The lure of MPS at Tampines East
Petir speaks to three core members of Tampines East meet-the-people session (MPS) team who are dedicated to helping fellow residents gain access to social services.
MPS at your doorstep
Ms Charmaine Ho
• 30, branch YP chair
• Member since 2007
• Sales account manager
Ms Charmaine Ho, 30, was first introduced to branch activities when she sought help at one of Mr Mah Bow Tan's meet-the-people sessions (MPS).
"I was trying to apply to university some years ago, and I met my MP, Mr Mah at one of our block parties. He told me to come to the MPS to help him understand more about my case and to appeal on my behalf. That was my first encounter with the PAP, and the MPS. I couldn't believe that there were so many poor people seeking help," Ms Ho recalled.
This prompted her to join the PAP, to do her bit for the community, volunteering at the weekly MPS and more.
Still, she sensed some gaps in the way residents are being helped through the MPS which she described as "rather passive, where we sit here to wait for people to come."
Together with some like-minded young activists at the Tampines East branch, Ms Ho embarked on a "mobile" MPS to plug the gaps. Started two years ago, the mobile MPS operates once a month.
"With the mobile MPS, we take on an active role, go out to the residents to say hi. Not everyone is aware of the existence of MPS," said Ms Ho.
Working in a pair, on "good" days, Ms Ho and her fellow comrade will cover an entire block of some 70 units of flats at one go. However, on some occasions, it may take them an entire night to cover just four floors. Some residents have more issues to cover, some just simply hostile.
"We usually listen to what they have to say first. Then explain to them that we're residents living here in Tampines East, representing the MP to come and speak with them as an advance party."
"We provide a sort of one-to-one touch point, and so far, the residents are happy to see us," she added.
MPS an eye-opener
Ms Samara Thirushelvam
• 20, branch YP exco member
• Member since 2013
• National University of Singapore Year 2 student
Attending her first few MPS, Samara Thirushelvam came across fellow residents with stories that seemed more like scenes straight from MediaCorp TV serials than the real life she was used to.
For the then 18-year-old Samara, this was a sort of "awakening" for she could not imagine that there were still people living in poverty in a First World Singapore, right in her neighbourhood, no less.
"There was a family of six who came to ask for a rental flat. They were sharing a rental flat with seven others, and the children couldn't use the light at night. They had to use the light in the public spaces to do their homework," she recalled.
This and many others are the MPS cases Samara encountered as part of her "Grassroots and Governance" attachment programme when she was studying at Victoria Junior College. Every week, for six weeks, she attended the MPS in her school uniform, shadowing a letter-writer, listening to the bread-and-butter woes of the man in the street.
"I got to see how government policies impact different people, and see things beyond our text books. I saw the problems that people face, on CPF, on money, on housing," she said.
So inspired was Samara that after the attachment ended, she continued going back to help, and eventually became a PAP member in 2013. She confesses that she can only help with "simple things" like translating English into Chinese, filling in documents and drafting letters. More importantly, volunteering at the MPS also gave her insights into policy-making.
"Mr Mah will often talk to us about hot button issues after our MPS. We recently had a session on the CPF policy where activists gave him feedback on Singaporeans' grievances. And he clarified some misunderstanding and explained the rationale for some of these policies to help us understand," she said.
Currently a political science student, Samara also relishes the opportunity to experience first-hand the constraints and difficulties of policy-making.
"Such are the things that I would never be exposed to, this was such an eye-opener," she said.
Culture of mentorship
Mr Benny Yeo
• 50, branch secretary
• Member since 1995
• General Manager of the PCF Tampines East 3-in-1 Family Centre
At a relatively "tender" age of 50, Mr Benny Yeo is already a veteran branch secretary of 15 years. He was entrusted to this position by the MP Mr Mah when he was just 35 years old.
Describing it as a culture "unique" to the branch, Mr Yeo said he had no lack of mentors to help him when he took on the top branch position when he was in his midthirties.
Today, the branch has a good mix of some 20 senior and young MPS helpers who never fail to show up, week after week, to serve the residents.
"We have some very senior activists who have spent decades serving at the branch, 53 years, 48 years, 33 years, and so on. They are generous in sharing what they know.
|DEMOGRAPHICS OF TAMPINES EAST
1 or 2 room flats - 1%
"At the same time, we have an active renewal process to bring in new blood. The seniors are always more than happy to relinquish their positions for the young people to take over," said Mr Yeo.
But, the senior activists do not just fade off after they step down. Instead, they stay on to mentor, playing important roles as advisers to impart their knowledge and experience to the younger comrades.
Conversely, the younger members are roped in to help the seniors in areas that they are savvier in.
"Like our Tampines East PAP.SG chapter, it's not entirely made up of senior activists. We make sure that some of our YP members are part of the chapter. They recently helped the older members do up a flyer explaining the various financial assistance schemes. This way, the young and old activists can learn from one another," Mr Yeo elaborated.
A beneficiary of the nurturing culture at the branch, Samara describes Mr Yeo as a mentor who is like a "walking encyclopedia".
"He's always ready to help us, with any letter or any sort of documentation. The older members are very supportive of us newbies and they welcome us with open arms," said Samara.
This article was first published in the May 2015 issue of Petir magazine.