Can you spot young Rui En in our midst?
28 October 2011 | 09:49 pm
Door knocking with Beyond Social Services

What: Door knocking with Beyond Social Services

When: 10th-14th October 2011

Where: Taman Ho Swee (Blk 29 & 31)

Participant(s): Jolie, Jean, Jia Min, Rui En and Xinyi

Rui En, Volunteer:

Sometimes it takes only a sneak peek into someone else’s world to make you realize a lot about your own.

That was my experience over the few days doing door-knocking with Beyond Social Services from 10th Oct 2011.

I’d previously volunteered at their now-defunct home in Woodlands, when they asked me to do this door-knocking I was happy to be able to help them.

The purpose of this door-knocking was literally to go from door to door in a low-income neighbourhood of temporary housing along Havelock Road to have the most visceral experience of talking directly to the occupants and finding out how many youths under the age of 19 years old were there in Block 29. I’d always felt helpless and not involved enough somehow doing charity appearances and performances, and this was my first chance to get down to the grassroots level, something I’d always wanted.

First of all, it was my first experience with temporary housing and rental flats. To find out that there are two families squeezed into 2 standard HDB rooms per flat, sharing a living room and kitchen, was quite jolting for someone who complains that her room is never big enough for all her things and whose possessions tend to spill inadvertently out into the living room. (Me). In one of the flats, there were 10 people squeezed into a flat.

The state of cleanliness of the lift lobbies and stairwells also took some getting used to. One of the residents likened it to a “forgotten” world where the cleaners and maintainence crews seemed somewhat less regular than we are normally used to. The smell of urine became a familiar one. A common complaint was that the void decks and corridors were noisy well into the night and mornings. A resident mentioned how it was hard to get used to the noise level after being used to other HDB estates.

Most surprising though, was how warmly and openly some of the residents received us. Most of us urban dwellers are more used to guarded stares, awkward lift rides and minimal human contact with our neighbours. Yet some of the residents welcomed us perfect strangers straight into their homes without asking for permits or licenses, seemingly eager to share their stories with other human beings. And share they did. Every household had a different story and every single person had a story to tell. It was like a different TV drama from door to door. Their stories were completely heartbreaking yet uplifting all at the same time. Some had no choice but to move here due to the unexpected deaths of their loved ones and breadwinners. Some were content with simply having a roof over their heads, and had adapted, others were still experiencing a “culture shock” of some kind. Some were morose, others were intent on keeping positive and happy.

I met the bravest woman I’d ever seen, due to losing her husband to a sudden heart, she fed a family of 5 while paying $500 rental on a $1000 monthly income, all done with a serene smile on her face and what I saw as a staunch refusal to turn bitter at life. We lesser beings would have succumbed to anger and bitterness a long time ago. She probably has the most heart I will ever see in a human being.

As we all move onwards endlessly and as everything always seems to be never enough, I urge you guys not to forget the ones who can’t catch up and are left behind. More and more will be unable to catch up, and that will be the time for you to step up to the plate.

Rui En

RBKD: Rui En would have preferred to keep a low profile with regards to her volunteering. But at times when we walk pass her, we just can’t miss the sincerity in her voice. It is this sincerity in her that prompted us to invite her to write for our blog, to share her experience and hopefully, inspires us all.


  • Jean commented on 28 October 2011, 10:05pm:

    The most memorable thing that happened throughout the five days was when I had to interview this particular man alone, on the second day. Usually, I would have a partner with me so at least if I had difficulty continuing the conversation, he/she would have helped me out. Initially, I was kind of hesitant but in the end I told myself to just go for it. To my surprise, the man was very open about his past whereby he confessed that he chooses not to speak much of it to the people around him and knowing my age, he kept reminding me to “stay on the right path” and study hard. It wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be for people were more than willing to speak to you as long as you are sincere.

    This volunteering experience was something different from the previous ones that I have done. I must say that it was a challenging one as I don’t know who I will be interviewing next and to start a conversation with someone whom I have never met before was hard. To continue the conversation, it was even harder sometimes due to language barrier and the awkward silence that unknowingly “comes and goes”. However, I feel that the experience gained throughout the five days of door-knocking interview is going to come in handy for future volunteering opportunities as it seems to have been a good exposure for me for conversing with people whom I have only met for the first time.

  • Jia Min commented on 28 October 2011, 10:37pm:

    This door-knocking series is indeed very different from the previous community services that I participated with RBKD, or even my schools. We really get down to understand the families, their conditions and how they are coping (or not).

    The most unforgettable family would be the one where myself and a staff spent an hour chatting with them. Initially, the dad was rather hostile as he feels ‘abandoned’ by the government and that we cannot do much to help his family. However, he still invited us into his flat. His main concern was his high medical bills and rental fees ($500+ as compared to his neighbours who are paying between $300 to $400 and his family is solely dependent on the elder son who is in NS). He even showed us around his house, complaining about the leaking pipes, faulty appliances etc. He has turned to different agencies and the MP for help but to no avail. And this makes me wonder how many people in Singapore are facing similar situations but have fallen through the cracks too?

    It is heartening to see the residents opening up to us. Initially most would be speaking to us via the window grills but after a while some would say “wait ah” and you hear them moving to the door, willing to share even more. At the end of the day we, volunteers might not be able to provide solutions but sometimes lending a listening ear can do wonders.

    Most importantly, we should count our blessings. Be thankful for what we have.