Community Development and Resource Building

Keeping society engaged   25/06/2010
Reframing community perceptions   16/04/2010
Community peacemaking   05/03/2010
Finding support in ones own neighbourhood   26/02/2010
Seeing formal groups as community   05/02/2010
Managing problems by breaking them into smaller parts   15/01/2010
Beyond the noise and haste   27/11/2009
From ‘beneficiaries’ to contributors in our communities   06/11/2009
Plugging families into community support networks   30/10/2009
Finding solutions in the community   07/08/2009
Helping agencies and collaborative work   15/05/2009
Community bridging in prison work   30/04/2009
Rejuvenating a neighbourhood   06/06/2008
Bringing in community support   25/04/2008
Resource sharing and TNet Clubs   12/10/2007
Volunteers in the community   30/03/2007
Games of inclusion   02/02/2007
Family Group Conferencing   11/11/2006
Building bridges   27/09/2006

Keeping society engaged   25/06/2010

A 12 year old girl who is really competent in Sudden Attack, an online game came to our attention because her life now revolves around her passion. She has stopped attending school, she games into the wee hours of the morning and she leaves her home in a huff and sometimes not returning for a few days whenever her parents try to redirect her back to her studies.  Needless to say, her parents are worried sick and feeling really lousy about their parenting ability.

Helping agencies tend to approach such a situation in 3 ways. Firstly, we see the 12 year as being way out of line and need to be disciplined for her own safety and well being. So we would recommend taking a court order to place the girl on mandatory guidance programme which may eventually include institutionalization. Secondly, we see her as having an illness such as an addiction or a conduct disorder and we recommend appropriate treatment. Thirdly,we see the girl and her parents needing some kind of "family life education." 

Now there is a time and place for all 3 approaches but problem solving cannot only be limited to them. This would be akin to explaining  complex social challenges  by blaming the people we serve for being 'bad', 'sick' or 'uneducated.' In any case if the people we serve realized that this is how we think of them, we are not going to be on friendly terms let alone get very far in developing a helping relationship.

The helping sector has been operating within the parameters of these 3 approaches for a long time and implicitly we believe that the solutions lie within us - the helping professional. You know, we cannot be more arrogant or wrong if we really believe this. We can be a part of the solution but social ills require a societal effort. An important part of our job is to  keep society engaged in a way  that it takes an active interest in our work and finds ways where it can contribute.

Take this 12 year old girl for instance. She will definitely not talk to anyone who considers her "bad", "sick" or "uneducated" but perhaps she may be more open to someone who sees her as one who has taken a different path from her peers. The next time we visit her, we would like to bring a volunteer who makes a living from gaming to come with us or someone who represents our nation in the World Cyber Games. Let me know if you are in contact with someone like that.

So if asked what is the one thing that would make our work easier? It would have to be a concerned society that seeks to understand the challenges faced by those among us who are marginalized. I would think that with understanding comes compassion and generosity of heart. This is not a request to society but a request to the helping sector to realize that we can only make headway into complex social issues such as child protection, teen delinquency, illiteracy, homeless families and so forth if we are able to inform, inspire and involve our society to contribute to solutions for our challenges.

With the Streetwise Run coming up, this is our fund-raising period but besides looking for funds, we are also looking for time, expertise and I guess understanding and support for our work. Thus, I thank you for being on this weekly mailer which I hope has gone some way in giving you an idea of our challenges and that of fellow members of our community who find it hard to live among us.

Enjoy your weekend.

"The time is always right to do right"
Nelson Mandela

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Reframing community perceptions  16/04/2010

When Susie’s month old infant succumbed to an illness last year, her neighbourhood shared her grief and the grassroots organisations stepped forward to take care of the funeral expenses. Today Susie is expecting her 7th child and her neighbourhood continues to look out for her well-being and that of her children in various ways. However, these efforts pushed Susie further into her shell and she does her utmost to avoid interacting with her neighbours apart from one or two.  Last November, her husband was incarcerated and Susie perceived that everyone was just being nosey parkers who were waiting to watch her fail.

Over the last month, we visited Susie daily ensuring that she and her children were well. Trust was eventually established when she was convinced that we were there to offer our support regardless of her shortcomings. Thankfully, we were also able to reframe her perception that “everybody just wants to sabo (sabotage) me!”  Now, Susie acknowledges that she is probably getting more help than anyone else in the neighbourhood and she is really fortunate.  2 days ago, Susie agreed to visit a psychologist and allowed us to fix an appointment for her this Monday with a partner agency.

On her behalf, we applied for government child care subsidy but when the application was submitted, the Child Protection Service was alerted. On Monday, when the Child Protection Officer (CPO) knocked on Susie’s door, several of her neighbours came out of their homes to enquire who he was. Susie was not home but her children opened the door. These neighbours agreed that Susie should not leave her children alone but assured the CPO that they would always look out for the children’s well being in their mother’s absence. One neighbour would always invite Susie and her children to spend the night at her home if Susie ran out of electricity. (This block of flats has a pre-paid system for electricity that needs to be topped up when value is low.)

Later that afternoon, the Chairman of the Citizens Consultative Committee met the CPO and us. He assured the CPO that formal and informal groups in the neighbourhood have been ensuring that Susie’s children are well-cared for. He had arranged for the children to receive tuition 3 times a week in the evening and to participate in the reading clubs and other community activities on weekends. On our side, we shared that several of the families who received our services in the neighbourhood have stepped forward to assist us in the supervision of Susie’s children.  At the end of the meeting, the CPO told us that he will review the situation in 3 months but for now he believed that there was no imminent danger to the children who were well cared for by a ‘close-knit’ community.

