A group of final-year students from Nanyang Technological University (NTU) filming a multimedia, online documentary – aptly titled “Growing Up With Less” – to shed light on the plight of children from low-income families (photography and videography). An enthusiastic street dancer and advocate from Recognise! Studios, who seeks to contribute to Singapore’s street arts scene through dance. The founder and director of Social Creatives, a non-profit social enterprise which promotes community arts through beautiful “cave drawings” and mural paintings. A small community of young Singaporeans from ExtraOrdinary Horizons, who seek to bring about awareness and knowledge about the deaf in Singapore.
A seemingly eclectic mix of speakers, gathered at Food For Thought’s (FFT) “Press for Change: the Community Advocates” on July 17, 2013. These are the youths one might not always hear about through media platforms, but who labour stoically in the background. About 20 people had gathered at FFT’s 8Q Art Museum, to hear from these remarkable individuals who express their causes passionately, albeit differently.
Artistic Ambitions and Aspirations
The sharing was intimate and meaningful. Felix Huang from Recognise! Studios and Faris Basharahil from Social Creatives touched on similar themes of inspiration and motivation. There will always be tricky business challenges, and corresponding worries about registration and other administrative nitty-gritty, but ultimately it is important for a young person to do what he or she truly enjoys. A life worth living, Felix muses, is one in which you “do what you love doing”. He shared with tremendous pride a global dance event he had conceptualised and organised in March earlier this year, which attracted 1,000 youths – aged 12 to 36 – to Singapore. With his personal experience in extreme sports and interest in dance, the Recognise! Studios company holds many dance classes and performances too.
And if street dance and culture are Felix’s modes of expression, art and painting are Faris’s. He wants to “connect the art and the heart”, because community arts is a wonderful way to communicate ideals, dreams, and ambitions. Heading one of Singapore’s leading social enterprises, one could argue that Faris is well on his way to make art and painting more accessible in Singapore. Social Creatives has established multiple partnerships with non-profits and community organisations, achieved financial sustainability (Faris spoke of its income of almost a million dollars last year), and made its presence felt in many schools and neighbourhoods (one of them, a void deck installation in MacPherson).
Regardless of one’s pursuit, the possession of an ambition is important. The student team from “Growing Up With Less” had identified the problem of “aspirational poverty” during their interactions with the households, when the parents do not instil greater dreams or goals in their children. Other issues surfaced, such as the need for increased parental supervision, and instances when the families rejected financial aid, or help from the social workers. Many of these concerns and individuals might have fallen through the cracks, and the interactive documentary would therefore be a good way to get the stories out there.
Armed with these narratives, this young team from NTU is looking to attend more sharing sessions and presentations, to let more Singaporeans know about their project.
However, when asked about their long-term commitment to the project, the answer was less definite and convincing. While the team is still “open to any collaboration with any organisations”, the members have evaluated their personal priorities and needs at the moment. Because they are fresh out of school and currently looking for employment, they are “not confident whether [they] have the commitment needed to make a real difference”.
Perhaps. One could argue that activists should not plunge into endeavours without considering their availability beforehand. But really, it takes more than just a video – with some promotional exercises – to make a real difference. I do think it is a pity too, since the team has had valuable interactions and conversations with the families. It might be “hard to tell the parents what to do”, but their involvement could include weekly tuition or recreational sessions with the kids. Every small, direct assistance counts for something.
Speaking from the Heart
The highlight of night was probably the presentation by Lily Goh, the Co-Founder and Director of the social enterprise ExtraOrdinary Horizons. The inspiring young social entrepreneur has been an active volunteer with the Singapore Association for the Deaf, but set up ExtraOrdinary Horizons in 2011 to empower more deaf leaders and advocates, to better integrate the deaf into mainstream society, as well as to bring about knowledge of the deaf community to the rest of the world. “Deafness is a culture”, she explains, “a community that believes in experiences, and connects through sign language”.
She also corrected some misconceptions people had of deaf individuals. While some might think that the deaf are adept at lip reading, it is not that easy. She asked: “what do you think I am saying”, and began to mouth a phrase. Everyone in the audience thought she was saying “I love you”, when it was actually the word “colourful”.
Because she was using sign language during her presentation, she was supported by Ming Hui, an undergraduate from NTU, who translated the strings of sign to the audience. The young man might not be deaf himself, but has set aside time to tutor a deaf primary school student in the English. He concedes that it is challenging – for instance, the challenge of pronunciation – but that the journey is meaningful, for he too is “learning from the child”.
And as they spoke of the future, with the social enterprise focused on empowerment, employment, arts and culture, and education, one felt a sense of optimism for the team.
The session wound down, not in applause, but with the audience waving their hands in the air (a show of appreciation, in sign language). It was not only a testament to the power of the presentation, but the conviction she had in her cause. It is a reminder that one’s journey through volunteerism and activism does not require trumpeting; instead, the ones who labour faithfully in the background will eventually enjoy the fruits of their labour.