When the Rotary Club of Marina City wanted to provide a meal for 160 residents of a public rental neighborhood, we suggested that they engage 4 mothers who have acquired their food handling certification from the Singapore Food Agency. We have been supporting mothers to acquire this certification with a view that they may eventually start a micro-business catering for house parties and small events. There are no parties or events at the moment and this opportunity seemed like a nice little project to take on.
The cook received an allowance of $12 for every hour’s work while the others got $10 and the owner of the home where the meals were cooked received $20 for utilities. The project lasted 6 hours and so labour and utilities amounted to $272. Condiments and packaging amount to $205 and with chicken sponsored by BRF Singapore Foods Pte Ltd, each meal cost $3 which is about the price one would pay at a hawker center. Of course, this does not include the cost of our time in coordinating the project and it could be argued that it would be way more cost effective and efficient to just feed 160 with a meal from the hawker centre. I guess that’s true but then it would be “procurement” and not “community development.”
Serving as a conduit for goodwill into less privileged communities, we are mindful that where possible, these resources are used in a manner that promotes neigbourliness, economic and civic activity, work skills as well as friendships or significant encounters at least, among people from different backgrounds. By facilitating the preparation of 150 packets of food, the context for neighbours to strengthen social ties was created. Those who volunteered to distribute the food were also delivering the intangible gifts of comfort, care, and reassurance.
Moreover, the successful experience has gotten 4 women looking forward to their next opportunity with confidence. They have now started suggesting to their friends that their cooking skills could be used to bring home some money for their families and they enthusiastically want to keep the project going. As they were thinking of a name for the project, “masalah” which is Malay for “problem” was the first word that came to mind. They chuckled but eventually decided to pun it to “masak-lah” which means “Lets cook!” So, with pride they explained that “Project Masak-Lah!” speaks to them because it feels like they are turning a problem into a solution.
Too often, funds utilized for community service have been regarded as expenses that serve a need but have little return on investment. Perhaps, scholarships and education are seen as investments, but I would like to say that resources can be mobilised in a manner beyond the initial intentions to benefit people and their community in profound ways. “Project Masak-Lah!” is a small example how financial and other resources can be harnessed to develop agency among our members, their families, and their community.
This pandemic has highlighted the importance of essential workers who are usually not noticed but most would come from less privileged communities that are hardest hit. Caring for their neighbourhoods and building the capabilities of their families and friends is very much caring for all of us.
Withing you health, and peace of mind.
“We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” – Martin Luther King