A year ago, we broached the idea that “Families, not services, lead change” (AWB – 1839) to several families and we are glad that 11 of them have signed up for the Community Independence Project (CII). These families have been divided into 2 groups and they each received a tablet PC to login onto an online journal that tracks their efforts related to income and savings, health, education and skills, housing, leadership and connections. CII is a new model of social assistance that focuses on equipping families with social networks, capital and autonomy to improve their lives independently. Families are to meet monthly to support each other and after arranging the first meeting for both groups, we are optimistic that these families will make good progress.
After reiterating that our role was only to arrange for the meeting and to take notes, we stood aside to let the 3 who came to get the meeting going. Very quickly they started introducing themselves to each other by sharing personal experiences and stories. One spoke about having to live at a shelter after her divorce and her challenge of securing accommodation for her children. The wellbeing of their children was a common theme and they all realised that they shared a similar experience of losing a job because they had to attend to their sick children. Everyone resonated when one of them shared that it was extremely embarrassing and difficult to inform an employer that they needed time off to attend to their sick child.
People were meeting for the first time, but they hit off quickly and started sharing about their job or how they are generating income. We could hear pride in their voices as people spoke about their endeavours. One shared about selling anything she could her hands on via different online platforms. Along the way, she learnt that she needed to register with the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA) but she is now quite adept and is even showing her 10-year-old son the ropes of her entrepreneurial effort. Another shared that after years as a cleaner, she is finally doing something she enjoys by being in the healthcare sector looking after older persons.
Perhaps, by consciously being inconspicuous, participants did not experience the presence of a helping professional. So, it was encouraging to see people in a social assistance programme speaking about their successes and happy moments confidently instead of articulating a failure or a sad situation to be deserving of assistance. One participant proudly shared that she found a volunteer run site that gave her access to pre-loved household items as well as bursaries and activities for her children. She attributed this discovery to her resourcefulness and passed the word to her friends. Together they applied for bursaries for their children.
In another context, this mother may have had reservations about sharing such information while attending a social assistance programme for fear that she would be regarded as having a welfare-dependent mentality. If social assistance is meant to nurture initiative and self-reliance among people, we should be mindful if our programmes have inadvertently conditioned those seeking help to be weak and helpless in our presence.
Enjoy your week.
Sadly, those at the bottom of our economic ladder are portrayed as “takers” from society. But those in our poorest neighborhoods also create jobs and almost all the jobs go to low-income peers. – Mauricio Lim Miller