Enjoy your weekend.

 An Old man sat outside the walls of a great city. When travellers approached they would ask him “What kind of people live in this city?” And the old man would answer “What kind of people lived in the place where you came from?”  If the travellers answered “Only bad people lived in the place where we came from.” Then the old man would reply “Continue on, you will only find bad people here.” But if the travellers answered “Only good people lived in the place where we have come from.” Then the old man would say “Enter, for here too, you will only find good people.” – A Yiddish folk story

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Community peacemaking  05/03/2010

The mother of a 13 year old who was punched in the face was on her way to the police station when a colleague incidentally met her. After listening to her story, our colleague persuaded her to return home. He promised her that he will immediately visit the homes of the 2 boys who had punched her son and arrange for all 3 families to discuss the matter at our office. Our colleague felt that a peacemaking circle would be beneficial for all.

About 2 hours later, the victim was here with his mother and an aunt while one boy came with his grandmother and the other with his mother and sister. The “perpetrators” were surprised by the presence of each other’s family members and when the meeting started, they did not deny their involvement. They explained that they had wanted the victim to join them in a game of catching (tag) but when he refused they punched him.

Although the victim corroborated with their account, his mother questioned the boys for their ‘real’ intentions. She could not believe that anyone would punch her son simply because he did not want to play a game. Then one of the boys said that he was displeased with her son because “he played very rough” during a soccer game the day before. He had a few bruises and thought that it was a good chance to get back. The other boy explained that he was angry with the victim because he had told his mother that he was glue sniffing.

This led to a discussion between he boys and the family members whether the glue sniffing actually happened. The family members present discussed the issue animatedly and when it was established that it was hearsay, they asked all the boys to exchange apologies for hurting each other. The victim’s mother then explained that her son had an asthmatic condition that seems to be triggered every time he experiences undue stress. Hence, she initially ran to the police because she was very angry and not because she had wanted to get the other 2 boys into trouble as she did not even know who it was that punched her son.

The family members then advised the boys on how they should be solving problems. They told the boys that if problems got too much for them, they should approach their family and not try to take things in their own hands. The meeting ended with family members exchanging phone numbers and pledging to look out for each other’s children. As for the boys, they are still playing soccer together and one of them noted that he was grateful that their little problem did not make their families enemies of other.

We would say it helped their families become friends of each other and these boys now have more adults looking out for them.

Enjoy your weekend.

‘Justice’ is a funny word. When you live in a place where that word is used all the time, it can mean many things. Mostly I think it means “us versus them” someone wins and someone loses; justice as domination. We think of justice as “just us.”
– Vichey, a Peacemaking Circle Keeper with Urban Youth

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Finding support in ones own neighbourhood  26/02/2010

Teck Ghee (AWB 0936) has been coping very well in school for the past 6 months. Unfortunately, in a moment of anger, he was deemed defiant and is now suspended. During, a computer lesson, he vented his frustration with the lesson by typing offensive comments about the teacher in the PowerPoint presentation he was tasked to do. It was just meant for his eyes but he did not realise that his teacher was looking over his shoulder as he was doing so. This led to an exchange of angry words between them and Teck Ghee was suspended for being disrespectful to the teacher.

While we were informed of Teck Ghee’s suspension by the school, it was an agency in his neighbourhood that provided Teck Ghee with the necessary support. Teck Ghee was feeling really disappointed with himself and was extremely anxious how his grandmother would take the news. It is still the Chinese New Year period and his grandmother would be cross with him as she would view the suspension as most inauspicious. So the staff of a Seniors Activity Centre run by the Asian Women’s Welfare Association (AWWA) arranged for his grandmother to meet Teck Ghee at their office, broke the news of the suspension in front of them and facilitated a healing conversation between them.

We are really appreciative of AWWA’s efforts and gratified that Teck Ghee is finding and giving support within his own neighbourhood. Early this year, we tried to interest Teck Ghee’s grandmother to spend her free time at the AWWA Seniors Activity Centre but she preferred to remain at home. Instead, it was Teck Ghee who decided to check out the Activity Centre. Within a few days, Teck Ghee found himself a hit with the elderly and the staff at the Centre. The staff appreciated the extra pair of hands and the elderly found him most friendly and amusing. His loud voice and manner of speech that often got him into trouble in school became an asset when the elderly voted for him to be the Bingo Master.

Teck Ghee’s contribution at the Activity Centre earned him a warm welcome there and when the people at the Centre learnt of his current brush with his school, they immediately wanted to help. Teck Ghee is now being supported by the people in his neighbourhood, a neighbourhood where he has found a sense of purpose caring for the elderly; a neighbourhood he calls home.

In sum, our work is not only about the eradication of problems because humility and reason tell us that we have no control over the many variables that cause problems. Problems are inevitable but people continue to thrive when they have a sense of purpose and supportive people around them.

Enjoy your weekend.

