Monday, September 01, 2008

Poverty in Singapore:

Strangely enough, for someone who does not like a good number of PAP policies and takes their statements with a good dose of salt, it appears that I had always bought their line that poverty had been eliminated in Singapore.

It sure seemed true to me back in the 80s and 90s, perhaps my eyes were blinded or I had been delusional (probably the latter). The following video, however, reminded me that I undoubtedly witnessed many of those scenes depicted whenever I visit my girlfriend in Chinatown as well as in a good number of places over the last 10 or so years.

Now the questions to be asked as a nation, are: How severe is this problem? How do we solve this problem?

I do not know. I'll not, for now, be offering any solutions or trying to wrap my head around it. I will, however, post my personal (rambling) feelings about it.

For the rest of this article, I'll leave politics aside. I am (still) unaware of the extent of the problem, but it would seem to me that it is commonplace enough that it warrants our attention as a nation. IMHO, the PAP is deluding itself and the people if they think this is not a problem (like the way they dismiss maid-abuse as the exception when in fact, their employment environment treats them as no better than slaves).

First off, I feel a sense of shame and powerlessness. Shame because I have lived 36 years without seeing the proverbial "elephant in the room". Powerlessness because, as an individual, I feel I am well-to-do enough to help some but not all. I am not so selfless as to give all that I have to the poor, and not so trusting as to believe that they are all truly in need.

I am also (strangely enough) socially "shy". As far as possible, I do not wish to build strong personal relationships with people, particularly with people I am trying to help. Each relationship puts a large amount of stress on me as I would often feel I've let people down by not spending enough time with them (in fact, I often DO NOT spend enough time with ANYONE because of that). This makes me a lousy social worker and heightens my sense of powerlessness to help these people.

Finally, there is a massive communication gap between myself and most of the poor in Singapore. My mental frame of context is probably very different from theirs and my linguistic skills are limited in all practical terms to English. I can perhaps converse a teeny bit in Mandarin and Cantonese, but that's about it.

I would like to see help show up for the poor and destitute in Singapore. There are some questions I would like answered:

1) How extensive is the problem? Do we have data? The reason for this question is not to excuse ourselves from the need to help them, but to find out how much effort would be involved. The thing that bugs me is that I am aware of private organizations that offer help to the poor and needy ... but WHY do we still see so much of these instances of homelessness?

2) How can we reach out to them? Do the homeless get insulted or run away when approached? Can they be interviewed to find out how they got into their situation and how they think we can help them get back on their feet? Are some of these individuals (usually busking) just bored at their age (as one old person in Martyn See's video indicated)?

3) How do we get our nation involved? How do Singaporeans in general feel about the homeless and the poor? Do they consider these people "useless and lazy" (we'll then have to change their mindset)? Are they aware of the plight of these people (I had just woken up to the "elephant" after 36 years ... am not surprised if many people are still blind to the problem)? Would Singaporean girls be willing to take up a 4-5 month "National Service" to volunteer their time to organize and canvass help for these people in all ways (money, lodging, food, employment) possible?

Shame is setting upon me again ... as I sit here procastinating from my own struggle to graduate, I feel like I have little or no time to try and help ...


Kok Keong said...

Without talking to them, getting to know them, I don't know how much we can help these people. Giving them something that we have may help them in the short term, but how do we help them in the long term. How do we reduce the number of such people in such circumstances?

I guess some of them do not have any family members to go to or perhaps abandoned by their family members, otherwise they wouldn't be staying without a home.

I have seen such old folks in my housing estate, salvaging through the rubbish bins for things to sell. I believe some of these folks cannot get jobs and have to resort to begging, salvaging, etc.

Haizz.. I feel so helpless too.

Temp said...

For more detailed discussions on these important topics, see:
Singapore Kopitiam

Chee Wai Lee said...

Thanks for the response, Kok Keong.

There's an interesting article on the ST indicating that some residents in Serangoon Gardens objecting to an old school being converted as a dorm for foreign workers (I think they have valid concerns, but still, it's a shame we have to stereotype all these people like that). Perhaps this school can be used to house the homeless temporarily while we find a long term solution for them? It supposedly has the potential to house 1,000 people.

I am tempted to send a suggestion to the WP and PAP Youth Wings to have them try to generate some awareness of the problem. Still, I am not keen to politicize the issue ... am afraid either things get deadlocked or get done in a distasteful fashion because of ideology ...