Jaycie Tay, a school dropout and former drug offender, is on the path toward a degree thanks to John Shu, a 50-year-old mechanic she happened to meet at a bus stop.
In 2013, Tay was waiting for a bus in Yishun, Singapore, to return to halfway house The Turning Point after attending a training course to be a florist, when she met Shu, who took a bus that day because his motorcycle was in the workshop.
The 32-year-old twice-divorced mother of four was on the last days of her 18-month sentence for drug offenses, according to The Straits Times.
She began sharing her life story with Shu, a primary school graduate who is married with a 22-year-old daughter and a 19-year-old son, saying how she wanted to pursue a diploma so she could provide for her kids.
Tay worked as a waitress and retail assistant, but earned less than SGD $2,000 ($1,405) a month, and her unsupportive parents didn’t have SGD $5,000 ($3,514) required for the training course.
On top of all that, Tay was being treated for depression at the time.
“Her wish to get an education is a good thing. And since her family is not supporting her and no one supports her, I thought I would support her and give her a way out,” Shu told the Times.
Shu, who makes a little over SGD $2,000 ($1,405), gave Tay about SGD $6,000 ($4,217) for her diploma and some expenses, saying he and his wife can get by on their income.
It wasn’t easy getting a degree in marketing management from Kaplan Higher Education Institute eight months after she was released in 2014.
Tay was only 18 when she was sentenced to one year in jail for drug offenses.
She quit drugs and became a mother at age 20 but relapsed after her first marriage fell apart. Her first husband has custody of her 12-year-old daughter and 10-year-old son.
Tay and her second husband, who was also a drug abuser, were jailed for drug offenses four years ago, and their now 5-year-old daughter is taken care of by her in-laws.
During her second sentence at the Drug Rehabilitation Center at Changi Women’s Prison, an inmate urged Tay to continue her studies.
“I saw how the other drug addicts ended up with nothing,” she said. “Their children did not want them; they had no house and no money. I did not want to be like them.”
She became pregnant with her fourth child while working towards her degree, dealing with divorce and worrying about finances.
But with Shu’s help, Tay was able to pay for her gynecology visits during the pregnancy.
“He never asked for his money back or for anything in return,” Tay said. “Others have made unpleasant remarks (implying we are having an affair) but we are clean. He has helped many people, not only me… Some (of his friends) have taken advantage of him.”
Tay, who now works as an administrative assistant, offered to partially reimburse Shu, but he declined.
“Why should I calculate so much about helping others? I already have one foot in the grave and if I need help in the future, others would help me,” Shu, said, adding that he considers Tay to be a younger sister.
In November, Tay started working part-time towards a bachelor of business studies in management at Kaplan, a degree given by the University College Dublin.
She was awarded a Yellow Ribbon Fund Star Bursary, which was launched in 2010 to help former offenders in vocational and skills training, to cover the SGD $20,000 ($14,055) fee.
“I never thought a stranger (who became a friend) would help me so much. I hope that by sharing my story, other former offenders can also feel there is hope in life,” Tay concluded.