“An absence of problems is not sufficient for a purposeful fulfilled life.” – William Damon

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Seeing formal groups as community  05/02/2010

Our youths had a very pleasant surprise this afternoon when 4 members of Cuesports Singapore visited. The National Youth Coach, a Manager and 2 national youth players dropped in for a game of pool. It was not just a social visit as our visitors came by to share a message. They told our chaps that if they could stay focused on making something out of their lives and keep out of trouble, they could go far in the sport and perhaps even get onto the National Team. It was a generous gesture from our national billiards association who believed that it was the least they could do to encourage young people who are often discouraged by their social challenges.

The young people we serve often believe that they are not welcomed by formal groups in our community. Hence, they form their own informal groups or gain membership into a gang which makes them feel a part of something, provides a structure and opportunities to prove themselves. However, youths found to be in teen gangs will be sent for a rehabilitative programme and are expected to stay away from ‘gang associates’ who may be the only people who have offered them friendship. The helping system has framed the problem of gang membership as the youth’s immaturity and indiscretion; and the solution lies with him or her because an ‘offender’ needs to change, an immature person needs to grow up.

Actually, putting the onus of responsibility solely on the individual is not fair. These individuals were looking for a community and providing them with one must be the responsibility of our community. We need to really ask ourselves if we, the formal and informal groups of people who make up the community have done enough to help such young people believe that they have family and friends? People who always accept them simply for who they are Do we value the formal and informal groups in our community enough to encourage their existence? Do these formal groups see that they are not just a part of the community but the community that many young people need? We can’t simply tell them not to join a gang when we have nothing better to offer.

I am optimistic that our community cares. Cuesports Singapore coming by today is one example but an important part of our job is to continually find ways to build a community around those we serve. We should not just see community organisations simply for who they say they are which could be limiting their potential and the possibility for collaboration. For instance I am inspired by the Girl Scouts of America who run a programme called Beyond Bars. Here, the Girl Scouts regularly escort children to visit their mothers who are behind bars. During the visits, they facilitate the bonding between mother and child through various scouting games. Now, that’s quite a valuable community service carried out by teenagers. Our work in the prison could do with similar supportJ

Anyway, just something to think about as you enjoy your weekend.

One should guard against preaching to young people success in the customary form as the main aim in life. The most important motive for work in school and in life is pleasure in work, pleasure in its result, and the knowledge of the value of the result to the community. – Albert Einstein

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Managing problems by breaking them into smaller parts  15/01/2010

30 fellow professionals from 7 schools, 6 voluntary welfare organisations and the National Council of Social Service joined 31 of us for our first Good Company networking meeting on Wednesday. There was a presentation on Inhalant Abuse, Addiction and Co-dependency by Margery Nixon and Prem Kumar Shanmugam of WE Care Community Services and in the audience, there were also 2 parents and an uncle who wanted to better equip themselves to help the young person under their care.

It was really very encouraging to see so many colleagues from the sector coming together in the spirit of sharing and learning. Although one swallow does not make a summer, it was a good start for Good Company, a loose affiliation of voluntary welfare organisations that pools resources to better serve troubled students and their families. For me, it was also wonderful to see 3 family members feeling empowered enough to sit in a room of helping professionals figuring out how they can help themselves instead of simply leaving it to the professionals. Thus, I was really glad that the speakers stressed that while their programmes could abate the disruptions associated with addiction, it was the family and the other significant people who are concerned with the well being of the young person that mattered for the longer run.

The other reassuring thing from the speakers was that it is really not appropriate to consider young people who have been ‘caught’ for substance abuse as addicts. People seek pacifiers when they want to avoid pain or when they lack the skills to deal with the pain they are experiencing. Many young people lack the maturity and the life skills to deal with the range of challenges that confront them and they need supportive and caring adults around them. As Marge put it, we are one of these caring adults.

A parent whom we spoke to this week related how counsellors for her child usually kept her informed of the type of coping skills they imparted to help him cope with his anger. However, when the child was at home he would still throw an anger fit and she wished that the counsellors would have also taught her what to do when that happens.

To manage problems, sometimes we break them into smaller parts that are relevant to our expertise but we cannot turn a blind eye to the other parts. Hence, Good Company, an alliance of social service providers, pools resources and works together because it recognises that problems are complex and no one agency can adequately respond in a manner that resolves these situations with a satisfactory outcome.

Enjoy your weekend.

Great discoveries and improvements invariably involve the cooperation of many minds. I may be given credit for having blazed the trail, but when I look at the subsequent developments I feel the credit is due to others rather than myself.’ — Alexandar Graham Bell

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Beyond the noise and haste  27/11/2009

We pride ourselves for being in touch with those on the margins of our community and unfortunately, one barometer of the inroads we have made is whether we are acquainted with those involved in the unfortunate stories that appear in our newspapers Our stomach churns a little every time we read about a young person who gets hurt in a fight, an abandoned baby or a family tragedy. The first thought that comes to mind is whether these are people whom we are acquainted with, whether there was something we could have done or whether there is something we did not do. It is not that we are taking the weight of the world on our shoulders but we can’t help feeling this way when we care about what we do. It is not whether we should or should not be feeling this way; it is just something that comes with the landscape we have chosen to serve in; it is just because like everyone else we have emotions, doubts and a body that needs to rest. It is simply because we are human.

The programmes we run have their success but none of them can be a panacea for the social ills they set out to address. This is a reality. Our world is much too complex and immense to fit into the neat little programmes we design. Nonetheless,the Desiderata reminds us that "with all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world."

