Connecting local responses around the world
Beyond Social Services just commemorated 50 years of working with low income families and communities in Singapore. Our approach has always been to focus on the strengths of the members of the community, and rally people around issues they face.
SALT and CLCP entered our lives about 8 years ago. SALT reinforced our original beliefs and further strengthened our approach to fostering relationships among community members, and between our community workers and the community members. Together, we learnt to listen and appreciate the lived experiences of those in these neighbourhoods and support projects that they want to undertake. We now have so many parents and youth who take ownership and encourage their neighbours to participate actively in addressing community concerns. These range from health issues, to safety, employment, education, family issues and others.
SALT provided a clear perspective to who we must 'be' as we 'do' the work. While some models of community engagement give tools to engage members, SALT practices in so many communities around the world provided us with clear examples of how to approach and develop communities together with members.
An example is how several parents have come together to create a savings programme for their children. The children's savings are matched by donors and deposited in a government initiated Child Development Account (CDA). The amount deposited is then matched by the government dollar for dollar. So a child's savings of a $1 is double matched by donors and with government matching, it becomes $6. This account can then be drawn down for educational and health expenses for the children.
Previously, parents from the low income families were not availing of the CDA account as they need to place a deposit to receive the government matching, and many did not think they could afford to save towards even a small deposit. When more parents came together for the collective effort, the initial feelings of helplessness disappeared, and they found that they could save a few dollars each, and more collectively.
Now there are several self organised groups that meet once a month to pool their savings and divide it across all the participating children. In some months, if a few children are unable to save much, the rest compensate with their own. This boosts the community spirit, as they encourage each other.
We are also in the process of organising communities to explore issues of health, and their perceptions and beliefs around health. While health services are well organised in Spore, low income families are not adequately utilising them. Also, the healthcare providers want to address the health needs in the communities. We will be starting the project soon, definitely guided by SALT.
Rome was not built in a day, and the same for community. Relationships grow with trust and are fostered through shared experiences, and Beyond's efforts are in creating opportunities for these experiences.