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They sell tissue-paper packs out of need. Yale-NUS students now striving to make them a ‘visible community’

SINGAPORE — When a group of six students from Yale-NUS College realised that there did not seem to be any charity or non-governmental organisation specifically focused on looking after the well-being of peddlers who sell tissue-paper packs, they decided to do something themselves.

Clockwise from left: A tissue-paper seller in Jurong East talking to Mr Hazeem Nasser, Miss Ada Foo and Miss Nikki Yeo in August 2020.

Clockwise from left: A tissue-paper seller in Jurong East talking to Mr Hazeem Nasser, Miss Ada Foo and Miss Nikki Yeo in August 2020.

Singapore

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  • A group of students saw that tissue-paper peddlers lacked social support
  • They started befriending the peddlers and finding out what were the difficulties they faced
  • They then relayed them to the authorities for help 
  • The group is now tapping a fund by the Temasek Trust and distributing care packages to the peddlers 

 

SINGAPORE — When a group of six students from Yale-NUS College realised that there did not seem to be any charity or non-governmental organisation specifically focused on looking after the well-being of peddlers who sell tissue-paper packs, they decided to do something themselves. 

Founded in October 2019, members of the initiative — called The Signpost Project — have been walking around the Clementi and Jurong East area talking to such peddlers to find out about their needs. 

They typically befriend these peddlers before asking them about the difficulties they have in day-to-day living. 

Then, the students will help to link these sellers up with any government grants or form of support or aid, such as those provided by the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF). 

About 40 volunteers have helped to reach out to these peddlers in total, with about 10 of them — excluding the founding members — becoming regular volunteers. 

The group has reached out to 16 peddlers so far — many of the sellers are having problems with their finances and physical mobility. 

Miss Frances Pek, one of the six founding members and vice-president of the project, told TODAY that these “befriending runs” happen at least once every fortnight, and the group has also roped in members of the public to help talk to these tissue peddlers. 

“Within the classroom, we talk about issues very academically, and it makes you think about how we can do something more practical,” the 22-year-old said.

The third-year student who majors in global affairs added that the group’s president Hazeem Nasser, 23, and herself have also had volunteering experience before they embarked on this initiative, so it “wasn’t something very new to us”. 

The other members of the group — all of whom met through a dance society in the college — are: Miss Ada Foo, 21, Miss Nikki Yeo, 22, Miss Kenisha Alicia, 20 and Miss Claire Phua, 22. 

They recalled that one couple they met were both tissue peddlers. The pair had poor mobility and there were areas in their home that they could not clean, so the group went to their residence to help them clean hard-to-reach areas. 

LOST INCOME DURING THE PANDEMIC

When the coronavirus outbreak started last year and before the partial lockdown was imposed in April, the group asked around for the contacts of as many tissue peddlers as they could, so that they could continue reaching out to them.

With fewer people taking to the streets due to the movement restrictions at the time, the income of the peddlers were badly affected. 

During that two-month period, the group had the chance to help a peddler, who was the sole breadwinner of her household, by leaving food at her doorstep. 

Now, they are in the process of helping another woman, whose husband was retrenched during the pandemic, to attain a street hawking licence from the National Environment Agency to sell tissues. 

The volunteers said that they made sure to sanitise their hands regularly when interacting with these vendors and to move around in small groups of no more than four. 

“We took this very seriously because the peddlers are mostly in their 60s or 70s, so they are a very vulnerable group,” Miss Pek said. 

GAINING GROUND

The efforts of the team have not gone unnoticed, Miss Pek added. 

During their outreach sessions, social service officers from MSF and social service professionals will be on the ground sometimes to help them.

Last June, Mr Desmond Lee, then Minister for Social and Family Development, talked about the volunteers’ efforts in a Facebook post. Last month, Mr Eric Chua, Parliamentary Secretary for Social and Family Development, also volunteered with the team to reach out to the peddlers. 

The group has been using social media to put up informative posts and even comic strips, to raise awareness on this group of needy individuals.

“We hope to share with Singaporeans the stories of these peddlers, to make them a more visible community,” Miss Pek said. 

More recently, the project team linked up with Temasek Trust, the philanthropic arm of state investment firm Temasek Holdings.

Under Temasek Trust’s Oscar@sg fund — which supports ground-up initiatives responding to urgent community needs during the pandemic — the group has been able to put together 100 care packages for the peddlers. 

Each package consists of hand sanitiser, face masks, sunscreen and a disposable poncho, and the team will be distributing them on March 20 to peddlers around Jurong and Clementi. 

The work is far from over, Miss Pek said. They plan to nurture this project beyond the time she is in college. 

“We want to make sure we create a sustainable model before we (graduate) and this could take the form of passing it down to members who are (still) students,” she said. 

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