Together with a residents' committee and an informal mothers' club, we held a cooking competitionfor 4 families residing in a rental housing area. These families had on different occasions expressed that they had no opportunity to do things together. The mothers in these families were also concerned that their children seemed to be caught up with "noise and haste" and were often fighting each other instead of cooperating. When we inquired about what their husbands thought about what they were saying, two of them simply shrugged their shoulders while the other two commented that men don't think about such things.

Each family was given $20 each to prepare a meal and on "Go", they enthusiastically went about their paces. To the delight of the mothers, every member of their families took part. The competition was held at a senior citizens corner of a void deck and the hustle and bustle of families in cooperation, attracted 20 odd spectators comprising the young, the old and some in between. Some of these spectators could not keep to themselves and started offering all sorts of suggestions. We were worried that the families would feel being intruded upon but they good naturedly bantered with the spectators and soon it felt more like a festive cookout rather than a cooking competition.

As the judges tasted the food and passed their comments, the crowd cheered for each family and when the formalities were done, these families shared their food with the crowd. Only one of them won the competition but all of them were champions. Cleaning up was a breeze as the spectators offered the many hands that made work light. The mothers thanked us for the fun event that got their husbands and children working together. It reassured them that their family "however humble; is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time."

Enjoy your weekend.

Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.

The quotations today were taken from the Desiderata by Max Ehrmann

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From ‘beneficiaries’ to contributors in our communities  06/11/2009

In our work, there is a tendency to reduce people to the problems they present. Very often we refer to these people by “so and so with this or that problem.” This may be a convenient and efficient way of relating to get the work done, but can we say for sure that this way of talking does not affect our ability to be respectful?

As people who have chosen to serve the less privileged among us, we are here to support them and not to bury them further under the load they carry. These people have given us a reason to be useful, a reason to do something meaningful. Often an insight into their problems leaves one feeling rather pessimistic. Makes one wonder if they are really insights or are they laments about the people we serve.

The people we serve are experiencing difficulties but they can contribute to their community as well. It starts by believing that they can and want to contribute. Just because they need social services, they are not here just to take and not give. Like all of us, they need to know how they can give. This week, our colleagues who are looking into community development were learning to use a tool to articulate the strengths of our service-users. Although it was the first time we were trying it out, it did not take long to identify service-users who have contributed to the well-being of our community.

3 mothers who had benefitted from the HOPE Scheme, a government programme for low-income families have been helping us to identify others who need the service. These mothers have also been helping as interpreters and serve as ‘ambassadors’ for the programme among the target group. With their assistance we have reached 73 new families for this year so far and should hit 80 by the end of the year.

5 youths aged 16 to 18 years old approached us to highlight a problem in their neighborhood. They told us that a group of young children were ‘block shopping’ and they were concerned. ‘Block shopping’ is walking along corridors or lift landings in apartment blocks and stealing the shoes or items that were left outside the homes. These youths told us that they were once guilty of ‘block shopping’ as well but now that they are older; they could not simply stand by and watch these children get into trouble. They bounced off some ideas how they could assist these children and decided that they will invite these children to join a football game before broaching the issue. With their “big brothers” watching over them, these children are no longer “block shopping.”

A mother of 2 young children who frequently appeared stressed out by her parenting responsibilities, turned out to be very responsible when we put her in-charge of equipment for a picnic that was attended by a group of families. She demonstrated much initiative putting things together and the other participants thanked her for contributing to the success of the event as she remembered to bring along the little ‘extras’ like umbrellas and cushions that made the picnic so much more comfortable and enjoyable for everyone.

Community development is a journey and not a destination. Our job is to get those we serve to join the journey because as long as we all keep moving along we will be building a community for ourselves and those around us, we will be helping others and helping ourselves.

Enjoy your weekend.

We can begin by doing small things at the local level, like planting community gardens or looking out for our neighbors. That is how change takes place in living systems, not from above but from within, from many local actions occurring simultaneously. – Grace Lee Boggs

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Plugging families into community support networks  30/10/2009

Mr. and Mrs. Wong kept looking at the birth certificate of their 2nd child over and over again until Mrs. Wong declared “This cannot do, I must put this right!” This couple had just returned from the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority (ICA) Building where they registered the birth of their newborn. They had named their baby boy Vincent but it was mistakenly spelt as Vimcent on the birth certificate. It was a mistake they had noticed at the registration office but they did not feel confident pointing it out to the officer attending to them. They also wondered if they had to pay a fee for the amendment as they only had enough money for the transport home.

Mr. and Mrs. Wong went back to the ICA Building the next day and Vimcent is now rightfully Vincent. This was a very significant step for these parents whose first child was placed in foster care shortly after he was born. Mrs Wong suffers from schizophrenia and back then the couple experienced some difficulties caring for their child.

Over the past 8 weeks, in co-operation with a Child Welfare Officer, we have been working intensively with this family; preparing them for the birth of Vincent. Following which, we have put in place a support programme that has facilitated for Mr & Mrs Wong a joyful and meaningful initiation into parenthood. Mr Wong the proud father has even kept Vincent’s umbilical cord and asking us how best to preserve it for keepsake.

While our support programme ensures the well being of the infant, we have been very mindful that we have not been robbing Mr. and Mrs. Wong of the little pains and troubles every parent goes through. These little struggles are necessary for strengthening the family and the amount of support should be just enough and not overwhelming. Our measured and principle-driven way of managing the risk remains a challenge so we were very heartened when Mrs Wong told us that she felt ‘safe’ knowing that the community is supporting her and she was surprised that she did not feel ‘disturbed.’ The Child Welfare Officer has also been very pleased with progress Mr. and Mrs. Wong are making and is now looking into reintegrating their elder child.

