Seven mothers, a father and Robert (not his real name), a single man of 37, were sitting in a circle to debrief the day’s happenings. They were a little exhausted but also filled with pride and a sense of satisfaction for what they had achieved. The 6 single parent families who accepted their invitation to attend a full-day programme had gone home with the phone numbers of supportive neighbours living in their blocks. They could also look forward to the practical assistance that these neighbours had promised them.
The programme organisers had first come together on 5th July (AWB – 1528) to discuss how they could support single-parent families with young children in their neighbourhood. Over the past few months, they had been visiting single parents, offering their friendship and lending a listening ear to their challenges. Robert shared that not everyone was receptive and some did not open their doors even though they were home. “This work is so hard but with passion and a very thick skin we can succeed,” he reflected. Though only 6 of the 11 single parent families invited showed up, the organisers were heartened by the active participation and believed that the single parents who came will now help to reach those who did not show.
The event was called the Rejoice Retreat and all families present including those of the organisers took stock of the blessings of their year. After which, every member of the family shared their dreams for the New Year. Dreams included passing at school, getting steady employment, earning more and also holidays and new phones. Though parents knew that some dreams were not priority, none of them was shot down and it turned out to be an important exercise for parents and children to simply hear each other’s wishes. When we teased a mother that her daughter wanted a new phone, she good naturedly responded, “Alamak, I must bake and sell more cookies.”
With the help of volunteers from the Facilitators Network Singapore (FNS), families put together a collage of pictures and captions from old magazines to articulate their dreams. The volunteer facilitators then grouped people according to the block that they lived and had them concretise their dreams by getting to the specifics of “What, When and Who?” It was the third time that the volunteers from FNS are supporting this neighbourhood and as we observed the organisers confidently co-operating with them to get the exercises and discussions going, we could see that given the appropriate support people want and can lead the changes that improve their situations.
Apart from Robert, the other programme organisers were care-givers with challenges of their own. One had to care for a relative’s intellectually disabled child while another was looking after two children whose parents are incarcerated. three were single parents themselves and generally, they all got by with very modest resources. During the organisers’ debrief, a single parent told the rest that they have been a wonderful source of support for her and the volunteering has helped her not to wallow in her own troubles.
We encourage residents to take on leadership for the social challenges in their neighbourhood because without their active participation, no social programme can succeed. Also when people develop as leaders, they are also acquiring skills and relationships that facilitate their social mobility. A mother of four told the group that she had just gotten the keys to a purchased flat but she would definitely miss the warmth of her current neighbourhood. We would miss her too but one cannot ferry others across the river without crossing it too.
“The best way to not feel hopeless is to get up and do something. Don’t wait for good things to happen to you. If you go out and make some good things happen, you will fill the world with hope, you will fill yourself with hope.” ― Barack Obama