We had a meeting with the leaders of a group of neighbours who call themselves Strong Women. When we reached their neighbourhood, we found these 3 women waiting for us and learnt that they had just returned from an early dinner together. Strong Women is about 18 months old, and it was formed with the purpose of nurturing mutual support and care among its members which comprised caregivers and homemakers living in 2 blocks of rental flats.
They also organised activities for themselves and their neighbourhood and listed a ‘strong women’ walk, a writing workshop, window shopping and a visit to a cafe as possible upcoming events to destress from the daily stresses of motherly duties. They also felt that workshops to acquire self-regulation strategies for one’s mental health would be useful. One activity that sparked much enthusiasm was a potluck meal and so we asked if it was because everyone got to eat. The answer was “Yes” but importantly, “It is because food creates the opportunity for us to bond and hear each other’s stories.”
One of them elaborated, “When I mentioned I was moving here, my colleague told me that rental flat people are ‘complicated’ which made me feel scared when I first moved in. I was afraid to even talk to neighbours but since Beyond encouraged us to connect with neighbours, I realised that the people here are actually okay! Everyone’s situation is different, and everyone has a reason why they are living here. Some are single mothers like me, some sold their homes, and some are seniors without children. There’s nothing wrong with people here, everyone’s friendly, and I feel safe.”
Another concurred and shared that she was initially terrified of certain neighbours and would “run off” to avoid meeting them. Today, after participating in several neighbourhood activities and getting to know her neighbours, she feels very comfortable and safe.
There was obviously much psychological safety among these women, and we felt privileged to be trusted with their struggles. The 3rd person present revealed that before joining Strong Women, she did not talk with any neighbour because she experiences severe anxiety even for the simple task of ordering food at a hawker centre. This is a condition stemming from a difficult childhood that she is constantly trying to overcome, and it was the first time, her friends were hearing about it. With much gentleness, her friends listened and assured her of their support. Everyone smiled when one of the women said that she would be happy to be her coach. “Next time we go makan, you will help us all to order, but we start by ordering one drink first!”
As practitioners of Asset Based Community Development, we are guided by the principles that everyone has a gift to contribute and relationships build community. Relationships or friendships are the basis for people to care about each other and such care is both a goal and an impact of our work. The women we met attribute the positive developments in their neighbourhood to our presence. They observed that since they got to know us, they have become more aware of the different service providers in their neighbourhood. The services have been helpful but the “friendly” neighbourhood where they feel safe and comfortable emerged only because neighbours reached out to each other as friends.
For peace, community, and friendship,
There is nothing on this earth more to be prized than true friendship. — Thomas Aquinas