#ActionForHer: Growing circles of care for caregivers in Singapore

  • The  #ActionForHer campaign by the PAP Women’s Wing is extending its support to help caregivers and parents through creating awareness and recruiting of committed volunteers.
  • In growing Singapore’s care ecosystem, a community exhibition is bringing together more than 20 ground-up groups and social service agencies to showcase causes they support and rally people to sign up as volunteers at Sands Expo & Convention Centre on Saturday. 
  • Editor of TheHomeGround Asia Judith Tan speaks to MP for Nee Soon GRC and change maker Carrie Tan, who is driving the exhibition, on the challenges of the sector and or garnering support. 
An advocate for ground-up initiatives to help the poor, MP for Nee Soon GRC Carrie Tan chairs the committee for the #ActionForHer exhibition to grow the care ecosystem of Singapore by rallying for more volunteers. (Photo source: The Straits Times)
An advocate for ground-up initiatives to help the poor, MP for Nee Soon GRC Carrie Tan chairs the committee for the #ActionForHer exhibition to grow the care ecosystem of Singapore by rallying for more volunteers. (Photo source: The Straits Times)

The #ActionForHer campaign that started out pledging support for women in Singapore has grown to extend its support to help caregivers and parents through creating awareness, and recruiting of committed volunteers.

And to grow the “care ecosystem” further, the People’s Action Party (PAP) Women’s Wing has organised an exhibition at the Sands Expo & Convention Centre on Saturday, 10 September.

#ActionForHer: Growing circles of care for caregivers in Singapore
The exhibition provides a platform for the various organisations to showcase themselves and allow people to tap on them as service users or as volunteers. (Image courtesy of PAP Women’s Wing)

“We really want to provide a platform for the various ground up organisations to come and showcase what it is they are working on in the community, and they have very meaningful projects, so that more people can be aware of it and to tap on it as a service user themselves, to help them with their caregiving load, and help them with their families, situations, and difficulties,” an MP for Nee Soon GRC and chairperson for the exhibition Carrie Tan tells TheHomeGround Asia.

Ms Tan, who is herself an advocate of ground-up initiatives to help low income men and women in Singapore, says the best way “to mitigate the ebb and flow, rise and wane of volunteers available is to have a large pool of volunteers”.

“It is a numbers game. To get more volunteers, you have to have a certain percentage of them available or consistent to get to a stage where an organisation can have a core team of volunteers to really help them with their core work. And we really wanted to create this platform, so that organisations can benefit from that visibility,” she adds.

Gender inequality in India lit a spark within her

Encouraged to think critically and challenge the status quo by her father, Ms Tan packed her bags to spend two weeks volunteering in India in 2007. 

Her time spent in an orphanage in Kadapa had her knee-deep in issues such as infanticide of baby girls, bride burning and sex trafficking. It awakened her sense of social advocacy and jolted her out of the complacency that many Singaporeans tend to be in.

So in 2012, she gave up her five-figure monthly salary to found Daughters Of Tomorrow (DOT), then a social enterprise to provide skills training and employment for underprivileged women in India so that they could have a livelihood. 

DOT has since transformed into a charity focusing on women from low-income families in Singapore to find jobs. It also offers programmes to prepare them for gainful and sustainable employment. DOT was made an Institution of a Public Character (IPC) in 2017, allowing it to issue tax deductible receipts to donors.

#ActionForHer: Growing circles of care for caregivers in Singapore
Founder of Daughters of Tomorrow Carrie Tan says volunteerism is a very important component in community services and while there are many who are very warm hearted and willing to step forward, the perennial challenge is getting them to stay. (Photo source: CNA)

“Based on my experience with DOT and now as a grassroots advisor, volunteerism is a very important component when we work with community services. There are plenty of people who are very warm hearted and willing to step forward. But in terms of regularity, consistency, of seeing through projects, it really very much depends on the availability of volunteers to commit on a regular basis. So I think there’s a perennial challenge and issue here,” Ms Tan says. 

Many charitable start-ups usually operate on lean teams with limited resources to build up awareness, raise funds, and recruit committed volunteers to serve the many beneficiaries they have identified. 

Explaining this, she says  the duration a volunteer spends at a cause often depends on his or her station in life. “We have students from the university and when they start working, their lives change, their commitments change, their priorities shift. This ebb and flow, rise and wane of availability is a very key factor when it comes to consistent delivery of community services,” she adds.

Alleviating others through one’s own pain, experiences

More than 20 ground-up groups and social service agencies will be showcasing causes they support at the exhibition on Saturday, and rallying people to sign up as volunteers. Among them are start-ups such as the Single Parent Support Group (SPSG) and SG Assist, which were founded by people who were in need themselves and want to help others in the same situation.

SPSG was founded by single mother Vivian Pan to support other single parents through organising fund-raising garage sales and alerting members of job openings. She is constantly on the lookout for ways to help single parents in need so that the “kids should not be left hungry”.

