For the majority of us, the COVID-19 situation is a major inconvenience, largely because of the CB measures. However, considering the many uncertainties ahead, it is also important for us to pay a little more attention to our finances during this period.
For those whose income has been affected especially, it’s time to take a step back and look at ways to improve your finances. So here are some practical tips to help you get started amid the current global crisis.
Think of the CB as a pause button for you to revisit how you use your money. The best way to start is to list down all your estimated monthly expenses.
Look at how much you’re spending in categories like food, clothing, travel, entertainment, monthly subscriptions, loan repayments, or even the allowance you give your parents. And yes, while this may seem like what an insurance agent would tell you to do, it’s a handy way to break down your expenses and it gives you a better understanding of where you can cut back on.
At the same time, make sure that you have a ‘rainy day fund’ that you can access easily. Most financial planners would advise to have at least 6 to 12 months worth of your salary in your emergency fund. This is particularly apt in the current situation, as some of us may have lost our source of income because of COVID-19. Having this pool of funds ensures that we have enough money to survive through such situations.
Once you’ve detailed your monthly expenditures, you will find yourself with several fixed expenses which may take a significant chunk off of your income. These include any loans and insurance policies you may have.
To help free up your cash flow, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) has launched measures that allows you to defer debt obligations. You can apply to defer premium payments on your life and health insurance for up to six months. If you are paying off your housing loans, you can also apply to defer your mortgage loans until the end of the year.
Many banks have also rolled out initiatives to further help their customers tide through this challenging period. For example, CIMB Singapore is offering deferments on its renovation and education loans, and OCBC is automatically reducing the minimum payments for its credit card to 1% of their statement balance.
If you are still struggling to juggle your daily expenses, find out if you qualify for any government relief and assistance here.
You may also want to consider a personal loan just to tide you through this period. There are several options available in the market, each with its range of benefits. For example, Standard Chartered offers a CashOne Personal Loan starting from an interest rate of 3.88% (EIR 7.67% p.a), and you also get a 50% off your first month’s instalment amount. (Terms and conditions apply.)
Besides keeping tabs on your spending, review your health and medical policies. This is prime time to ensure that you are sufficiently protected as you wouldn’t want your savings wiped out from a medical bill.
Know what you are covered for. This includes the extended protection you may be getting from your insurers. Many insurance providers and banks are offering complimentary protection plans for their customers. Be aware of these benefits as it will be a tremendous help should you contract the virus.
SingSaver has very succinctly compiled the list of extended and complimentary coverage from all the insurance companies in Singapore, which you can find here.
This CB period is the best time for accumulating your savings. Staying home would mean that you are already going to be saving the money you would have spent on travel or night outs.
Many brands are also running attractive discounts and promotions, but remember to spend wisely. Do you really need a new pair of sneakers during this #StayHome period or do you need groceries?
Chances are, food is the main aspect that you will be spending on this period, followed by other household necessities like toilet paper. All the supermarket chains in Singapore and smaller online grocers offer free delivery with a minimum order.
There’s even a comparison of the different online grocers available in Singapore, which will satisfy the Singaporean in you to find the ‘cheapest and good-est’ deals for your necessities.
Take this chance to bank on the best deals, bulk order your groceries online and have them delivered for free, and start saving on food by prepping your own meals.
Here is a list of over 30 budget-friendly meal prep recipes you can get started on.
Alternatively, if you need to order food, you can find a list of ongoing food delivery promos here!
Being forced to stay home frees up extra pockets of time, which is a golden opportunity to pursue all those things you have been wanting to do but could never find the time to.
Work on your fitness goals: Gyms are closed and fitness classes are all halted, but there is now an influx of online fitness classes which you can follow at home. This also means that you can save on gym membership or the usual paid fitness classes.
For example, Nike and Adidas have launched free fitness videos which you can follow at home. Gyms like Evolve MMA have also been holding live classes on their Facebook and Youtube channel.
Here’s more online exercise classes you can try!
Or perhaps you have always wanted to learn Korean, or improve on your photography skills, there’s no better time to pursue all those goals.
Pick up a new language with Duolingo, or take advantage of free online courses to learn a new skill. If you haven’t got around to using your SkillsFuture credits (which is $500 sitting there, waiting for you), take this chance to sign up for a course here.
Being at home 24/7 can get really stifling and dreary, but as with free online classes, there are many ways to keep yourself entertained (and sane).
Stay connected with your friends and family with Zoom, or play games together with social apps like Houseparty and Psych!. You can even get the KTV experience with this Chinese karaoke app, <a href=" Party.
For existing Netflix subscribers, there’s a Netflix Party Chrome extension that allows you to watch Netflix remotely with friends. The tool synchronises video playback and there’s even a chat bar for you to chat as you watch!
You can even <a href=" the Great Barrier Reef with David Attenborough if you want. There’s really an abundance of entertainment resources available online, and the best part is, all of these are completely free.
To help those who may need immediate help with their cash flow, SingSaver is also running an exclusive promotion with Standard Chartered regarding their CashOne Personal Loan. Each approved applicant will stand a chance to win a #cashcushion of up to S$10,000!
Simply apply for the Standard Chartered CashOne Personal Loan for a chance to win the cash cushion. The campaign runs from 6 Apr till 30 Jun and 3 winners will be picked every month.
Find out more about how you can win yourself a #cashcushion here!
(This article was written in collaboration with SingSaver.)
(Header Image Credit: Sam Dan Truong on Unsplash)
I am patient #347.
This is my story and how I would like to rally all young Singaporeans to take this pandemic situation seriously. Stay home and we will all tide this over together.
It’s been a month since I got tested positive. I’ve been warded at the hospital, taken a lot of different medications, shifted to an isolation facility, and done everything I can to keep myself healthy, but I still have the virus.
Being isolated and away from your loved ones for so long really gets to you, and every day, the only thing I can hope for is the day I get two negatives.
In order to be considered fully recovered and discharged, you have to be tested negative twice in a row, but I have never come close to that. After a while, this cycle of hoping for that and then being disappointed by the results takes a mental toll on you. What’s even scarier when you are a Covid-19 patient is that there is no cure for Covid-19. There’s nothing else you can do but hope your body is strong enough to fight the virus.
On 18th March, I came back from the UK with a sore throat, but it didn’t feel like just a normal kind of sore throat. I knew something wasn’t right so after a quick shower, I went straight to the hospital to get tested.
Everything was very organised there: I filled out forms, waited in a tent, did a chest X-ray and a nose swab test. The whole process took about three hours and by the time I got home, it was almost midnight. My throat was still sore, my bones were aching, I felt a fever coming, and I was just feeling generally very unwell.
By the time I woke up the next day, I got the call: I have Covid-19.
At that point, I remember thinking about how unreal it was because I never thought I would get the virus. And being told that you have it was like a harsh wake-up call.
It was then that I thought, “okay, this shit is real.”
Everything happened really quickly. I was first isolated in a single ward room at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital (KTPH). That first night there was horrible. I still felt really sick. I had a fever and my backbone was so painful that I had to numb it with panadol pills.
At the same time, I was really worried that I might have passed the virus on to my family, my colleagues, and my girlfriend–the people I had been in contact with for the past two weeks. I texted all of them and advised them to get tested as well.
Surprisingly, I woke up the next day feeling like I’ve fully recovered. My sore throat, runny nose, and fever were gone, but it wasn’t safe for me to be discharged yet. The doctor came and shared about how because there's no cure for this virus, they could only prescribe medicine like malaria medicine to boost our immune system for our body to fight the virus.
Thankfully, I’ve been in a stable condition since then. I was transferred to a shared ward on the third day, where I spent a week at before being transferred to an isolation facility at D’Resort, where I am at now.
I’m lucky to have only had very mild symptoms, save for the bad pain in my backbone, but the emotional and mental pain, and the homesickness is very real.
