Making a difference: Community

Causes Week, which is into its ninth iteration, runs this year from Dec 20 to 25. It shines a light on various individuals and groups, and shows how they are making a difference through their chosen causes within the community, for children and youth, and for the elderly, among others.

Mayflower Primary School pupil Nurul Netrisya with her grandmother Saengmai and Kampung Kaki volunteer Tracy Bay at Madam Saengmai's Ang Mo Kio flat. Ms Bay, a civil servant, helped Nurul with her schoolwork, guiding her through her weaker subjects.
Mayflower Primary School pupil Nurul Netrisya with her grandmother Saengmai and Kampung Kaki volunteer Tracy Bay at Madam Saengmai's Ang Mo Kio flat. Ms Bay, a civil servant, helped Nurul with her schoolwork, guiding her through her weaker subjects. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG
A Light in the Night care kits are an initiative by Ms Florence Fong (above) to bring comfort to those who are mourning the loss of their loved ones. The packages include items such as art supplies, a journal, scented candles, essential oils, a soft
A Light in the Night care kits are an initiative by Ms Florence Fong (above) to bring comfort to those who are mourning the loss of their loved ones. The packages include items such as art supplies, a journal, scented candles, essential oils, a soft toy and a guidebook on how to use the items. PHOTOS: A LIGHT IN THE NIGHT

Kampung Kakis: Bringing back the kampung spirit to help seniors in need

Two days after she returned to Singapore from a trip to the United States in March, Ms Mae Tan was diagnosed with Covid-19.

During her week-long recovery at the National University Hospital, Ms Tan's thoughts went out to seniors living in isolation and fearing exposure to the virus.

The 28-year-old, an account manager in a fintech company, later co-founded Kampung Kakis, a community initiative to help connect needy seniors with helpful volunteers in their neighbourhood.

"I wanted to do something for the community once I recovered from Covid, and pass along some of the kindness I received during my time at the hospital," said Ms Tan.

It is now an islandwide project, roping in about 1,000 volunteers and reaching 400 beneficiary households.

"The plan was to reduce the distance that people would have to travel to volunteer, which is why we are trying to galvanise neighbours to help one another and stay close to their homes," said Ms Tan.

The initiative helped 10-year-old Nurul Netrisya forge a strong bond with volunteer Tracy Bay over the past five months.

Nurul's paternal grandmother, Madam Saengmai, 60, is her primary caregiver as both her parents are absent. They live in a two-room flat in Ang Mo Kio. Over the years, Madam Saengmai used her savings and received support from her local family service centre to care for Nurul. Nurul, a Mayflower Primary School pupil, also taps the Education Ministry's Financial Assistance Scheme for her educational needs.

A social worker advised Madam Saengmai to contact Kampung Kakis and engage a volunteer. In late June, they met Ms Bay, 41, who lives a few blocks away.

Said Ms Bay: "I signed up on the Kampung Kaki website after knowing about (Ms Tan's) story of surviving Covid-19 and setting up the initiative. I was inspired by her spirit and wanted to know how I could help in the neighbourhood."

The civil servant helped Nurul with her schoolwork, guiding her through her weaker subjects. Nurul, who aspires to be a doctor or a dancer one day, described Ms Bay as a kind and helpful friend.


PHOTO: COURTESY OF MAE TAN 

Their meetings came to a halt when Madam Saengmai suffered a stroke on July 31.

She was rushed off for treatment, underwent surgery and remained at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital for a month. During this time, Nurul stayed with other relatives, unable to visit her grandmother due to the safety restrictions in place. Ms Bay tried to keep in touch with her virtually during the difficult time.

Said Nurul: "Because my grandmother was at the hospital, I could not focus in school. When she came back from the hospital, I cried a lot, I was so happy to see her."

During the school holidays, Nurul and Ms Bay have put the textbooks aside and picked up gardening.

When asked how the volunteering experience has affected her, Ms Bay said: "When we live within our comfort zones, it is difficult to understand the lives of others around us. This initiative has helped me break through that and widened my perspective."


A Light in the Night: While coping with loss, she helped others in mourning


A Light in the Night care kits are an initiative by Ms Florence Fong to bring comfort to those who are mourning the loss of their loved ones. The packages include items such as art supplies, a journal, scented candles, essential oils, a soft toy and a guidebook on how to use the items. PHOTOS: A LIGHT IN THE NIGHT

In less than one year, Ms Florence Fong lost five of her loved ones.

