29
March
2019
|
12:00
Europe/Amsterdam

Journeys into Singapore’s hidden communities

Participants kayaking past Golden Mile Complex in the Kallang Basin

The College of Alice and Peter Tan (CAPT) celebrated the uniqueness of different communities recently at their sixth Community Engagement Festival (CE Fest), an annual flagship event that serves as a platform for communities to engage with and learn from one another. Themed “Pulse – Discovering Similarities amidst Differences”, CE Fest 2019 looked beyond labels, stigma and differences between communities and individuals, exemplifying that at the core, we are no different nor better than each other. Our pulse may differ in frequency but we all have a pulse regardless of age, nationality, race, occupation, status and circumstance.

This year, the organisers invited new friends and partners to the event, hoping to open up new areas in community service. More than 230 CAPT students (CAPTains) brought some 160 guests on 12 learning journeys or “trails” between 22 and 23 March, exploring different aspects of Singapore as well as interacting with hidden or marginalised communities and learning from them. Participants comprised cleaners, students and teachers, children with special needs and their family members, migrant workers and other community partners. In order to bridge the gap between formal and informal learning, the communities identified were those that had either been part of seminars organised by CAPT or are partners of the College’s Active Community Engagement Wing.

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A cleaner arriving at NUS UTown in the early hours of the morning before work begins

In the “Balik Kampung” trail, participants followed NUS University Town (NUS UTown) cleaners on their journey home to Johor Bahru, Malaysia. Prior to the trail, participants learnt simple and commonly used Malay terms — hence there were meaningful conversations all the way. Upon reaching their destination, participants dined at a popular nasi goreng stall and visited a cleaner’s home where they met the family — and even the neighbourhood kitten!

Kenneth Cheo, Year 2 NUS Science student and facilitator for the trail, noted that discussions were genuine despite participants not being fluent in Malay. The cleaners openly shared their motivations and challenges working in Singapore. He said, “The camaraderie that the ladies share with one another is also very heartening, especially when they pick up their friends to go to work together if their husbands are driving, have quick meals or even take taxis home together. These acts remind me of how similar they are to us students in CAPT where we also do the same with our house mates and fellow CAPTains.”

The camaraderie that the ladies share with one another is also very heartening, especially when they pick up their friends to go to work together if their husbands are driving, have quick meals or even take taxis home together. These acts remind me of how similar they are to us students in CAPT where we also do the same with our house mates and fellow CAPTains.

For the “Survivalist” learning journey, CAPT participants and Evergreen Secondary School engaged in a dialogue with social workers from Marine Parade Family Service Centre (MPFSC) to understand more about the social and structural factors behind homelessness in Singapore. The name “survivalist community” was coined by the homeless community of East Coast Park to break away from the stigma attached to the label of being homeless. After understanding the types of outreach and the difficulties faced by MPFSC to assist the community, participants interacted with a survivalist and toured areas in East Coast Park where the survivalist community commonly takes refuge, to understand their living conditions.

One participant, Tan Wei Jie, Year 2 NUS Engineering student, who had interacted with a survivalist, expressed his admiration for the man. He said, “Instead of being bogged down by his uncomfortable living environment, he was making the best out of things. I admire the survivalist’s bravery for living in harsh conditions and choosing to rely on himself instead of handouts from the government. There should be a change in how society views survivalists — they are not homeless — they just live in unconventional places.” 

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A survivalist sharing his story with participants from CAPT and Evergreen Secondary School

The “Kayaking Orientation” was an expedition along one of Singapore’s pristine waterways, the Kallang Basin. CAPTains, students and teachers from Greendale Secondary School learned about Singapore’s waters and its vital role to the country. Ms Carol Look, teacher at Greendale Secondary School and CAPT alumna, remarked that the students had mentioned how they had taken the beauty of the Singapore landscape for granted till they went on the trail and gained a deeper insight into the innovative design behind the nation’s city planning that has among other things, instilled a love for nature and life. She thanked CAPT, adding, “The students enjoyed CE Fest 2019 tremendously and learnt a lot. It was truly an eye-opening experience for them.”

By NUS Arts and Social Sciences Year 2 students, Lee Gek Ching, and Daryl Lee (on behalf of the CE Fest 2019 Organising Committee)