Being taken away from your family so suddenly and not knowing when you can see them again gets to you. And when you are in a shared ward where people around you are all sick, coughing, and puking, it makes it hard for you to stay positive as a Covid-19 patient. I didn't have any motivation to do anything.
“I wasn’t in a right state of mind there at all.”
The doctors and nurses gave us utmost care, but in that environment where you don’t get sunlight and fresh air, it can get really stifling. All of us in that ward were just there, waiting for time to pass, waiting to be tested, and waiting for the day we can get out. It was very, very depressing.
Every day, I was just hoping to get a negative. I had that thing up my nose more than six times in the hospital and I tested positive for every single one. And the funny thing about this virus is that the other patients in my ward who were vomiting and showing more symptoms than I had got tested negative first before me.
I'm doing a lot better now. Here at the isolation facility at D'Resort NTUC in Pasir Ris, I have my laptop, my own personal space and toilet, and a view of the beach and the park. I have a roommate around my age as well, so it feels just Iike NS.
Time actually passes fast here but you do lose track of the days here. I’m lucky to have very supportive family, friends, and a girlfriend who have kept me sane through messages, video calls, and care packages.
I've been trying to be healthier as well, eating more vegetables, working out a lot, and taking a lot of vitamin pills that my mum has been sending me. I've been drinking a lot of water, drinking a lot of green tea, and pretty much doing everything I can with the hope that it can flush out the virus. Nothing seems to work so far.
All of us here are just hoping to get that two negatives, and it gets mentally draining and depressing when you get tested positive again and again.
I just want to go home.
With that said, I’m very grateful for the quality of care I’ve been receiving right from the start. All the healthcare workers at KTPH who have made my recovery process a lot easier, keeping me calm and always checking in on me to make sure I am fine mentally. The professionalism, attentiveness, and warmth have given me a lot of comfort and the confidence that I was in safe hands, and the human contact and affection that they gave is just top-notch.
Compared to other countries, our country is doing such a great job at making sure that we are being cared for.
There may be a few Singaporeans breaking the Circuit Breaker measures, but I'm very happy to see that the majority of youths are actually abiding by them. And it’s heartening to know that in a recent poll, the National Youth Council found that over 70% of youths want to do their part to stop the spread of Covid-19.
Personally, I’ve seen how a lot of young Singaporeans are finding little ways to help make this Stay Home period a little better for friends and family, be it through ‘Zoom parties’ or sharing content to help each other cope with cabin fever. We can also do more to help educate those who may not be as aware of the severity of the situation.
This virus is not something that should be taken lightly. Europe and America are in disaster but we are not in that state of panic because we are lucky to have a government that had plans in place to handle the situation. Which is why I sincerely hope that Singaporeans will continue to do their part as well. We should continue to care for one another during these challenging times and not perpetuate any racist or xenophobic sentiments.
Please don't break the Circuit Breaker measures. I overlooked some of the measures and I got the virus, and still have it. This is so important because you never know if or when you are going to get it.
Majority of people who have it don’t even show any symptoms. I haven’t shown symptoms for a while now and I’m still being tested positive, so the only way to not get this virus is to practice safe distancing, wear your mask, stay home, and abide by the measures. As a young Singaporean, I can understand the inconvenience, but as someone who has the virus, I’d do anything to be healthy now. The quicker we follow the rules, the quicker we'll go back to normal.
This story is written by Millennials of Singapore, as told to us by the featured individual. The individual has since been discharged on 22nd April.
"Prove to the others out there that Youth can do this, and do it well too. Show them that despite your years, you are tenacious and determined. There will be a few bad hats here and there, but we know from our polls that the majority of youth want to do the right thing and be counted in a time of crisis like we have never faced before. So stay home, stay safe and make us proud!" - National Youth Council Chief David Chua
Looking to try something new during this circuit breaker period?
You’re not alone! Visit MehGoWhere.sg, an interactive site that's been created to help keep you entertained during the Covid-19 period!
Get all the latest info and resources while having fun at the same time! It’s impossible to be bored with engaging videos and stories as you #StayHomeForSG with MehGoWhere <a href="
(This article was written in collaboration with the National Youth Council.)
Growing up, John Paul’s family was unlike most of ours. Their family dinners were at the coffee shop tables where his dad peddled their famous beef noodles, and John pretty much grew up there.
“I was that small boy at Siglap who carried like three, four bowls of hot soup all at once.”
At 11 years old, John was already known by regulars as “Gubak Kia” (Hokkien for “beef boy”), an endearing nickname for the son of ‘Gubak’, which is what they called John’s dad.
It was a name that John hated, but grew to embrace as he continued helping out at his father’s stall. In fact, this name now brands the hawker stall John runs at Timbre+, where he sells the same traditional bowls of Empress Place Teochew Beef Kway Teow along with his modern creations.
Now 25, John is a full-time hawker. But this was not exactly his plan at the start.
As someone who always wanted to be out-and-about, John had lofty dreams of making a living off travel photography and writing. This led him to pursue a Mass Communication course in Kaplan.
However, the more he helped at his dad’s stall, the more he felt pulled into the trade. He began observing the way his dad prepared orders, noting details like how long his dad would cook the kuay teow for or how to portion the meat.
His first attempts at cooking came about when his dad left him alone at the stall.
“I started making my own bowls of noodles when my dad went on breaks. Then, my dad would tell me what I did right or wrong when he came back.”
With time and practice, John developed a better understanding of cooking, and this sparked his deeper interest in the culinary world.
John’s ‘big break’ came when the boss of Wolf Burgers saw his resume on a job portal. In disbelief that a 19-year-old kid could have nine years of hawker experience, he paid a visit to the stall covertly.
“He came with his wife, ordered a bowl, sat outside and watched me,” John recalled.
That day, John was offered a job in the Wolf Burgers kitchen. It was a golden opportunity, but John hesitated.
“I was really scared that I would mess up, because I had never worked in a professional kitchen or had any proper training,”
He gave it a shot in the end, and it was also through this stint that John realised his true passion in cooking. He went on to work at Camp Kilo and Kilo Lounge, where he was trained in more diverse types of cooking and cuisines.
Then, his dad got into an incident.
“I saw how bad my dad’s hand injury was. I also saw that he was getting older, and I knew I had to do something.”
Coming full circle, John brought years of culinary expertise in different kitchens and cuisines back to the beef noodle stall.
He started experimenting with the various ingredients he could find around the stall during lull periods.
As luck would have it, he met an old friend, Lincoln, who saw the potential in the beef noodles and John’s desire to build the brand. The duo drew up business plans and sought investors, but “who in the world would entrust such a big amount of money to two 24-year-olds to run a shop?”
Instead of giving up, the pair took the leap themselves. Lincoln forked out the capital and with some help from John’s former boss, their stall Gubak Kia came to fruition in May 2019.
In a way, Gubak Kia is John’s homage to his family legacy, which traces back to his great-grandfather’s time at Hock Lam street in 1921. Despite this history, John’s dad never asked for John or his siblings to take over. But for John, he naturally saw it as his duty to preserve their name.
“If it stops at my dad, I don’t know if I can live with that.”
“I love the food,” he explained, “and if I don’t cook it, I won’t get to eat it ever again.”
Starting Gubak Kia is also John’s way of showing appreciation to his dad.
“My dad toiled so hard to build this name up, and I don’t want to see it go to waste.”
While John retains most of the foundations of his dad’s dishes, he also creates modern twists to these traditional dishes, like introducing Beef Short Ribs to their classic bowls of Beef Kway Teow, and Gubak Bao.
No doubt, being a young hawker has its challenges. Whether it’s the worry of an inconsistent cash flow or the physical strain of working in a hawker kitchen, these are all part of pursuing a business venture or an unconventional career. But for John, the food always comes first.
