Shariffah, on Family Circles

Family Circles was meant to bring together community members who had further financial difficulties during the COVID-19 period. We wanted to start by acknowledging that low-income communities have the potential and resourcefulness to improve their own financial and general well-being. We trust and invest in low-income families as well as the solutions they discover on their own and as they take initiative, families get access to resources that can accelerate their efforts towards social mobility.  
 
When we showed them the objective every month, they used to always say “You want us to get out of financial need, but we are living like this, this is our life.” Financial need is an intrinsic part of their life that is hard to get out of with better financial planning. From what seems an individual issue, the members are now seeing it as an issue that is impacting the whole community. 
 
When we talk about resources, some of these resources come from us and some are identified or provided by members themselves. They share home-based business tips, courses to increase their employability and other available schemes out there. Besides resources, we also talk a lot about dreams, aspirations and strengths. 
 
Through conversations, we realized that there were gaps in awareness of the different available resources amongst the community members. There was potential in bringing members together so they could share resources with each other in the hopes that this can alleviate their financial need, while also creating bonds and friendships. Along the way, something deeper was created.  
 
I manage two circles, the first is an English-speaking circle with Ang Mo Kio members and the second one is a Malay-speaking Circle, which we named Lingkaran Keluarga. You can feel that the relationship amongst members in Lingkaran Keluarga goes deep; they get emotional hearing each other’s problems and will encourage each other to fight for their rights. We, as professionals, may not always know what to do all the time, but a member with similar lived experiences as another in the circle would know what to do. They are more experienced than us and the emotion they feel drives them to action. 

The relationships they built amongst themselves is beautiful. In one of the circles, a member opened up to the group about her serious marital issues and how she often felt helpless and isolated. Through the circle, she found friendship with another community member. She would go to the member’s house whenever she needs emotional support. She was very grateful for the friendship. She doesn’t have a lot, but she bought a small cake for the member upon knowing it’s her birthday.  

The members have immense strengths and aspirations but it’s also important to acknowledge that they come into the circle with their struggles. And, our members are very sensitive. When others share about their struggles, I noticed them toning down and being mindful to not say too much of their own lack of struggles. It’s a very empathetic and non-judgmental space. 

I honour these relationships and emotions by fiercely guarding the narratives. Whenever I see that our member’s experiences are being diminished or they get reproached for their own life experience, I will reiterate: “People’s experiences are different”. We can celebrate their achievements, but we also need to protect other members who may not have the same pathway. 

– Shariffah, Community Worker

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Support programmes such as Family Circles so that community members can continue to find meaningful friendships and community: bit.ly/bssbuildingblocks

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