Tag Archives: Happy People Helping People

Feast of Giving

By Jayashree Selvalatchmanan

“Ending poverty is first about bringing the issue to light. A lot of people don’t want to see or admit that there is poverty. When we come and look at this group of elderly, we see that there is a need, maybe within a different definition of poverty, but they are deprived. They are deprived of love, they are deprived of care. Living in their one-rooms, it is all these activities (like those at the Feast of Giving) that help. If they are happier, it is less of a burden on their plight if they have a lack of monetary resources. The elderly just want to be loved”– Joy Mahbubani, Managing Director of J’s Restaurant.

16 Feb 2015 (1)Photo credits: Happy People Helping People Foundation, Dob Firdaus

End-of-year celebrations signify different things to different people. For the perpetually busy, it may be a long intended union with family and friends. For those seeking success and purposeful change, it may be a time required to clear out the mind and set fresh goals, more inspiring and ambitious than the ones from the year before. Others may simply relish giving back to society; wanting to touch and change the lives of those around them- with a dash of love.

On the 28th of December 2014, in a first-time collaboration between ONE (SINGAPORE), J’s Restaurant and Happy People Helping People, a festive event titled “Feast of Giving” was organised to honour the elderly and give back a little something to those who have spent years toiling for the future of their families and the society. The 3-hour event, buttressed by passionate volunteers, played host to 180 special guests – the elderly, aged 60 and above, residents of the one-room rental blocks, 22, 23 & 24 located at 22 Chai Chee Road – in an eventful evening of fun and games.

The event was scheduled a stone’s throw away from the rental premises at a delightful multi-purpose hall, nested cosily between old residential blocks. As the clock strikes four, organisers and volunteers promptly take their places around the modest vicinity and duly mingled with guests as they start to arrive. A warm sense of responsibility slowly permeates the air. Volunteers showed the guests to their seats; the actively passionate few hasten around with an urgent sincerity to inject the immediately sociable with doses of cordiality. Instantaneous relations formed–moments before, a stranger, but in a splitting connection, one became another’s father, daughter, or uncle. It seemed that everyone, stranger or not, was bonded under one synchronised notion– to delight the elderly: to make them laugh and sing; to be givers and receivers of love; and to bestow upon them humble gifts.

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Writer and motivational speaker, Zaibun leads the event to an invigorating start. With a quick sprinkle of positivity, she guides her audience up on their feet and demonstrated a series of quirky laughing exercises.

“It’s time to laugh”, she says, pointing to her watch, “Roar with laughter!” The crowd erupts into a massive cheer like there was some kind of rock star on stage; rounds of hollering laughter swiftly ensued. Zaibun’s zesty talk and performance lasts for a little more than thirty minutes before she bid her guests farewell. A final song was played. Many of the elderly were beaming from ear-to-ear; others sat down to rest, tired from all that laughing and prancing around– it was indeed a contagious sight!

The rest of the evening was further lined up with a series of intriguing performances and games. There was a visit and magic performance by Santa, song and dance by kids from Ameba Schoolhouse and a highly interactive session of Bingo. It was announced that the winners of Bingo would be presented with an opportunity to visit River Safari on the 25th of January, accompanied, of course, by volunteers. To that, there were some disgruntled groans from the crowd (because of the travelling required) but most seemed conspicuously thrilled!

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“The event was really enjoyable. I am very happy today,” said Mariyam B, aged 75, both volunteer at the Kembangan-Chai Chee seniors activity centre and resident of Block 24. Other senior guests at the occasion expressed similar emotions – many shared their contentment and delight, others displayed enormous amounts of gratitude and claimed to have had some of their heartiest laughs. Madam Zainab, also in her 70s, said she was absolutely enthralled by the performances and even instructed that future events turn away from typical themes.

“Plan differently next time!” she urged with a cheerful giggle.

Dinner that evening was graciously provided by J’s restaurant. Joy Mahbubani, managing director of the enterprise seemed more like one of our dedicated volunteers – dancing, singing and interacting with the guests. The menu for the event included, saffron rice, roasted chicken, sweet and sour fish, vegetables and bread & butter pudding.

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After all the fun and laughter, the event drew to a close. However, a prime question remains undiscussed. What is the bigger picture?