“I don't really care about the money part as much, I just hope that we can make rent. The only important thing is that people are happy with the food, and they know about my father, about Empress Place.”
“It’s tiring but fun,” John mused. After all, the kitchen is where he comes alive. The best part of it all is that he toils, knowing that people will get to eat what he loves.
Reflecting on his journey, John talked about many fears he had, but his persistence and determination paid off.
“If you know you’re working towards something and you are humble about it, there will always be a way to make it work.”
Like Gubak Kia and many others, we all have dreams we wished we were brave enough to pursue.
Check out a series of workshops done in collaboration with Spark The Next here for more inspirational passion stories, and how you can chart your own path to success!
(This article was written in collaboration with Spark The Next by the Ministry of Culture, Community & Youth.)
“Faster, what colour, what colour!”
This is something that many of us are familiar with: The ‘pinching game’. For the uninitiated, this ‘game’ is initiated when one spots a man with a turban in the vicinity. One will then pinch our friend(s) and continue pinching them until they tell us the colour of the turban.
When we were younger, this ‘pinching game’ was just some harmless fun with friends. We were naively unaware of how racist the game is. We knew very little about the meaning of a turban or the people who wear one and to us, we were just poking fun at something that was unfamiliar.
However, we have grown up, both individually and as a society, to be a lot more careful around topics of race and religion. We have emphasised on the importance of respecting the Malays, Indians, even the Chinese group, and the different religions in Singapore.
There is one minority group, however, who has often gotten sidelined in our society: The Sikhs.
We see them around, but most of us have hardly mingled with a Sikh before, much less know anything about the Sikh culture. The average Singaporean would have only noticed the turban and the bearing of ‘Singh’ or ‘Kaur’ in their names, but what else?
I first stepped into a gurdwara (Sikh temple) last week, where I met the founder of Sikhs of Singapore, Perinder Kaur, to learn about the Sikh way of life.
Midway through the tour around the Gurdwara Sahib Silat Road (Silat Road Sikh Temple), we also got to speak with Harjit Kaur, the Vice Chair of the Sikh Centre at the temple, and Baljit Singh, the President of Central Sikh Gurdwara Board, who gave us insights into what it means to be a Sikh in Singapore.
As an agnostic, what stuck out the most to me is how authentic Sikhism, the faith of a Sikh person, is. The beliefs and teachings of Sikhism are largely centered around being a good person.
In fact, in the words of the trio, being a Sikh is to be “a student of life.”
Baljit explained, “we are all on a journey, between now and the end point, and one of the things I’ve learnt [in Sikhism] is that you want to attain Mukti, salvation in your living life,” and for him, attaining salvation is simply being able to be a good person and leading a truthful life.
Teachings like the three tenets of Sikhism, act as a guideline and a conscious reminder for Sikhs to be a good person.
Sikhs believe in one God and follow the scriptures laid out by their Gurus, and it is up to every Sikh individual to interpret and follow the teachings. As such, Sikhism is a very personal journey for every Sikh.
“Each of us is on a journey at a different pace, and the accountability is in each of us to answer to the one supreme Lord.”
Interesting, although Sikhism is a monotheistic religion, Sikhs do not pray to a definite form of God. Rather, their God is an abstract interpretation of a higher force.
Thus, if you were to visit any gurdwaras, you will not find any effigies like you would at churches (Jesus Christ) or Buddhist temples (Buddha), for example. Instead, Sikhs pray to the Sri Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh holy scripture, which contains the teachings of the Sikh religion.
The 1430-page holy scripture is so highly-revered that one does not simply buy it off the shelf at a bookstore. It is meticulously transported from India to Singapore with assistance from authorities at Changi Airport and even our local police.
“It’s almost like you’re welcoming God into your home,” Perinder mused, on bringing the holy scripture to a new home.
Like Christianity, Sikhism has its version of baptism as well. The Amrit Sanchaar, or Amrit for short, can be taken by a Sikh anytime, but once undertaken, it is a pledge to lead the Sikh way of life.
Besides the believe in one eternal God and the 10 Gurus and to follow the teachings of Guru Granth Sahib, this commitment includes a firm promise to live by the 3 tenets of Sikhism, The Five Ks, and the rules of the Four Taboos and Five Vices.
The Five Ks
The Five Ks are five articles of faith worn by Sikhs and are symbolic of the Sikh culture
The Kara, is an iron bangle that a Sikh has to wear at all times, irrespective of gender. There are multiple interpretations to the meaning of the Kara. One of it propounds that the circular shape of the bangle signifies eternity, which also means that there is no beginning and end to the almighty.
The Kesh represents hair, which Sikhs believe is a gift of God and Sikhs keep their hair as a form of respect. This is why many Sikhs have a long beard or long hair.
One of the reasons why Sikhs wear turbans is also to honour this gift (of hair), and to keep it clean and neat. A turban is also part of the ‘uniform code’ and has become an identity for Sikhs. And because a turban has become a form of identity for the Sikhs, making fun of a Sikh’s turban is akin to making fun of an Indian for having ‘brown skin’, for example.
Then, there is the Kanga, a small comb that Sikhs keep in the hair (within the turban). Likewise, it signifies discipline and cleanliness.
Sikhs also carry a Kirpan around, which is a dagger and a symbol of the Sikh’s sovereignty, pride and dignity. It also signifies a Sikh’s duty to defend the weak and helpless from any injustice. In Singapore, there are regulations in place for safety, such as a limitation to the size of the dagger (up to six inches long).
Lastly, the Kashera, which is a pair of ‘baggy shorts’ that signifies ‘self-restraint’ and falls in line with one of the Four Taboos (adultery).
The Four Taboos & Five Vices
In Sikhism, Sikhs are supposed to steer clear of the four taboos and five vices.
The four taboos in Sikhism are: No adultery, no cutting hair, no intoxication (cigarettes, drugs, or alcohol), and no consumption of meat that is slaughtered or prepared in a religious manner.
Lust, anger, greed, attachment, and ego makes up the five vices.
Although these are taboos and vices laid out by the faith, almost all of these (besides the one about hair and meat) are temptations that all of us face in life. These ‘rules’ are pretty much guidelines to help one become a better human being.
With that said, what I respected the most is how honest and real Harjit was when she spoke about these commitments.
“Having said that, it's not like you have taken Amrit (baptism) and you've become perfect, It's a promise. I have taken Amrit but I can still get angry. It is something that I'm still working on.”
Besides those core teachings, there is another prominent trait of Sikhs, which is their concept of Sewa (selfless service).
It is mentioned in Gurbani, that Seva (service) can be done by “tan, man, dhan,” which breaks Seva into three types: “Physical service, mental service, and monetary service.”
This ethos is so strong among Sikhs that it is literally what keeps the gurdwara running.
Harjit shared: “[The gurdwara runs] totally on the basis of sharing, hundred percent. With everything, the building, the food, the provisions for Langar (food), the upkeep of the place. Anytime we want to change the carpets or the lights, people donate wholeheartedly. Everything.”
Considering how expensive it must be to run a temple and how small the community is in terms of numbers, I was surprised to learn that all seven gurdwaras in Singapore are fully supported by donations. This takes into account the supply of free meals at their Langar hall every day, which is open to anyone and everyone regardless of race or religion.
“The people that you see in the kitchen are all volunteers who come down to cut the vegetables and prepare the rations for the day so that the community kitchen is kept running. This is basically the essence of the religion, to serve without any inhibitions.”
There are also many regular volunteers who do different types of Sewa for the temple and the community. Even Baljit and Harjit, who both hold positions of authority in the gurdwara, are volunteers themselves.
In fact, the temple board faces a ‘happy problem’ of regular volunteers refusing to accept plaques for their years of service, because “they said they don’t do the service for any sort of appreciation or recognition.”
