Shared umbrellas help bridge gap in covered walkways in Bukit Batok

Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung (left) with Jurong GRC MP Rahayu Mahzam (centre) during a ministerial community visit where several new initiatives were on display in Bukit Batok East on Feb 11, 2018.
Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung (left) with Jurong GRC MP Rahayu Mahzam (centre) during a ministerial community visit where several new initiatives were on display in Bukit Batok East on Feb 11, 2018. ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

SINGAPORE - To get home, housewife Susan Lim, 60, has to brave thunderstorms and sweltering weather when crossing an unsheltered field in Bukit Batok.

"They should just build a covered walkway for the residents' benefit. Some of us have been suggesting it to our MP for years," said Ms Lim, who lives near Toh Guan Road.

But the land belongs to a private firm, plant nursery Sinflora. Efforts to fund a covered walkway have been ongoing for years, with the high cost of building one on private land a stumbling block.

The interim solution: A stash of umbrellas at both ends, free for anyone to use while crossing the 100m-long field next to Toh Guan Park.

Launched last month, this community sharing project was one of several new initiatives displayed during a ministerial community visit by Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung in Bukit Batok East on Sunday (Feb 11) morning.

Jurong GRC MP Rahayu Mahzam, who hosted the event, said the stopgap measure has seen its share of problems and quirks - from umbrellas clustering at one end of the field, to residents who bring them home.

Said Madam Rahayu: "There are always going to be some teething problems, and it takes time to get everyone on board with the idea and develop a (sharing) culture. But it doesn't mean we should stop trying."

She added that discussions with Sinflora about the walkway are still ongoing. In the meantime, the umbrella sharing initiative has helped residents like housewife Jasmine Toh, 50, who uses it thrice a week to get to the sheltered pedestrian network J-Walk.

"It will work as long as residents return the umbrellas or help replenish them when they disappear," she said.

The two-hour long event saw Mr Ong visit several stations around the Jurong area. He greeted residents and joined them in their morning exercises and breakfasts at a coffee shop.

Speaking to reporters, he brought up another umbrella sharing idea, "Sharella", that was launched last year in his Gambas ward within Sembawang GRC.

Said Mr Ong, laughing: "Rahayu actually took up that idea too. Now, she owes me one. We exchange ideas - that is actually a way for us to make our community initiatives more effective."

 

Sunday's visit was the first ministerial community visit this year - these sessions typically take place on monthly basis, involving various Cabinet ministers.

Mr Ong said he felt inspired by one initiative at a Bukit Batok coffee shop, where diners can anonymously pay for meals for needy residents.

These residents are identified by the local grassroots organisations and are given redemption cards to claim a meal per day, as part of the "Belanja-A-Meal" programme.

So far, diners have bought some 300 meals to benefit around 20 residents, said coffee shop operator Glenn Koh.

Taking out $35 from his wallet, Mr Ong bought 10 meals for the beneficiaries.

He hailed the importance of these community initiatives as a way to help one resident at a time, and thanked volunteers like Mr Koh who carry the measures out.

"For every initiative that can help one more resident, it is one more heart touched," Mr Ong said.