Co-founders of SG Assist Adrian Tan and Greg Tan said they drew the inspiration of their organisation “from an experience very close to Adrian’s heart”, caring for his mother who suffered from depression after recovering from breast cancer.

I think most people are driven by wanting to alleviate others whom they see as having or maybe going through the same difficulties as them and that’s a very commendable form of altruism. …  That is a testimony of the human spirit where we are so willing to help someone else to not go through what we did before and I think it is really the driving force of many charitable efforts or initiatives,” Ms Tan says.

Citing SG Assist as an example, she says the two men, who are themselves caregivers, also broke the mould of public perception or narrative that caregivers are mostly women.

“They are all reaching out to other caregivers to provide support to help them based on their own experience. And I think this is the best kind of way to initiate community service because they have the natural empathy for what the intended beneficiaries are going through. So the services they design will be very much relevant, and sensitive and considerate to the people that they’re trying to help because they come from a peer perspective,” Ms Tan says.

Mr Adrian Tan adds: “Over the years, SG Assist volunteers and fellow caregivers have come together to build a community that cares for one another, just like the theme of this year’s #ActionForHer: Growing Our Circles of Care. As part of this exhibition, SG Assist will be sharing more about what we do to equip and support fellow Singaporeans on their caregiving journeys as we come together to grow our care ecosystem as a nation.”

#ActionForHer: Growing circles of care for caregivers in Singapore
Go-founder of SG Assist Adrian Tan sharing how the AG Assist app on the smart phone can be used efficiently. (Photo source: SG Assist)

A volunteer and caregiver-led initiative, SG Assist has more than 6,000 volunteers throughout the island, and this year, it has started a concierge service, training seniors and person-with-disabilities as care agents “to provide care navigation and home monitoring support to empower seniors to live independently safely, while giving their caregivers a peace of mind to focus in their work”, Mr Tan says.

Bringing back the old kampung spirit while growing the eco-care system

Ms Tan agrees, saying that by providing the reassurance that caregivers do not have to go through this alone – “something that many caregivers have had that said to them and they may understand on a cognitive level, but emotionally, they don’t seem to believe”. 

“I think this stems from a very deeply entrenched value system of piety. And hence, even when they are trying to seek help, they have so many judgments about that in their mind,” she says. 

Ms Tan and her grassroots leaders in her constituency at Nee Soon South have connected caregivers through a very simple mechanism, “by putting them all on a WhatsApp group chat so they know that they’re not alone”. 

“If they ever need some advice, tips, how to get to a certain resource or even a word of  comfort, they only need to ask. I think creating an accessible channel for someone to ask questions to someone else who could offer some information and advice is just really the first step. … Some people are just not inclined to social media, or may not be digitally savvy. But you know, if they are just a WhatsApp text away, that’s easy to get to. And we also want to create more awareness in the community about the stresses that caregivers go through and encourage volunteers from the grassroots to proactively encourage and support caregivers who they may come across in the neighbourhood,” she says.

An example she cites is the need for disposable diapers for the elderly. 

“When someone tells me that she is really stressed out with diapers, I would say we have this organisation Go with the Motion Singapore that actually helps with diapers. Sometimes it’s just encouraging them to vocalise what they are challenged in, This can be the first step to unlocking that awareness that they can receive help. I think often when you’re a caregiver, the term itself says you’re a giver. So you’re still in the mode of giving that you forget how to ask to receive,” Ms Tan adds.

Ms Tan says the family as a first line of support is something that “the government is trying to maintain from a policy angle” and “the value of having ownership and having self reliance is still very important because we do not want to enter the slippery slope into a welfare state”, so she is very happy that the home caregiving grant has been increased.

“But having said that, I do believe that from an ageing society’s point of view, we do need to start exploring that care is something that needs to be better distributed. This means the community can step in to help someone else in the neighbourhood with caregiving load duties and errands,” she says.

#ActionForHer: Growing circles of care for caregivers in Singapore
Volunteers and service users at KampungKakis learning the intricacies of first aid from SCDF. (Photo source: KampungKakis)

Adding, “We already see ground up groups like KampungKakis that are trying to create more volunteers based on geographical proximity so that we can harness the power of a nearby neighbour to help out. That’s something that we’re also exploring in Yishun. In addition, our community partners are providing a team of volunteers with some basic training on how to provide care and run care services so overall, we can mitigate the total institutional points of care as well as make care accessible for someone without having to cost anything to the state,” she adds.

KampungKakis is a neighbourhood buddy system aimed at supporting the elderly and disadvantaged families by connecting resident volunteers with their neighbours-in-need based on proximity, assistance type and spoken language.

To learn more about the #ActionForHer: Growing Our Circles of Care exhibition, trot down to Heliconia Junior Ballroom on level 3 of the Sands Expo & Convention Centre on Saturday, 10 Sep, between 1pm and 6pm. And if you are interested in joining the different causes, you may want to sign up too. Admission is free.

RELATED: Ground-up activism: Civil society and advocacy that make a difference in Singapore

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