There are about 12,000 to 15,000 Sikhs in Singapore today, which makes up only 0.26% of our population of about 5.8 million. That possibly makes Sikhs a minority among the groups of minorities in Singapore.
Despite the size of the community, I have, through the two hours spent at the gurdwara, realise how much they have to offer to our society. For example, in the recent incident where local influencer Sheena Phua called two Sikh men “obstructions”, the Sikh community could have easily hit back with criticisms. But the youth from the Young Sikh Association invited Sheena to the Gurdwara, showed her around and shared the beliefs of Sikh faith with her.
Perinder explained, “But you look at the bigger picture: What do you want to do? Do you want to stay angry or, moving forward, do you look at it as an opportunity for you to actually engage? As a community, we took a very important stand that we would not react with anger. Rather, educate, not hate.”
This is where a platform like Sikhs of Singapore comes in to raise awareness and bridge the gap, through sharing stories of the everyday Sikh and to address common misconceptions among Singaporeans.
In a country like ours where we are so multiracial and multicultural, this is so important: The empathy and patience in being able to take a step back to re-evaluate how we deal with or even react to any racially or religiously sensitive situation.
It’s hard in practice of course, but as with the teachings of Sikhism, it is something that will do all of us good to strive for.
Baljit shared that 550 years ago, their first Guru made a very apt comment about how there is no separation between different races or religions, because at the end of the day, we are all the same. It’s all about humanity.
“We don’t identify people by their faiths, we identify that every person is a human being."
Also read: He Became A Monk At 23: What It’s Like Living By 227 Rules.
Kiasu, competitive, impatient, and grouchy. These are traits that are often associated with being a Singaporean.
Despite this negative perception of our society, I truly believe that Singaporeans are highly compassionate people. We have had multiple awards celebrating the good that Singaporeans have done, and we have heard so many stories of the people who have dedicated their time and energy into building cities of good, where we give our best for others.
Just last year alone, people in Singapore had donated about S$30 million to one-stop giving online platform, Giving.sg, with $12.2 million raised during the Giving Week season. This is just one of the many examples of how Singaporeans are actually altruistic at heart. We just tend to be too self-critical to realise it, and it’s not in us to accept credit for being model citizens.
For some of us, it may even come as a surprise to know that Singapore is one of the top 10 most generous countries in the world. This is because on the surface, it seems like a lot of us barely do anything to give back to our society.
We’ve all had the mandatory CIP modules in school. Many of us have also gone on field trips or did personal projects where we headed out and interacted with the beneficiaries. We’ve experienced the sense of fulfillment and contentment from being able to make a difference in someone else’s life, especially someone less well-off than we are.
The same sense of gratification from giving is something that so many in our millennial generation seek for in life—meaning. The majority of us have an innate desire to give or contribute to making our society better.
According to the Individual Giving Study (IGS) 2018 by the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre (NVPC) on individual giving habits and motivations of people in Singapore, they found that most people in Singapore have the intention to volunteer or donate in the future.
In fact, 9/10 people in Singapore have the intention to donate in the future and 7/10 have the intention to volunteer in the future.
Through the course of creating content for our (MOSG) platform, I am often surprised by the amount of public-spirited reactions on our posts.
When we ran a feature of Rahman, a migrant worker who suffered severe burns, we were so heartened by the number of people who left comments on their wish to help him. Private messages also came in enquiring on ways in which they could extend various forms of help to the individuals we’ve featured.
Despite our altruistic views towards giving however, many of us still feel that we are not doing enough to help the society, and we often feel bad about it.
In an article Vulcan Post wrote about five millennials’ track record in volunteering, almost all of them revealed that they are not proud of how little they volunteer in recent years. The reasons for that largely revolve around one issue, which is the lack of time.
Singaporeans are inherently pragmatic. As an independent adult, there are so many commitments in our life to worry about. When you only have 24 hours to make a living, spend time with family and friends, and to pursue any other personal projects or hobbies, you are forced to prioritise. And chances are, the priority will be for self before strangers.
Furthermore, we associate giving with having to plan and to put in hours into volunteering at an event or with an organisation. This will seem like a big commitment amidst our perpetually filled schedules and more often than not, we put it off simply because it seems like too much work. It doesn’t help that most of us find it intimidating or are too paiseh to volunteer alone.
The other kind of giving we usually think of is monetary donations.
In the same IGS study, Director of Knowledge, Marketing & Advocacy with NVPC, Mr Jeffrey Tan shared that financial security is among the top three life priorities for Singaporeans, so “in times of perceived economic uncertainty, more Singaporeans may hold back on cash giving.”
However, while there is that, and there is still a stigma against donating money for fear of it being exploited by fundraisers, we have also seen so much generosity from Singaporeans on the many fundraising campaigns on platforms like Giving.sg.
A friend of mine told me about how she used to actively volunteer at an elderly home. She eventually stopped volunteering due to the emotional toll of having to witness the sufferings of the beneficiaries, and the painful realisation that there were a lot more that needed to be done for them, but there just weren’t enough resources.
There’s also the question of whether one’s action does any good for the beneficiaries. In fact, besides the aforementioned reasons, the 2018 study found that 25% of former volunteers stopped volunteering because they found that the activity they engaged in created little impact or meaning.
The desire to make a difference is something that is growing on many Singaporeans. As mentioned above, we are constantly seeking meaning in what we do, and it can be very difficult for us to engage in something if it doesn’t seem to be making a notable difference.
With all that said, the spirit of giving certainly isn’t lost on Singaporeans. We just need to be more conscious of how we can give.
Giving really shouldn’t be something that is difficult as it is merely something that comes from one’s heart. It can be as simple as giving up our seat on the MRT or returning our food trays at hawker centres. These spontaneous acts may seem insignificant as we are already so used to doing this in our daily lives, but I take heart in knowing that these are micro-giving behaviours that make a difference and sets the foundation for a giving heart. This is in fact, the ethos of Giving Week’s belief: where little acts, multiplied by millions, can make a world of difference.
There are also plenty of other avenues in which we can contribute to charitable causes, especially during Giving Week 2019. For example, there are many events that are held in conjunction with non-profit organisations, and companies that have corporate social responsibility programmes, and supporting these events or companies are also ways to help.
From 1 - 7 Dec, be part of the Giving Week movement and join us at The Good Hubs and The Good Life as we celebrate the spirit of giving. Show your support by checking out the carnivals and flea markets held by various organisations at The Good Hubs here!
Businesses across Singapore will also be running special promotions and campaigns under The Good Life! Shop, dine, and live for good when you support the businesses here.
Every bit counts when it comes to doing good, so head on over to givingweek.sg for more information on the events and how you can share your time, talent, and voice to the people who need it. Together, let’s build a City of Good!
(This article was written in collaboration with the National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre, organiser of Giving Week.)
(Header Image Credit: GivingWeekSG)
Love is a game and in Singapore, you automatically play on ‘hard’ mode once you become an adult.
There’s barely enough time left for anything else when you have to juggle work and spending time with loved ones. And when it comes to finding love, it can be difficult to meet new prospects. Your selection is scaled down to the people you work with and even then, there is also the worry of things getting complicated when you mix personal life with work.
Any thoughts of networking or to actively seek out someone to date will be thrown out the door when your life is already exhausting as it is.
A lot of us also tend to spend most of our youth believing that love will come when it comes, and none of us want to be caught looking ‘desperate’. All these reasons can make it seem like life, on the love front, is bleak.
Singaporeans are increasingly turning to meeting people ‘online’. I mean, even when we were teenagers, there were already the ‘OG stories’ of people who met and fell in love through online multiplayer games like Maplestory. In a way, I guess we can say that tools like dating apps are a natural progression for our attempt at love.
Just within my social circle alone, I know many people who have found their partner through apps like Tinder and Coffee Meets Bagel. Some of them are even happily married with kids now.
