Dealing with the haze: Lifting the gloom with acts of kindness, social initiatives and humour

Hardware shop Home in Clementi put up a sign announcing that it was giving away free masks to the elderly and children.
Hardware shop Home in Clementi put up a sign announcing that it was giving away free masks to the elderly and children. PHOTO: THOMAS CHIA

SINGAPORE - Even amid the hazy weather and grey skies that have plagued Singapore over the past few weeks, there have been bright spots to chase the gloom away.

Examples of Singaporeans looking out for each other and performing acts of kindness can be found on social media, while different initiatives have emerged to help combat the haze in various ways.

Acts of kindness

Facebook user Josiah Ng, for instance, was touched to receive a message from his driver after booking a cab on Sept 24, which read: "Hello Mr. Ng, I am your Taxi booking. The Haze is very bad. You stay indoor (sic) first. I will SMS you again when I am here, so you don't need to wait in the haze. Will not start meter first."

Mr Ng said that the driver had been sending the same message to his other customers.

And while there were reports of people cashing in by re-selling N95 masks at a higher price during the last haze crisis in 2013, one hardware shop is doing the exact opposite this time round.

Home, located on the ground floor of Block 442, Clementi Avenue 3, was spotted putting up a sign in English and Chinese that read: "Free mask for children and senior citizens."

Initiatives to help people cope with haze

Volunteers of the "I Will Be Your Shelter" campaign, who gave out free air purifiers and filters to residents in the North Bridge Road area on Sept 19, 2015. PHOTO: FACEBOOK/STANDUPFOR.SG

The good folks behind local kindness movement Stand Up For Singapore last month kickstarted a fund-raising campaign called "I Will Be Your Shelter" to buy air purifiers and filters for the elderly and needy in the North Bridge Road area.

It has raised about $6,000 through crowdfunding site Indiegogo and donations thus far. It distributed 40 air filters and 10 purifiers to the residents on Sept 19.

Mr Wally Tham, 38, the man behind the campaign, told The New Paper that he started the campaign last year when he realised that the elderly in nursing homes were defenceless against the haze.

For Mr Cai Yinzhou, the health of Singapore's homeless and migrant workers were foremost on his mind when he embarked on his project "3,000 masks, 1 Singapore" project to help his target demographic.

Mr Cai, 25, had read about community centres giving out two free masks each to eligible Singaporeans and permanent residents, and decided to assist those who did not qualify.

Sisters Cheryl and Charlene Lie, meanwhile, launched their mask-collection drive "Let's Help Kalimantan", which aims to help Indonesians cope with severe haze conditions that have reportedly hit Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) levels of nearly 2,000.

The duo have reportedly amassed more than 20,000 masks through individual donors and an Indiegogo campaign. They plan to fly to Palangkaraya, the capital of the Central Kalimantan province, to distribute the masks and educate residents on how to use them.

Education campaigns

A worker handling palm oil seeds at a plantation in Sumatra. The demand for palm oil is said to be one of the main driving factors behind Indonesia's forest fires. PHOTO: AFP

Several volunteer groups have also sprung up, such as the Haze Elimination Action Team (H.E.A.T.) and People's Movement To Stop Haze, which aim to raise public awareness of the companies who are responsible for causing the forest fires.

Besides publishing useful tips on Facebook to help Singaporeans guard against the hazy conditions, H.E.A.T. also intends to sue the companies.

The People's Movement To Stop Haze, or PM.Haze, has been particularly vocal on advocating the use of products made from sustainable sources. Its campaign, called We Breathe What We Buy, is trying to collect 50,000 pledges from Singaporeans to show that there is a demand for sustainable products.

Laughter the best medicine

A screengrab from the "Thank You Indonesia for 11 months of clean air" website. PHOTO: THANKYOUINDOFORTHECLEANAIR.COM

There have also been light-hearted attempts to poke fun at the current situation. A website named "Thank You Indonesia for 11 months of clean air" was recently set up, which referenced the unpopular comments made by Indonesia Vice-President Jusuf Kalla.

Visitors to the site can click on a button to "thank" Indonesia - it has been thanked more than 3.3 million times to date - and leave comments to vent their frustrations.

And netizens proficient with Photoshop have been having a field day, generating hilarious memes and their own creative takes on a problem that Singaporeans face every year.