18-year-old ACS(I) students start ground-up initiative Comm.UnitySG to help Singapore’s homeless during circuit breaker

They are also raising funds for New Hope Community Services.

Nigel Chin

Published: 29 May 2020, 8:43 PM

Back in February when Singapore was starting to show signs of an outbreak in the country, Harrison Chong and his friend, Sricharan Balasubramanian, thought of what they could do for the local community.

When Harrison told his mother about their idea, his mother, who used to work in the social sector, told him that he could start looking around Chinatown, where many elderly live.

Together, the pair, both 18, went to the Jalan Kukoh estate to look for issues that they could address. While there, they struck up several conversations with several senior citizens, who Harrison described as “friendly”. But one conversation would impact him more than he thought.

“There was this man who appeared in his 60s sitting alone at one of the benches. He was drinking from a can of beer and had a plastic bag filled with random items next to him,” said Harrison.

Harrison approached him and found out that not only did he not live in the estate, he had no home to return to. When asked how the virus had impacted his life, or whether he has masks to protect himself, the elderly told the two teenagers that he didn’t care if he died or not.

“That statement really hit us quite hard,” Harrison told Youth.SG.

From there, both Harrison and Sricharan set their minds to doing something good for the community. Through Dr Lily Neo, the Member of Parliament for the Jalan Besar GRC, they were referred to the New Hope Community Services. In May, the pair, along with two other close friends, started a ground-up initiative called Comm.UnitySG.

Comm.UnitySG volunteers not only distribute food to their beneficiaries, but help them with a host of other things, like taking their temperature.

Currently, there are more than 40 volunteers helping Harrison and Sricharan, who are Year 6 students at the Anglo Chinese School (Independent).

“After we launched Comm.UnitySG and had our first volunteering session with new hope, we found it very fulfilling and meaningful,” explained Harrison.

“So we thought why not extend it to others who want to be part of this too, and want to make good use of their time. We got friends to invite other friends or anyone who is interested to sign up, and that’s how it started to grow.”

During their volunteering sessions, the volunteers would spend a few hours distributing food and rations to different beneficiaries living in different units. They also helped to paint and clean shelter units for the homeless, with each session requiring hours of their time.

It is not the first time that Sricharan and Harrison have volunteered.

“Last year we were involved in a project with Children’s Wishing Well Every week we would go down to their centre in Clementi and conduct enrichment classes, like cooking and music programs, and spend some time to teach them new things,” said Sricharan, who added that it was part of their class project.

Harrison and the other volunteers spend hours for each volunteering session. But instead of complaining, they find the work they do fulfilling and meaningful.

But when it comes to organising an initiative of their own, this is the first. The experience, however, has certainly left them wanting to do more.

Which is why apart from doing the physical work, Comm.UnitySG is doing a fundraiser for New Hope Community Services. Since May 6, they have managed to raise more than $23,000.

They have also linked up with several partners who have agreed to donate a percentage of their profits to their fundraiser. Some of the partners include online clothing stores Mert’s Clothes and Sanctrie, embroidery store Celiasartz, and digital artist Aiman Azhar.

They also hosted a League of Legends gaming tournament online for 20 teams of five, with the entry fees of $10 per person all going to New Hope as well.

“We wanted to appeal towards the youth, so we thought of using gaming to do so. Also, since it was the circuit breaker and no activities can be done outside, so why not make use of the online platforms to raise funds?” Sricharan explained.

unning Comm.UnitySG has also given the youths a chance to do personal reflections.

Harrison said that it has helped him to realise more needs to be done to raise the awareness that homeless people exist in Singapore.

“When we told our friends about this issue of the homeless in Singapore, the first reaction I got was, ‘Got homeless in Singapore, meh?’,” he said. “Singaporeans are not aware of this issue in general, and there’s not much emphasis or importance placed on it.

“But I realised these people are just everyday Singaporeans like me, after getting to know them better, and I think people need to treat them like one of us. They are just going through a rough patch right now.”

Sricharan added that it’s been a humbling experience for everyone involved.

“I think we’ve all come a long way and learned a lot. I’m also learning a lot about what community means in Singapore too,” he said, a nod towards the name of their initiative.

“I’m also actually helping others to benefit through my actions. I’m learning that I have to be more selfless too, to put the needs of others ahead of mine and think of them as well, not just myself.”

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