Most of these friends were initially highly-sceptical of getting anything ‘real’ out of a dating app. One had even consulted me about his fear of falling for a girl he met on Tinder because he just couldn’t “trust anyone who would go on Tinder for love.” I reminded him that he was there for the same reason. Today, they are in a happy relationship.
With that said, there are also many people who still doubt the value of dating apps. It is difficult to trust a dating app to find someone (with the intention to date) authentically, furthermore, when some of these apps are also exploited by people for casual flings and sex. To begin with, the conservative Asian in us already screams ‘danger’ the moment we start swiping.
Maybe we are too conservative or prideful to buy into such an unconventional approach in love. Or maybe we are just too picky. Whatever it is, Singaporeans clearly have a problem with finding love and studies have shown that we are settling down later.
The government never fails to remind us that we need to buck up because of our low birth rates and aging population. In their bid to play matchmaker, the government even has an initiative that gives singles $100 in credit to spend on subsidised dating events and services. Though, whether Singaporeans are actually using this is another question.
Objectively speaking, dating events and matchmaking services are great ways to find love with. If you were to look at it as a game, these are ideal tools that will increase your chances in finding love.
While dating events are still fairly acceptable, most Singaporeans still find it a tad embarrassing, or awkward, to ‘resort to’ matchmaking services. After all, the fees for matchmaking services is still a gamble that one must be willing to take, because you may end up not finding your ideal partner after paying so much.
With that said, there has been an increase in the number of matchmaking agencies in Singapore.
To understand more about the stigma against matchmaking services that I believe exists in Singapore, I spoke to one 34-year-old Clement, who had used different matchmaking services in Singapore. He is also currently paying about $6000 for matchmaking services with local company, Destini IS, which specialises in matchmaking services between Singaporeans and Japanese.
Despite having spent so much money in his attempt in finding a life partner, Clement admitted that he hesitated signing up for matchmaking services at first.
“While matchmaking is common in China, Europe, and the US, many Singaporeans are still shy about it.”
He was initially doubtful of it because of how unfamiliar matchmaking was in Singapore. Besides, he had always believed that meeting people through his own social circles would be easier and more comfortable, since there would already be a sense of acquaintance through common friends.
But the harsh reality is that with every year that passes, Clement’s social circle gets smaller, and so does the number of available singles in his community. It didn’t help that he is working in a male-dominated industry.
“There’s also been pressure coming from peers and family, especially when I get their wedding invites and during social gatherings.”
“It’s what actually made me resolve to start focusing on settling down as well.”
After his experiences in four relationships, dating apps and with matchmaking, Clement no longer sees it ‘shameful’ or embarrassing to use matchmaking services to find a partner.
“When you want to be fit, you would sign up for a gym membership or a yoga plan, and you would make the best of it. You would even invest in relevant gears like sportswear. Likewise, the same logic applies on a matchmaking service. Since I have decided to step out to try it, I’ll make the best of it to succeed in what I signed up for.”
Moreover, there are several matchmaking agencies in Singapore, some of which are officially recognised under the Social Development Network (a government page). It is also increasingly normal to see Singaporean men finding love through other means. There are ‘non-official’ services that operate through all kinds of platforms from webpage services to even apps like WeChat, and I’m sure most of us have heard of the ‘Siamdiu for Life, Siambu for Wife’ motto as well.
There was a time where matchmaking is the last thing anyone in our generation wants. One would rather die alone with their 99 cats (or dogs) than be forced into tying the knot with someone we have no interest in.
However, getting a little help to broaden our horizons in an attempt to find a partner is no longer unusual. It’s funny that in an age where we are more connected than ever with the help of technology and social media tools, building relationships have become even more difficult than before.
Love no longer comes that easily and while I’m glad that there are all these dating apps and services to help us advance in the game of love (and life), I certainly hope that there won’t come a day where we have to rely on these tools to help us maintain all our relationships.
Also read: I Question My Marriage Now That Our Blood Types Are Not Compatible.
(Header Image: Odyssey)
Remember when we used to have Ofo and Obikes?
They were such a blessing and provided so much convenience, until we killed them off. Sadly, Singaporeans were just not gracious and civil enough to look after these nice things.
When shared bikes exited Singapore, PMDs took over. It was a great mobility device for its ease of access and price point. You didn’t have to go through the lengthy and expensive procedure of getting a vehicle (and license), and these devices were a great step up from bicycles.
When PMDs became more popular in our society, problems began to arise.
On the ground level, you have the groups of Young Punks that zip around on their modded e-scooters or e-bikes, like they are the kings of the road. Modern day romance for the younger generation now includes standing in tandem on a speeding e-scooter with chroma lights and raucous music to boot. And if you have ever stood in the way of one of these YPs, you will understand what it's like to be assaulted by the blaring music that almost seems to scream at you to “SIAM LAH”.
PMD riders may also be overzealous to trust in their ability to have full control of their devices and in preventing collisions, because the thing about accidents is that you never really know when an accident will happen. What's more, when many pedestrians are like digital zombies with their phones.
PMDs had become increasingly problematic as they fall between the cracks—they don’t belong on the roads as it is too dangerous for motorists and PMD riders, but they don’t really belong on the footpaths either because of the potential severity it can cause due to its speed and weight.
Furthermore, with the increasing number of accidents in the past year or so, the ban was something that has been brewing for a long time coming.
On the surface, it’s a relief that the ban wasn’t a complete one of all PMDs across Singapore. However, restricting e-scooters and e-bikes to cycling paths and park connector network is like removing toilet paper from toilets. Sure, one can still use their devices but it’s going to be very inconvenient.
The biggest problem of all isn’t exactly the ban itself, but how it was introduced so suddenly.
The advisory period allows offenders a chance to be issued warnings before the penalties (fines and jail time) kick in next year, but the end message is still the same: E-scooter and e-bike users are not allowed on footpaths.
It has affected thousands of Singaporeans. Some of whom depended heavily on their PMDs for their livelihood. If my livelihood had been taken away overnight, I would be riled up too.
One day is hardly enough time for anyone to make alternative arrangements, especially for those who had been relying heavily on their devices for a livelihood. And it is for this reason that so food delivery riders have gone on to meet with some of our political leaders to seek help.
People were also upset because it seemed like there are alternatives that wasn’t explored before the ban kicked in. For example, could it not have been a more gradual transition? Why had the possibility of providing at least the food delivery riders the chance to be licensed to ride not been considered? And what about dedicated paths for PMDs?
Subsequently, LTA and the Ministry of Transport have launched an e-scooter Trade-in Grant (eTG) to provide comprehensive assistance to affected food delivery riders. Riders who wish to continue working for food delivery companies will receive $1,000 to switch to Power Assisted Bicycles (PABs) or $600 for bicycles.
Moving forward however, I highly doubt that the future for e-scooters will improve anytime soon. The issue is as with any new disruption. It requires the authorities to come up with new solutions to address the disruption. Any changes to reverse the ban or for e-scooters to be conditionally allowed ‘on the roads’ again is going to involve large-scale work.
The ban wasn’t exactly a surprise either. The fact is that we just didn't know how to coexist on the same footpaths. Most of our footpaths is at a comfortable size to be shared with pedestrians and mobility devices. We’ve had bicycles on our footpaths for so long, and PMDs are essentially its power-assisted counterparts. So in terms of size, I believe it is possible to coexist on the same path.
The issue is that both pedestrians and riders had been taking safety for granted. Should we have been more aware of our surroundings and be more careful on these shared paths, having PMDs around really shouldn’t be that big of a problem.
The reality is that many PMD users did not even regard the speed limit with importance. The Sunday Times once staked out at 2 locations and they found that every single PMD rider from both locations were “travelling at more than twice the speed limit.” Although, as someone who uses food delivery services, I also understand the pressure food delivery riders must have in delivering on time, which is an unconscious motivator for these riders to speed.
