Written for The Kent Ridge Common
Hunger in Singapore was the red-hot issue at the very first Project Perk discussion, organized by the Democratic Socialist Club at the Central Library’s Perk Point. The session was moderated by Ms. Heather Chi, a local food activist from youth group Food for All and was attended by some fifteen undergraduates from different walks of life.The session begun with a simple, but humbling question: Does anyone know anything about hunger and poverty in Singapore?
Very rarely do we associate hunger and poverty with prosperous Singapore. Besides the fact that poor people rarely get evicted and are banned from begging, many community service centers are also hesitant to “hand out” food and money to the needy – fearful of encouraging a “crutch mentality’” amongst Singaporeans.
However, according to the Community Food Survey conducted by Food for All, which is still in progress, almost 12000 households in Singapore currently rely on supplementary food rations – dried food packets or cooked meals – in the country. That’s quite a shocking statistic.
Many of these food rations programmes are operated by Family Service Centres (FSCs), Residential Committees (RCs) or other Voluntary Welfare Organizations (VWOs) who do not provide food as their core programme; it is often only through working with needy individuals, especially those that are unemployed, do centres realize people are starving and may need a temporary supply of food to tide them over a difficult period.
The largely ad-hoc and informal nature of food provision for the needy means that, in many instances, centres do not know whether their beneficiary is already receiving food assistance from elsewhere. Neither do they know if there are any other food programmes in their district with whom they could collaborate, such as through buying food in bulk to reduce costs.
The food price hikes in 2008 saw a rise both in the costs of purchasing food, as well as the number of people applying for food assistance. With many food rations programmes dependent on donations from volunteers or a single corporate sponsor, it is often very tight for centres that have to raise almost S$3000 every month to sustain their food rations programmes.
However, not every food rations programme in Singapore is struggling. The non-profit organization, Food from the Heart, operates an excellent logistics system coordinating some 1700 volunteers to distribute unsold bread from local bakeries to some 11,000 individuals every month – helping to reduce food waste as well as feed the hungry. They have managed to raise funds through Charity Golf Tournaments and Operas – events that also raise awareness of their work.
So why haven’t other food rations programmes been able to scale up and improve their anti-hunger efforts?
A number of perspectives were suggested, including the fact that centres might not want to advocate on behalf of their clients due to political sensitivities, and the fact that many centres are already fighting fire and do not have the manpower to spare. It was also highlighted that Singapore does not have a food shortage, and that the different ethnic communities do a very good job providing for their own, through food kitchens in places of worship.
The crux of the issue here appears to be information and mobility. Many of the hungry do not have money to travel to these centres to get food, and some may be hesitant to take food from a religious organization they are not affiliated to. In addition, another significant hungry group – the migrant workers – are often unfamiliar with Singapore and do not know where they can go to get assistance.
In the university’s academic context, we do not have access to this information either. But we can start; through platforms such as Project Perk where people working on related issues can come together and share their findings, we may be able to uncover this issue one research paper at a time so as to be in a better position to intervene in the crisis.
On a community level, we can also contribute through facilitating collaborations between food rations programmes, supporting programmes directly through food donation drives, as well as promoting community gardening efforts in low-income neighbourhoods to enable the poor to supplement their diet with fresh produce!
Working together, we can fight hunger too.
About Project Perk
Project Perk is a monthly current affairs discussion forum spearheaded by the Democratic Socialist Club, that aims to be a platform for undergraduates to discuss social and political issues they are currently researching, in an inclusive, democratic setting.
Conducted informally in the Central Library’s Perk Point, Project Perk invites all students working on term papers, Independent Study Modules or theses who would like to discuss their findings and perspectives with contemporaries from other disciplines to submit a topic for discussion. Following the session, key points will be summarized on an online platform and archived for reference.
For more information and/or to submit a topic for discussion, do contact Heather (firstname.lastname@example.org).