How Beyond Social Services scheme gets rental block residents to help one another

Charity Beyond Social Services' Youth United Programme aims to facilitate the building of relationships between rental block residents, so that they can tackle their neighbourhood's and their own issues. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - When residents of a rental block in Ang Mo Kio grew worried about a neighbour who was often heard crying, they instantly alerted "Mummy Jan".

That's what they call mother-of-two Diljan Shaik Arif Ali, a 39-year-old housewife who is always ready to help, such as by helping to distribute donated food items to her neighbours along with other volunteers.

Madam Diljan found out that the neighbour was suicidal due to marital woes and post-natal depression and alerted Beyond Social Services, a charity, which referred the mother of three to the Institute of Mental Health.

She invited the woman home for meals and would check on her if she does not hear from her. The woman is now happier and working as a school bus attendant.

"Making someone else smile makes my day," said Madam Diljan.

It is such strong neighbourly ties that Beyond Social Services hopes to foster through its Youth United Programme. It facilitates the building of relationships between rental block residents through activities and common interests and through such ties, residents come together to tackle their neighbourhood's and their own issues.

A survey released on Wednesday (Nov 21) showed that the eight-year-old scheme has had encouraging results.

The survey polled 371 participants of the programme - made up of young people, their parents and grandparents - and tracked them over a year. It also interviewed a control group of 212 residents who were not part of the programme.

The survey found that youth and adults in the scheme felt safer in their neighbourhoods, compared to the control group; adults on the programme felt that they were more able to share their concerns with their neighbours.

The youth in the scheme also found their neighbours more friendly and they felt they could better handle problems at home.

When people get to know one another, they would find ways to help each other, said Mr Samuel Tang, Beyond's manager for communications and research.

For example, Beyond staff found that the young people hanging out at the void deck of a rental block were keen on floorball and roped in a floorball club to teach them the sport. Beyond also organised floorball tournaments and invited their parents and neighbours to cheer the youngsters on.

In turn, the young people came together to do their bit for their neighbours. For example, they collected unwanted items from their neighbours to give to others who wanted them. Initially, some residents saw them as a nuisance, Mr Tang said, but many became more friendly and looked out for the young people as both groups got to know each other.

"The programme works as it gives people a sense of belonging, to understand one another and they come together to make decisions. Social support builds resilience," said Mr Tang, who added that it takes time, however, to build relationships and see positive changes in a community.

Mr Danny Muhammad Azrin, 18, was initially apprehensive when he moved into his Lengkok Bahru rental block in 2014. The Institute of Technical Education student heard that there were gangsters and illegal activities, such as drug-taking, going on in the neighbourhood.

Mr Danny, whose mother is a housewife and stepfather is a pest control worker, said: "I was even afraid to go out. So I only went to school or I stayed at home."

At first, he did not have any friends among his neighbours. This changed when he joined a photography club organised by Beyond.

He said: "I used to be socially awkward with people. But I have more friends in the neighbourhood now and I'm more confident."

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