It doesn’t help that pedestrians are often glued to their phones since we unconsciously assume that our footpaths are a safe space for us. I’ve even seen people who were so absorbed in whatever’s on their screens that they wouldn’t even notice it if someone was riding straight at them.
Then, there are the black sheep of PMDs riders who are truly a nuisance on the road when they behave like the kings of the road. These are the people who have accelerated the demise of e-scooters.
The ban may have been introduced overnight, but it is one that has been in the making for a long time.
PMDs have posed so many safety risks, from the countless PMD fires that have burned down flats to the increasing number of accidents and the recent death of the elderly woman. If all these risks are not enough to endorse a stricter regulation or structure for the use of the devices, then I question how much more we are willing to risk before we address these risks.
Nonetheless, it is a very touchy situation because like what Mr Teo Chee Hean said at a meet-the-people-session on Friday, the whole issue is one “of trying to safeguard lives as well as trying to safeguard livelihoods”.
Thousands of people have depended on the ability to ride for their livelihood. But the number of PMD-related accidents have also been increasing. An ST article states that “almost 300 people were treated last year at hospitals for accidents related to personal mobility devices (PMDs).”
Most people are also unaware of how severe PMD accidents can be, but according to an impact mechanics expert Professor Victor P.W. Shim, getting hit by “a 65kg rider on a 10kg PMD travelling at the speed limit of 25kmh would be equivalent to being struck by a 10kg sack of rice dropped from the seventh floor of a Housing Board block.”
Most of all, the unfortunate reality is that on top of our inability to share our footpaths, we simply do not have adequate infrastructure to support the widespread use of mobility devices on our streets, especially when these devices are becoming increasingly popular.
Thus, until the authorities figure out a way to strike a balance between achieving safety and the benefits of having e-scooters around, the ban is probably in the best interests of the majority of Singaporens.
If anything, the only redeeming quality of this sudden disruption is how it has made Singaporeans hyper-aware of safety on footpaths.
If you think about it, it’s also a wise move to introduce the ban. For food delivery riders, licenses to allow users to ride on footpaths is now also seen as the most desired alternative. Had licensing been introduced instead of the ban, it would have been seen as a huge hassle.
With all that said, I empathise with the riders who depended on their e-scooters and e-bikes for a living, as well as the merchants and companies who had been working on introducing PMD-sharing services in Singapore.
Unfortunately (or fortunately), Singapore is a nation that prioritises law and order, and the only way forward is to take safety more seriously. If we don’t know how to behave ourselves and look out for each other, then we can’t complain if we are forced to do so. And if we don’t want to kill of PMDs in Singapore like we did with shared-bikes, then we ought to start being more careful with and around these devices.
Also read: Doing Away With Exams Sounds Great In Theory, But How Do We Evaluate Students Then?.
(Header Image Credit: Yahoo)
It’s terrifying to think about what would be in 10 or 20 years time.
In 10 years time, I would be my late thirties—an age where I can no longer pretend to pass off as a zeh zeh (older sister). I would also probably be constantly reminded of the youth I have lost as I play catch up to the energy of my children.
What’s even scarier is the realisation that my parents would be in their early seventies. That puts them in the ripe old age of retirement, with only slightly more than 10 years left, assuming that they live up to Singapore’s mortality age of 85.
Am I prepared for that? No. And I’m scared.
I’m scared because I don’t know if I can afford to support my parents through the financial perils of old age.
The Seedly Community conducted a survey early this year, where they found out that 81% of Singaporeans give their parents a monthly allowance. More importantly, the survey showed that out of 85 responses, 51 (60%) gave their parents less than 20% of their take-home pay.
There's no 'right' answer to this as it really depends on an individual's earning power, how much our parents need, and most of all, our individual priorities.
I’m glad that my parents never dictated the amount of allowance I have to give them every month, but I have always felt that I am not giving enough.
On one hand, it’s comforting to know that I measure up to most Singaporeans in terms of the monthly allowance I give to my parents (slightly above 10% my take-home pay). On the other hand, I feel guilty for not being good enough to afford the luxuries that my parents deserve.
Because I am only giving them what I can afford, there are often times I question myself if the few hundred dollars I give is enough and there’s always a small part of me that beats myself over not being able to give more.
A recent ad by NTUC Income perfectly encapsulates the predicament I, and possibly many young Singaporeans, am in.
Just like the NTUC Income’s ad, many of us turned out normal. We get by with hard work and discipline, but we struggle with having to make difficult decisions simply because we cannot afford The Best.
Coming from a middle-income family and having friends who come from both ends of the spectrum, I knew what were luxuries and what I should be grateful for. Most of all, I know my parents worked hard to provide.
I know I have been given the best that my parents can afford because I have never had to live a day on a hungry stomach, wear torn shoes to school, or borrow textbooks to study. We could even afford the occasional vacations.
There are so many other signs that I cannot possibly list. The fact that my parents are so still so readily available to be my safety net after 28 years is telling enough.
Because of all the love that they have poured into me, there's this unspoken sense of responsibility that goes behind me wanting to give them a cut of my salary every month, and in wanting to support them when they are, in my eyes, in a stage of their life where they should just enjoy life.
Knowing them, my parents are the kind of people who would rather carry the weight of supporting themselves on their shoulders than burden others (their children). But I see their livelihood in retirement a responsibility I hold myself accountable for.
Some call it filial piety, a virtue that has earned a pretty bad rep for causing a lot of guilt and unhappiness. But I want to be filial not because it's 'right' or because I'd feel guilty otherwise, but because I truly appreciate what they have done for me.
If anything, I feel guilty because as much as I want to be a filial daughter, I don’t know if my best will be enough.
Stressful is an understatement when you are sandwiched between having to care for ageing parents and the responsibility to contribute to the ever-decreasing fertility rates (having children), while juggling the pressure of working in an ultra-competitive working landscape, and living in a place that’s internationally recognised as one of the most expensive cities to live in in the world.
The pressure is suffocating if one were to look at all the numbers.
Take for instance this chart from Moneysmart, which budgeted the potential costs of living in Singapore per month.
Let’s assume that the accommodation costs for rental are costs for house bills (utilities, internet, etc.) and for insurance instead. A ‘cheapskate’ lifestyle will set you back at almost $1200 a month.
Assuming that you earn $3,000 a month, you will be taking home $2,400 after CPF deductions. After the monthly expenditures, you will be left with around $1,200.
If you were to set aside just 10% of your take-home pay as an allowance for your parents, that will take another $240 off, leaving you with $960.
At first glance, $960 seems like a considerable amount of savings a month, but we haven’t taken into consideration many other expenses. Food alone will easily take up another $100 to $300 for most average Singaporeans, depending on lifestyle.
We haven't included any travel expenses. Neither have we taken into consideration all the birthdays, weddings, housewarmings, and baby showers that we will probably spend more on as our generation edges into marriage and parenthood.
Even if one is highly disciplined in saving that $960 every month, that adds up to only about $11,500 a year. Which, if we look at the numbers that SmartParents put together, is enough to get us through a pregnancy with $3,500 to spare.
However, these are meagre sums compared to the amount of money you would need to spend on raising a child.
To put things in perspective, one would need to save diligently for 12 months just to comfortably afford giving birth to a child. Subsequently, the costs will continue to increase as the child grows, which by SmartParents’ estimation, will cost around $670,000 to raise one child in Singapore.
Of course, these are all estimates and in reality, whether it's the costs of a wedding, a new home or of having children would have been split between a couple. But these are all still very scary numbers.
Which brings me back to the pressure of providing. Especially when we are sandwiched between having enough to build a family of my own and supporting our ageing parents through their retirement.
Admittedly, I am sheltered, because my parents never bothered me with their retirement plans.
Nonetheless, I am concerned and wish to help.
