they need to submit fresh applications.

The family hit rock bottom five years ago, when Walid's father Hamdan Omar, was retrenched from his job as a storeman. He was earning $2,000 then.

The situation eased a little last year when Mr Hamdan, now 40, found work as an operations manager at Yuhua Primary for $780 a month.

This has to feed his family - his wife, homemaker Salamah Madon, 41, and six children aged three to 14.

'Those were really bad times. The fund was big money to us because I had no pay. It meant my children could enjoy better food and a better life,' he said.

'I am so happy about the increase, we can direct more money to other things like groceries.'

This article was first published in The Straits Times on August 29, 2008.


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