Causes Week: Capturing the hearts of children

Causes Week 2018: Capturing the hearts of children in the heartland

Photographer Bernice Wong and her friends conduct free tuition and activities for vulnerable children in Yishun every week, befriending them and giving guidance in the process.
Ms Bernice Wong flanked by her friends Amanda Quek (white blouse) and Jenny Liew. They give free tuition, and organise games and activities, as well as outings to art galleries for some of the children in Yishun at least once a week. The friendship w
Ms Bernice Wong flanked by her friends Amanda Quek (white blouse) and Jenny Liew. They give free tuition, and organise games and activities, as well as outings to art galleries for some of the children in Yishun at least once a week. The friendship with the children started with a void-deck photography project in the neighbourhood last year.ST PHOTO: KHALID BABA

A photographer and her pals befriend and inspire children from rental flats in Yishun

At a humble void deck in Yishun, documentary photographer Bernice Wong captures the hearts and minds of children.

Sitting in a circle on the floor, about 10 children aged between nine and 16 are scribbling their Christmas wishes on paper.

Most put sports shoes on their list, and one asks for a hockey game set. Those asking for an iPhone are sent back to the drawing board, but otherwise, their wishes will be fulfilled.

Ms Wong and the children are part of an informal group called Yishun+. The children are from rental flats there. Most have one or both parents who have been to prison.

They meet Ms Wong, 30, and two of her friends at the void deck at least once a week to play games and get some exercise, as well as have supper and do schoolwork.

Their friendship started when Ms Wong embarked on a void-deck photography project last year, and rounded up children in the neighbourhood to take photos of their surroundings. The pictures were displayed in a void-deck exhibition.

She said: "We thought it'd be a waste to end the project there. We found out some of the kids needed help with schoolwork. So I got my friends to come on board too."

 
 

MORE INDEPENDENT

After meeting Bernice, I learnt to be more independent and, now, I help out my family.

MUHAMMAD HAFIZHAN SALIM

INSPIRED TO HELP OTHERS

I hope that if they feel they have learnt enough from us, they would be inspired to help other kids in their neighbourhood.

DOCUMENTARY PHOTOGRAPHER BERNICE WONG

More than just activity facilitators, Ms Wong and her friends Amanda Quek, 26, a digital product designer, and Jenny Liew, 30, a programme executive, are friends and role models to the children.

Activities vary, from soccer to swimming and trips to art galleries.

"I come from a more privileged background," said Ms Wong, who lived in a terraced house in Kovan when she was growing up.

"When I started hanging out with the children, I realised that there is so much I can learn from them, whether it's about the community, resourcefulness or resilience.

"With the activities and trips, the children get a chance to be exposed to different kinds of people."

To keep the initiative going, Ms Wong pools funds and ideas from friends who want to contribute.

In June, she began taking three of the boys rock-climbing three times a week at a gym called boulder+.

One of them is 13-year-old Muhammad Hafizhan Salim. He said: "Before I met Bernice, I was stubborn and didn't want to listen to my parents. I usually hung out with gangster guys. But after meeting Bernice, I learnt to be more independent and, now, I help out my family."

Ms Wong hopes the children will reciprocate the friendship.

She said: "I feel we already have a friendship that will continue even after they have grown up. I hope that if they feel they have learnt enough from us, they would be inspired to help other kids in their neighbourhood."

• To find out more, reach Ms Bernice Wong at bernicewsf@gmail.com

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 22, 2018, with the headline 'Capturing the hearts of children'. Print Edition | Subscribe