For us, a social issue is not just a problem to be eradicated but an opportunity for people from different backgrounds to come together and work toward a common good. Hence in every neighbourhood that we operate, residents volunteer alongside those from larger Singapore society. Last Saturday, 23 out of 55 who attended a gathering in appreciation of volunteers were residents. It was an occasion where people from different backgrounds got to appreciate perspectives and opinions very different from those they held. In a sense, volunteering is a gateway into different life-worlds and we are grateful to Gateway Theatre for the use of their facilities.
After a meal and some activities where people began volunteering a little more information about themselves, we made our way to Bukit Kuning (Yellow Hill), a short interactive play presented by volunteers from the Applied Drama and Psychology Programme at Singapore Polytechnic. There we met Alexis, a child who was reluctant to heed the advice of her teacher who had offered to coach her outside school hours. Alexis did not want to give up her daily game of football for more school work. She confided to a friend that it was the only part of the day where she experienced some happiness and felt alive. Her situation at home was rough and there were times she had been locked out at night.
We took turns to speak separately with Alexis, her teacher and a friend’s mother who was concerned about her. Perhaps, it was just the stress of speaking with so many people, but Alexis broke down in the process and started crying. She did not push away those who comforted her, but when she regained her composure after several minutes, she remained teary-eyed and raw.
When we regrouped to reflect on our visit to Bukit Kuning, many expressed their concern for Alexis. “Wasn’t it plainly obvious that studies took priority over a game of football?” If it was obvious, the question would be “How do we get Alexis to see it?” Also, “Why was Alexis crying?” As the questions floated, one volunteer shared that when she ran afoul of the law as a young person, she was angry and unable to think clearly. She felt that the many who offered to help never believed that she could make good and disregarded her views and efforts. They simply suggested that change was in her hands. It was only when she experienced the trust extended to her by one of many counsellors that she began to cooperate and accept well-meaning advice.
Another volunteer searched for Alexis and invited her to explain why she was overcome with emotion. Still filled with emotion, she said that while everyone had good advice, she felt powerless and misunderstood if not totally unheard. Alexis despite her challenges does not skip school. It was a good reminder that as we appreciate the good that we all do, those who are not making good could certainly do with some appreciation of their circumstances and their efforts at circumventing them.
Enjoy your weekend.
The gateways to wisdom and knowledge are always open. – Louise Hay