Project Hiraeth: A beacon of youth activism in times of crisis
Project Hiraeth Team (L-R): Lim Sin Yu, Dora Soon, Heather Tan & Izza Durra
“We were warned countless times by the Habitat Singapore staff of the condition of the house (we were serving) but nevertheless, we were stunned by what we saw,” 18-year-old Dora Soon recounted.
A cluttered home that was devoid of life, even where all that remained of the pest infestation was their carcasses: That was the state of an actual person’s home. And one that Dora and fellow volunteer Heather were rehabilitating under Project HomeWorks with their school.
“Drawers were filled with black, unrecognizable bits and the interior of the fridge was a slimy green. Cleaning the house stretched us out of our comfort zone. But more than that, it was heartbreaking to know that in a country like Singapore, being lauded as a successful metropolitan, there are those in our community living in such conditions. (It was)unfathomable to us,” Dora shared.
That was the tipping point for Dora and Heather. They made it their mission for 2020 to educate and empower as many people they could reach about the transformative impact of Project HomeWorks for vulnerable families. And with 2 more friends Izza and Sin Yu, Project Hiraeth was born.
The name “Hiraeth” came from the Welsh word for homesickness or longing for a home which one cannot return to. It was a fitting tribute that matched the team’s dedication to turn the unsafe and unclean homes of vulnerable Singaporeans into a safe and healthy refuge again.
“If my own grandparents were subjected to such unsanitary and dangerous living conditions, I would be extremely heartbroken. That is why I chose to be actively involved as I know that my efforts are going to provide these elderly with a home that will bring them comfort,” said Sin Yu.
With funding from Citi-YMCA's Youth For Causes funding, the team kicked off their social media campaign with an online concert. Called “HERE” on Instagram Live from June to July, it featured celebrities like Nathan Hartono, Sukki Singapure from Singapore Social, musician Gen Neo and Fauzi from The Smart Local.
Proving to be another crowd favourite is the team’s ongoing lucky draw fundraiser with small restaurants to help generate publicity for these businesses while drawing in donations that will be channeled towards Project HomeWorks.
Organising a purely social media campaign during a pandemic did not come without its challenges. Sin Yu shared that it was frustrating having to think of creative solutions to translate physical events onto the digital sphere.
Motivating and engaging their team of volunteers supporting their efforts was also challenging. “Though we used Zoom to interact with our volunteers, the lack of interactions in real life limited the quality of sharings that we had over the Zoom call. Personally, I feel that this actually hindered actual bonding between us and the volunteers - not so much the progress of the project, but perhaps limited the level of enjoyment the volunteers had while completing tasks for the project,” Izza explained.
COVID-19 and all its restrictions did nothing to stop the Project Hiraeth team from achieving what they set out to do. “We have raised close to $8,000 out of our $10,000 target. While the awareness we have reached cannot exactly be quantified, we are heartened even by the little steps we are taking towards raising awareness for Habitat Singapore’s work and beneficiaries we have helped,” said Dora.
Even their volunteers who have been helping them with outreach efforts to celebrities and restaurants have already been inspired to start their own projects like tie dye or handicraft businesses to further boost Project Hiraeth’s fundraising efforts.
When asked about the one legacy they wish Project Hiraeth would leave behind, all 4 team members said the same thing: to inspire more people to take that first bold step to start serving the community.
“Habitat’s vision of “A world where everyone has a decent place to live in” may seem dispensable in the context of Singapore to some of us who have lived our lives sheltered from the harsh realities,” said Dora.
“What we see as fiction is a reality for some. I think it is important for more of us in the community to realise that not everyone is as fortunate as we are. And in areas where we can step in to play a part in improving the situation, we should.”
All donations will be channeled towards supporting the work we do with vulnerable Singaporeans through Project HomeWorks. Donations $10 and above will also be eligible for tax deductions.