“They are really crying out for help”: Eleana Ho, who built a Dream Home for troubled youth
by Gracia Lee // June 9, 2021, 7:19 pm
"The whole world, maybe even their parents, may tell them that they don't have value," says Eleana Ho who started Dream Home for disenfranchised youths. "But God created them. No one can rob them of that value, and they need to know that." Photo by Soragrit Wongsa on Unsplash.
Max* did not choose his lot in life. He was born out out of wedlock in Malaysia and given up for adoption as a baby.
Life seemed to take a positive turn when a Singaporean couple who was struggling to conceive adopted him into their family. But that hope was short-lived.
About a year and a half after bringing Max home, his adopted parents found out that they were finally pregnant with a baby boy.
They never visited him at the Boys’ Home, not even on family days.
After their child was born, they behaved as though Max was no longer needed in their lives, leaving him to feel like he was an intruder in the family.
By his early teens he was acting up to get attention, and his parents put him up in different boys’ homes.
They never visited him, not even on family days.
When he earned home leave for good behaviour, they never came to pick him up.
After he was released from a boys’ home, he checked himself into a three-quarter house as he had nowhere else to go.
He struggled for months to find a job. He dreamt of being a pilot, but resorted to selling fake Groupons. It eventually got him into prison.
While he was in remand, he made a call to his adopted father, who briskly told him that they were emigrating to the United Kingdom – in fact, they were already at the airport – and would not see him again.
Just like that, Max found himself abandoned again – just as he was as a baby.
A place to call home
In Singapore, there are many homeless youth like Max who come from difficult backgrounds, said Eleana Ho, who has been working with troubled youth for the past 13 years.
“Most of them didn’t start their race at the starting line. They started off already three laps behind.”
Her ministry, Born2Be, aims to nurture boys in prison, or boys’ homes, with love, purpose and practical skills to handle life’s difficulties.
“Most of them didn’t have the privileges we had that allowed us to start our race at the starting line. A lot of them started off already three laps behind,” she said, citing Max as a prime example.
This is the reason she started Dream Home, a six-bedroom house aimed at providing these youth with, not just a place to call home, but a people they can call family, in hopes of helping them gain a better footing in life.
The plan is for two out of three of Born2Be’s staff, including Ho, to live in the house, forming a foundation for the rest of the family – troubled youth that Ho takes in. They began moving in last February.
Part of the family
There are two main reasons why troubled youth end up homeless, Ho shared.
“If they’re late, they know there are people who will wonder where they are.”
Some, like Max, have been disowned or abandoned by their families.
Others have homes that are not safe places because of the presence of drugs or family members who are heavily involved in criminal activity, Ho said, adding that intergenerational offending, where crime runs in the family, is an issue.
Ho said: “We want to provide them with a safe transition place (after they are released from prison or boys’ homes) to find their feet. This will be their home, a place where they can belong.
“They join our family. We eat together, we care for them, make sure they go to work on time, make sure there’s food on the table, make sure they learn the responsibility of being part of a family.
“God created them. No one can rob them of that value, and they need to know that.”
“We just do life with them and listen to them, so they know that their presence is significant. If they’re late, they know there are people who will wonder where they are.”
However, she noted that for youth who do have families, the home is just an interim measure as they work to reintegrate them back into their original homes.
Ultimately, Ho’s goal is to help these youth change their minds about themselves, because “too many lies have been sown in their lives that rob them of their dignity and hope”.
“The whole world, maybe even their parents, may tell them that they don’t have value. But sorry, they do have value because they’re born to be children of God. God created them. No one can rob them of that value, and they need to know that,” said Ho.
Hope and direction
Born2Be’s ministry starts inside prison, or boys’ homes, where Ho runs programmes that build good character and encourage them to have a vision for their lives.
Quoting PK Bernard, Ho said: “A man without vision is a man without a future. A man without a future will always return to his past.”
“You can either choose to lead everybody down the drain or lift everybody up. Which one will you choose?”
Ho observed that a lot of these boys have a lot of potential but no hope and direction. Take Max for example, who, before he was arrested, had set up and led a huge sales team selling fake Groupons.
Ho said: “He is a fabulous entrepreneur and so good in sales. I told him, just change your product and you’ll make it. You’re such a leader. You can either choose to lead everybody down the drain or lift everybody up. Which one will you choose?”
She added that she has seen these boys’ spirits being lifted as they discover more about themselves, such as their personalities, talents and what they can offer the world.
Through these sessions, which are based on Kingdom values, staff and volunteers from Born2Be also form deep connections with the youth that allow them to continue journeying alongside them after they are released.
“After they’re out, we begin to engage with them more regularly. We help them find jobs, accompany them to court, meet any needs that they may have. Just really mentoring and discipling them, and equipping them with skills to manage relationships and cope with life,” Ho said.
Are we willing to love?
Ho and her team, which also comprises 10 to 15 volunteers, are praying for more people to catch the vision and come on board to be part of this community at Dream Home.
“Are we available and willing to love our neighbours’ kids … when they are not around to love them?”
She said: “Jesus’ greatest commandment is love your neighbour as yourself.
“Are we available and willing to love our neighbours’ kids, especially if our neighbours are not around to love them?
“Children are so precious to God, and these youth are really crying for help.
“We have to look beyond who they are today to see where they came from, then we will be able to see clearly that they are not as bad as they look.”