The storybook project by the publisher of Singapore Tatler supports local charity New Life Stories in its work with incarcerated mothers and their children.

One family has 14 members living under one roof, including a 74-year-old taking care of his four young great-grandchildren whose mothers were once in prison. Another seven-year-old boy, whose family has four generations of incarcerated parents, was unable to read any English until a volunteer started weekly reading lessons with him. 

These are the families that Edipresse Media Singapore wants to help through its Words Without Walls literacy project. This year, the project takes the form of a children’s storybook, which compiles original stories written by women serving their sentences in prison into an illustrated book that will be sold to raise funds to support New Life Stories. The non-profit organisation helps families with incarcerated parents to break out of the poverty cycle through early childhood learning and parent engagement.

Corinne Ng, managing director of Edipresse Media Singapore, which publishes Singapore Tatler, says that she was impressed when she heard about the programmes run by New Life Stories from Como Foundation director Ming Tan and National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre CEO Melissa Kwee. 

She explains, “I liked the clarity of its objectives. Here was a small set-up with little public awareness, but its objectives were focused. It links each child to a volunteer who reads to them weekly, while encouraging the mothers in prison to improve their language skills through coaching them to write stories.”

To help the women gain confidence seeing their stories in print, Corinne put together a team of volunteers: Singapore Tatler friends Sybil Lau, Vicky Hwang, Lam Tze Tze and Dimple Aswani, staff from its editorial and art teams, as well as commissioned illustrators to select, edit and illustrate, respectively, eight stories into a storybook, which will be launched at the Singapore Tatler 35th Anniversary Ball in November. Ming and Melissa served as project advisers. 

“As a publisher, we are able to give these women the chance to get their stories published and to see their names printed on a page as an author. Imagine the kind of confidence that can be instilled in a person seeing that, and how that confidence could inspire her to lead her life on a different trajectory,” Corinne explains.

Saleemah Ismail, co-founder of New Life Stories, says the charity was founded when a visit to Changi Prison with Melissa led to discussions on how to empower mothers who were in prison. They realised that many of the mothers battled remorse towards and rejection from their children, some of whom live in crowded households with several other family members in prison and are looked after by aged grandparents.

“What we do is give these kids a fairer start in life,” says Saleemah. “Other children grow up in homes with a routine and proper learning environment and have at least one parent speaking to them in English. But these kids don’t. They also have separation anxiety and anger, which tend to develop into apathy and a lack of motivation later on in adulthood. There are a lot of odds stacked against them.”

While children aged three to 10 years old go through an in-home reading programme, New Life Stories’ volunteers also journey with their mothers during and after their imprisonment, helping them to build strong bonds with their children through activities such as written and audio recordings of storybooks by the mother for her child, card exchanges and excursions.

Words Without Walls volunteer Sybil was touched by the themes of forgiveness and kindness in the stories she read. “Not only is it a meaningful project in giving a voice to those who may feel no one hears them, it also makes us step back and take a look at our own relationship with our parents.”

Melissa, who is also co-founder and advisor of New Life Stories, agrees. “The Words Without Walls project leverages on the corporate skills, talent and resources of Edipresse Media Singapore and the publishing community with New Life Stories to give voice to an otherwise unheard and silent members of our community. It’s a wonderful example of a corporate-community collaboration that brings together two different worlds through a common love and respect for reading and the potential of renewal through second chances.”  

Edipresse Media Singapore will give a 100 per cent from the sale of this book (priced at $75) to New Life Stories to continue providing educational support to preschool children of incarcerated women. E-mail for more information.

Photography Max Chan/101Teamwork
Art Direction Matilda Au, assisted by Charlene Lee
Hair and Make-Up Benedict Choo
Videography Nicola Ng

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