I joined the organisation on 15 October 1982 and so this coming Tuesday will be my work anniversary. I was the youngest and most junior in a team of 4 but it has not been the same job all these years. At one point we had close to 120 on our payroll and more if we counted our associates. I am deeply grateful to have had this tremendous opportunity to develop professionally and personally.
Much has changed with me but one thing that has not after all these years, is a discomforting feeling that the availability of my job is dependent on the continued misery of those I profess to support. Will these people just wilt away when I am not present in their lives? Or am I always finding a way to establish a presence in their lives; keeping them dependent on my services so I can make a living? Hence, when we renamed ourselves as Beyond Social Services in 2001, I found it comforting as it was a name that challenged us to reimagine our role as helping professionals. We are no longer service providers but relationship builders and connectors that enable people to self-organise the changes they want to see utilising their own resources and the goodwill within our society.
A couple of months ago, Aidah a resident of the Ghim Moh neighbourhood submitted a request via a form on her phone that was created by a volunteer Workplace Learning Specialist in training with the Institute for Adult Learning Singapore. Judith the volunteer had been discussing with Aidah and a few other residents how they may be empowered to decide on the type of gifts flowing into their neighbourhood. A workflow was created and after we received the request for a picnic via email, we linked the Rotary Club of Marina City to her. 2 Saturdays ago, together with the Rotarians, residents in Ghim Moh co-organised a picnic attended by more than 50 of their neighbours at the West Coast Park.
When connecting our members with others, we do our best to bring about equitable relations among them so that genuine cooperation happens. We are sensitive to unhelpful power dynamics that corrupts the notion of people from different backgrounds coming together in solidarity. Our work is not about getting “the haves” giving to the “have-nots” but about getting people together in friendship so that there is a social integration that benefits all of us. For our members, these new friendships expand the way they see themselves and possibly increases their access to resources, opportunities and networks that facilitate their development and well-being. Hence, we are heartened that the Rotarians and them have now set up a WhatsApp group to continue the friendship and work together on the next neighbourhood project.
I began work here as a youth worker keeping young people on the streets out of harm’s way. I spent countless hours listening to them relate how unfairly the “world” has been treating them. The “world” cut them slack for being young and paid people like me to guide them toward developing more balanced and mature worldviews. I saw myself being a bridge but seldom did people on either side use me. Today, I will still be a bridge if needed but more often I am a hospitable living room where people enter as strangers but leave as friends working together for a better world.
The discomforting feeling within me remains and I value it as it keeps me thinking about the next milestone in the journey beyond social services. The organisation has now journeyed 50 years and in conjunction with International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, we will be launching a publication of our story this coming Thursday, 17 October at 6.30 pm. If you are interested to come, please RSVP here and we will send you the details. The event will be hosted by Eunice Olsen, a long-time volunteer and apart from experiencing our hospitality, you will meet and hear from our members who have contributed to the publication and get a better appreciation of who we are and where we are heading.
Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of you for your friendship without which we would not have come so far. You may not fully realise the impact of your support but believe me it can be tremendous. If each and every one of you reading this bought a copy of our 50thAnniversary publication, we can stop fund-raising for the year because we would have balanced our books ��. Please order your copy here.
As always, wishing you all things good.
“Together, we form a necessary paradox; not a senseless contradiction.” – Criss Jami