Charity rolls out free Wi-Fi access at void deck for Kebun Baru residents

Madam Siti Aidah Abdullah and her son Mohamed Shazwan Mohamed Awal are among 300 homes in blocks 244 and 245 Ang Mo Kio Avenue 3 that can now tap free Internet access at the void deck of Block 245 with the installation of high-speed fibre broadband b
Madam Siti Aidah Abdullah and her son Mohamed Shazwan Mohamed Awal are among 300 homes in blocks 244 and 245 Ang Mo Kio Avenue 3 that can now tap free Internet access at the void deck of Block 245 with the installation of high-speed fibre broadband by Beyond Social Services. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

Madam Siti Aidah Abdullah's children, aged 17 and 15, used to spend hours doing their homework at a McDonald's outlet in Ang Mo Kio because of the free Wi-Fi.

The mother of five has leukaemia and, when not too sick, would accompany her children to make sure they remained safe as they tended to stay late into the night.

On other occasions, they would go to the residents' committee (RC) centre a five-minute walk from their two-room rental flat at Block 244 Ang Mo Kio Avenue 3.

Madam Siti, 50, cannot afford to pay for an Internet connection. She is jobless and has to attend regular medical check-ups.

With the Kebun Baru Void Deck WiFi Project set up by the charity, Beyond Social Services, the family of six now have access to Wi-Fi closer to their home, at the neighbouring Block 245.

Theirs is among 300 low-income homes in blocks 244 and 245 that now have Internet access with the installation of high-speed fibre broadband at the void deck.

For Madam Siti, a divorcee, the project has brought relief for the study arrangements for her children, who depend on the Internet not only for their learning but also for leisure.

"I used to have broadband at home under my eldest daughter's name, but it was cut because of outstanding bills," she said. "Sometimes, I would top up about $10 worth of data on my Singtel phone if I can. With the Wi-Fi at the void deck, I know (my children) are just in the neighbourhood and I can go look for them if I need to."

The family gets by on social service assistance for utilities and monthly expenses and the income Madam Siti's 19-year-old daughter brings home working as a sales assistant. She also has a 21-year old in full-time national service.

Her son, Mohamed Shazwan Mohamed Awal, 17, is a student in NorthLight School. He said: "During the circuit breaker, I would go back to school for half a day of home-based learning online. The Wi-Fi connection has made things a lot more convenient."

The project took nearly a year to come to life. Residents like Madam Siti took part in a community conference organised by Beyond and Kebun Baru Community Club last September, where they expressed their aspirations for the community. They put forward suggestions, including the idea of transforming the void deck into a study and social corner with more seats and tables. That is also in the works.

A team of Beyond volunteers led by lawyer Rebecca Chiu, 34, engaged sponsors and raised funds for the Wi-Fi initiative. The project is supported by corporate partners and sponsors including law firm Allen & Overy, telco M1 and Bridge the Digital Divide, a corporate social responsibility initiative by digital agency Xpointo Media.

Retired odd-job worker Dass Joseph, 65, said he was surprised when he found out he had access to free Wi-Fi nearby. He had missed the notices put up to inform residents.

Mr Joseph, who lives with his wife and 27-year-old daughter in Block 245, said he went for weeks without using WhatsApp after his mobile data ran out. He uses the messaging app to keep in touch with friends and family. He said: "We cannot afford a monthly subscription plan, although it would be good to have Internet at home. My daughter, who is studying physiotherapy, relied on her mobile data hot spot to teleconference from home during the circuit breaker."

He has two other daughters who live on their own and one of them is due to give birth soon.

He added it would be helpful if someone could show him how he could tap the free Wi-Fi at the void deck so he could check on his children through WhatsApp again.

Another resident from Block 245, Mr San Yeow, 65, also said he needed help connecting to the Wi-Fi at the void deck. The temple helper and his 67-year-old wife do not have Wi-Fi at home.

He said: "It would be good to use the Wi-Fi downstairs because then I don't have to depend on my mobile data all the time. I could save on my data expenses. But I don't know how to log in, I need someone to teach me."

Ms Chiu said this would be the next step. "The initial response has been positive, but we are mindful of how we promote the service, such as putting notices in different languages and encouraging social distancing while surfing. The next step is educating the residents on the digital literacy component."


This article has been edited for clarity.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 03, 2020, with the headline 'Charity rolls out free Wi-Fi access at void deck for Kebun Baru residents'. Print Edition | Subscribe