Feast of Giving is a step towards curbing poverty. The event raises awareness, while sharing love and abundance.

I truly hope that we have set things in motion so this cycle of giving and receiving will be passed on.

Have an astounding new year!

Photos courtesy of Dob Firdaus

Related Articles

  • Feast of Giving – a year-end celebration on 20 December 2014 for the elderly living in the Chai Chee area
  • Photos of the Feast of Giving

Selling Cardboard for a Living: A Morning at Collection Point

A peek into the work of Singapore’s elderly cardboard box collectors by Joy Liu

Even before the heat settles in, the corner stalls of Toa Payoh Industrial Park — tucked between the highway overhead and residential apartments across the street — are filled with the whirling and beeping of vehicles and forklifts moving back and forth. The lined rows of long buildings are sectioned into storefronts, denoted by open garages spilling metal rods or parked trucks onto the narrow streets.

One of these is a collection point. There is no storefront label, just a sweat-soaked man behind a large scale balanced by a dangling metal disk. It is his job to weigh everything.

26 Dec 2014Photo credit: The Kapturist

Most of what he weighs are cardboard boxes — brown, of various sizes, some collapsed, most still labeled with names of the products they once carried. The man buys them for 10 to 12 cents per kg. He scribbles a few numbers on a notepad as a receipt, digs out a few bills (or more often, a few coins) from two tin containers, and hands them to his seller.

Mr. Ong* has forgotten to collect his money. His bow-legged gait limits his effort to unload the boxes and few metal rods that he is selling in halting, jolted movements. He has already turned away before he is followed and given the $4.10 that he is owed. He looks at the money and points to his chest questioningly. Then, a toothless smile spreads across his face as he takes it in comprehension.

He is in his eighties. He wears a cap, shorts, and printed button-down shirt. As he returns up the road pushing his now empty cart except for cloth bags dangling from the handle, he talks about chiding his unmarried daughter with a smile.

ONE (SINGAPORE), in collaboration with J’s Restaurant and Happy People Helping People Foundation is organising a Feast of Giving, an end-year celebration for some 200 low-income elderly and cardboard collectors on Sunday 28 December.

There are no statistics for the number of cardboard collectors in Singapore, however one merchant who buys their stock says he sees 20 different elderly vendors every day. “They come here multiple times a day,” the man at the collection point says, nodding after Mr. Ong. He says most of the sellers are men and women in their sixties to eighties, who spend a majority of their day collecting, transporting and selling boxes.

Ms. Jaen* estimates that she is one of “sometimes twenty, no more than thirty,” in Toa Payoh. At sixty-five, she has a diminutive but stocky stature enlarged by an oversized faded T-shirt and maroon sweat pants. She has been collecting boxes in Singapore for over a decade, not being able to find any other work.  While she has no family, she answers a ringing phone in a bulky fanny pack tied around her waist with exclamations that carry halfway across the street.  “My friend,” she explains in a softer voice, after pulling out her upper dentures, picking off a speck, and replacing them in her mouth with attentive precision.

Unlike Mr. Ong, Ms. Jaen’s cart does not have metal scraps, which fetch over a dollar per kg.  She has only boxes collected from stores in the area. While the stores give her their unneeded boxes, it is not always generosity that she faces.  Ms. Jaen says people have also stolen boxes from her cart when she wasn’t looking.

26 Dec 2014 (2)
Photo credit: Daniel Seidel

Her visit to the collection point around noon with a mostly full cart of some collapsed and stacked boxes earns her $2.30. This is a morning’s work.

She stops to chat with another woman coming to sell boxes. When she isn’t in conversation, she stands silently. Her brown eyes, ringed with grey around the pupils, trains onto a fixed spot. She waits. Behind her, the boxes she just sold are tossed into a rusting cage. When the cage is full, a forklift hoists and empties it into two large freight crates jutting onto the road. They are going to be shipped off, re-purposed, made useful again.

On her third sell of the day, Ms. Jaen earns four coins for a stack of boxes that reaches her shoulder. They total to a dollar. She shakes her head as she jangles the coins in her hands. A moment later, she lets out a questioning gasp when she discovers she’s only holding three coins. The next second, she stoops in front of the scale, face centimeters from the ground, retrieving the lost coin and tucking it into her fanny pack.

*Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those interviewed.

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