Sunday, 14 April 2013

Growing Up with Less: Fostering kampung spirit in needy youth

Volunteers keep them out of trouble; NTU project highlights their struggle
By Maryam Mokhtar And Lim Yi Han, The Straits Times, 13 Apr 2013

HIS group's name means "yell" in Malay. And Mr Samsuri Mahadi has certainly been making a lot of noise as he tries to help disadvantaged young people stay out of trouble.

The 48-year-old odd-job worker has pounded on the doors of at least 120 families living in flats around Jalan Kukoh as part of his bid to foster a "kampung" spirit.

His informal volunteer group, called Pekik, is made up largely of low-income residents in the area. It aims to prevent young people from wasting their time loitering around late at night.

Instead, they are encouraged to spend time with each other playing football and attending weekly religious classes.

"I came from a poor family," said Mr Samsuri, who heads the group alongside retiree Ahmad Habib, 65.

"I had a poor education and I've had many (work) experiences where people kick me out because I have no qualifications.

"I didn't want (these young people) to be like me."

Mr Samsuri and Mr Ahmad have spent the past year focusing on trying to keep young people away from negative influences such as drugs and gangs.

The project was one of seven main stories featured in a documentary series that focuses on the daily struggles faced by young people from low-income families.

Called Growing Up With Less, the project by final-year students at Nanyang Technological University went "live" online on April 1.

Mr Samsuri's video has since been viewed more than 12,500 times on YouTube, and he has received many offers of help.

The students - Ms Candice Neo, 23, Ms Trinh Hoang Ly, 24, Mr Benny Lim, 25, and Mr Xu Yuan Duan, 26 - took eight months to complete the project.

They sought to shine the spotlight on children from low-income families, who sometimes lack adult supervision and guidance.

Ms Neo said: "Children are a vulnerable group, but they are the ones who can really be empowered to get themselves out of the poverty cycle with the right education - both academic and moral."

The experience was an eye-opener for the team, which hoped more could be done to help. Mr Lim said: "We didn't expect to see such things in Singapore. People know about low-income families but few know how they actually live.

Ms Neo added: "There are families with many children living in tiny one-room flats, and the neighbourhood can be so complicated, with drug abusers and suicide cases as the norm."

Shop assistant Joanne Lim, 46, has been trying to help, despite struggling to make ends meet herself. She often gives food to the children who live in the Circuit Road estate and encourages them to study hard.

The mother of one said in Mandarin: "Many of the children here are from broken families and some of them don't even go to school. It's easy to be led astray here; it's a complicated estate. But we don't have a choice. We're poor."

So far, the students have received over 50 e-mail messages and messages on their Facebook page from people offering to help.

Ms Trinh said: "The response has been heartening, and we are still trying to come up with a way to do something for the families."

Lecturer Lau Joon-Nie, who supervised the team at the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information, said: "We are training our students to look at issues affecting society to get a more complete picture of what's going on. We're hopeful this will make a positive impact."

Mr Samsuri told The Straits Times that the overnight attention has been both gratifying and worrying.

"Nobody even knew who we were before this. This project has been of so much help to us... (but) we hope the attention won't put unnecessary pressure on the kids here too."

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