I love listening to mum’s stories of what life was like in the kampung. She grew up in an era where the majority of Singaporeans were living in poverty, and the nation was still fighting for its survival. She would share stories of how those who had more shared food with the neighbours in need, keeping a look out for each other's kids and banding together to put out fires that broke out in the village. From these stories, I formed my appreciation of what “kampung spirit” is all about.
For me, it’s a sense of solidarity shared by a group of people living in proximity, and guided by a set of shared values. Personally, I think some of these values would include respect for the sanctity of life, stewardship and service, and treating each other with honesty and integrity.
There has been much talk about reviving the ‘kampung spirit’ in Singapore, and I believe that if we can achieve that, we can increase the social capital of individuals in the community, and build a more resilient society. For SOS, I believe that to build a sense of solidarity, it starts with having clarity in our shared vision, goals, and an appreciation of our shared values.
Towards the end of 2020, SOS board of management came together to review how we can future proof SOS and ensure that our work is sustainable. From there, the board started ‘Project Cornerstone’, to address three areas of the organisation - ‘How We Serve (the community)’, ‘How We Engage (our volunteers)’ and ‘How We Govern (the organisation)’. These task forces consist of members from our volunteer pools, board committee, staff, and external professionals.
In the cornerstone taskforce that expounded on the subject of how we engage our volunteers, we recognised that having an engaged volunteer pool is core to the sustainability of SOS. In the next three years, some of the areas that we will work on are:
- Introduce ‘Tribe Leaders’ for staff/volunteers to provide care.
- Strengthen internal communication to better align with SOS’s vision, mission, and values
- Create organic platforms for staff and volunteers to interact through activities
- Introduce skip-level lunches between board members, staff, and volunteers
- Conduct periodic People Opinion Surveys
- Develop a competency roadmap to ensure continual capability development from staff/volunteers
We have already started working on some of these new initiatives. We started recreation groups like cycling and crochet. We organise potluck lunches with our colleagues, and we set aside the third Friday of every month, to share a meal and catch up with our volunteers in the Cantonment training room.
The heartbeat behind all these activities is to create opportunities for people to get to know each other better, have honest conversations about things that really matter to us, to have fun and create shared memories.
In my mind, the spirit that we displayed at the ‘Spark the Change Fest’ could not have happened without making an intentional shift in how we envision our relationship with each other and with the community at large.
At the event, we saw volunteers and staff going beyond their call of duty, stepping out of their comfort zone to try new things, checking in with each other to see what help is needed, and creating fun along the way (remember the 'pack the goodie bag' race?). Everyone contributed in the ways that they could. I was also very heartened to see other social service agencies showing up to support the event, singers who were courageous enough to share their personal struggle with the audience, and others who quietly worked behind the scenes to help us raise funds.
Josephine Chia (author of 'Kampong Spirit - Gotong Royong: Life in Potong Pasir, 1955 to 1965'), wrote in an article and said that, "the precious qualities of resilience and sense of community we shared in the kampung are qualities to emulate to build a strong, united nation. No one was left to die in loneliness. We talked to neighbours and looked out for each other. Each weekend evening, we came together outdoors to chat, recite poetry, tell stories and sing songs.", and I believe we did exactly that during our 'Spark the Change Fest'.
Image Credits: Image by <a href="https://www.freepik.com/free-vector/hand-drawn-flat-design-people-waving-illustration_21452141.htm#query=community&position=2&from_view=search">Freepik</a>