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Meet Diljan, home baker, cook, and mummy to her AMK neighbours

SINGAPORE — Unable to work full-time due to several health conditions, Ms Diljan Shaik Arif Ali decided to fill her daily schedule by filling tummies — specifically, those living in rental flats in her Ang Mo Kio neighbourhood.

Meet Diljan, home baker, cook, and mummy to her AMK neighbours

Ms Diljan Shaik Arif Ali (R) poses with her neighbour Samiah Binte Bidin.

SINGAPORE — Unable to work full-time due to several health conditions, Ms Diljan Shaik Arif Ali decided to fill her daily schedule by filling tummies — specifically, those living in rental flats in her Ang Mo Kio neighbourhood.

Together with 12 volunteers, the 39-year-old distributes food, such as vegetables and meat sourced from local initiatives SG Food Rescue and Free Food For All, to families in need during the weekdays. They include senior citizens who live alone, and big families with many mouths to feed.

Using leftovers from the distributions, the home baker also whips up daily meals for 10 elderly residents who cannot cook for themselves.

Aside from her culinary skills, Ms Diljan is also known in her neighbourhood as “Mummy-jan” by the youths due to the free tuition programme that she runs for primary school children.

“The kids also come to us with problems… Parents come to me and say their kids are doing well, and share incidents,” said the mother-of-two, who has been a volunteer since 2007.

Programmes like these are part of voluntary welfare organisation (VWO) Beyond Social Services’ efforts to bring together youths from low-income homes and their families with others in their neighbourhoods. Beyond Social Services assists Ms Diljan’s efforts by linking her up with volunteers and groups that she gets food from.

Separately, the VWO, which celebrates its 50th anniversary next year, commissioned an independent study in 2016 to measure the impact that some of its other social service programmes have on the communities it is involved in.

This includes its Youth United programme, which brings together youths from less privileged families and neighbourhoods to form groups with similar interests, such as floorball or photography clubs.

The study conducted by Blackbox Research covered 500 individuals — youths aged between 11 and 18 years old, and their families — living in three Housing and Development Board rental flat neighbourhoods. It was co-funded by the Tote Board and the National Youth Council’s National Youth Fund.

Results released on Wednesday (Nov 21) showed that after a year of being involved in the community, the youths felt a “significant improvement” in their sense of safety, and their neighbours’ friendliness.

Those who participated in interest groups and social activities in their neighbourhood also felt personally empowered to take control of things, handle problems and conflicts.

The adults also reported that they felt a marked increase in their children’s safety, and were more willing to share their concerns with other parents.

Muhammad Danny Azrin Abdullah, a self-confessed “socially awkward” student from Institute of Technical Education Central, said he was so frightened of his neighbours that he was reluctant to step out of his two-room Lengkok Bahru rental flat after moving there in 2014.

“I heard stories of hooligans, illegal stuff. I would only go out for school,” said the 18-year-old, who added that his neighbours had also treated his family in a hostile manner.

However, the teenager changed his mind about them after participating in community activities such as the photography club, and the Community Theatre.

His involvement in the theatre saw him putting on interactive plays aimed at spreading awareness of the issues that youths in rental flat neighbourhoods face, which are based on stories from his neighbours. Playing football with others in his community also helped him make friends, and build his confidence.

“I eventually gained self-confidence… and even directed scenes in the Community Theatre,” he said.

Beyond Social Services’ executive director Gerard Ee said: “This research proves that a community-building approach is extremely valuable in transforming the lives of children and youths from low-income neighbourhoods.

“In grappling with poverty and inequality in our society, we look to what people can do when they come together.”

 

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