On Saturday, 8 July 2017, Habitat for Humanity Singapore held our very first Home Sweep Home programme. We gathered more than 1000 people to clean up the houses of the elderly and pick up garbage around their flats, in Chai Chee, Redhill and Toa Payoh. While we have been conducting such events almost on a weekly basis, this is the first time we are doing it at such a scale, just one month before the National Day. The idea is to advocate for a better Singapore, where we care for our elderly and our living environment, hence the tag-line “One Nation Together– Love in Action”.
I am excited about such inaugural attempts, because it will test my staff and me out totally, since we are trying something new and inevitably, many challenges will be presented. Some people term this sort of projects as BHAG, or “Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals”. I would term it modestly as a “blank piece of paper” project, meaning there are no previous templates available for execution, and we start off with a blank piece of paper and fill it up as we go.
I believe that to solve the many problems of this world, leaders need that sort of attitude. There is a desperate need for people to find solutions where there were none visible, brave the storm of naysayers, suffer the pain of errors, hold fast to the conviction that the cause is right, forging through till a new reality has been created. This is, of course, easier said than done. There always will remain three types of people in the world: Those that make things happen, those that wait for things to happen, and worst, those that wonder what happened. I have always tried my best to be found in the first grouping.
As part of the Home Sweep Home programme, I needed to find a central motif for a community art mural that we wanted to put up at each of the activity sites. Thankfully, I found one in an old black and white newspaper photograph of the late founding Prime Minister Mr Lee Kuan Yew, sweeping the street. The photograph was taken (along with others with Mr Lee washing the drain, planting trees, etc.) during the early days of nation-building, when Singapore was still filled with poverty-housing, and the environment was filthy. To encourage Singaporeans to take up responsibility for their own homeland, Mr Lee took up the broom himself and swept the street while curious children and adults look in bewilderment.
Since then, this nation has advanced beyond belief, thanks to the late Mr Lee and his team of coleaders. It would seem that we are now a first-world country, without the need for anyone to do what Mr Lee did. However, as ex-minister George Yeo pointed out, Singapore is not a clean city, but a cleaned city. The country looks clean because an entire army of cleaners, mainly from foreign lands, work hard to clean up the mess that Singaporeans leave behind every single day.
I got that photograph converted into an art motif, and designed for it to be part of a wall mural, where people would contribute to the “bricks” that will complete the mural, signifying a community effort. That motif moved me deeply, seeing how the founding Prime Minister loved this land so much that he will put his love in action. And all Singaporeans know how he forged the direction forward to make Singapore what she is today. Clearly, picking up the broom to put his love in action was very much a part of that effort. May we all emulate that example and put our love in action.