Sprouting new branches
Gambas, Limbang and Punggol West may be new party branches but they have hit the ground running to serve residents. Petir finds out how the teams managed to get going so quickly.
GAMBAS: A movie remake
"We are totally new. We have no volunteers, no premises, no name, no MPS software, no funds. But the good thing with a new group is that we also have no baggage, no legacy, no old practices which we may not even know why we have to follow. We can start everything afresh, design new things.
One of the first few things that I did was to gather enough people to help me. I have made many friends for the last five years, from Aljunied, Marsiling, unions and people whom I have known from all my previous jobs. For instance, I know my branch secretary Wong Hao when I was in Aljunied. I asked if he was willing to be the branch secretary of a new division. He agreed. I also received emails from residents who volunteered their help. And the group grew.
We have a team of about 100 volunteers who help in different areas such as MPS, publicity, house visits and fund raising.
I have had the privilege of serving in different branches previously. To join and serve an existing branch is like watching an old movie with lots of history and existing practices. Setting up a brand new branch with people from different places and backgrounds is like watching a remake. You make use of what you have, make changes to improve on it to create something new.
During one of the gatherings, we declared ourselves the 88th Division of the Party since there were 87 divisions and we are a new division."
- Mr Ong Ye Kung, Branch Chairperson of Gambas Branch under Sembawang GRC. He is also Acting Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) and Senior Minister of State for Defence
Recruiting like-minded activists
Recruiting and identifying like-minded activists to put in place the infrastructure - in the shortest time possible - was the team's biggest challenge, said Branch Secretary Wong Hao.
"This is an ongoing process as we continue to work the ground to recruit more activists to serve our constituents. What was most fulfilling was the camaraderie spirit that was slowly built up among the members, both old and new.
"While we do not have a community centre like the other divisions, Mr Ong noticed that there is actually a communal space where constituents usually gather. So instead of rushing into building a community centre, he decided to have events at the heart of where they enjoy coming together."
* Mr Wong was assistant Branch Secretary at Kembangan branch – since renamed Bedok Reservoir-Punggol – for 15 years and Branch Secretary at Kaki Bukit for two years, till his transfer to Gambas.
PUNGGOL WEST Caring for volunteers
"We are a new division and as such, have to wait for a suitable PAP Community Foundation centre to be renovated and ready for use as a meet-the-people (MPS) centre.
"As newer estates tend to have less spacious void decks, we have to be more selective in our choice of an appropriate venue. Until then, we have been using another division's premises to conduct MPS.
"We are very active in our outreach efforts to the residents and use the opportunity to rally our volunteers together. My volunteers are residents in the area and Punggol residents are typically young working adults.
"So my volunteers are mostly 25-35 years old and are young working parents. The amount of time they can commit to volunteerism is tight and in scheduling activities, we have to be mindful of their responsibilities to their families and their jobs."
- Ms Sun Xueling, Branch Chairperson of Punggol West Branch under Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC
Just like one of us
Branch Secretary Haja Nizamudeen said the new team's biggest challenge was to identify and establish the right operational centre to serve residents in the most optimal way while considering the multi-dimensional needs and geographical boundaries of the ward. He expects the new centre at Block 308B Punggol Walk will be ready by end February.
It also helped that the freshman MP has had previous experience as a grassroots volunteer at Buona Vista. "She is just like one of us and makes the volunteering journey so pleasant - serving not just the residents but also taking care of the volunteers. As a mother, she is very much connected to the young parents and understands the plight of the elderly residents in our division," said Mr Haja.
* Mr Haja Nizamudeen was assistant Branch Secretary at Punggol Coast Branch before his transfer to Punggol West.
LIMBANG: Bonding through GE2015
"Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC is the newest GRC carved out from three divisions - Marsiling, Woodgrove and Yew Tee. However, it is meant to be a four-man GRC. After discussions with the team, we decided to keep Marsiling and Woodgrove and divide Yew Tee into two parts, with the northern part retaining its name, and the southern part named Limbang after the name of the existing town.
As it is a new division, we had volunteers from different parts of the GRC to help set it up, and to join us in the GE campaign.
That experience during the GE really helped to bond the team together.
After GE, we had more volunteers come forward to join us. Some of them are residents who wanted to do something to give back to the community, and were keen to do so through the party and its activities.
There will always be challenges in setting up a new branch, starting things from scratch. But these challenges also present opportunities to rally the team to work together and to think of new ways to serve the residents better.
We are still learning and growing. But in a short time, we've built a strong core team of activists and volunteers. I'm very grateful for all the people who have helped us along the way, and who are now part of our Limbang family."
- Mr Lawrence Wong, Branch Chairperson of Limbang Branch under Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC. He is also the Minister for National Development and was the MP for Boon Lay before GE2015.
Overcoming differences to achieve common goals
For branch secretary, Mr Johnny Lim Peng Siah, PBM, the key takeaway for the new branch set-up was that party members and activists alike were able to overcome their differences in opinions to achieve a common goal.
"We have to be able to communicate our ideas and move forward with the best possible solutions as many of our members had come from different branches.
"Many volunteers are also new to party work, but with the support and patience of Mr Wong, we have been able to build a strong and cohesive unit," said Mr Lim who has been helping with MPS at Yew Tee since 2001 before becoming a party member in 2007.
* Mr Lim was assistant Branch Secretary at Yew Tee from 2009 till his transfer to Limbang.
This article was first published in the Feb 2016 issue of Petir Magazine.