The support programme comprised getting volunteer nurses to help both parents acquire skills in baby care, providing Mrs Wong with some educational materials for new mothers and getting a volunteer to provide dinner twice a week so that the couple had some respite from their routine. These efforts have brought about a stability that has given Mr & Mrs Wong a huge dose of optimism about their future as a family. However, even if their 1st child returns home, our job is far from done as we have to ensure that the Wong family is plugged into our community in a way that their children will never have to live away from them again.

Enjoy your weekend.

Sanity may be madness but the maddest of all is to see life as it is and not as it should be. – Don Quixote

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Finding solutions in the community  07/08/2009

This Sunday, 7 of our children will be attending the National Day Parade. This year’s Parade Organising Committee has been making a focused effort to reach out to the less privileged, raising funds and creating ways where they can contribute to the celebrations. Come Together – Reaching Out, Reaching Up is this year’s theme and I think it is an apt reminder that the less privileged among us are one of us and should never be treated in a less dignified way. A few days ago I noticed a training programme for child serving professionals and I was quite heartened to note that the organisers are describing the families of these children as ‘vulnerable’ instead of ‘dysfunctional’, a description that was extensively used previously.

Little Alan Boy, 7 was at the playground having a great time when he overheard some older boys discussing his father. He thought that the boys had said that his father was arrested by the police. Pretending that he did not hear, he just went about playing harder and eventually ran along to another playground. Alan Boy was deeply loyal to his father whom he regarded as a caring person and a great buddy on weekend fishing trips. While he appeared nonchalant, Alan Boy was afraid, worried, embarrassed and angry with his father. His mother had already passed away and Alan Boy was deeply worried that he would lose his father too.

His father was picked up by the police for disturbing the peace while intoxicated. When a grassroots leader whom we have been working closely with learnt of the arrest, he contacted us and together we worked out a plan to attend to Alan Boy. That evening Alan Boy had dinner with family of this grassroots leader and after dinner, the family assured Alan Boy that they will care for him while his father was away. They also told him that he should still respect his father and they were simply helping his father while he sorted out his problems. Alan Boy spent a few days with the family of the grassroots leader and is now back with his father.

To me this story demonstrates how people in a community can come together to problem solve in a respectful way. The grassroots leader did not regard or treat Alan Boy’s father as a public nuisance but as members of his community that needed his support. He reminded Alan Boy that his father was still the head of their family and offered his assistance in a way where Alan Boy and his family kept their dignity intact. This grassroots leader and his family have our deepest admiration and respect in the way they look out for the most vulnerable members of their community.

This year’s National Day Theme Song is entitled What Do You See? Well, looking at this grassroots leader and his family I see One United People.

Happy National Day!

The theme for NDP 09, “Come Together – Reaching Out, Reaching Up” draws inspiration from the Singapore National Pledge. It is about our coming together as one united people, to Reach Out to all Singaporeans regardless of race, language or religion, and to Reach Up towards our hopes and aspirations articulated when we pledge to achieve happiness, prosperity and progress for our nation. -Wikipedia

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Helping agencies and collaborative work  15/05/2009

5 children and their parents who were living in a tent by the beach were nowhere to be found when we visited them. The youngest were a toddler and an infant and we were quite concerned that living by the beach for a prolonged period would not be an ideal situation for them. After contacting the father by phone, we learnt that he had met with an accident and was unable to walk. However, because he was injured, his younger brother managed to convince his mother-in-law and wife to house his entire family. It was a flat with only one bedroom and it was quite a squeeze for everyone so it may be quite a challenge for the goodwill to last.

Anyway, when we continued speaking with the father, we learnt that 3 other organisations were aware of his situation. With the help of the Family Service Centre in the area, we arranged for all helping agencies to meet. Sometimes, when so many agencies are involved with one family there is a tendency to jump to the conclusion that there is a duplication of services and all but one should pull out. Perhaps, it would be more accurate to conclude that not one agency can fully support the needs of a homeless family with young children. Thus, our role is always to work in a way that brings about a collaborative effort that benefits the family. Another way of looking at it is that such a family has the good fortune of having so many agencies looking out for them. Then, why take away their good fortune by restricting them to only one agency?

Without openness, maturity or the relevant skills, working collaboratively can be cumbersome. Hence, helping agencies (including ourselves) tend to guard our turfs. When this happens, energy that could have been spent on improving the family’s situation is wasted and we also deny the family new possibilities that emerge when agencies pool their resources. Hence, we are very grateful for the collaborative spirit during our recent inter-agency meeting and the helpful resources we provided the family. One critical factor that facilitated the collaboration was the voice of the family which anchored all helping agencies to the purpose of being there.

At the meeting the younger brother explained that he may not be able to house his elder brother’s family much longer because he was losing his authority as head of household. That authority was gradually being shifted to his mother-in-law because he had just lost his job and she was now the sole breadwinner. When agencies heard this it was evident that getting the younger brother employed would be a priority and one agency has already gotten him a job interview to attend. Another agency placed the father on a work skill upgrading programme so that he would get a better paying job while the family service centre in the area agreed to provide concrete support such as food and financial assistance and advocacy for housing.