However, I don’t even know where to start because I struggled to make sense of financial planning and of things like insurance myself. Even if I had that knowledge, it is such a difficult conversation to initiate.
Our culture isn’t one where we talk about difficult topics, like money. We don't have the vocabulary to discuss such topics and it is because of this history that makes it hard to go "mum/dad, let's talk about your retirement." It’s awkward and feels a little too heavy to talk about.
Another colleague faced a similar problem, where no matter how much he wants to help his mum plan for her retirement, she just don’t seem to be comfortable enough to be honest about what she had planned.
Even with persistent persuasion to find out more, his mum brushed him away whenever he asked, assuring him that she’s got it settled. This only makes him worry more because in the event that anything happens to her, it will still be his responsibility to be there and to support her.
“I don’t need to plan for her, but at least I can put in the figures and help her project into the future, then at least, we can start now and be better prepared for the future,” he explained.
It also doesn’t help when many of us struggle with making a decent living while trying to chase our passions.
Our generation is the generation that has been brought up to believe that the world is our oyster. Many of us are dreamers or at the very least, we are a generation who do not wish to ‘settle’. We prioritise job satisfaction and fulfillment over a high salary.
That is exactly how I have led my life for the most part: Going for jobs that I feel passionate about, not too concerned about the pay I get as long as I can get by.
I lived my life in that ‘passion bubble’ and I've spent my youth proudly announcing my pride in chasing passion. But it was the wedding and home ownership bills that made me realise how misguided I have been. The harsh reality is that at the end of the day, money is important.
Just ask around and you’ll realise how many young Singaporeans have become disenchanted by the reality of life in Singapore, not only because of the constant and consistent grind for money, but because we become increasingly aware of the pressure to live up to expectations; To provide.
I’ve seen how my mother had painstakingly saved up not just for herself and my dad, but also for my brother and I. And it is my mother’s financial prudence that I wish to emulate, but I don't know if I can when everything is so expensive.
I do not wish for my inability to earn, save, or plan to become a problem for my partner or children. And I certainly do not want my existence, should I become physically incapable of caring for myself, to become a financial burden for my loved ones in the future.
Although, looking at all the numbers that is required to support my parents, myself, and my future children, I worry about not being able to achieve that.
I want to be a filial daughter to my parents and a role model to my children. I want to give my loved ones the best that they deserve, but it's a constant struggle to know whether my best is enough.
Also read: Work To Live, Or Live To Work? Why So Many Singaporeans Feel Lost In Life.
(Header Image Credit: Tanaphong Toochinda on Unsplash)
Is it your fault if you buy a gift for a friend, only to realise later that your friend has no use for the gift you bought?
In the case where hundreds of donated food supplies are left to waste in a poor, elderly person’s home, is it then the recipient’s fault for not consuming those foods, or the donors fault for giving the man supplies that he does not use?
A recent Straits Times feature shone the spotlight on the effectiveness of volunteer and social welfare efforts in addressing the needs of the poor. Although most of us probably don’t have access to the full (premium) story, the images were alarming enough.
It is hard to fathom that a 78-year-old man had “hundreds of instant noodle packets and more than 50 bottles of soy sauce stacked to the brim” of his one-room rental flat, despite those being donated goods from volunteers.
It painted a very ugly picture of social welfare efforts on the ground. And it was very easy for many to jump on the narrative that this is the result of lackadaisical efforts made by charities and social welfare groups who are just not doing enough.
I spoke to 28-year-old, Kevin. A full-time social worker who has been working with low-income families for close to five years, he attests that there are cases of mismatch between what’s donated and what the poor needs. Though, the mismatch has never reached that scale.
Social workers and volunteers often take into account feedback from their beneficiaries as well as their general observations, to determine the kind of supplies that goes into subsequent food distribution drives.
Although, for this to happen, “a lot lies in education, with the people we work with (beneficiaries) and also our volunteers.”
This is exactly the question that Kevin, along with his colleagues at the voluntary welfare organisation (VWO) he worked with for more than three years, always aimed to answer. Not just as a reminder for themselves but to educate volunteers on the purpose of their actions.
‘Why are they giving out canned food?’
He explained quite matter-of-factly, that it is a matter of practicality. The long shelf-life of canned food, and ease of transportation and distribution are what makes it, and other foods like instant noodles and sauces, among common choices for food distribution exercises. This is especially so when many organisations have the heavy responsibility of rendering support to a large number of beneficiaries.
“It really depends on the extent of the help you want to achieve.”
Often, cases of mismatch happens when there’s a need to standardise food distribution packages. Standardised packages help organisations and volunteers achieve convenience and scale in distribution exercises—can you imagine the logistical nightmare of purchasing, packing, and delivering 1000 packages that are personalised to each beneficiary’s needs?
With that said, both Kevin and Yong Shin (a long-time volunteer with Youth Corps Singapore), shared that volunteers and social workers always try to have a better understanding of their beneficiaries’ needs.
Yong Shin: “We will usually conduct a needs analysis in the community we want to serve in to prevent wasting resources and [end up] not addressing the community’s needs.”
For example, in one of the projects that she worked on, the team switched from their initial plan of a food donation drive to a house-cleaning exercise after surveying and finding out that that was what the residents needed more
Kevin echoed these sentiments, “If it’s not [to achieve] scale, then we would always try to have a better understanding of their needs by creating a relationship, speaking to them.”
I’ve had the opportunity to meet and speak to many Singaporeans who are active in social work; full-time social workers, long-time youth volunteers, and also the occasional volunteers who participate in ad-hoc stints like home refreshing projects or donation drives. All of them tell the same tale, which is how they leave with memories of the interactions they had with beneficiaries. The bonds that they formed and the smiles of the people they worked to improve the lives of are what they will remember.
Which brings us back to the point of building relationships.
Giving is a good act, but the conversation needs to go both ways for social welfare efforts to work.
“The elderly should also feedback to us, but likewise, it’s always a constant check in. That’s why we always challenge volunteers [and ourselves] to open up our eyes and ears.”
“When seniors open up their homes, there are usually very telling signs of what they need. You look at how functional their kitchens are.”
Another way that Kevin often employs is asking his seniors how they settle their three meals.
“This is a very simple, conversational question that tells a lot,” because it helps him understand more about the senior’s lifestyle and how to complement that lifestyle.
For example, it was only after getting to know a Malay family better when Kevin realised that the healthier olive oil that the team has been giving them wasn’t ideal. Instead, what the family needed was something they can use for frying, which is actually a cheaper, vegetable oil.
“We try to make decisions for them by putting ourselves in their shoes,” Kevin said, “but just imagine how it feels like if someone else does your grocery shopping for you.”
After working with low-income families for five years, Kevin also shared that many of these people have better budgeting skills than we give them credit for. Most of them prefer to get their meals from the coffeeshop, simply because the $3.50 economic rice is more cost-efficient than the gas, water, and amount of resources they would use just to cook one meal for one person. This also means that for some beneficiaries, even food supplies like rice or fresh produce would do no good for them.
Again, Kevin stressed that even though social workers try to make the effort to understand the needs, the fact of the matter is that they are often too overwhelmed by the scale of work that they do not have enough time to have such quality conversations with everyone, all the time.
At the end of the day, it is a conversation that can only happen if it is embraced by both sides.
The biggest disconnect is when this conversation doesn’t even happen.
Take for instance Meals on Wheels—a service that many has suggested under the comments section of Straits Times’ Facebook post.
Unbeknownst to many, we have quite a few Meals on Wheels service providers in Singapore. The Willing Hearts soup kitchen prepares, cooks and distributes about 5,000 daily meals to over 40 locations islandwide, and there’s a whole list of other Meals on Wheels service providers on Singapore SilverPages.
Through the conversation with Kevin, I understand that there are many seniors who are covered by this service, but "if you ask these seniors, many of them are not great fans of the food."