Besides the deaths of her grandmother and boyfriend, the former medical social worker had to deal with losing a friend to cancer as well as added grief when two other friends lost their children to congenital conditions.

Overwhelmed by these deaths between May last year and February, Ms Fong sought therapy to cope with her deep sorrow.

"It was hard for me to verbalise my grief. I did not know how to use my words to express what I was feeling. Over time, I was able to heal and I am still in the process of recovering," said the 35-year-old.

The spike in Covid-19 cases that led to the circuit breaker period disrupted Ms Fong's in-person therapy sessions. That difficult time spurred her to start A Light in the Night - an initiative to prepare special care kits to help others who are mourning the loss of loved ones.

Ms Gillian Ong, an art therapist, and Ms Nicole Wong, an associate lecturer at the Singapore University of Social Sciences, are friends of Ms Fong's who lent their support to the cause.

Said Ms Fong: "I imagined those grieving like me and how they were coping during the circuit breaker. Seeing how Covid-19 has affected others, my initial thought was to reach out to those who had lost a loved one."

Ms Fong originally set out to make about 100 care packages, putting thought into the items in them that would bring comfort to the recipients.

The care packs included art supplies, a journal, scented candles, essential oils, a soft toy and a specially created guidebook on how to use the items, along with testimonies and a resource guide. Each pack cost about $12 to put together.

Ms Fong later tapped the oscar@sg fund, which was launched by Temasek Trust to support ground-up initiatives responding to significant and urgent local community needs arising from the Covid-19 pandemic. She secured funding for about 800 care packs.

About 450 packs have so far been distributed to recipients through various institutions.

Ms Fong, who is currently pursuing a postgraduate degree in counselling at the Singapore Bible College, said: "The subject of grief is very stigmatised in the community, and I hope this project will show that it's okay to discuss grief and that the topic should not be taboo."

Malavika Menon


Backyard Makan: Welcoming migrant workers to estate with baked goods


The Headless Baker, owned by Ms Amber Pong (above), was one of three bakeries under Backyard Makan, an initiative where residents could sponsor baked goods for migrant workers moving into their estate. PHOTO: COURTESY OF AMBER PONG

When Ulu Pandan resident Sabrina Lee learnt that migrant workers were being rehoused to a facility at her estate, she came up with a plan to welcome them to the neighbourhood.

The 24-year-old postgraduate student got in touch with volunteer-run migrant welfare group Welcome In My Backyard (Wimby) to put her idea into motion.

She suggested a pay-it-forward initiative, Backyard Makan, as a meaningful way to engage residents, support small businesses and show appreciation to migrant workers.

Said Ms Lee: "One of the sites pretty close to my home was designated as a rehousing site. I was worried that attitudes might arise in the neighbourhood, given that there have not been migrant workers living here before.

"I thought it would be a nice gesture for neighbours in this estate to show their appreciation through this initiative."

Launched on Dec 1, Backyard Makan encouraged residents to patronise (in-person or online) participating bakeries to sponsor baked goods and sign festive cards designed by Wimby for the workers.

Proceeds from the goods - sold to the public at retail prices - went towards the businesses.

The baked goods and festive notes will be distributed in the upcoming festive season.

Roping in three bakeries - The Headless Baker, Bakery Brera & Fine Foods and online bakery awildflowerbakery - the team also identified possible sites in Queensway and Ghim Moh where the baked goods could be delivered to the workers.

Wimby volunteer Natalie Chu, 22, said getting enough volunteers to execute initiatives such as Backyard Makan was a challenge. "Getting enough people with the time to put in the effort and commit to a long-term and complex project is definitely a challenge," she said.

While they set an initial target of about 150 baked goods, Ms Lee and the Wimby team were surprised by the overwhelming response from the community.

By the close of Backyard Makan's campaign last Monday, over 400 baked goods had been sponsored.

Ms Lee said: "We hope the initiative can be replicated in different neighbourhoods around Singapore, given the positive response we have seen in this pilot phase."

Malavika Menon

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 20, 2020, with the headline 'Making a difference: Community'. Subscribe