- Habitat for Humanity Singapore
A Brush with Kindness: Stories from the heart
On 13 May 2023, more than 125 volunteers stepped forth together to paint and serve the urgent housing needs of 27 disadvantaged families residing in the Lavender community, in Habitat Singapore’s first iteration of a mass home-painting event, A Brush with Kindness. These homes, located mainly in the Crawford and Beach Road areas, faced issues such as flaky paint, mouldy walls and bed bug infestations.
In this micro-series of homeowner feature stories, come hear about the lived experiences and personal stories from our homeowners themselves!
When was the last time we last interacted with the neighbours next door? How can we put our love for others into action?
Mr Shabab, Lavender's very own Historian
“If you go by the riverside, go to PA, follow the river, there are alot of graveyards 200 years old. A few excavated already. The walls of the very ancient Istanas - 13th century are still there. If you go by ICA building, the river that goes around the area? There used to be Iban houses (built on water) there. Corner also used to have kelong (floating wooden platforms, usually fish farms) - they repair ships along the area.”
Shabab is one of the 27 homeowners we got to serve on 13 May. A literal walking human history book of the Beach Road area - Shabab has been with the community ever since he was a young boy. His family was one of the first tenants to move into the 1 room-rental unit in 1969, and they have been staying here ever since.
Shabab is currently staying alone as his mother, Mdm Zurah, recovers from a stroke.
Throughout our time with him, Shabab speaks fondly of his childhood days and the memories from living in the area.
“I will always remember seeing with my own eyes - the birth of my 3 siblings in this very flat. There was no one around. My mum didn’t want to go for caesarean, so she delivered my siblings in this very ancient traditional 4 pillar bed those from the 60s - 70s. Can’t be found in Singapore nowadays - it’s made of all strings,” he recounts.
“Those days, in front of rivers used to have Bumboats and a few Kelongs repairing along the river just before the ICA building. People were rowing sampans. Every area in Beach Road is rich with history. Used to have hills but now no more - only flat land. You see the rivers at the bridge? This river has got alot of history and mystery. That used to be where early migrants came to Singapore. Singapore history is here.”
Shabab speaks proudly about his love for his neighbourhood, and in particular the many early day mysteries that have happened in the former resettlement area, that may not have even been covered in the books. A special encounter for him personally would be witnessing the move of migrants - old folks in their 80s, the former grandchildren of the earlier generations.
Along his years with the community, Shabab picked up Hokkien (one of the local dialects in Singapore). He shares that he is still in contact with his old neighbours - many of whom are now in their 60s.
Thank you Shabab, for taking us on a trip back in time, and letting us have a glimpse into your world.
Uncle Tan Hai Cheng, Beacon of Joy in the Neighbourhood
Uncle Tan has been staying in a 1-room rental unit in North Bridge Road for the past 20 years.
“Live happily, cast aside your troubles. It’s important to give people basic respect, and help others in need (within your bandwidth),” chirped the jovial 62-year-old in mandarin to our youth volunteers.
Evident in his interactions with his neighbours, this statement is a life motto Uncle Tan lives by.
During our visit, we were surprised to see 3 beds - Uncle Tan revealed that he used to cohabitate with his 2nd brother (who has passed on), and later on with his god brother who eventually moved out. He bought and keeps the 3rd bed for the latter, who visits and stays with him occasionally.
Uncle Tan is currently living alone.
Through our time with him, we learnt that Uncle Tan’s ancestors used to run a family business - and despite his mum’s requests for him to step up and helm the business, Uncle Tan was adamant and determined to forge his own career path. After leaving the army, he stepped into the Food and Beverage industry, and gradually climbed the ranks from waiter to Captain.
However after a bout of illness which rendered him a year of hospitalisation, Uncle Tan made the deliberate move to prioritise his health, by cutting down on work duties. Uncle Tan is currently working part time in F&B, and living on his savings and this source of income.
The happy-go-lucky Uncle Tan believes in the importance of independence and self care, and refuses to let his infirmities deter him from living his best life. He continues to engage in new activities daily, and does his utmost best to upkeep the cleanliness and state of his home.
Due to old age and recent deteriorating health conditions, Uncle Tan requires the assistance of volunteers to do the necessary housing rehabilitation works. During our sessions, Uncle Tan eagerly helped out alongside the volunteers as part of sweat equity. We left feeling truly inspired by Uncle Tan’s tenacity and "never-say-die" fiery spirit!
Mdm Rosnah: Keeping her Sunset Years Golden
If she could sum up the interesting life experiences she had, our homeowner 68-year-old Mdm Rosnah jokingly added that it would take a whole book to write out her life story. When we first stepped into her 1-room rental flat in Beach Road, we were greeted by frames of photos of Mdm Rosnah in her younger days outlining the living room walls.
Having lived in the unit for nearly 50 years, the cheery and energetic Mdm Rosnah is currently living alone. One may think that it will be easy to find it lonely and eventually succumb to the solitude - but Mdm Rosnah fills her time with meaningful activities such as actively volunteering with the Peace Connect Centre downstairs. She’s also an avid participant of the centre’s weekly art and crafts sessions. During our visit to her place, she proudly showed us some of her handicraft works. On top of these activities, Mdm Rosnah enjoys regular exercise, and keeping fishes as pets.
When asked about what life was like before moving to her current flat, she shared that she went through a divorce at 21, with 4 children. Being the sole breadwinner with 5 mouths to feed, she took on the role of a waitress who would work from evening till wee hours of the morning. After moving to her current space, 2 of her children passed on, leaving behind her husband, and her 2 sons.
Thereafter, Mdm Rosnah managed to land a job at Peace Connect Centre, conveniently located just downstairs. She is currently receiving part of her income from her job as a cleaner, and part from MUIS (Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura).
Mdm Rosnah spends her weekends focused on rest, to recharge for the busy work week ahead.
Thank you Shabab, Uncle Tan, and Mdm Rosnah, for sharing your stories, and holding space for us! It was a truly heartwarming and refreshing time getting to know our neighbours on a deeper level!
At Habitat Singapore, it is our greatest hope that the new refreshed space would mean a better quality of life, improved health, and peace of mind for our elderly homeowners to enjoy their golden years.
Our next Project HomeWorks slots open in the month of June. Follow us on our socials ( Instagram and Facebook ) for the latest updates, and watch your tangible efforts on ground transform the lives of those in need! Or if it's within your capacity, join us as a monthly HopeBuilder! Let us not withhold our giving from those in need. Every dollar, time and effort counts!