“It’s a great service, but the disconnect happens when their dinner is being dropped off at their doorstep at 3pm.”
Without the human interaction, what is supposedly a very noble and practical help for the needy or elderly becomes a cold service. It becomes nothing but a KPI that needs to be fulfilled by a philanthropic organisation.
This brings us back to the case which ST featured: Should we ‘blame’ volunteers or charity organisations for giving our poor, elderly canned food and unhealthy packets of instant noodles?
It is very easy to jump on accusing the volunteers of blindly donating for the sake of it, In all fairness, it is truly alarming for the case to have reached a point where hundreds of supplies have been stockpiled.
It is not just wasted effort, but wasted opportunities as there are many other families who could have benefitted from these supplies. At the very least, these supplies could have been easily shared with the food bank or with neighbours.
Nonetheless, the onus is on both parties—the volunteers and the recipient—for the lack of communication. Social workers or volunteers have to help educate and encourage beneficiaries, and likewise, beneficiaries need to help the organisations help them.
We have plenty of social welfare resources in place to help the poor, the elderly and the underprivileged. It isn’t perfect. It’s flawed, and the same goes for the people who make these social welfare efforts possible.
Behind all those efforts are volunteers and workers who are trying their best to make a difference. And if we ever stop to think about the magnitude of work that they do, and the emotional stresses they face in having to be on the ground, dealing with all the financially poor individuals, while also working with limitations, we would understand better than to shit on them for giving our seniors canned food and instant noodles.
Also read: 65-Year-Old Mdm Rebecca’s Life: A Look At The Reality Of Singapore’s Privilege Gap.
(Header Image Credit: The Straits Times)
Remember when our value was tied to how well we fared in exams? To the A’s or B’s that we got in our subjects? Well this is all going to change for our children.
In an unprecedented move, our Ministry of Education had announced that they will be making several changes to exams and assessments in school. Some of these changes include removing weighted assessments (including class tests, group projects) and exams for Primary 1 and 2 students. Mid-year exams will also be removed for Primary 3 and 5, as well as Secondary 1 and 3 students.
These are bold changes, as Singaporeans have long questioned the effectiveness of our education system and the emphasis we seem to place on academic grades.
It’s a move welcomed by many, but along with these changes are several other concerns. For one, when we take away one of the major means of gauging a students understanding and proficiency of a subject, what yardstick are we going to assess them with moving forward?
Speaking at a recent forum with parents and students, Education Minister Ong Ye Kung posed the question back to parents: What is the yardstick that they will use to measure their success as a parent?
It’s a difficult question to answer, because all our life up till the point where we start working, we have been measured by the A’s, B’s, or C’s from our performance on test and exam papers. These grades have inadvertently transformed into something our society uses to define our worth. It is why we have a society that deems students in the ‘normal’ stream as of a lower calibre than those in the ‘express’ stream.
These cliched perspectives are so deeply entrenched in our society that it is hard for us to envisage how else we can measure the success of a student if it is not through exams and grades.
In a quick poll I did on Instagram, 33 out of 41 respondents actually voted that exams are good for students.
These are the same group of people who, through my understanding of our generation, have complained about how we have wasted so much time in our earlier years learning and being tested in subjects that have no relevance to our lives today.
However, 80% of them maintained that exams are still important, because it helps to assess a student’s grasp of a subject.
“Exams provide feedback. Its replacement must still critique a student.”
It is because of the kiasu culture we have in Singapore that have turned it into a competition of grades rather than a way to assess a student’s progress, as parents want their kids to ace exams to get into better schools, which they believe will give their child a better shot at success.
This is further egged on by the disparity in which we judge and treat people of different academic backgrounds. It lies in the way scholars are said to enjoy a faster career progression, and in the way some we tend to compare the quality of students based on their alma mater.
Even if you and I don’t judge people by their academic level, the society will. We still compare schools and we still regard graduates from esteemed schools, like Harvard, with higher respect.
The purpose of removing exams is to reduce the emphasis on academic results, but more importantly, what are we replacing it with?
One 27-year-old, Vic, explained that it’s less of abolishing exams than changing our perspectives: “I think students’ education or knowledge can still be measured with tests but the stigma of failing a test should be abolished. What I'm proposing is a mindset change.”
She also proposed for an abolishment of a grading system, which is one of the changes implemented by MOE, where details like grades and class position will be removed from end-of-year assessments. Secondary school students will also be streamed according to subjects instead of the ‘Express’ or ‘Normal’ streams that we had in our time.
In this case, the changes are also a way to free up time for students to pursue non-academic interests. In order to get there, however, schools and teachers need to be able to create a wholesome environment that enables students to achieve that.
On the aspect of achieving academic rigour, suggestions I got from respondents include challenging students with problem-based assignments to cultivate in them analytical and critical thinking abilities which will help them in the future.
Other suggestions include group projects or learning trips that allow students to explore a broader range of non-academic interests. These are alternatives that will help expose students to both academic and non-academic areas of interest.
Unsurprisingly, most of the (serious) suggestions given were centered around the idea that a student should be prepared to handle the intricacies of real-world and work situations, more so than acing exam papers.
The problem lies in our obsession with the ten-year series, which is characteristic of students who are more preoccupied with learning how to ace exams than learning the concept of what’s being taught in each subject.
One respondent, who’s currently assisting her father in running her family’s F&B chain, said: “A lot of students just learn how to deal with exam questions, instead of understanding the concept of how the content or solution work. Knowing and understanding how things work goes a longer way than knowing how to score in exams.”
At some point, all of us would have talked about how there are many things we learnt in school that have absolutely no relevance to our lives today. I, for one, have no idea how to apply pythagoras theorem to my life or line of work—not that I can even remember the concept today.
With that said, it was my decision to pursue a career that does not require proficiency in math. There are plenty of other professions that requires one to apply maths at work, like engineers.
Subjects like maths or history will not necessarily help us in our jobs, nonetheless, I see them as a foundation that sets the base for us to further pursue our preferred vocations in our tertiary years. If anything, these valuable general knowledge help us form a more well-rounded view and understanding of the World. Let’s not forget that Singapore’s education system is seen by outsiders as one of the best in the world, and perhaps it is for these knowledge we are armed with that makes us ‘superior students’ to the rest of the world.
Though, arguably, having to study all those ‘foundational subjects’ means a longer route to success. In comparison, Koreans (for instance) can start training in K Pop from as young as 11. Then, at 17 or 18 where an average Singaporean would have just gotten the opportunity to start pursuing vocational studies, these K Pop trainees would have already made their debut in the industry.
Which brings us back to the question of whether Singapore, as a whole, is capable of embracing students with non-academic passions.
If a student wishes to pursue career paths in performing arts or culinary arts, will schools and educators be able to offer resources to nurture this student in those areas?
Should there already be programmes and resources in place, will parents and by extension, our society, be able to accept and encourage a child to pursue such non-conventional pathways at the tender age of 11?
At the end of the day, this all depends on what we, Singaporeans, want to place value in: In achieving academic excellence before attempting a vocation, or in embracing a more progressive education that not only allows, but encourages students to explore beyond the English, Math, and Sciences, from a young age.
Regardless, these changes are a work in progress, and whether our children in the future reaps the benefits of this system is heavily dependent on how we, as future parents, react to the changes that MOE has rolled out.
For as long as we have kiasu parents around, the competition to be The Best will always be there.
At the end of the day, it boils down to what we want to instil in our 15, 10, or even 3-year-olds. If grades are not the way forward, what do we want to teach and assess our kids with?
With qualities like kindness and compassion? With communication skills like speaking and presenting? Or with a mix of soft and vocational skills to help them navigate the complexities of the world?
Also read: Is There A Need For Better Sex Education That’s More Than STDs And Abstinence?.(Header Image Credit: Wikipedia)
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