Haze brings out kindness and coders

Facebook group helps the needy; hackathon seeks ideas to beat haze

Madam Huang, a resident of Block 8, North Bridge Road, holding an air filter she received from Mr Wally Tham.
Madam Huang, a resident of Block 8, North Bridge Road, holding an air filter she received from Mr Wally Tham.PHOTO: STAND UP FOR OUR SINGAPORE

The haze may have cast grey skies over Singapore, but there have been some bright spots amid the gloom.

Singaporeans have been looking out for each other and coming up with creative ways to beat the haze.

Local kindness movement Stand Up For Our Singapore has been raising money to buy air filters for needy households in the past few weeks.

The Facebook community has raised more than $6,000 this year through its I Will Be Your Shelter project, which has so far benefited about 50 families living in Block 8, North Bridge Road.

Mr Wally Tham, 38, the man behind the campaign, said his online group had launched another programme earlier this year pairing 40 art students with elderly residents in Block 8.

"So when the haze struck, we immediately thought of them and how we can help," he said.

Starting from the highest floor, 20 volunteers went door to door about two weeks ago giving out the air filters, which cost about $80 each. They look like fine mesh bags and can be used to cover any fan to turn it into an effective air purifier.

Families with enough fans at home to battle the haze and the heat were given an air filter each, while those who did not have sufficient fans were given a $180 air filter set that includes a filter and a fan unit.

"Some elderly residents refused to take the air filters as they said that they did not feel unwell," said Mr Tham. "It took some convincing to even get the filters in."

But others were more grateful.

"When we first visited the homes at Block 8 prior to giving out the air filters, some residents were coughing and those who had young children at home said their kids were suffering from runny noses," he added.

"But since they received the air filters, they said they have been breathing more easily and their children are feeling better."

With more than 200 households living in Block 8, there is still some way go. Saying he has "mixed feelings" about whether this campaign has been a success, "as we have helped only 50 households so far", Mr Tham added: "But I am very encouraged by all the people who have come forward to help."

Stand Up For Our Singapore hopes to raise another $3,000 to help another 50 homes at the block.

The haze has also prompted some groups to come up with creative ideas to beat the dirty air.

Local media lab Newsplex Asia has teamed up with the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers, as well as the Online News Association (Singapore) and the Hacks/Hackers Singapore Chapter, to organise a haze-themed hackathon - an event that lets programmers join people in other fields to work on software projects.

The Hyper Haze Hack, which will be held at Google Singapore's auditorium next Tuesday, seeks to pair computer programmers with experts, the media, students and members of the public to come up with IT solutions, such as apps, that can help people during the haze.

Ms Lau Joon-Nie, assistant director of Newsplex Asia, said the media lab organises a hackathon every year, and choosing the haze as the theme for this year's event was both timely and meaningful.

"There are lots of disparate sources of information on the haze," Ms Lau said. "We thought that it was a good idea to have such an event where we can hopefully develop solutions, such as apps, that can pull together different sources of data so that people can be better informed about what is going on."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 09, 2015, with the headline 'Haze brings out kindness and coders'. Subscribe