When agencies collaborate to serve one family it is not wastage of resources but often better outcomes are achieved faster and the family is served more effectively.

Enjoy your weekend.

‘If you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange these apples then you and I will still each have one apple. But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange these ideas, then each of us will have two ideas.’
— George Bernard Shaw

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Community bridging in prison work  30/04/2009

On Wednesday, with the kind assistance of the Singapore Prisons Service, we arranged for 28 elderly folk and their minders from NTUC Elder Care to spend an afternoon with 15 of our boys in the Reformative Training Centre. This endeavour is part of the Restorative Care Programme we offer to 30 inmates where they begin to re-establish ties with the community while incarcerated. Community Involvement is a component in our ‘through-care’ programme where inmates are prepared for reintegration into their community and families from Day One of their incarceration.

For security and the majority of reasons that Prisons exist, getting prisoners to perform Community Service is always a challenge and we are very grateful that the Singapore Prisons Service fully supports our efforts to inculcate a sense of generosity among them. We believe that showing consideration for others and making the effort to brighten someone else’s day can be a mutually rewarding and strengthening experience. When people realise that they make a difference in each other’s lives, they realise that no matter what their difficulties or situation, they matter to someone else even though it is only for a few hours.

Our boys have been preparing for this event for about 2 months. They made sure that when their elderly guests arrived, they felt welcome. A drab training room was brightly decorated and music was playing in the background. Just outside the room, a sumptuous buffet was awaiting. Interestingly, the boys introduced themselves as volunteers from Beyond as they greeted their guests. The elderly and our boys hit it off immediately. After entertaining the elderly with their repertoire of songs, the elderly returned the favour by showing off their line dancing moves. Spontaneously, our boys joined in and pardon the cliché but it was like a scene out of Jailhouse Rock.

During refreshments, our boys and the elderly were actively in conversation and it was clear that the afternoon was special for both. They were leaning towards each other attentively listening to what each other had to say. The smiles, the nods, the pats on the back made it seem like a meeting of old friends. When it was time to say goodbye, the guests had the last word. In an impromptu farewell speech, they thanked our boys for a wonderful afternoon, assured them that their families and society have not forgotten them and looked forward to them returning the visit when they got out.

Prisons exist for 5 purposes: 1. To punish in the hope that the suffering will change behaviour; 2. To exact revenge on behalf of members of society who have been harmed, 3. To segregate or isolate dangerous people so as to protect regular folk; 4. To deter regular folk from becoming dangerous and finally 5. To rehabilitate. When 4 out of 5 reasons have nothing to do with our recent endeavour, we have to applaud the Singapore Prison Service for going out of their way to enable us to get our programme running. Kudos also to our Restorative Care Team for reassuring the young and old that “Life is to be lived now, not in the past, and lived in the future only as a present challenge.”(A Principle of the Re-Ed Approach)

Enjoy your weekend.

The degree of civilisation in a society can be judged by entering its prisons. – Fyodor Dostoyevsky

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Rejuvenating a neighbourhood  06/06/2008

On Wednesday evening our youth workers set up an outdoor movie screening at an open area in the middle of a neighbourhood. 40 children and youths came with their family members and together with other residents, they helped themselves to the pop corn we had prepared. The Residents' Committee kindly gave us access to a power outlet and the person who attended to us gushed that this brought back for him fond memories of his childhood growing up in a kampong. At the end of the evening he asked if we were going to do it again.

Well, this was not just a fun night out. It was our attempt at putting in some positive and wholesome energy back into a neighbourhood where young people are exposed to the harsher side of life very earlier. On Tuesday night our colleagues were trying hard to convince a 14 year old to return home early. This girl was the key witness to an assault that happened in the neighbourhood and she wanted to confront the alleged perpetrators who were out on bail. She was being taunted as a snitch and was adamant that this was the way to go despite our caution that it could be dangerous. We could not stop her when she ran off in the middle of our discussions. Thankfully, when we met her just before the movie, she looked fine.

We screened 'Transformers' as we thought the kids would enjoy the special effects on a big screen. As for us it was not the movie we were watching but the people. It was heart-warming for us to see families creating a space where all its members could sit with each other. We saw children smiling with delight as they excitedly help us set up the sound system and these children were really pleased with themselves when the speakers started blasting.

It was another small step in rejuvenating a neighbourhood where children were considered to be at risk and such efforts will continue but for Wednesday evening, an open area where 'territories' were marked out by groups of people was transformed or recaptured as a shared community space.

Enjoy your weekend.

The community can convey a unique sense of right and wrong, based not on fear of punishment, but based on a feeling of mutual regard for others with whom one feels connected. - Ted Wachtel

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Bringing in community support  25/04/2008

A 14 year who had his PSP (Portable Play Station /Games Console) forcibly taken from him by an adult, walked into a police station to file a report. As he left the station, he was still terribly unhappy as he knew that he would probably not be able to recover his prized possession. He then met up with 4 friends aged 13 to 16 years old who listened to his story.

These 5 boys continued to discuss the issue as they boarded a bus heading home. The discussion was animated and to impress each other and perhaps the other passengers who could not avoid their loud talking, they suggested revenge and started making plans for a 'search and recovery' mission. With much bravado, they described how the paper cutters they had with them could inflict pain.

These 5 boys made the bus their stage and made believe that they had an appreciative and captive audience in their fellow passengers. They were enjoying themselves basking in the limelight but their moment of 'adulation' ended abruptly when an off-duty policeman identified himself and arrested them for planning a fight under Section 24 of the Public Order (Preservation) Act for Offensive Weapons.

