The Girls Brigade invited us to speak about poverty at their annual camp called Fast Food and Fuzz. The aim of the camp was to nurture a sense of gratitude among its participants for the various blessings they enjoy. In their invitation letter, they asked if we could explain the causes of poverty, the challenges faced by those affected and ways in which members of the Girls Brigade could make a difference for those affected.
Last Saturday, 3 of our youth aged 13, 15 and 16 took to the stage to share about their experiences living in a rental flat as well as their aspirations. Ann Delina, Bella, and Ashlynn, attend secondary school in their neighbourhood and they participate in our Peer Learning Circles, a self-directed study group supported by others in the community who want to encourage students’ learning efforts.
The audience comprised students from various primary schools and the youth began by sharing some personal information like the school they attended and their interests such as Korean dramas and the music of Taylor Swift. Then they described the routine at peer learning circles, a typical day that included house chores and showed a slide comparing the floor plan of their rental flat with that of a 3-room purchased flat as well as photographs of their neighbourhood.
“Sometimes, it feels like there are giants above us,” was how they presented the challenges of tight living conditions. They explained that the flats usually house many people and even regular moving within the home creates quite a din. These girls provided a balanced sharing of their lived experience. They spoke of difficult neighbours who were uncooperative as well as those who shared their food and the many mutual help initiatives that made living in the neighourhood joyful.
“It is like any HDB flat, just a little smaller,” was how the youth summed up the segment about their living conditions. Their confidence was admirable as they went on to speak about their aspirations. Because of her brother’s medical condition, Ann Delina aspires to be a neurologist, while Bella seeks to be a school counsellor because she had benefitted from seeing one personally. As for Ashlynn, she believes that work must benefit people and she would like to pursue nursing or work in a medical setting.
These girls also spoke candidly about the many well-wishers who brought food and other household essentials to their home and qualifying for the Ministry of Education’s Financial Assistance Scheme which also meant that they received free uniform and a meal card too. We reckoned that they did not feel embarrassed doing so as they were genuinely grateful and believe that their residential address does not define them.
“Would you like me to take away your handphone? No right? If your handphone is valuable for you, it is for us too,” was how they rhetorically drove home the point that they are no different from those in the audience.
Finally, their confidence was tested once again when someone asked, “Do you face discrimination living in rental flats?” They were a little surprised by the question, but one shared that when a friend was arguing with someone not living in a rental flat, that person pronounced, “At least, I do not rely on the government for money.” Generally, they get a sense that some people think they are troublemakers when they reveal that they live in a rental flat.
As I said last week, our members have much to teach anyone who strives to understand social issues. We are so proud of Ann Delina, Bella, and Ashlynn for teaching us all.
For peace and community,
Gratitude is riches. Complaint is poverty. – Doris Day