Photo credit: Beverly Anne Devankishen

IMPACT 0129: COMMUNITY OF CHANGE

Beverly Anne Devankishen, 24, is one of the co-founders of an initiative called Eastside Mutual Aid, whose primary aim is to help the citizens of Singapore residing in the east connect and build community during the COVID-19 pandemic. This is her letter to the youth of Singapore.

Dear Youth,

My name is Beverly, and I helped start Eastside Mutual Aid with a friend last year during the pandemic to allow residents in the east of Singapore to connect with and support each other through tough times.

Through a big group chat, we facilitated residents’ requests and offers for help. Our efforts resulted in community initiatives such as carpooling to send children to school, accompanying elderly community members to their hospital appointments, cooking meals and buying groceries for each other, and even simply providing emotional support to those in need.

I’ve noticed that people tend to think that the term “mutual aid” is just another type of charity,but it’s far from that. Mutual aid is a movement built on solidarity with one another. It is about envisioning care within a community in a radical way, and learning to recognise each other as individuals beyond the boundaries that institutional systems place us in.

In mutual aid initiatives, there is an intentional lack of an authoritative body in the facilitation of a redistribution of resources. With charities, a board of members usually decide how to distribute resources, be it funds, food, time or energy.

Such a bureaucratic structure tends to remove your agency as an ordinary community member. It’s then easy to develop a transactional relationship with the organisation, whether you’re contributing resources or receiving them.

Furthermore, as a contributor, you don’t get to control how your resources are used, and as a beneficiary, neither do you have any say on how much help you require – or if you get any help at all.

When you request help in a mutual aid community, however, you get to represent yourself, instead of relying on an external body that will decide what you need and how deserving you are of help. You are directly asking for resources from those who can offer it. And when you’re offering help in a mutual aid community, the resources you offer go directly to whoever you want them to.

In that sense, mutual aid is not something that any one person takes charge of because community members directly communicate with one another to fulfill a request – for people like me, we’re just here to facilitate the conversations.

I appreciate how mutual aid facilitates the formation of relationships between community members. These relationships are complicated, complex, and often difficult to navigate, but they are so important in the formation of a bottom-up movement for change.

When I first got involved in mutual aid back in 2020, the time when the mutual aid movement in Singapore was starting up, I was keen to contribute but apprehensive about connecting with strangers.

Messaging someone whose number you got from a public Excel sheet was nerve-racking. The first time I contacted someone to let them know that I could help direct some funds to them to help pay their rent, I didn’t know how to ask them about their situation without being intrusive. Many people in mutual aid facilitation have come across this problem of clarifying need, remaining respectful and building trust.

I’ve learnt a lot from people by getting comfortable with asking the right questions. The better we get at plugging the gaps, the more we build faith in each other. Trust is built between two individuals, but it’s also created collectively within a community.

Many of the people who turn to mutual aid networks have fallen through the gaps. Noticing this is demoralising at times, to see those who are part of my community being left behind. Mutual aid envisions a more compassionate alternative to depending solely on organisational aid, and is a movement that I fully believe in and am willing to work hard to see succeed.

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