Our youths workers immediately got in touch with the families of these boys to see how we could work together. They found very supportive care-givers who were deeply troubled about the situation. These care-givers fervently hoped that they would be given an opportunity to discipline, supervise and care for their teens. Reassured of family support, they got an appointment with the investigation officer through a contact in the police force.

The investigation officer was heartened by the support we could offer the boys and after understanding how we intend to put in place a care and supervision plan, he told us to submit the plan to him for his supervisor's consideration. He felt that a solid care and supervision plan with committed family involvement would be more beneficial to the boys than punishment or other programmes.

We were very grateful that this officer was trying his best to divert legal proceedings as he realised that the assistance the community could offer the boys would be more than what the legal system could do. He also took into consideration the age of the boys and felt that their families could still play a part. This officer may not speak our restorative justice jargon but his actions were in a similar direction.

Well done Ravin and Irfah for your prompt and astute management of the situation.

Enjoy your weekend.

"The litigious spirit is more often found with ignorance then with knowledge of law." - Cicero

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Resource sharing and TNet Clubs  12/10/2007

Yesterday, we took another step in strengthening our working relationship with the T-Net Clubs. The T-Net Clubs are run by the People's Association and they were formerly the Police Boys Clubs which was a community policing initiative. These days the T-Net Clubs are for girls as well and they see themselves as "an island-wide teens network where members get to participate in creative learning programmes, community services and sports activities."

There are 8 T-Net Clubs which are in neighbourhoods such as Ang Mo Kio, Bukit Merah, MacPherson & Taman Jurong. These are neighbourhoods populated with young people who may benefit from our programmes and that's why it would be really advantageous for our work if we work together with the T-Net Clubs.

We met all the T-Net Club officers during their routine meeting at the People's Association Headquarters and besides linking them with Chris and her Youth United Team, we shared about what we believed were the Elements of a Helping Relationship. The officers responded positively to the sharing and so did their supervisor who was conducting the meeting. We will continue to feature in their routine meetings at least once a month and our Youth United Team will be visiting the various clubs and meeting a few young people whom they feel may benefit from our assistance.

Perhaps the most important thing that arose from the meeting was knowing that there are others out there who are just as concerned about the young people we serve and in their own way, doing whatever they can to improve the situation. The T-Net Officers are not social service providers but we can both learn from each other if we continue to converse and our partnership will increase the possibility of reaching more young people in need.

Finally, Selamat Hari Raya Adil Fitri to our Muslim friends.

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Volunteers  30/03/2007

At a staff meeting that regularly looks into the improvement of our Volunteer Management Practices, it was highlighted that we need to help our volunteers to understand the challenges of a voluntary welfare organisation like us and to help them acquire a healthy respect for those we serve. We also need to acknowledge their contributions and to create opportunities where they can meaningfully contribute. However, we must always be mindful that volunteers are not 'free labour' that do the things full-time staff do not want to do or that they are only capable of menial tasks.

Our volunteers contribute at all levels of running the organisation. Our fund raising, our service direction, our governance, our advocacy to the government and so forth. Often, they do things that full-time staff cannot do and bring in valuable resources and expertise that are beyond the operating budgets of voluntary welfare organisations.

This week 2 volunteers helped us significantly with a family where both parents are substance abusers. This was a child protection case that recently came to our attention and so we have yet to establish a strong working relationship with the family. We were clear though that as far as possible the problem should be resolved in the community and only referred to MCYS when the safety of the child is compromised. Once the case is in the system, there would be a strong likelihood that the child will be institutionalised and it will be an uphill task for him to return to his family before he reaches 16 years old.

This family informed us about the existence of these volunteers when we met them. They were from a church near where the family was living and have been very concerned about the well-being of the children and their parents. Without an awareness or understanding of the longer term implications of reporting the case to the authorities, they thought that the best thing to do was to report the family to the authorities. Thankfully, the family tied us up with them and we had a good discussion about their concerns and the advantages of resolving family problems within the community.

These volunteers decided then not to report the case for the moment and they came up with an action plan that looked into the safety of the children. Both parents have agreed to seek medical treatment and to attend the Community Addiction and Management Programme at IMH. The volunteers and us will share the responsibility of closely monitoring the well-being of the child. We will also work together in locating relatives and people within the family's support network to look into the longer term care of the child if the situation worsens.

The strong rapport these 2 volunteers had with the family was the difference that contributed significantly towards the parents' participation in the problem solving process. They were closer to being the family's natural support network than us and as such, we could not have been as effective. They were also able to follow-up very quickly and provide individualised attention since they only had a 'caseload' of 1.

Effective service is really not about professionals doing the job but about people in a community sharing the responsibility of caring.

Enjoy your weekend!

People willing to live together in truth form my community. They are my companions on life's journey. I cherish them. - John Heider

Past copies of Another Week Beyond And Juvenile Justice in Schools can be found on

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Games of inclusion  02/02/2007

As the Singapore Football Team heads off to Thailand for the 2nd leg of the ASEAN Football Finals this weekend, it's football fever for many. It is also football fever for 40 of our kids but for a different reason. This week, these kids had the privilege to attend a football clinic conducted by Professor Dr. Elio Salvador who flew in to conduct a series of clinics called Brazilian Magic Football Clinic in Asia.

