The veteran and the newbie
Tending to the needy
Rain or shine, Ms Jackie Lim, the assistant branch secretary, turns up religiously at the meet-the-people sessions (MPS). She has been doing it for close to 30 years. The MPS are held at the PAP Jalan Besar branch at King George's Avenue, a stone's throw from the Jalan Besar stadium.
Distance does not deter her - she no longer resides in the area, having moved away in 1990, first to Bishan, then to Toa Payoh.
Ms Lim's association with the area, however, goes way back to the 1960s. She and her seven siblings grew up in the old Singapore Improvement Trust flat where the Kerrisdale condominium now stands. She had also served at the Flanders Square residents' committee (RC) for seven years before being roped in to join the PAP as an activist in 1987.
"I was the RC secretary when I was asked to help out with the branch after (former Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng dropped by for a visit," recalled the singleton, who declined to reveal her age but added that she has not qualified for a Pioneer Generation card.
"With the RC, it was more to do with organising grassroots activities like excursions for the residents while with the branch, it's about helping people and solving their problems such as getting a rental flat, immigration issues (with foreign spouses), and coping with financial difficulties."
Ms Lim has since gone on to serve two MPs over the last 28 years at the branch: Dr Lee Boon Yang from 1987 to 2011, and Mr Edwin Tong from 2011 to 2015.
What keeps her going?
It is the camaraderie with fellow branch activists and helping the needy that has kept her involved all these years.
"I have to say that except during elections, there is often little talk about politics. It's all about helping people in need," said Ms Lim whose full-time job is that of a fieldwork interviewer for market research firms.
Remarking about the similarities between her profession and her PAP activism, she said: "It's like making house-to-house visits with the MPs and meeting up with different people, something which I always enjoy doing," she quipped.
Priority for own backyard
Mr Johaness Chen found the 2011 general elections "very exciting'' and that triggered the start of his involvement with the PAP.
Unlike Ms Lim, Mr Chen, 31, resides in the Whitley area. An account manager with a paper products company, he has been with the PAP Jalan Besar branch for about two and a half years after he sent an email to the PAP, stating his desire to be a volunteer.
"I found the 2011 general elections very exciting in that it generated a lot of debate between the PAP and the opposition parties. There were a lot of different ideas but what I felt was that some of the views were just 'opposing for the sake of opposing' and being deliberately combative which got me thinking how I can help," he recalled.
"After I sent the email, I was told to come by and observe an MPS on a Wednesday evening. After watching the number of people - on average about 30 - come in for help, I actually felt ashamed that I had never stepped into a PAP branch.
"I was also inspired by the older and veteran volunteers like Jackie coming in to offer their services, year after year and for decades. I really feel at home here. It's like family - they are like my uncles and aunties - and I have learned a lot from watching how they interview and manage people in need," said Mr Chen, who is known as Joe to his comrades.
"We provide a listening ear which means a lot to many of them and while not all appeals to the MP are successful, I feel especially happy when it goes through, like when a family with a few children finally gets to secure a rental flat or when we are able to deliver financial assistance."
"I see or read about people travelling to other countries to do volunteer work, and I ask myself: 'Why do you need to go so far when there are people in our own backyard, our neighbourhood who need help,' " pointed out Mr Chen.
He has since also joined the Geylang West Community Club Management Committee and is glad to be able to provide useful feedback to the party regarding sentiments on the ground on such issues as healthcare, CPF, transport, immigration and housing.
This article was first published in the October 2015 issue of Petir Magazine.