Let the kampung spirit take root

Family centre helps those in need to get stronger by aiding others

The South Central Community Family Service Centre garden is tended by volunteers. Building community spirit is one of the centre's main goals.
The South Central Community Family Service Centre garden is tended by volunteers. Building community spirit is one of the centre's main goals.ST PHOTO: ALICIA CHAN

Faced with mounting debts, Ms Noor was at her wits' end.

Her husband had accumulated numerous parking fines while working as a delivery driver, which they were unable to pay off.

Residents in her area heard about her plight and decided to collect funds for her. When she received an envelope in January containing more than $700 made up entirely of contributions from fellow residents, she was shocked.

Ms Noor, who declined to reveal her full name, had heard about the fund-raising efforts from her case worker at the South Central Community Family Service Centre (SCCFSC) but did not think much of it. "I didn't take it seriously, because they didn't even know me," she said.

Although the money was not enough to pay off all her debts, it helped alleviate her family's financial difficulties. Out of gratitude, she decided to personally thank those who contributed and was glad to find that no one spoke to her like a charity case. "They didn't look down on me," said Ms Noor, 33.

To give back to her community, she now works at the centre as an administrative assistant and also volunteers during festive seasons by cooking and decorating the centre.

Ms Noor is one of about 700 cases handled by the centre in the last two years. The voluntary welfare organisation helps low-income families in the Delta Avenue and Lengkok Bahru area get out of poverty.

The centre, which was formerly known as Bukit Ho Swee Family Service Centre (FSC), is one of the 43 FSCs in Singapore. Its approach, however, is slightly different from other centres'. Those who need help are referred to as "members" and they are reminded that they have as much to contribute to the community as everyone else.

"Even though they are struggling with challenges at home, they find that they get strength from helping others," said Ms Ng Bee Leng, executive director of SCCFSC. "Members" volunteer in a number of ways and are even sent for courses which are generally for social workers.

Ms Faridah,43, a former beneficiary of the centre who did not want to give her full name, has attended a course on how to address conflicts objectively. She volunteers at the centre and, in her own time, helps to reach out to women in abusive relationships so they seek help.

"We try to help our members not just in terms of generating income, but in terms of their personal growth as well," said Ms Esther Tan, assistant director for corporate services at the centre.

SCCFSC's dedication to building a sense of community extends to all aspects of its operations.

Food for events is contributed by volunteers. Its garden, where herbs and vegetables are free for all, is tended by retirees from the area. Residents also provide free food and drinks for its cafe, where foreign construction workers stop by for the occasional coffee break. One of the foreign workers, Mr Zhang Wan Lin, 40, in turn showed residents how to manually pollinate flowers in the absence of bees, so fruits such as winter melon and pumpkins can grow in the garden.

Ms Ng is confident that her FSC can help revive the kampung spirit among Singaporeans. "It's not gone, it's just latent. Our experiment for the past two years shows that it is still there," she said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 03, 2015, with the headline 'Let the kampung spirit take root'. Print Edition | Subscribe