The clinic was held at the Balestier ITE Campus and although instructions were in Portuguese and delivered in English through an interpreter, the kids were giving the coach their full attention and cooperation. They even remembered what was said during the session and were able to repeat them to us a few days later e.g. a good player never stops running on the field and so forth.

This privilege was jointly made possible by Football Weekly and Tiong Bahru Football Club and it had the support of the Brazilian Ministry of Sports who has a national policy of using sports for social inclusion. I am pleased that our kids attended this mainly because it was a mainstream activity and they were included. At Beyond and in social work, we sometimes create opportunities for our beneficiaries because mainstream opportunities are not easily accessible. So for example we have soccer training and foundational learning programmes like LIFE but it will always be our goal in the longer run that participants in our programmes no longer need us and move on to a mainstream programme. The recent football clinic was a one off-thing but was important for the fact that our kids had the opportunity to have fun with mainstream kids.

Inclusion and social integration is a journey where we never arrive but it is also a journey that we cannot afford not to take. I am also so glad that the Healthy Start Child Development Centre has started a series of field trips where the children are exposed to the various ethnicities and cultures we have in Singapore. The children get to experience various aspects of a culture such as food, festivals, places of worship and so forth. This week a group visited Little India and the St Andrew's Cathedral. At a temple in Little India, they were welcomed and sent off with the Hindu blessing of Vibuthi which has a similar symbolic meaning to Ash Wednesday in the Anglican and Catholic Churches. The ash on the forehead reminds us that we will all eventually turn to dust and are similar in that sense that we won't be here forever.

The way I see it and I hope the kids eventually do is that despite our seemingly different cultures, we can always find much in common and if so, the differences are just the spice of life. Fighting over them kills the flavour of life.
Enjoy your weekend!

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Family Group Conferencing  11/11/2006

A Family Group Conference for the care and protection of 2 young girls was held this week and what was really encouraging was the presence and active participation of extended family members as well as community partners such as the police, school counsellor and child protection officers from MCYS. Since we introduced FGCs as a way of 'putting things right' a couple of years ago, we are gradually getting mainstream support for the approach. The presence of the police officers was especially important for emphasizing the seriousness of child abuse in the eyes of the law.

As FGCs are still very much a community initiative, they police officers showed up in their personal capacities and one of them was there but anticipating his wife to call should she go into labour. The concern demonstrated by these community partners was really encouraging and another example was the school counsellor leaving behind her hand phone number because she would be transferred to another school in the new year.

On the flip side, with so many professionals around, the family's plan may risk getting undermined and sometimes simply because of work procedures that these professionals bring with them. But I am glad to report that the family's plan for the care arrangements of the 2 girls was accepted. Kudos to Lyn John and team for managing the process with a cool head that gave the family the strength to decide what was in their best interest.

Enjoy your weekend.

Good parenting requires us to remind our children of their strengths. Life will remind them of their weaknesses. As it has reminded us - Anonymous

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Building bridges  27/09/2006

This week, Youth United met up with the Commanding Officer of the Bukit Timah Neighbourhood Police Centre. The police were genuinely interested in our youth outreach efforts at lower-income neighbourhoods and pledged to collaborate wherever possible. While their focus is wider than juvenile crime they are pleased that a non-governmental agency like us seeks to work together with them. Ryan and Adeline will be crafting work plans for the Bukit Ho Swee area with their community liaison officers.

Currently, we are also in the process of setting up meetings with the police from the other areas we conduct outreach activities i.e. Henderson, Ghim Moh & Ang Mo Kio. This is being done with the aim of strengthening a partnership with the police where there is mutual respect and appreciation for the different roles both our organisations play. Together we leverage on this difference to contribute towards "A Caring Community and Safe Homes" which is the tagline for the police's Community Safety & Security Programme.

Such an approach is really different from my days as a beginning youth outreach worker. Back then, the quickest way to be the young people's 'hero' was to 'shield' them from the police and in a sense, 'reality' by identifying with their complains of police harassment, unfair laws and so forth. On hindsight, while I developed rapport and trust very quickly, my relationship with the young people was not very successful in bridging them back to mainstream. By weighing too much on their side, it was very difficult to form links with mainstream organisations or gain the trust of these organisations.

If we are ever going to bridge the 'marginalised' back to mainstream, we need to be able to engage the mainstream organisations. Just because different mainstream organisations have different roles and approaches, it does not mean that we cannot agree on common goals or find common grounds for cooperation that help us achieve our different goals. The ability to do this is often referred to as 'win-win'.

Youth United needs to work closely with the Police to be effective in the course of their work. Our Youth Workers are not policemen but they realise that an increased police presence in offending hotspots would disperse negative influences that affect the young people we target. Without the negative distractions, our chance of offering them opportunities for character development increases tremendously.

Later this evening, there will be a graduation party for our Streetwise Programme Participants. These youths have succeeded in staying on the straight and narrow over the past 6 months and they will share the achievement with their family, youths workers and representatives from the police : ). Tomorrow, the Beautiful People Programme will have volunteer Big Sisters sharing with 21 girls their stories about how they started and succeeded in their own businesses. Girls will then try their hand at jewellery making and tee-shirt designing.

Enjoy your weekend!

Dependent people need others to get what they want. Independent people can get what they want through their own efforts. Interdependent people combine their own efforts with the efforts of others to achieve their greatest success. - Stephen Covey

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