Supporting the vulnerable: How a 25-year-old aims to end stigma surrounding tissue peddlers through non-profit initiative
Hazeem frequently raises awareness on the issues concerning tissue peddlers through social media platforms.
In celebration of Youth Month, Youthopia is highlighting stories of youth who have created spark in their life. Nur Hazeem Abdul Nasser, 25, shares how he hopes to eradicate the stigma surrounding tissue peddlers through his non-profit initiative.
In Singapore, tissue peddlers are not an unfamiliar sight. They can be spotted navigating various locations, offering packs of tissues to passersby for about a dollar.
While some passersby choose to make purchases, others might throw sceptical glances while questioning the legitimacy of their disabilities or financial woes.
Recognising this stigma was then-21-year-old Nur Hazeem Abdul Nasser. In 2019, determined to understand the plight of tissue peddlers, he made the effort to speak with them.
The same year, Hazeem founded The SignPost Project – a non-profit that aims to nurture relationships and narrate the stories of tissue peddlers. Their efforts were in hopes of eradicating the stigma surrounding the peddlers.
“My team and I wanted to rally social support for these sellers, especially for those who fell through the cracks,” explains Hazeem.
Through the regular interactions, he realised what the community lacked was support and attention. Hazeem and his team were inspired to take action and address the issue at hand.
They soon established connections with social service officers from the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) and relevant agencies to provide financial assistance and emotional support to the tissue peddlers.
Along the way, the team gained significant insights into the multifaceted issues faced by the peddlers, ranging from social stigma to financial difficulties and family issues.
It was then Hazeem discovered that one of the reasons why tissue sellers choose this occupation is their inclination towards public spaces, often stemming from living alone.
The peddlers expressed concerns about their safety and believed that being in a public area provided a sense of security, as someone could quickly contact emergency services if needed.
He shares that some were initially hesitant in opening up as they were wary of unfamiliar individuals approaching them for conversations.
However, after consistent interaction spanning three to six months, they opened up and now view his team of volunteers as friends who offer support and companionship.
In his efforts to challenge the stigma surrounding tissue peddlers, Hazeem also utilised social media to effectively convey his messages.
“One of the success stories would actually be our myth busted series on how tissue sellers are not out there to scam you.”
“We put out a few messages on Instagram and that’s when we started to engage with our audience.”
Hazeem emphasises the importance of such discussions online, stating that the impact became evident as people began reaching out, expressing their interest to volunteer.
Through social media campaigns, The Signpost Project has not only raised awareness but also connected individuals facing difficulties to essential social services.
By doing so, he believes that his team has built a bridge of compassion and support, creating a more inclusive community. Currently, Hazeem leads a team of 18 volunteers that encompasses a wide range of age groups, including both secondary school students and retirees.
He attributes his inspiration behind The SignPost Project to his parents, both of whom had previously served in the Public Service.
Hazeem reveals that his parents frequently extend their generosity to their neighbours, particularly the cleaners and security guards by providing them with food. His father would also occasionally venture out late at night to buy supper for them.
The values instilled by his parents have shaped his own dedication to making a positive impact in the lives of others.
“They taught me to ensure that everyone is not just well-fed, but to check-in on them to see if they are doing well,” he says.
In 2021, the Yale-NUS alumnus was also Singapore’s sole recipient of the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship. He attained it after successfully navigating a rigorous selection process.
To Hazeem, the application process was a journey of self-exploration and introspection.
“Prior to my application, I only had a broad concept of my aspirations. Through this process, I managed to crystallise what I wanted to do in the near future.”
Pursuing a dual masters degree in sociology and public policy at Oxford, he explains that the former offers him an academic lens through which he can analyse trends and demographic shifts on the ageing patterns in Singapore.
On the other hand, public policy contributes a practical dimension to his understanding. This aligns with his firsthand experience gained from working on The Signpost Project.
Hazeem also values the interactions he has with those studying in Oxford.
“Some of them also work with racial minorities and have helped to build communities with racial minorities in their respective countries.
“While the context may be different, drawing on their works and adapting it to the Singaporean context will definitely prove helpful and beneficial.”
When considering the potential challenges that lie ahead for the elderly population in Singapore, Hazeem recognised the importance of identifying and providing assistance to individuals who have specific needs.
He feels that certain age groups and unique cases can be overlooked, both by organisations and policies.
“This is where the community can do a lot more,” he says.
Upon his conferment, Hazeem aims to contribute to the Public Service and bridge the gap between top-down and bottom-up approaches.
“I hope to play a role in coordinating resources for the vulnerable individuals who exist in our community. This is not just limited to tissue peddlers.”
He believes that effecting change does not solely rely on making the largest donation or reaching a swathe of people.
Mentioning the abundance of available resources to engage in the volunteering scene, Hazeem expresses hope that youths will contribute in whatever capacity they can.
“You can always start with something small if you are looking to do something positive. After all, you may not be able to change the whole world, but you can still change someone’s world.”